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Teacher Education and Knowledge in “the Knowledge Society”: The Need for Social Moorings in Our Multicultural Schools

by Kim Wieczorek & Carl A. Grant - 2000

The idea of knowledge within the field of teacher education is constituted by certain arguments. Our concern is that the discussions of knowledge within teacher educa-tion do not include issues of race, class, gender, or power relations. Within this article, we examine pervasive ideas about knowledge, briefly addressing perceptions in popular media, and then move on to discuss the professional literature and especially the idea of a knowledge base for teacher candidates. We look at the idea of a knowledge base for the gaps and ideas that are missing, especially in the area of questioning the effects of social, cultural, and historical movements as well as power relationships. Questioning such discussions about knowledge for teacher educators requires a tool for making connections between such academic discussions and social movements and we present social mooring as such a tool.

The idea of knowledge within the field of teacher education is constituted by certain arguments. Our concern is that the discussions of knowledge within teacher education do not include issues of race, class, gender, or power relations. Within this article, we examine pervasive ideas about knowledge, briefly addressing perceptions in popular media, and then move on to discuss the professional literature and especially the idea of a knowledge base for teacher candidates. We look at the idea of a knowledge base for the gaps and ideas that are missing, especially in the area of questioning the effects of social, cultural, and historical movements as well as power relationships. Questioning such discussions about knowledge for teacher educators requires a tool for making connections between such academic discussions and social movements and we present social mooring as such a tool.

In a typical classroom of 25 students, today’s teachers will serve at least 4 or 5 students with specific educational needs that they have not been prepared to meet. In addition, they will need knowledge to develop curriculum and teaching strategies that address the wide range of learning approaches, experiences, and prior levels of knowledge the other students bring with them as well. And they will need to know how to help these students acquire much more complex skills and types of knowledge than ever before. (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996, p. 7)

The old foundations of success are gone. Throughout human history, the source of success has been the control of natural resources—land, gold, oil. Suddenly the answer is “knowledge.” The world’s wealthiest man, Bill Gates, owns nothing tangible—no land, no gold or oil, no factories, no industrial processes, no armies. For the first time in history the world’s wealthiest man owns only knowledge. (Thurow, 1999, p. xv)

This article grew out of a series of discussions we are having about reports in the popular and professional media pertaining to the development of a world class U.S. educational system, the global marketplace, the “knowledge society” and our concerns about teaching students who are marginalized. These deliberations have sharpened our observations of the arguments in both the professional and popular media regarding education and knowledge in our changing society. After surveying some of the statements made in media for the general public, we look more closely at the professional literature, especially as it concerns teacher education and its reforms. We look at how “knowledge” is conceptualized and used within discussions about a knowledge base for teachers and then present the idea of “social mooring,” a tool we believe can help teacher educators to work with teacher candidates to consider knowledge as multiple, shifting, yet moored to social, historical, and cultural movements. We use the case of the education for employment movement within teacher education as subject matter, to discuss the possibilities for social mooring as an analytical tool. We hope this tool will be useful in helping educators more successfully connect knowledge to its relationships with diverse groups of people.


Social mooring is an idea that enables us to “enlarge the frames” (of relevance) within which we view and discuss problems and issues.1 These enlarged frames take into account historical, institutional, social, and cultural perspectives that can possibly lead to new connections and relations. Social mooring offers new or greater understandings of a problem or issue. We think that social mooring is a tool that provides greater insight into the connections between knowledge and power in teacher education, but let us first illustrate what we mean with an example from the fields of biology and medicine.

In Biology as Ideology, Lewontin (1991) points out the effects of the reframing we are addressing in his discussion of a medical science truism that the cause of tuberculosis is tubercle bacillus. Lewontin (1991) argues that in modern biology scientists look for the cause of an effect, and even if there are a number of causes, the search is for the major cause. He claims that although it is true that one cannot get tuberculosis without a tubercle bacillus, it is not the same as saying that the cause of tuberculosis is the tubercle bacillus, which is the way the argument is often presented in medical science. Lewontin (1991) contends that we should reframe our analysis of the problem. Tuberculosis, Lewontin (1991) points out, was a disease extremely common in the sweatshops and factories of the nineteenth century, whereas tuberculosis rates were much lower among country people and those in the upper classes (p. 42). Therefore, he argues, “we might be justified in claiming that the cause of tuberculosis is unregulated industrial capitalism, and if we did away with that system of social organization, we would not need to worry about the tubercle bacillus” (p. 42). Lewontin’s (1991) explanation, examined in light of the history of health and disease in modern Europe, makes as much good sense as blaming the tubercle bacillus. An examination of the causes of death, first systematically recorded in the 1930s in Great Britain and later in North America, shows that most people did indeed die of infectious diseases. As the nineteenth century progressed, however, the death rate from all these diseases continuously decreased (Lewontin, 1991, p. 43). Lewontin (1991) states:

Smallpox was dealt with by medical advance, but one that could hardly be claimed by modern scientific medicine, since smallpox vaccine was discovered in the eighteenth century and already was quite widely used by the early part of the nineteenth. The rate from the major killers like bronchitis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis fell rather regularly during the nineteenth century, with no obvious cause. There was no observable effect on [the] death rate after the germ theory of disease was announced in 1876 by Robert Koch. The death rate from these infectious diseases simply continued to decline as if Koch had never lived. By the time chemical therapy was introduced for tuberculosis in the earlier part of this century, more than 90 percent of the decrease in the death rate from that disease had already occurred. (pp. 43–44)

It was not modern sanitation or less crowding in cities that led to the progressive reduction in the death rate, since the major killers in the nineteenth century were respiratory and not waterborne, and parts of our cities are as crowded today as they were in the 1850s. More likely, the death from infectious diseases is due to general improvement in nutrition related to an increase in the real wage in “developed countries.” Lewontin writes that in countries like Brazil today, “infant mortality rises and falls with decreases and increases in minimum wage” (p. 44).

