The field of foundations of education was born in the early 1930s at Teachers College, Columbia University. It is the result of an organizational restructuring in the academy and the social advocacy of a small group of professors concerned about the relation of schooling and teacher education to the context of the society in which it existed. In particular, they shared a faith that education-by which they meant schooling-could change or "reconstruct" a society that, at the time, was plagued by uncertainty and economic depression. Many, if not most, of these people had also "come of age," so to speak, during the progressive era, had lived through the First World War, and had seen the United States become a player on the world stage.
Since they shared a considerable American faith in schooling to ameliorate social conditions, they were very interested in the education of teachers. And they believed that, if teachers were to be more than mere technicians-which, of course, they would have to be if they were to preside over the education of children who would "reconstruct" society-they needed a thorough grounding in the humanities and social sciences to give them the knowledge and skills these disciplines had to offer.
Foundations was then, and is still, an interdisciplinary field, whose purpose is to bring the humanities and social science disciplines--particularly history, philosophy, and sociology to bear on the study of the educational enterprise in the United States, and, increasingly, the world. In addition, the field may, at various colleges and universities, encompass a wide range of disciplines and area studies, including history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, religion, political science, economics, cultural studies, gender studies, comparative and international education, educational studies, and educational policy studies. In the Kent State Graduate School of Education, the major disciplines that underlie foundational courses are history, philosophy, sociology, and comparative and international education, with strands in multicultural studies, gender studies, policy studies, and international studies.
Study in the foundations of education looks at education writ large, arguing that deliberate and important teaching and learning occur in a wide variety of settings, which interact in increasingly interdependent ways. While foundational study may focus on schooling, it always approaches schooling issues from the point of view of their relation to the roles and influence of other settings and professionals, as well as to the politics and processes of the wider society and culture(s) in which they are embedded. This is particularly the case with respect to democracy and what might be called its "discontents."