The Origins and Development of the Sociology of Education Association
by Donald Fisher

The origins of SEA can be traced back to the winter of 1972-73.  Audrey Schwartz, a young Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California, took the lead and with a small group of California sociologists created the SEA.  This non-profit voluntary association has three stated purposes: to advance the field of sociology of education; to foster intellectual exchange and social relationships among its members; and, to serve the professional and scientific needs of people engaged in the field of sociology of education. [1]  This was—and still is—the only association in the United States devoted to the field of sociology of education.

Dr. Schwartz was concerned that all the meetings she attended did not have a clear space for sociologists of education.  She convinced her Dean to provide some resources to host a meeting of sociologists doing research on education.  Dr. Schwartz contacted colleagues and friends in Los Angeles and throughout the rest of California and on the day approximately 40 faculty and students attended the meeting.  Two keynote speakers with rather different perspectives provided the stimulus for discussion.  C. Wayne Gordon(UCLA) and John Pincus (Rand Corporation)   The idea of the association was enthusiastically endorsed by the group which included the names of some of the most active members of the SEA in future years (Dudley BlakeCSU, NorthridgeEleanor Blumenberg, Western States Director of Education, Anti-Defamation LeagueDorothy MeierCSU, NorthridgeEugene MornellClaremont CollegesDavid O’SheaUCLAGordon StantonCSU, San BernadinoJulie StulacStanford UniversityRichard ThielCSU, Northridge; and Robert WenkertUC Berkeley).

At this stage the title being used was the Western Sociology of Education Association. [2]   With the help of Gordon and O’Shea and colleagues at Stanford and Berkeley, Schwartz proceeded to organize a major conference.  O’Shea made the contact with William Spady at the National Institute of Education (NIE) who committed substantial funds for the event.  While the organizers were all from California, the conference confirmed that the SEA would henceforth be a national organization.  Following the preference of Spady, the conference was held at the Asilomar State Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove in February 1974.  The more than 150 conferees included many of the leading sociologists of education in the United States.  By the end of this meeting the SEA had elected three Officers (Schwartz, President; O’Shea, Vice-President; and Meier, Secretary-Treasurer) and a Board of eight Directors which, significantly, included two students.  Some of the leading sociologists of education in the United States (See Appendix 2, SEA Conferences) were brought in to reflect on the ‘Sociology of the School and Schooling’ and the NIE provided funds to publish the proceedings. [3]

The conference focused on three major objectives.  What are the policy issues that must be faced to improve school and society?  What are the issues related to policy-oriented research?  What are the methodological issues germane to policy-oriented-research?  Each keynote presentation led into a discussion that became increasingly lively as younger faculty and graduate students became more critical.  The divisions are worth commenting on in some detail because they foreshadow some of the basic lines of tension that have persisted in the organization since that time.  The dominant themes were housed very much within the status quo of mainstream sociology of education and policy studies through the presentations of Charles Bidwell (Chicago), Burton Clark (Yale) and William Spady (NIE).  The critique developed in part by Robert Stout (CSU-Fullerton) and Ray Rist (Portland State University) was further amplified by a group of doctoral students from Berkeley and Stanford who labeled themselves ‘The Radical Caucus’. The group was formed during the conference and then met to discuss and write their response to the conference papers and discussion.  The resulting document concluded that the conference was “marked by gross a-historicism and theoretical poverty” and was focused “on the institutional character of education as an integrative mechanism under advanced capitalism.”  The group lamented the lack of any critical discussion of social class and race. [4]  Beyond the obvious generational differences the other key lines of tension were between a normative, functionalist approach versus a critical, conflict approach.  Housed within the broader theoretical debate was the view the policy studies was by definition a pragmatic exercise that would lead academic researchers astray.  The inclusion of Hugh Mehan (UC San Diego) highlighted the clash between positivist and interpretative approaches to sociological research.  Finally, this first conference also began the discussion that at times became heated between academic researchers and filed practitioners.

The ‘traceable traditions’ of SEA were put in place in these early years.  The SEA is a democratic organization that is open to all persons with an interest and involvement in the field of sociology of education.  SEA has one class of membership, although it should be noted that from the beginning graduate students paid lower membership fees. [5]  The SEA has been both a social and scholarly community that has actively attempted to cut across the boundaries separating scholars in education and sociology, and to link them directly with policy makers.  The continuing members formed a deep attachment to the place, the size and the format of the conferences.  The beauty and tranquility of Asilomar has been an essential part of the history and development of SEA.  All but two of the subsequent annual conferences [6] have been held there, and no program is complete without a designated time for a walk on the beach.  Indeed, the non-Stanford folk would smile as we watched Elizabeth Cohen take each of her many current and former graduate students for their annual chat.  The size of the gathering has rarely been more than 100 people, which has promoted an almost familial atmosphere.  Conferences begin with warm greetings between old friends and the introductions for new members to the idea of SEA.  The format on non-concurrent sessions has meant that for most conferences everyone is part of the same conversation.