Using statements like “the tubercle bacillus causes tuberculosis,” which medical and biological discourses encourage us to do, silences meaning before such statements become social and political. Lewontin is widening the frame, “socially mooring” how we look at a perfectly “natural” and obvious claim from biology. He juxtaposes the way the discourses of medicine or biology look at a claim with how other discourses—e.g., a discourse of public health or a sociopolitical discourse about capitalism—could look at the claim. He is not claiming that the biological claim is “false,” just that we can make meaning more broadly if we widen the frame.

We include the details of Lewontin’s (1991) discussion to begin to illustrate what we mean and intend with the tool of social mooring and the idea of enlarging the frames of relevance within teacher education. We believe that by reframing or socially mooring present policies and practices of schooling, teacher educators, along with teacher candidates, will be in a better position to reason about students and their capabilities and the effects of power as it relates to knowledge.


Discussions about school reform are often connected to obtaining knowledge of skills for employment. Such discussions are increasing our awareness and concerns about teacher preparation and the conceptions of knowledge that teacher candidates are taught as important for teaching all students. The educational literature and pronouncements from educators are replete with blunt and solemn statements such as the following:

There has been no previous time in history when the success, indeed the survival, of nations and people has been tied to their ability to learn. Today’s society has little room for those who cannot read, write and compute proficiently; find and use resources; frame and solve problems; and continually learn new technologies, skills and occupations. The economy of high wage jobs for low-skilled workers is fast disappearing. (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1997, p. 7)

Worries about whether America’s children read well enough are not new. But today, the rising demands of a technological society have changed the definition of “adequate literacy.” Reading well, fluently and with comprehension is essential in the United States for entry to well-paid employment, for active participation in citizenship, and for access to the accomplishments of civilization. (Catherine Snow’s Testimony before the Senate on Labor and Human Resources and the Hearing on “Overview of Reading and Literacy Initiatives,” April 28, 1998)

Implicit in such statements is the warning that if students do not learn they will not be able to care for themselves economically, will not fulfill their civic responsibility, and therefore will have a poor quality of life. Notice as well that many of these statements often locate the responsibility for academic achievement mainly on the shoulders of learners (and sometimes the teacher) and do not discuss the educational system or society’s role and responsibility in creating conditions that lead to school failure or success. It is the current of social efficiency, a trend discussed by Kliebard (1995), called the “cult of efficiency” by Callahan (1962), as a movement associated with bringing the values of business and industry to education, making curriculum in schools as productive as possible, productive of skills for the future employment of students. This current continues to recur in curriculum and educational reform, seen by the attention to education for employment (see Kliebard, 1995; Spring, 1972, 1991).

Similarly, the popular media daily abounds with statements by politicians and others criticizing U.S. schools and calling for a world-class educational system. President Clinton in his 1997 State of the Union address challenged the nation to undertake “a national crusade for education of standards—not federal government standards, but national standards, representing what all students must know to succeed in the knowledge economy of the twenty-first century.”

These discourses about knowledge that connect education with economy and employment are a concern to us because they are invested with particular ways of reasoning about students and knowledge. Such discourses do not socially moor knowledge to power and social and cultural relationships, but instead correlate the call for knowledge to the marketplace, ignoring many other important contexts of knowledge and processes of knowledge production. We wonder how this lack of connecting knowledge to its social moorings is affecting K–12 teacher-candidates, especially as teachers increasingly work with students of color and other marginalized students.

The purpose of this article is to discuss teacher education in the “knowledge society.” We will argue that the knowledge and experiences teacher candidates receive need to be socially moored to enable teachers to be effective in our multicultural society. First, we will examine the prevailing discourses on knowledge in teacher education. We will then discuss social mooring as a way of connecting concepts in teacher education, such as knowledge, to social, historical, cultural, and power relationships. We examine one case, education for employment, as an example of doing the social mooring we advocate.


George Bernard Shaw was noted by admirers and critics for having a very sharp wit. Social and political policies and practices were often the target of his tart tongue. In Maxims for Revolutionists, Shaw (1903) makes a statement that has henceforth been used to characterize teachers. “He who can, does. He who cannot teaches.” Shaw is only one contributor to a negative prevailing discourse that has for decades portrayed teachers. We move to discuss the ways of reasoning that influenced Shaw and others to fuel a discourse about teacher quality that remains today.


