EDF 511 – Foundations of Transformative Education and Social Change

Course Instructor: Dr. David I. Backer
Email: dbacker@wcupa.edu
Office Phone: 
Cell Phone: 203-917-7416
Office Location: Evergreen zoom link
Office Hours: Mondays 2-4 , Tuesdays 2-4, Thursdays 4-5.
West Chester University, Center City Campus
Public Safety: 610-436-3311


The mission of the Master of Science in Transformative Education and Social Change program at West Chester University is the development of critically conscious, public intellectuals who seek to employ education as a tool of individual and collective liberation, social justice and democratic action.  To this end, we believe educators must engage in a serious critique of the political contexts in which they teach. Our program, therefore, seeks to provide students with a critical theoretical framework from which they can challenge their own biases and assumptions that may exist within their own educational philosophies and practices.  The program is designed for current educators – in schools or communities – who seek to examine their profession, and their own practice within it, in relation to the society in which they live. Within the context of the action research model, this innovative, interdisciplinary, practitioner-oriented program is designed to provide educators with an opportunity to identify concerns, conduct research, and design solutions that will have direct impact on their professional lives, communities, and workplaces. 


The learning outcomes for the TESC Program will focus on students who are current educators in schools or are working in other professional educational settings. Students develop a “thematic concern” based on their area of study. Throughout the programmatic core and elective coursework, students will develop a critical/transformative lens regarding their unique thematic concern. Students will then prepare a “critical action research thesis” based on their concern. The learning outcome will be based on national standards and the principles highlighted in the above mission statement. Thus, encouraging students to become leaders and active democratic agents of change within their classroom and broader school/community environments.

The TESC program has been designed in alignment with four sets of standards: 


History of education, integrated with educational philosophy and thought; the long evolution of education theory and issues.


This course is designed to engage the student in an exploration of how education has been, and could be, used as an instigator of social transformation.  Students will consider the social, historical, and philosophical foundations of education, emphasizing the interconnection between systems of education and social power structures – political, economic, cultural and theological. The course will provide students with the opportunity to define and explore their thematic concern in light of these foundations, creating a philosophy of education that will serve as the basis for the final action research thesis. 


  1. Use an interdisciplinary lens to analyze, evaluate, and integrate issues in the sociological, historical, and philosophical foundations of education, including an understanding of the moral, social, ethical, political dimensions of schools; 
  2. Analyze and evaluate the role education has played, and continues to play, in the transformation of society – both in the way education has impacted and changed society and the way schooling has been transformed by the social, political and economic forces of society. ;
  3. Develop habits of reading, writing, speaking, and inquiry that are reflective, critical, and that demonstrate a knowledge and appreciation of other viewpoints;
  4. Consider school, family, and community contexts in connection to their prior experience and apply knowledge and concepts to real-world problems;


What are the fundamental premises undergirding the fields of critical education, social foundations of education, urban education, and critical pedagogy? According to foundational concepts in the critical tradition what is a society, how does it change, and what does education have to do with it? What are basic theories, histories, and frameworks undergirding transformative education?


  1. Students will become familiar with foundational texts, concepts, and authors influencing the tradition of transformative education and social change.
  2. Students will learn to read and confidently interpret dense, difficult, academic texts.
  3. Students will apply interpretations of foundational texts to contemporary urban education.
  4. Students will learn to write academic prose.


All readings will be available via PDF on both D2L and davidbacker.com/classes. 

Content warning: This is a theory course. The material we will be covering will be abstract, difficult to understand, and may feel removed from concrete situations, events, places, and people. Two things about this. (1) These are ideas that have guided education, transformation, and social change. They undergird many of the concrete practices, policies, and ideas you will encounter in the program.  (2) Please be patient and kind with yourself as you read these texts. They are difficult, sometimes maddeningly so. Use an assets approach, not a deficits approach with yourself. Let the words flow over you. Let yourself just read them even if you don’t understand at first. If you don’t understand something, just keep reading. Stick with what you do understand, not what you don’t understand. We’ll try our best to understand them together. Please read both texts each week, but choose one to study carefully and one to skim. When studying carefully, please delve deeply into the text and write a discussion question. When skimming familiarize yourself with lines, terms, and the text’s other features.