In the early years, mini-one day conferences were held between the annual meetings, either in northern or southern California.  The third annual conference focused on ‘School Reforms of the 1970s’ included Spady (NIE), W.W. Charters (University of Oregon) and Ralph Tyler (Chicago) as keynotes.  David Tyack and Martin Carnoy (Stanford)were part of a panel on schools as agents of change.  The proceedings were published by the School of Education at UC Berkeley. [7]   These first two meetings established what was to be the major focus of the conferences.  While there have been some forays into higher education and into research emanating from other countries, the emphasis has been firmly on schools and schooling in the United States.

The organization settled into a decade where the founders took leadership positions and ran the SEA from California (see Appendix 1).  The three centres were Los Angeles (USC, UCLA and Riverside), Stanford and UC, Berkeley.  Yet it must be noted that during the first decade scholars from the western part of North America had become regular attendees.  In part this was due to graduates from the California schools listed above taking jobs in Canada, Washington, Oregon and Arizona.  The other equally important factor is that SEA filled a gap at the national level.  Finally, another factor was the practice of offering graduate fellowships that began in the early 1990s and has continued to attract students from across the country.

The first generational break came in 1977 when Julie Stulac ( Georgia State University) became President. [8]   She had been one of the founding graduate student members and had completed her PhD at Stanford with Cohen.  Other students who had worked with Cohen took up the role of President in subsequent years: Theresa Perez (CSU-Fresno, 1981); Susana Mata, CSU-Fresno, 1986); Gilda Bloom (SFSU, 1993, 1994 and 2003, 2004); and Patricia Gandara (UC-Davis, 1995).  In turn, two students who had worked with Wenkert during his time at Berkeley became President: Donald Fisher (UBC, 1992); and, Reynaldo Baca (USC, 2005).

A major substantive theme in the annual conferences programs has been social stratification by social class, and by race/language/ethnicity.
[Full analysis of conference programs to follow when a complete set has been gathered. DF]

Appendix 1: SEA Officers by Year

Year President Vice-President/Program Chair Secretary/Treasurer
1974 A.J. Schwatz (USC) D. O’Shea  (UCLA) D. Meier (CSU – Northridge)
1975 R. Wenkert (UCB) E. Cohen (Stanford) R. Baca (UC-Santa Barbara)
1976 D. O’Shea (UCLA)
1977 J. Stulac (Georgia State University) R. Crain (Rand Corp.) D. Fisher (UBC)
1978 J. Stulac (GSU) R. Crain (Rand Corp. D. Fisher (UBC)
1979 J. Wrigley (UCLA) A. Liebemarn (Sacramento Teacher Commission) R. Wenkert (UCLA)
1980 A. Gromfin (USC) A. Somers (Nevada) G. Stanton (CSU-San Bernadino)
1981 T. Perez (CSU – Fresno) T. Carter (CSU – Sacramento)
1982 E. Blumenberg (Anti-Defamation League, LA) E. Cohen (Stanford) T. Carter (CSU – Sac)
1984 T. Carter (CSU – Sac) D. O’Shea (UCLA) S. Mata(Stanford)
1985 D. O’Shea (UCLA) D. Mitchell (UC Riverside) S. Mata (Stanford)
1986 S. Mata (CSU-Fresno) E. Cohen (Stanford) S. Mata (CSU-Fresno)
1988 M. Charfield (Stanford) A. Schwartz (USC) S. Mata (CSU – Fresno)
1990 F. Muskal (University of the Pacific – Stockton)
1992 D. Fisher (UBC) A. Gromfin (CSU – LA) C. Blackalller (CSU – Domingues Hills)
1993 G.M. Bloom (SFSU) R. Mickelson (UNC-Charlotte) S. Mata (CSU – Fresno)
1994 G.M. Bloom (SFSU) R. Lotan (Stanford) S. Mata (CSU – Fresno)
1995 P. Gandara (UC – Davis) Co-ChairsF. Paul (Public Policy Consortium-Illinois at Chicago)

S. Bowman (Oregon State)

M. Sanelli(Westminster College)
1996 F. Paul (Public Policy Consortium) Co-ChairsM. Herman (Stanford)

R. Rumberger (UC – Santa Barbara)

P. Gandara (UC-Davis)–TreasurerC. Reyes–Secretary
1997 F. Paul (Public Policy Consortium)
1999 R. Rumberger (UC – SB) Co-Chairs:R. Baca (USC)

R. Farmer (ETS)

J. Smith (U. of Louisville)

A. Valenzuela (U. of Houston)

C. Blackaller
(CSU -Domingues Hills)–SecretaryJ. Bettie (UC Santa Cruz)–Treasurer
2000 R. Rumberger (UC – SB) R. Bacca (USC) C. Blackaller
(CSU -Domingues Hills)J. Bettie (UC Santa Cruz)–treasurer
2001 C. Sleeter (CSU-Monterey) J. Gordon (UC Santa Cruz)R. Stanton-Salazar (USC) C. Blackaller
(CSU -Domingues Hills)
2002 C. Sleeter (CSU-Monterey) C. Blackaller
(CSU -Domingues Hills)
2003 G. Bloom (SFSU) T.R. Berry (Illinois – Chicago) C. Blackaller
(CSU -Domingues Hills)
2004 G. Bloom (SFSU)
2005 R. Baca (USC) R.W. Rumberger (UC – Santa Barbara) C. Castillo (USC)