Over the decades there has been much written about knowledge and the preparation of teachers. Most of what was written was usually connected to or prefaced by concerns about teacher quality. In 1932 Waller stated:

A popular epigram of a few years ago had it that teaching was the refuge of unsaleable men and unmarriageable women. . . . Unjust or not, the low social standing of teachers, and the belief that teaching is a failure belt among the occupations, which is part of that low standing, contribute much to make the personnel of the profession represent a lower grade of the general population than would otherwise be the case. (p. 61)

Also commenting on the quality of the teacher corps, and the feminization of teaching, Lucas (1997) reports that Susan B. Anthony, in 1853, explained that teaching remained in such low esteem, and that teachers were paid so poorly, because it was a job increasingly dominated by females. Anthony, speaking to a group of male educators, reasoned that the single women who entered teaching were thought to be unsuited for any other occupation except for laboring in the sweatshops and mills, and men who decided to pursue teaching as a career were “tacitly conceding that they had no more brains than a woman” (p. 13).

The low grade of teacher quality that Waller (1932), Lucas (1997) through Anthony’s comments, and others discuss can in part be attributed to the very few years of education that teachers received and to the belief that there was no need for teachers to be among the “best and the brightest.” Lucas (1997) contends that by the 1850s and 1860s the “ideological justification for utilizing so many ill-prepared female common-school graduates as primary-level teachers was that they were fulfilling a sacred ‘calling’ second only to the ministry in its importance. . . . In returning to the classrooms they had so recently departed as graduates, it was said, young women were simply anticipating the domestic happiness and personal fulfillment that matrimony would later confer” (p. 14). The view of women as “natural” caretakers was used to justify lack of preparation and pay for female teachers who, it was believed, possessed the tendencies to fulfill the roles required of teachers.

In the 1960s, Conant (1963), in The Education of American Teachers, raised the question about the knowledge teacher candidates receive within teacher education. He criticized the lack of liberal arts and science knowledge teachers were receiving, and claimed that his observations were not new. He argued that at the beginning of the twentieth century, “the amount of knowledge available increased explosively; and the amount required for effective citizenship and employment rose rapidly as the social and economic system grew more complex and technologically oriented” (p. 10). Conant surmised, “The question raised in England by Thomas Arnold and Herbert Spencer about ‘what knowledge is of greatest worth’ became acute in American Education generally, and in teacher education explicitly” (p. 10).

Waller (1932), Anthony (1853, in Lucas, 1997), Lucas (1997), and others introduced the idea that the “best and the brightest” were not becoming teachers. Conant (1963) echoes this sentiment and goes on to raise questions about what knowledge should be introduced in the preparation of teachers. We see these as connected. Waller argues that we do not have the best and brightest, while Conant argues we need certain knowledge. They are connected in that the “best and brightest” academic students often are understood to have that knowledge of greatest worth. Knowledge is understood as cultural capital in this argument, tied to social standing. This idea of knowledge as cultural capital is rarely acknowledged in discussions about teacher education, nor is this knowledge, possessed by the “best and brightest,” interrogated for its connections to power relations.

In the 1980s, Lanier and Little (1986) and the Holmes Group (1986) continued the discussion about teacher quality, the knowledge base of candidates entering teaching, and the need for teacher candidates to have additional liberal arts and science. Echoing Waller (1932), Lanier and Little (1986) stated, “The fact that . . . a large number and excessive proportion of the lowest scoring college students are accepted into teacher education and subsequently recommended for certification explains the genesis of the stereotype that those in teacher education are the least academically able. . . . The overabundance of teacher education students drawn from among the least academically inclined certainly contributes to the characterization that all prospective and practicing teachers have low intellectual ability” (pp. 539–540).

The Holmes Group (1986) argued that one “cannot be a good teacher of a subject unless one is a good student of that subject; teaching cannot be content free.” The Holmes Group goes on to say that qualifying as a “Professional Teacher,” “candidates also should be able to demonstrate competence as teachers of academic subjects” (p. 12).

About teacher quality, the Holmes Group (1986) argues that current demographic factors, such as better opportunities in other fields now opened more to women and to people of color, “will make it especially difficult to obtain an adequate number of competent teachers in the coming decade. The pool of young college graduates from which prospective teachers have been selected will be smaller than at any other time in recent history” (p. 35).

Thus far we have argued that much of the discourse on teachers’ knowledge has two strands that are connected. One strand of this discourse is the argument that teachers need additional liberal arts and science knowledge (Bestor, 1955; Conant, 1963; Koerner, 1963; Holmes Group, 1986).2 The second strand is that, since the cohort of teachers is weak in general and subject matter knowledge (e.g., Lanier & Little, 1986), schools of education need to improve the quality of the teaching corps by attracting the best and the brightest into teaching and/or by making certain prospective teachers have this knowledge by testing them before they begin to teach (Carnegie Forum, 1986; Koerner, 1963; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983; Boyer, 1983). These two strands constitute the main response to the teacher quality complaint.


In response to the teacher-quality and need-for-liberal-arts-and-science arguments, some teacher educators and other scholars are explicit in their calls for teachers to have a knowledge base. In the introduction of the second edition of the Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, Sikula (1996) argues there is growing consensus about the need for a “more common knowledge base” (p. xv). The consensus that a knowledge base is prerequisite to good teaching is seen in the publication of theories of instruction (see, for example, Grossman, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Newmann, Secada, & Wehlage, 1995; Schulman, 1987).

