Dave Powell

Education 199: Foundations of Education



Course Syllabus

Assignment Submission

Supplemental Reading Assignments

Course Description

You can’t say school without saying cool.

THE STORY of public schooling in America is the story of America itself: it is a story of hopes raised and dashed, of dreams realized, dreams deferred, and dreams denied. Our system of public education was designed to address some of the most fundamental questions raised by the American experiment in self-government, and it has, at turns, been a vehicle for the fulfillment of America’s promise to its people and a frustrating obstacle to the fulfillment of that promise. In this course we will explore the roots of the American system of public education, which is, in many ways, the most successful and least understood public education system in the world. We will explore the culture of education in the United States, paying particular attention to the ways in which the system itself, as well as the people working within and outside of it, frame our understanding of what it means to be “educated.” Perhaps most importantly, we will attempt to look beyond the limitations of public education as it is currently conceived in this era of standardization and accountability, counterbalanced by reduced public support, to envision what public education can and should look like in the 21stcentury.

Course Overview

An introduction to the foundations of American education—with an emphasis on teaching.

If you plan to become a classroom teacher, our primary purpose in this course is to help set the foundations of your future practice. This has figurative as well as practical meaning. It is certainly true that any strong edifice depends on its foundation for strength and support; so it goes with teaching. Those teachers who have the firmest sense of what they want to accomplish in the classroom, and how to go about accomplishing it, stand the greatest chance of having a positive impact on students. This course is also designed to provide you with practical knowledge of some of the most enduring and prominent problems of teaching. We’ll examine issues like tracking, grading, behavior management, and school funding, as well as more philosophical topics like what we should teach in school, and why we should even have schools in the first place. We’ll also deal with more prosaic (but equally important) topics like the influence of federal legislation on teaching and learning in schools. Education 199 designed to help you clarify your own reasons for becoming a teacher, to shape your expectations about teaching and schools, and to help you begin to articulate an approach to teaching that can guide you through your first few years in the classroom.

School classroom––Plains, Georgia

And what if you have no intention of becoming a teacher? Is this course for you? You bet it is. One of the most frequently cited goals of public education traditionally has been to promote good citizenship, and we’ll spend a great deal of time discussing what this can mean; in recent decades, however, other goals have become predominant—especially goals associated with preparing young people for the world of work. While teachers certainly do much to shape the experiences of their students, parents and others are at least as influential, to say the least; we’re all better off when more people in the community understand what schools do and why they do it. Some of the most ardent and eloquent advocates of public education have never been teachers themselves, yet they understand the crucial role schools play in a democracy. Teachers influence schools, but so do bankers, stockbrokers, social workers, pilots, engineers, politicians, stay-at-home moms, factory workers, migrant laborers, writers, and people stuck in cubicles all day. The more thoughtful we all are about what we want from schools, the better they’ll be.

Texts & Resources

Goldstein, D. (2014). The teacher wars: history of Americamost embattled profession. New York: Doubleday.

Rose, M. (2013) Why school? Reclaiming education for all of us. New York: The New Press.

Shalaby, C. (2017). Troublemakers: Lessons in freedom from young children at school. New York: The New Press.

Other Resources

Common School Era Presentation

Progressive Era Presentation

A Nation at Risk? Or a Nation Under Siege?


Scroll to top