Appendix 2: SEA Conferences

Year Theme Keynote Speakers
1974 Sociology of the School and Schooling C.E. Bidwell (Chicago)B.R. Clark (Yale)

W.G. Spady (NIE)

H. Mehan (UC – San Diego)

E.G. Cohen (Stanford)

J. Mercer (UC – Riverside)

1975 School Reforms of the 1970s Spady (NIE)W.W. Charters (Oregon)

R. Tyler (Chicago)

1977 R. Collins (UC – San Diego)
1978 No Theme R. Woock (SUNY – Buffalo)
1981 School Success
1982 Institutional Racism M. Chesler (Michigan)L. Sparks (Pacific Oaks College)
1985 School Renewal: Competing Perspectives and Change Strategies J. Meyer (Stanford)
1986 The Changing Context of Education P. Wexler (Rochester)M. H. Metz (Wisconsin)
1987 R. Slavin (Chicago)
1989 Educational Policy in the 1980s T. Deal (Vanderbilt)
1991 The Impact of Changing Demographics on Public Schools
1992 Equity, Sociology and Education 1972 – 1992 A. Solwartz (USC)E.G. Cohen (Stanford)

J. Mercer (UC – Riverside)

G. Mornell (LA – Commission on Human Relations)

H. Levin (Stanford)

R. Werbert

1993 The Shifting Boundaries of Public Education L. Weis (SUNY – Buffalo)D. Berlimer (ASU – Tempe)
1994 Schooling in an Era of Reform and Diversity L. Cuban (Stanford)J. Anyon (Rutgers)

C. McCarthy (Illinois)

E. Cohen (Stanford)

1995 Immigration and Schooling L. Estrada (UCLA)M. Laguerre (UC, Berkeley)

R. Rumbaut (Michigan)

1996 Opportunity to Learn: Sociological Perspectives on the Context of Schooling and Teaching J. Oakes (UCLA)J. Epstein (John Hopkins)
1997 Stratification of Educational Opportunities in an Era of Waning Affirmative Action T. Duster (UC, Berkeley)G. Orfield (Harvard)
1998 Will the “Public” in Public Education Survive School Reform? H. Gintis (Massachusetts)M. Apple (Wisconsin)
1999 Difference and Power: Issues of Race, Social Class, Gender and Language D. Macedo (Massachusetts)R. Ng (OISE)
2000 Educational Stratification: Past and Prospects J. Spring (SUNY- New Paltz)R. Corwin (Ohio State)
2001 Dangerous Dialogues: Talking Through the Complex Texture of Class, Race and Gender J. R. Feagin (Florida)W.R. Allen (UCLA)
2002 Race, Ethnicity, and Urban Education in the 21st Century: The New Demographic Context & Its Sociological Implications J. Anyon (Rutgers)S.R. Lucas

M. Foster

2003 Silencing Dissent: Categorization, Regulation and the Patrolling of Identity P. A. NogueraJ. E. King
2004 Education and the Law: Sociological Perspectives on the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education R.A. Mickelson (UNC–Charlotte)Honorable Cruz Reynoso (UC, Davis)

W.H. Watkins (Illinois at Chicago)

2005 Critical Issues in Urban Education: Sociological Perspectives G. Ladson-Billings (Wisconsin)M.M. Suárez-Orozco (NYU)

[1] SEA Officers and Directors, General Information, 1974.

[2] Tentative Directory, Western Sociology of Education Association, April 1973.

[3] David O’Shea, (Ed.).  Sociology of the School and Schooling:  Proceedings of the Seconda Annual Conference of the Sociology of Education Assoicaiton, Asilomar, Pacific Grove, California, Feburary 1-3, 1974.  Washington, D.C. : National Institute of Education, 1974.

[4] Reynaldo Baca, Donald Fisher and Gene Grabiner, (1974).  ‘Comment on the Sociology of Education Conference at Asilomar, February 1-3, 1974″.  Unpublished paper.  AS a footnote to the sequence of events, the response was submitted for inclusion in the proceedings but was excluded by the Editor O’Shea.  When challenged on this he said that he had made the decision to protect the future careers of the authors (personal information, Fisher).

[5] In 1974 the membership fee for students enrolled in a degree program was three dollars.

[6] In 1977 the conference was held In a hotel in San Diego and in 1978 in the Ramada Inn, Monterey.

[7] Audrey Schwartz, (Ed.). School Reforms of the 1970’s:Proceedings of the Thuird Annual Conference of the Sociology of Educaiton Association., January 31-February 2, 1975.  School of Education, University of California at Berkeley, 1975.

[8] The President’s term extends from the end of one annual conference for one year.  The listing here refers to the beginning of the term, that is in this case 1977/78.


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