Among the works that are contributing to conceptualizing what this knowledge base should be, Shulman’s (1987) proposal is most frequently used to define segments of the knowledge base in which the following categories are identified: (1) content knowledge; (2) general pedagogical knowledge; (3) curriculum knowledge; (4) pedagogical content knowledge; (5) knowledge of learners and their characteristics; (6) knowledge of essential contexts; and (7) knowledge of educational ends, purposes, values, philosophical grounds, and historical grounds. Also identified are the following sources for the teaching knowledge base: (1) scholarship in the content disciplines, (2) educational materials and structures, (3) formal educational scholarship, and (4) wisdom of practice.

Based on the attention the knowledge base is receiving, it can be argued that many educators see it as critical to teacher education and believe that putting it in place will provide one means to interrupt the negative discourse about teachers’ knowledge. Also, although a number of teacher educators are supportive of and recognize the importance of establishing a teacher knowledge base, they nevertheless believe that much work remains to be done in this area. This work includes (but is not limited to) a deeper theoretical understanding of teacher knowledge and its sources (Grossman 1990, p. 147) and of the nature of the inquiries and the inquirers. Likewise, Shulman (1990) argues that the field of research on teaching “has produced, and will continue to yield, growing bodies of knowledge. But knowledge does not grow naturally or inexorably. It is produced through the inquiries of scholars—empiricists, theorists, practitioners—and is therefore a function of the kinds of questions asked, problems posed, and issues framed by those who do research” (p. 1).

We agree with Grossman (1990) and Shulman (1990) about the importance of a deeper theoretical understanding of teacher knowledge and its sources and the importance of knowing who the framers of the questions are and understanding why the questions are framed as they are. We have other concerns, however, about the narrowness of the knowledge sources and the social mooring of the knowledge base. It is toward these concerns that we now turn our attention, but first let us summarize our observations of the prevailing discourses on teacher knowledge.

We have argued that Waller’s (1932), Conant’s (1963), and others’ ideas are repeated at present in the discourses of teacher education reform and concern about a knowledge base for the teaching profession. Teachers, it is argued, are sadly unprepared, perhaps due to their own backgrounds, preferences, and dispositions; therefore, they need certain knowledge in order to arrive at minimal competency as teachers for the future employees of this country. We perceive that present discourses about what teachers do not know and what knowledge they need to acquire has perhaps moved away from directly blaming the body of teachers available. The discourses have moved more securely into a scientific study and implementation of teaching that, some claim, provide research-based categories of knowledge needed for teachers to become efficient, implying that, concerning knowledge and its production, certainty is more important than skepticism.

Such discourses produce a standardized idea of knowledge in teacher education. We believe the present systems of reasoning about teacher knowledge ignore social moorings and processes of knowledge. They ignore factors of race, class, gender, and power as well as the historical and political processes connected to knowledge production. The knowledge base must include the ability for teachers both to think about knowledge in its social, cultural, institutional, historical, and political context and to let such reflections inform their classroom practices. We believe understanding the social moorings and processes of knowledge and its production will offer proponents of the knowledge base idea greater insights into the relationship between knowledge and power. Such insights into knowledge-power relationships can begin to answer often ignored questions such as “Whose knowledge is of most worth?” and “What is the nature of this knowledge?” These are only two in a continuum of questions that can be raised when making connections between concepts like knowledge in teacher education and social, cultural, historical, and power relationships.


The models for the teacher knowledge base give some attention to K–12 students. Most particularly, the models propose that teaching be “context specific,” that is, that teachers adapt their instruction to their students and the demands of the school district (e.g., Grossman, 1990; Schulman, 1987). Also, they propose that teachers have pedagogical knowledge, which includes the knowledge of teaching particular subject matter to students (Grossman, 1990; Schulman, 1987). However, these models are mute in arguing that the knowledge base (i.e., subject matter knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and knowledge of context) should include discourses that give serious attention to the social, political, and cultural inequities in society, and how these inequities are influenced by power relationships that have long historical ties. Also, according to Smith (1998), these knowledge bases omit or include very little of the work of scholars of color, feminist scholars, or scholars whose work challenges the traditional mainstream discourses on teacher knowledge. Such omissions are counterproductive to the efforts to improve teacher quality and to address the rationale for more subject matter knowledge. This is so because such omissions work against appeals to attract teacher-candidates of color and they exclude nonmainstream knowledge (e.g., non-Western civilization, feminist scholarship) produced by scholars of color and other scholars whose works are usually marginalized. Additionally absent are discussions of knowledge-power connections.

Some scholars who challenge the rhetoric of the national reports provide us with the language and conceptual tools we need to pursue the social mooring of the idea of knowledge and power within teacher education. We begin by looking at the need to provide social mooring of ideas of knowledge and power. Next we move to addressing the aspects of race, class, gender, and power within this social mooring of the ideas about knowledge.


What does it mean to provide social mooring for teacher knowledge? How can social mooring help to address our concerns about teacher knowledge and teacher education candidates working with marginalized students? Within this section, we aim to explain the idea of social mooring as a tool within the context of teacher education. We do not suggest that this tool of social mooring replaces the ongoing discussions about knowledge in teacher education. We suggest, rather, that such discussions about knowledge and its production can offer greater insight and complexity, can enlarge the frames of relevance, when social mooring is used.

