There is no mystery about the original purpose of NYSFEA or who was responsible for launching the organization. That honor belongs to Jeff Herold, an historian of education who came to Cortland in 1969 directly from graduate school. He sought and obtained permission from administration to convene an organizational meeting of SUNY foundations of education faculty in 1971.
My basic reason for forming the Association had nothing to do with left-wing politics. I simply thought it would be good if SUNY foundations of education faculty could get together occasionally to discuss the place of foundations in our undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs as well as to share methods for teaching the courses.
The timing for creating a state-wide foundations organization could not have been better. As before (and continuing forever), questions about the value of foundations were part of a conservative attack from those with a mechanistic view of the nature of professional training in education. Individuals with this point of view also believed that there was no place in teacher training program for content and experiences that encourage alternative perspectives about the purposes that profession was meant to achieve. One could not dare to build a new social order if one did not know it was needed, or know that teachers should have an important role in helping to shape that new and more just society.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the expression of conservative ideals about the role of teachers and their training was embedded in a training model known “performance based teacher education” (PBTE) or “competency based teacher education” (CBTE). This model was fully supported by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and by most state education departments. Books and monographs about CBTE dominated the field of teacher education, and in 1972, the New York State Education Department mandated that all college teacher training programs must be developed or reconstituted in a CBTE format. The competencies that constituted the main content in college certification programs were predominately derived from methods and educational psychology courses. Because faculty from those areas outnumbered those from foundations, there was little motivation to include foundations insights and values in those programs. This development was an important topic in the early years of NYSFEA, especially since new foundations faculty were being terminated as a result of CBTE program development.
Of course there was no way a fledgling academic society could alter the competency-based environment established by the New York State Education Department, but there was one approach that could mitigate the damage to foundations and that was for foundations faculty to become an active force in the development of CBTE programs rather than hanging back in despair. Conversations at NYSFEA fostered this approach, and that was what happened at several colleges that retained strong foundations components in their programs. Indeed, thirty years later, this same approach was discussed and encouraged at American Educational Studies Association (AESA) conference panels focusing on yet another AACTE set of standards (the fourth or fifth set since CBTE); a participant on one of those panels was Dick Ognibene, a founding member of NYSFEA who had developed an education program at Siena College that contained a strong foundations component. (NYSFEA was open to all foundations professors from public and private colleges immediately after it was organized.)
Discussions of teacher education issues did not remain the central focus of the NYSFEA. How could it? Jeff Herold’s foundations colleagues at Cortland were Bill Griffen and John Marciano, both of whom were passionate, radical activists devoted to the work of creating a peaceful and just society, and to do so from both inside the college classroom where they could share their perspectives with teachers in training, and outside the classroom where they would be observed practicing what they preached. Griffen was the senior member of this activist duo who began teaching at Cortland in 1955 and remained there until illness forced his retirement in 2006. His political transformation took place in the early 1960s when one his former graduate students was murdered in Alabama while trying to promote racial integration. This event moved Bill and his wife Judy to become active participants in the civil rights movement through their literacy work and efforts to register Black voters in the south. Bill subsequently became heavily involved in the attempt to promote peace and founded an anti-Vietnam War group, Cortland Citizens for Peace, an organization that is still active.
Bill’s work was enhanced and expanded when John Marciano joined the Cortland faculty in 1969. Marciano had done his doctoral work at SUNY Buffalo. While there he made a name for himself as a founding member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) group on campus, and as a participant in an anti-war demonstration led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a member of the UB Graduate Student Association, Marciano was responsible for bringing Dr. King to Buffalo in the fall of 1967 and was his constant companion all the while he was in town. King’s speech focused on the need to do more to achieve racial integration and to winning the war on poverty rather than the unjust war in Vietnam. While at Cortland, like Griffen, Marciano was also a community activist, serving as chair of the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission.
From 1971 on, Marciano and Griffen helped to shape the agenda of NYSFEA, and that did not change when Jeff Herold left Cortland in 1974 and Ron Butchart joined the faculty as his replacement. Butchart was writing a revisionist historical study of the work of secular and religious aid societies and the Freedman’s Bureau in the education of freedmen during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Butchart’s research shattered the conventional wisdom about the purposes of those groups and culminated in his 1980 book Northern Schools, Southern Blacks, and Reconstruction: Freedmen’s Education, 1862-1875.
The year before, Griffin and Marciano also published a book, Lessons of the Vietnam War: A Critical Examination of School Texts and an Interpretive Comparative History Utilizing the Pentagon Papers and Other Documents. They sent the manuscript to Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Jonathan Kozol, all of whom responded favorably, with Zinn offering to write the Foreword. It’s hard to imagine a more radical 1970s trio than these supporters of Griffin and Marciano’s work, which gives a hint about the kind of political philosophy that prevailed among NYSFEA members. As Ron Butchart wrote when reflecting on his early association with NYSFEA: “Overall, the organization probably had, at the time, the largest concentration of leftists anywhere!”
In 1977-1978, under the leadership of AESA, the Council of Learned Societies in Education developed of set standards by which to delineate and assess the purpose and effectiveness of foundations instruction. As AESA continues to state, “the purpose of social foundations study is to bring the intellectual resources (from humanities and social science disciplines) to bear in developing interpretive, normative, and critical perspectives on education, both in and outside of schools.” Clearly, in its first decade, NYSFEA’s agenda, as well as the publications and social activism of some of its notable members, indicates how aligned the organization was with national developments in the social foundations field. Not coincidently, AESA was created in 1968; NYSFEA followed in 1971.
Classroom life was not an issue that was ignored by NYSFEA members neither as a subject to be studied nor in the quest for personal excellence while teaching. Ron Butchart, for example, after only six years of college teaching, received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1980. Between 1975 and 1981, Dick Ognibene published articles on the specific use of college classroom strategies such as values exercises, simulations, and affective teaching methods, and a general article entitled “Improving College Teaching: A New Role for Educational Foundations.” No doubt, the NYSFEA member most well known for a focus on curriculum and instruction was Bill Doll, Jr. from SUNY Oswego. Doll was President of NYSFEA in 1975 and was the first to introduce his colleagues to the emerging caring classroom ideas of Nel Noddings and the curriculum theory of Bill Pinar. Pinar left the University of Rochester in 1985 to go to Louisiana State University, and a few years later Doll left Oswego to join him there. Together they worked to make the idea of “curriculum reconceptualization” an internationally known way to view curriculum as an activity that emerges in a classroom and not something constructed ahead and then delivered to students. When Bill Doll traveled to China on several occasions to consult with officials about the Chinese curriculum reform project, few people remember that five years after it began, Bill was president of NYSFEA.
This essay recalls some people and activities associated with NYSFEA during it first decade. It is for others to judge whether or not NYSFEA had continued down the path carved out by its founders. In writing this essay, the discovery that moved this author the most was that in 2008, one year after his death, Bill Griffen received SUNY’s Distinguished Citizen Award. It is not a stretch to say that helping to produce good citizens is a goal that foundations professors strive to achieve.