Note: Part of West Chester University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to switch the vast majority of instruction to remote.  This decision was made out of an abundance of caution to protect the health of all members of the WCU community.  Faculty have been asked to make every effort to adapt their courses to this novel situation while still meeting the critical learning outcomes of the course.  Students are asked to discuss any problems with the new course format and schedule directly with their instructors.  Patience and flexibility on everyone’s behalf are critical to our community’s navigation of this public health crisis. For this particular course, the following alternative modalities are being utilized:

Courses will meet synchronously online at my evergreen Zoom link.


Date Guiding Questions and Readings What’s Due
8/25 Can School Change Society?

Syllabus introduction; reading discussion and practice summary paper.

Michael Apple (2015), “Reframing the Question of Whether School Can Change Society”: Apple 2015, p. 305-310

MK Asante, Buck, Chps. 4 + 19: Buck Excerpt

9/1 When you educate the soul, do you educate the city?

Key terms: education, face, heart, soul, city

Leon-Portilla, Miguel. Aztec Thought and Culture, “Introduction: Philosophy and Culture in Ancient Mexico” and “Chapter V. The Approach to Man in Nahuatl Thought,” PDF: AztecThought,Intro+Chapter1

PDF: AztecThought,Chapter5

Plato, Republic, Book 3: Plato PDF

Summary Paper 1

Praxis Presentation: Dr. Backer

9/8 How do we learn to be you and me, and get our consciousness in history? 

Key terms: double consciousness, lord/slave dialectic, recognition

W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Chapter 1: w-e-b-du-bois-the-souls-of-black-folk

G.W.F Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, paragraphs 190-196: Hegel PDF

Summary Paper 2

Praxis Presentation:

9/15 What’s the deal with capitalism? 

Key terms: materialism, base/superstructure, exploitation, use-value/exchange-value

Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

Karl Marx, “Preface“, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

Karl Marx, “Capital, Vol. 1”; “The Working Day”: Capital 2

“Use Value and Exchange Value”: Capital 1

Summary Paper 3

Praxis Presentation:

9/22 What’s love got to do with it? 

Key terms: Study, superego, oppression

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1691). The answer/la respuesta. The Feminist Press: PDF sjicanswer

(Supplement: Sor Filotea’s initial letter).

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Sections VII + VIII: Freud PDF

6pm: Race/Class/Gender and Education Speaker: 

Summary Paper 4

Praxis Presentation:

9/29 What’s democratic about education, and what’s educational about democracy? 

Key terms: assimilation, interests, give-and-take

Adams, D. W. (1995). Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928. University Press of Kansas, 2501 W. 15th St., Lawrence, KS. Adams PDF.

John Dewey, Democracy and Education, Dewey Chapter 7

Summary Paper 5

Praxis Presentation:

10/6 Do teachers help or hurt the ruling classes? 

Key terms: Literacy, liberation, hegemony, organic intellectual

Angela Davis, Introduction and “Education and Liberation: Black Women’s Perspective” in Women, Race, and Class. PDF: Davis Education 

Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 3-33: Gramsci PDF

Summary Paper 6

Praxis Presentation:

10/13  (Fall Break)  
10/20 What’s the difference between education and organizing? 

Paulo Freire and Myles Horton, We Make the Road by Walking, Chapters 1 + 2, paulo-freire-we-make-the-road-by-walking-conversations-on-education-and-social-change

6pm: Race/Class/Gender and Education Speaker: 

Summary Paper 8

Praxis Presentation:

10/27 Does our society teach us to be alienated? 

Key terms: industrialism, polytechnical education, one-dimensionality, revolution

Krupskaya, N. K., & Ivanov-Mumjiev, G. P. (1957). NK Krupskaya on Education: Selected Articles and Speeches. Foreign Languages Publishing House. 

Krupskaya PDF primary material  

Herbert Marcuse, One-dimensional Man, Chapter 1: Marcuse PDF

Summary Paper 9

Praxis Presentation:

11/3 Do schools reproduce relations of production?

Key terms: ideology, interpellation, reproduction

Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes towards an Investigation” : Website

Chrystos, “I Don’t Understand Those Who Have Turned Away From Me,” in This Bridge Called My Back. Chrystos Poem

Supplemental: David I. Backer, The Gold and the Dross: Althusser for Educators, “Beginner’s Guide to Interpellation” 

Summary Paper 10
11/10 Do schools transmit cultural capital? 