Social mooring, as we note with the discussion of Lewontin (1991), enlarges the frames in the ways that we look at problems and issues. Historical, institutional, social, and cultural frames are explored. Popkewitz (1998) uses the idea of social mooring, layering analyses of historical, social, and cultural processes to better understand present practices in schooling. For example, by using social mooring as a tool, Popkewitz writes about knowledge in schooling as “logical, hierarchical, and nontemporal” (p. 99). He goes further to historically connect such an idea of knowledge to how educators have reasoned and continue to reason about students and their capabilities and claims this is an effect of power as related to knowledge (Popkewitz, 1998, p. 99). Popkewitz’s method of looking at knowledge as connected to power through examining social, historical, and cultural frames of reference contributes to our idea of using social mooring within teacher education.

Some scholars may see social mooring as the same tool as providing context. Both are analytical tools. To us, providing context often is used to explain those immediate factors that influence a student in his or her learning, especially within the discourse of a teacher knowledge base. For example, Grossman’s (1990) “Model of Teacher Knowledge” includes “Knowledge of Context,” and she argues that the factors that affect students are the community, the district, and the school. Grossman writes that knowledge of context includes the following: “knowledge of the districts in which teachers work, including the opportunities, expectations, and constraints posed by the districts; knowledge of the school setting, including the school ‘culture,’ departmental guidelines, and other contextual factors at the school level that affect instruction; and knowledge of specific students and communities, and the students’ backgrounds, families, particular strengths, weaknesses, and interests” (p. 9).

Providing social context often suggests looking at the immediate connections, the present conditions, expectations, and factors that influence students and their learning. These are often visible, given, and more readily available and obvious to a teacher or school administrator, as well as to teacher educators. Cole and Griffin (1987) state, “Context refers to the events proceeding, occurring with, and following the cognitive task; context so conceived includes all the factors that might influence the quality of time spent on the task, ranging from the arrangement of a lesson in the curriculum, to the relation of the classroom to the school as a whole, and to the relation of the school to the community of which it is a part” (p. 7). We believe that social mooring calls for something more. It provides a way to get at sociocultural relationships, which we believe to be less fixed.3

Social mooring, as we understand and use the term here, is an analytical tool that can help teacher educators do the work in making connections between concepts in teacher education and race, class, gender, power, and historical movements.4 Making connections means looking at the past and present assumptions made within what is being written and said about ideas like teacher knowledge. Looking at assumptions means questioning what is stated and what is absent and looking at what those presences and absences produce. Absences and presences are not produced in a vacuum, but connect to social, cultural, and historical currents that can be traced and analyzed to see how they affect present practices.

As an example of looking at assumptions and continuing to illustrate social mooring, we look at the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (1996) statement that we quoted above. It states the following: “In a typical classroom of 25 students, today’s teachers will serve at least 4 or 5 students with specific educational needs that they have not been prepared to meet.” This statement alone can imply a multitude of meanings, most, if not all, of which have social, cultural, and historical legacies and are beset with power-knowledge relationships. We illustrate social mooring below to show how a more complex reading of the assumptions within the National Commission’s statement could be understood within teacher education. We read this statement as a general example of current discourse within teacher education.

One assumption triggered for us from this statement could be that the National Commission has prepared this report for a mostly white audience. They ignore that the readers could be from diverse backgrounds, but instead unconsciously write to a white audience about white teachers who are experiencing changing student demographics. Such an assumption can have historical roots in an unconscious understanding that professional and popular discourses in most media have been and continue to be prepared for a white, middle-class population. Also, such discourses, because of the effects of power legitimating not only certain knowledge but also ways of addressing this knowledge to audiences, have a history of excluding the possibility that they address those who come from different experiences and backgrounds, and who may see that such materials and discourses are at times racist, sexist, homophobic, or classist.

A second assumption arising from the way the statement is written and could be read could be about what constitutes the “educational needs” of students—needs that are physical, mental, social, or a combination of these. An assumption about physical needs is that a child who is unable to negotiate the narrow physical regimen of a school has an inherent deficit. Schooling has historically been conceptualized as a place where students are disciplined to sit quietly, to do certain physical and mental tasks that are less accessible to those using adaptive equipment (e.g., a wheelchair or a communication board), and to perform within certain norms of behavior and gender roles for children. An assumption about mental needs can be, for example, that a low score on an IQ test implies a student has a learning disability. An assumption about social needs can be that the students with needs white teachers cannot meet are culturally, or linguistically, different or at-risk. Most physical, mental, and social needs have been identified and defined by norm-based references grounded in a history of certain ways of viewing students. These ways of viewing students are the effects of power relationships where race, social class status, physical abilities, and gender influence the perceptions of what best constitutes cultural capital, or success, in school (see, for example, Baker’s [1998] discussion about norms of childhood in schooling).

In each of the two assumptions, social, cultural, and historical currents as well as the relationship between knowledge and power affect the ways of reasoning behind the assumptions. Searching for the moorings is important to do, allowing the teacher educator to understand how practices and reforms in education are connected to historical ties and legacies that remain as naturalized universals in the reasoning of actors working in education today. Such mooring, by looking at assumptions within educational concepts, helps teacher educators and their students to see where ideas come from in terms of race, class, gender, and power relations.


