Cultural Foundations of Education, Ph.D.

The Cultural Foundations of Education doctoral program requires a minimum of 90 graduate credits beyond the undergraduate degree (45 of them in your concentration area), and 9-24 credits of dissertation work. Full-time coursework will take a minimum of 2.5 years of study, and students typically complete the degree in 5 years. Part-time study is also an option; please contact the department to discuss.

Additional Requirements

  • 12 credits (4 courses) in research methodology: Students will take courses in both qualitative and quantitative research methods, and will then choose to focus in one of those areas to ensure a depth of competence in one research methodology and familiarity with other methods used in their area.
  • Research apprenticeship, typically in the context of a required or elective course or as an independent study with the your advisor.
  • Doctoral Qualifying Exam.
  • Dissertation proposal, writing, submission, and defense (within 5 years of exam).


Anthropology of Education
Students interested in this area of study will draw from fundamental anthropological concepts to make sense of educational realities. This field explores how practices, processes, and sites of education shape and are shaped by the social and cultural worlds in which they exist. You will be encouraged to think about question of education locally, globally, and transnationally. Potential areas of interest are (though not limited to):

  • Migration and diasporic formations
  • Cultural difference and cultural citizenship
  • Educational development
  • Neoliberalism

By approaching the study of education through an anthropological lens, this area of study allows students to interrogate the ways in which education is part of the cultural imagination.

Disability Studies
In this area, you will explore the meaning of disability in culture and public policy. Disability Studies applies social, legal, cultural, historical, and philosophical perspectives to the study of disability in society. Coursework areas often include:

  • Disability Law and Policy
  • Representation of Disability in Popular Culture
  • Sociology of Disability
  • Disability, Gender, and Race

Dissertations in this area have focused on representations of students with disabilities in special education texts, the experiences of mothers caring for children with disabilities, the perspectives of people with disabilities involved in self-advocacy groups, the intersection of ethnicity, class, and gender with disability in an educational setting, and the experiences of deaf people in medical settings. Those with backgrounds in the social sciences, public policy, rehabilitation, special education, and human services are encouraged to consider this concentration.

Gender and Education
Students can approach this multidisciplinary field in two ways:

  • Focusing on the social construction of gender, using sociology, history, or philosophy to examine how gender, race and class intersect in relation to education.
  • Studying a particular issue, tracing how this topic is described, framed, and engaged in different fields.

Coursework and research in gender and education gives students opportunities to examine different theoretical perspectives. Students look at how gender is constructed through institutions, texts, research methods, and relationships and how it is represented in these areas. You may also study questions of the history, policy, and practice of education in relation to gender. Students who have concentrated in gender and education, have researched single-sex education, how adolescent women experience pregnancy, cheerleading, representation of Arab women in National Geographic, perspectives of African American students in higher education, and experiences of urban women in the community gardening movement. We also offer a 12-credit concentration in gender and education that awards a certificate upon completion.

History of Education
Students pursue two goals in building a program in this area:

  • You will acquire a strong disciplinary base as an education historian with faculty members in other departments across the School and University including history, sociology, and curriculum theory.
  • You will then become familiar with major policy and social issues in the history of education through work with CFE faculty in their specialization areas of gender, race, culture, ethnicity, and community.

Research projects in this area have included a study of schooling for African Americans in a New York state community prior to the Civil War; an historical appraisal of former U.S. presidents as public educators, an analysis of Emma Willard’s ideas of community, and work on rural schooling, civic education, and community.

Philosophy of Education
In this program, students will acquire competence in the following areas:

  • Analytic and continental traditions of philosophical research
  • Moral, social, and political theory in education and knowledge
  • Issues of multiculturalism, diversity, race, and feminism
  • Applications to educational policy and practice

Dissertation projects in this area have included work on equity issues in school finance, a study of the role of teachers’ cultural and racial identity in their teaching across cultures, and an analysis of conceptions of self-esteem in relation to education. We encourage you to gain an understanding of relevant perspectives in the history and sociology of education, and work closely with the department of Philosophy.

Popular Culture
The focus of this program is on how individuals and groups make meanings in their popular culture practices. You will become grounded in qualitative research methods and cultural studies, and use these methods to study cultural products, activities, sites, and practices. Through this work, faculty and students struggle to uncover how power relations are enmeshed in American popular culture, particularly in relation to gender, race, class and ability including:

  • Relationships between the media and its consumers
  • Representations of sexuality, femininity, and masculinity
  • The character of everyday learning
  • The rise of entertainment, media, and culture industries

Dissertations in this area have examined such topics as adolescents’ popular culture practices in a weekly early morning discussion group, college women’s practices of preparing their bodies for social display, and multiple perspectives on educational travel.

Race, Racism, and Education
This area uses multidisciplinary foundational resources to critically analyze how race and racism impact educational practices, curriculum, policies and research. Students take courses in sociology, philosophy and history to gain tools of description and analysis. Coursework areas may include:

  • The aims and goals of multicultural education
  • How racial identity is constituted
  • Systemic oppression and privilege
  • The intersection of race and research methods

Dissertation projects students investigate have included a critical analysis of diversity workshops in higher education, the shift in college students’ ideas about race between freshman and sophomore years, teaching about white privilege in predominantly white elementary school, and the alternative forms of cultural capital of African-American women bring to their college education.

Sociology of Education
This area concerns the complex relationship between society and schools. Deeper areas of concentration may include:

  • Educational innovation and change
  • Inequality of educational opportunity
  • Multicultural education
  • School ethos

Students also might pursue relevant coursework in sociology, anthropology, women’s studies, and other areas in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Student projects in this area have included work on high school and university reform efforts, sex education in high schools; teachers’ perspectives on change, and mentoring in teaching, architecture, and medicine.

More information on academic requirements available in the Syracuse University Course Catalog.