Key terms: symbolic violence, pedagogic action

Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Passeron, Reproduction: In Education, Society, and Culture, p.3-31: Bourdieu PDF 

Race/Class/Gender and Education Speaker: 

Summary Paper 11

Praxis Presentation:

11/17 Does school structure correspond to economic structure? 

Coleman Report. PDF: ColemanReportNEW

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Schooling in Capitalist America, Chapters 1 + 2 + Conclusion: BowlesandGintisSelections

Summary Paper 12

Praxis Presentation:

12/1 Does youth culture resist or reproduce dominance in society? 

Paul Willis, Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, Introduction, Chapters 5 – 7: Willis PDF

6pm: Race/Class/Gender, and Education Speaker: 

Summary Paper 13

Praxis Presentation:

12/8 Final discussion + Foundations paper due  

Special events
Sept. 30 – October 2, Angela Davis Lecture to West Chester University
Nov. 13-14, Critical Theories and Education Conference


Summary paper: Academic summary of text and a discussion question (5 total due on days of your choosing). These short papers will have two parts: a summary and a discussion question.

1) Precise and rigorous summary of the day’s reading (300 words). This summary should use in-text citations from the readings in APA format.

For example: Althusser (2014) writes that “[i]t will be readily agreed that this representation of the structure of every society as an edifice comprising a base (or infrastructure) on which the two ‘floors’ of the superstructure are erected is a metaphor” (p. 53).

2) A question for the group to discuss (not a factual or evaluative question).

Discussion questions can have the following forms: 

When the author says [passage], does s/he mean [one interpretation] or [another interpretation]?

On the one hand, the author says [passage], but then elsewhere s/he says [different passage]–is that inconsistent?

Is the real meaning of what the author is saying [your thought], or is it something else?

When I read [passage], I think it means [your thought]–but I’m not sure because [doubt]. Am I right?

In one reading, I thought [something] was true, but in this reading the author says [passage]. Is [something] really true?

Foundations paper: Using academic prose, trace the foundations of transformative education using only our course readings. You can focus on the concept of social reproduction, or another theme of your choice— possibly relating to your thematic concern. Mention every one of the course readings somehow (even if it’s just a sentence) but focus on 3-4 in particular. 2,500 words. Due 12/8. You can use your summaries for this paper, and you can use parts of this paper for your final thesis, particularly chapters two and three.

Praxis Presentation: Praxis = theory + practice. On one class night, choose something related to education from your experience, interests, current events, your surroundings, or EDF 591 and apply the night’s reading to it. Show how the reading can mix with practice. The presentation should be ~20 minutes, and can include handouts, examples, activities of any kind. Be as creative as you’d like (and feel free to use different modes of intelligence: movement, images, etc). Go with your instinct– even if you can’t explain exactly why the night’s reading made you think of the thing you talk about. Sign up in advance.


I will send out a grade proposal survey at the midpoint and end of the semester. Students will take the measure of their own learning with this survey and propose a grade, with which I will agree or disagree.

While no given assignment will be worth any amount in particular, the percentages below are suggestions to help you think about self-evaluation as part of this process. (cf. Backer 2018, “Socialist Grading.”)

5 Summary Papers                                          35%

1 Foundations Paper                                       35%

1 Praxis presentation                                      15%

Overall attendance and participation         15%


I think of attendance as fluid. I only ask that if you’re going to be absent please let me know via email either well before or just before class begins.


Rarely, students need incompletes for extraordinary reasons.  I will not grant an incomplete at the end of the semester without prior discussion with the student and a firm deadline the student proposes for completing the work.


When students face challenges securing food and/or housing, it can be difficult to learn. If you are in this situation, please contact the Dean of Students. If you feel comfortable, please also let me know, and I will do what I can to connect you with appropriate resources. Our campus offers various services and supports for students; know that you are not alone in dealing with these issues.


Many students have care responsibilities for a child in their life, whether as a parent, an older sibling, cousin, etc. If your childcare needs ever come into conflict with the course schedule, please don’t feel as though you need to miss class. I understand that sometimes plans fall through. If this happens, you are welcome to bring a child to class with you. I simply ask that you bring materials to keep them busy (e.g., a book, drawing materials, etc.), and remain mindful of your classmates. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.