Within this section, we want to illustrate social mooring by examining an idea that will most likely be experienced by many teacher educators and teacher candidates within various programs. Education for employment, or School to Work (STW), a topic that deals with such issues as the importance of career choices, skills, and education necessary to compete in tomorrow’s workforce, is a requirement in Wisconsin’s teacher education and certification programs to be incorporated into the content of teacher training. Also, with the passage of the School-to-Work (STW) Opportunities Act of 1994 (103rd Congress), STW is an area of schooling that has steadily grown nationwide. Even teachers at the elementary level are encouraged to think about how they can teach and discuss the skills of possible future occupations of their students.

Since we began writing, we have gathered a collection of materials for educators at the K–College level that show the great amount of attention given to education for employment, including brochures with listings of multiple publications (American Youth Policy Forum, 1999), magazines with video, document, and technology resources (National Center for School to Work Training, 1999), and more academic publications (Task Force on Education and Employment, 1979; Olson, 1997; Packer et al., 1996; Resnick & Wirt, 1996).

We also acknowledge that this is a movement that has changed its own conceptions of the purposes and practices of education for employment. We write about some of the ideas that are pervasive in the context of our own teacher education program, acknowledging that there are multiple ways to discuss this movement. We use our program as a springboard for discussing the social mooring of subject matter in teacher education, and acknowledge that our treatment of it is not comprehensive, nor is it meant to be a review. For recent discussions of the movement and its work, see Steinberg (1998).

First, we will discuss how prevailing discourses about a teacher knowledge base, in terms of subject matter within that knowledge base, might address education for employment. Then, we will offer our example of socially mooring the idea of education for employment.


Prevailing discourses about teacher knowledge discuss subject matter for teachers. For example, Grossman (1990) writes that “subject matter” entails knowing about “syntactic structures of a discipline, which includes understanding of the canons of evidence and proof within the discipline or how knowledge claims are evaluated by members of a discipline” (Grossman, 1990, pp. 6–7, italics in original); knowing subject matter content, which includes knowing the major facts and concepts within a field and the relationships among them (Grossman, 1990, p. 6); and understanding the substantive structures, which includes knowing about “the various paradigms within a field that affect both how the field is organized and the questions that guide further inquiry” (Grossman, 1990, p. 6). As we consider education for employment as a subject for both teachers and teacher educators, we ask questions about School to Work with Grossman’s requirements in mind, in order to see how discussions of a knowledge base affect the view of this particular subject matter experienced in teacher education.

What are the syntactic structures, or canons of evidence, and proof about knowledge claims about education for employment? Some knowledge claims come from the information commissioned by Congress through such activities as grants to research centers. Other knowledge claims may come from research data collected by (unfunded) scholars pursuing research interests.

What are the major facts and concepts of the idea of education for employment as a subject of study? Some of the major facts and concepts of education for employment include the close correspondence between education and employment, and between a high level of education and successful, highly valued employment. Education is a vehicle to social mobility and job mobility. Students at the K–12 level need to develop an understanding and appreciation of good work habits and ethics. Education for employment can help K–12 students see how school subject matter is actualized in the job market.

What are the substantive structures, paradigms, and guiding questions of the subject of education for employment? The guiding structures, paradigms, and questions of education for employment include the idea of open access to employment for any who are prepared; education allows social mobility and personal progress. One guiding question could be, Are educational opportunities to learn about future careers open to all students?

Are the above questions enough to look at education for employment within teacher education? Even from the idea of a knowledge base for teachers, the structures indicated do not encourage student teachers to look closely at the historical, social, and cultural implications of teaching about education for employment. What is encouraged is a deductive search for the structures of an idea, not for the movement of concepts that inform the history of a practice like education for employment. Nor is there questioning of what is not present within any discussion of education for employment: questions of race, class, gender, and power. This is what we aim to do with social mooring as a tool that can encourage such questions.


Within this section, we look through historical frames before we move to look at the assumptions that help us to discuss issues of race, class, gender, and power within the subject matter of education for employment within teacher education. We consider this as a further illustration of the tool of social mooring of subject matter within teacher education. It is critical to connect the reasoning that we do within teacher education classrooms to practices conducted by the teacher candidates who leave those classrooms. We begin by looking at the history of the education for employment movement within the frame of social efficiency and continue with an examination of some assumptions that teacher educators and candidates could easily make about this subject matter, in order to illustrate and use social mooring.


Social mooring as a tool to enlarge our frames of reference compels us to look at how a concept has been presented historically. Education for employment is an idea that is strongly associated with the historical movement of social efficiency within schooling (see Kliebard, 1995; Spring, 1972, 1991). This is a movement that has been traced by historians of education (e.g., Callahan, 1962). Within the field of teacher education, we ask, How often is history of education emphasized within the subject matter commonly taught and held as important for teacher candidates? It is certainly included in the curriculum for graduate students of education, but it is not considered vital for preservice teachers, beyond a chapter in a foundational textbook with discussions of dates, places, and people (e.g., Ryan & Cooper, 1995).

When discussing the history of the social efficiency movement, Kliebard (1995) writes about the influence of Taylor and the making of schools into models of efficiency based on efficient factories. This model, as applied to schools, instructed and regulated teachers very carefully in what and how they could teach. What they were encouraged to teach came from objectives that broke down knowledge into bits and pieces, much like employment and jobs had been broken down so that the work of businesses and corporations could be done more quickly and efficiently. Those who were teachers were mostly single women, as we mentioned earlier, who were considered of low social status. Historically, when an occupation is considered to be held mostly by women, management techniques often are implemented to teach the employees to do the work, placing very little trust in their intellect (Apple, 1986).

Making historical connections is vital to discussions about education for teacher educators and teacher candidates. This social mooring helps us to see how the movement of social efficiency still affects certain ways of reasoning and practicing within education and teacher education at present. The link that was created between efficient factories and efficient school “plants” can currently be seen as a naturalized phenomenon within educational discourse. Though there is not the picture of the industrial assembly line, there is a vision of teams of people working together to get projects done, whether within the service industry or within other industries (see Olson, 1997). The use of principles of business and industry in discussions of purposes and practices of schooling is so pervasive that it is difficult to talk about relations between students and teachers, for example, without using the word “management.”

This movement of social efficiency from the early 1900s has been traced from the early years of the field of curriculum studies. It is a movement that is easily observed within both popular and professional discourse by those who have read about and studied its history. It is currently affecting the discourse about knowledge and globalization. Though the technologies have changed, the ideas applied about what students should learn to do in schools, and about what teachers need to know to teach those students, have connections to historical trends that required the same of teachers in 1920, 1960, and in 2000. Yesterday, it was the metaphor of industrial assembly lines that could be used to compare school and workplaces. Today, it is the picture of a student working at a fast-food establishment, using some knowledge of basic technologies, reading, writing, and working with other people, for other people (see Packer et al., 1996).

This work of mooring concepts to historical trends, of looking at education for employment and at the history of the movement of social efficiency, with the universal, naturalized use of the discourse of business in education, is not interrogated in many teacher education contexts. Today, when we do discuss education for employment in teacher education classrooms we may hear conversations about the following: field trips to various places of employment, speakers who can talk about their experiences with their occupations, the method of encouraging all students to think they can fill any occupation that appeals to them, the use of websites and resource materials regarding school-to-work programs, and the use of projects within the curriculum that tie the practices of businesses and community workers with subject matter in schools.

Questioning Assumptions

We pointed out that social mooring would require questioning the assumptions made about what is stated, analyzing what is present and absent, and looking carefully at what the assumptions, presences, and absences produce in discussions within teacher education. When considering education for employment within teacher education, the following are some possible assumptions about this subject matter within teacher education: (1) it is an effective way to prepare students for participation within society; (2) it is a way to inform students about how subject matter like math and literacy are used in “the real world”; (3) it can encourage students from different backgrounds to think about a variety of career choices; and (4) it is an idea that can be applied to students by teachers in a nondifferentiated way, giving limited attention to factors of race, social class, gender, and power relationships. These are just a few assumptions that could be made about the subject of education for employment within teacher education. Below, we examine these assumptions to moor the concept of education for employment socially, culturally, and historically.

The first assumption, that education for employment is an effective way to prepare students for participation in society, provides a normalized pattern of reasoning, assuming that to have a good job is to be a good citizen. This allows for status and power to circulate around members of society who hold certain types of employment. This effective participation in society is connected to having skills to work, not skills to question or criticize structures or functions in society.

When teachers learn from education for employment that one of their functions is to create dispositions in their students that will allow them to fit into the world of employment, it can simultaneously discourage conceptualizations of educating as intellectual, creative, or critical. Participation of students and teachers is aimed at teaching and learning skills that will allow employable functioning. To participate is to work. Employment is arranged not only by skill but by social status and the obtaining of certain credentials and cultural capital. Effective participation is often arranged by race, class, and gender factors, tied to a web of power and knowledge, or power as knowledge. Bill Gates is able to powerfully participate within society because of what he knows. This does not question what factors made possible his “effective” and powerful participation.

The second assumption from education for employment includes using “real world” occupations and visits to and speakers from this real world, distant from school, in order to teach students the broader use of math, reading, and writing. This could seem valid to teacher candidates as it is finding ways to show students the multiple applications of the activities they are learning. Yet, how often are the activities themselves questioned for how they have been influenced by race, class, gender, and power? Is the discourse of a workplace ever questioned for being the evidence, and effect, of power relationships that have allowed only “standard” (read white, middleclass) English as the medium of expression, and only certain forms of reading, writing, and calculating as the desirable skills in a workplace? If a student does not learn these skills, and is even labeled because of the lack thereof, what will be the consequences for not appearing to be a good future employee? This student could be plugged into the system either of prison, for those with unacceptable behaviors, or of the lowest-status work such as that found within much of the service industry.

A third assumption about education for employment is that students from different backgrounds can have all occupations available to them through this kind of education. This does not open for discussion the idea that much that has been done and thought and reasoned about in school has historically marginalized students on the basis of race, class, and gender, which is bound to continue in education for employment as well. In a recent lecture given on education for employment, the speaker told a story about “inner-city” kids who were taken to an airport and shown the underbelly of this airport, where the baggage was handled. All this “glory” of baggage handling, and other service-type jobs, was shown to this group of students, as their possibilities for employment. The reasoning about students based on historically racist, sexist, and classist systems of educating does not often get discussed as part of the subject matter within teacher education classrooms. Considering education for employment seems like a good idea, but the future for some students is still considered in certain limited ways.