It is the responsibility of each student to adhere to the university’s standards for academic integrity. Violations of academic integrity include any act that violates the rights of another student in academic work, that involves misrepresentation of your own work, or that disrupts the instruction of the course. Other violations include (but are not limited to): cheating on assignments or examinations; plagiarizing, which means copying any part of another’s work and/or using ideas of another and presenting them as one’s own without giving proper credit to the source; selling, purchasing, or exchanging of term papers; falsifying of information; and using your own work from one class to fulfill the assignment for another class without significant modification. Proof of academic misconduct can result in the automatic failure and removal from this course. For questions regarding Academic Integrity, the No-Grade Policy, Sexual Harassment, or the Student Code of Conduct, students are encouraged to refer to the Department Graduate Handbook, the Graduate Catalog, the Ram’s Eye View, and the University website at http://www.wcupa.edu.


If you have a disability that requires accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), please present your letter of accommodations and meet with me as soon as possible so that I can support your success in an informed manner. Accommodations cannot be granted retroactively. If you would like to know more about West Chester University’s Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD), please visit them at 223 Lawrence Center. The OSSD hours of Operation are Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Their phone number is 610-436-2564, their fax number is 610-436-2600, their email address is ossd@wcupa.edu, and their website is at http://www.wcupa.edu/ussss/ossd.


The TESC program of West Chester University strives to provide an inclusive learning environment for all members of its community by ensuring that faculty, students, and staff reflect the larger community, and by building a program committed to inter-cultural growth and learning.  Please contact Dr. Paul Morgan (Graduate Coordinator, TESC Program) or the Campus Climate Intervention Team if you have any concerns


All official course communication will utilize WCU’s webmail and D2L systems. Students who prefer to use alternate email addresses should arrange to have their WCU emails forwarded to that account. To avoid confusion and/or discrepancies regarding submission of assignments, you are to submit all assignments in class, unless otherwise specified. If you are experiencing problems with your webmail or D2L account, you can visit http://www.wcupa.edu/d2l or call the ACC Student HelpDesk at (610) 436-3350.


West Chester University and its faculty are committed to assuring a safe and productive educational environment for all students. In order to meet this commitment and to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights, the University requires faculty members to report incidents of sexual violence shared by students to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, Ms. Lynn Klingensmith. The only exceptions to the faculty member’s reporting obligation are when incidents of sexual violence are communicated by a student during a classroom discussion, in a writing assignment for a class, or as part of a University-approved research project. Faculty members are obligated to report sexual violence or any other abuse of a student who was, or is, a child (a person under 18 years of age) when the abuse allegedly occurred to the person designated in the University protection of minors policy.  Information regarding the reporting of sexual violence and the resources that are available to victims of sexual violence is set forth at the webpage for the Office of Social Equity at http://www.wcupa.edu/_admin/social.equity/.


All students are encouraged to sign up for the University’s free WCU ALERT service, which delivers official WCU emergency text messages directly to your cell phone.  For more information, visit http://www.wcupa.edu/wcualert. To report an emergency, call the Department of Public Safety at 610-436-3311.


It is expected that faculty, staff, and students activate and maintain regular access to University provided e-mail accounts. Official university communications, including those from your instructor, will be sent through your university e-mail account. You are responsible for accessing that mail to be sure to obtain official University communications. Failure to access will not exempt individuals from the responsibilities associated with this course.


I am a member of APSCUF, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. We uphold the highest standards of teaching, scholarly inquiry, and service. We are an organization that is committed to promoting excellence in all that we do to ensure that our students receive the best education. Ask me for more information on what APSCUF does for students, and see http://www.apscuf.org or http://www.facebook.com/APSCUF.


All students have a right to expect that the University will reasonably accommodate their religious observances, practices and beliefs.  In accordance with this policy, I expect you to notify me in writing if you intend to be absent for a class or announced examination.


A grade of “W” (withdraw) will be entered on the academic record of any student who withdraws from a course after the drop/add period and before the end of the ninth class week or the equivalent in summer sessions. A student may not withdraw from a course to avoid an academic integrity violation. After the ninth week of classes, students may not withdraw selectively from courses; they must contact the Office of the Registrar and withdraw from the University. The University will record a “W” for all courses in which the student is registered. However, if the effective date of official withdrawal is during the last week of classes, a letter grade or NG will be assigned for that course. A student may not receive a “W” during the last week of classes. (West Chester University Catalog, 2016).