A fourth assumption about education for employment is that it is an idea that can be applied to students by teachers in a nondifferentiated way, ignoring factors of race, social class, gender, and power relationships. It is tied to the idea that individuals can, by their merits, learn skills that will open any employment to them. Their work will never be to question power relations that constitute work and education and almost every other system in society. It will consist of performing skills, and these skills, if performed well, will be open to all if they earn the right to be in a job, based on their performances. What is not questioned is the way we educate based on race, class, and gender, in order to fit students into how we have historically reasoned about them. Looking at students in a “colorblind” way is not possible but is pronounced as a common practice by many educators. Such is the discourse of teaching students about employment. When telling students of color that they can be a pilot, how often will educators inform them that, historically, there have been pilots of color, in the military, for example, though they were all segregated into one unit. Socially and culturally, that pilot of color will have to negotiate more than work skills when holding that job. These discussions as related to education and employment do not often happen within the teacher education classroom.

What is present within the above assumptions is that education for employment can be part of a teacher’s knowledge base, and that this concept can be applied in schools. What is absent are considerations of the factors of history as they connect to businesses influencing schools and discourses about schools, and what is absent is an analysis of how race, class, gender, and power relationships affect possible reasoning about employment as applied to individual students.

What these absences and presences produce is a discourse about education for employment as one piece, one bit, that could and should be included in a knowledge base for teachers. This concept of education for employment produces, within its function within teacher education, an exclusion of a discussion of critiques of business with its influence on discourse and practice throughout society. What is structured into a discussion when talking about education for employment is an absence of criticism of its presence in education for teachers.

We discuss the above assumptions and this case in order to address our concerns for teaching marginalized students within our knowledge society. This case illustrates that using social mooring with even one idea can open up discussions within teacher education about teaching students from different backgrounds, especially those who experience inequitable schooling.


As we continue to listen to discourses about knowledge, and as we visit classrooms with demographically diverse students, we hope that proponents of a knowledge base will consider the social moorings of their ideas. Our aim, from within the field of teacher education, is to say that any knowledge base needs to be socially moored and connected to conceptions about circulations of power, tied to race, class, and gender issues.

We would like to acknowledge and thank James Gee, Elizabeth Graue, and Thomas Popkewitz for their helpful comments on drafts of this paper.


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CARL A. GRANT is a Hoefs-Bascom Professor of Teacher Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has written or edited twenty books and monographs on multicultural education and teacher education. These include Research and Multicultural Education, 1993; Multicultural Research: A Reflective Engagement with Race, Class, Gender and Sexual Orientation, 1998; Making Choices for Multicultural Education (3rd edition) (with Christine E. Sleeter), 1998; After the School Bell Rings (2nd edition) (with Christine E. Sleeter), 1995; Educating for Diversity, 1993. He has also written more than 100 articles, chapters in books, and reviews. Several pieces of his writing and programs he has directed have received awards. Professor Grant was a Fulbright Scholar in England in 1982–1983 researching and studying multicultural education. In 1993, Professor Grant became President of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) and in 1996 he became Editor of the Review of Education Research (RER). In 1997, he received the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education Distinguished Achievement Award.

KIM WIECZOREK is a doctoral candidate studying teacher education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She has a chapter (with Carl Grant): “A Review of Best Practices and Multicultural Literature for School Leaders,” 2000. She and Carl (with Maureen Gillette) also have an article in the journal Race, Gender, and Class: “Text Materials and the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Power,” 2000. She is currently researching how teacher educators reason and talk about what teacher candidates need.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 5, 2000, p. 913-935
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10621, Date Accessed: 10/18/2021 9:57:37 AM

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About the Author
  • Kim Wieczorek
    University of Wisconsin–Madison
    E-mail Author
    Kim Wieczorek is a doctoral candidate studying teacher education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin– Madison. She has a chapter with Carl Grant: “A Review of Best Practices and Multicultural Literature for School Leaders,” 2000. She and Carl with Maureen Gillette also have an article in the journal Race, Gender, and Class: “Text Materials and the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Power,” 2000. She is currently researching how teacher educators reason and talk about what teacher candidates need.
  • Carl Grant
    University of Wisconsin–Madison
    CARL A. GRANT is a Hoefs-Bascom Professor of Teacher Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin– Madison. He has written or edited twenty books and monographs on multicultural education and teacher education. These include Research and Multicultural Education, 1993; Multicultural Research: A Reflective Engagement with Race, Class, Gender and Sexual Orientation, 1998; Making Choices for Multicultural Education 3rd edition with Christine E. Sleeter, 1998; After the School Bell Rings 2nd edition with Christine E. Sleeter, 1995; Educating for Diversity, 1993. He has also written more than 100 articles, chapters in books, and reviews. Several pieces of his writing and programs he has directed have received awards. Professor Grant was a Fulbright Scholar in England in 1982–1983 researching and studying multicultural education. In 1993, Professor Grant became President of the National Association for Multicultural Education and in 1996 he became Editor of the Review of Education Research (RER). In 1997, he received the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education Distinguished Achievement Award.
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