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Thomas Nelson

Associate Professor, Ed.D. Program Coordinator


Phone: 209.946.3253


Ph.D., Teaching and Teacher Education/Renewable Natural Resources, University of Arizona, 1993

M.A., Curriculum and Instruction/Science Education, California State University, Sacramento, 1989

B.A., Physical Education/Biology, California State University, Northridge, 1975

Curriculum Vitae 

"Teaching has to do with releasing people to learn how to learn. It has to do with possibilities, discoveries, making connections, opening doors." Maxine Greene.

What is the difference between education and schooling? What does it mean to be well educated? Responses to these two questions beg a third question: What is the purpose of schooling? Although these are three simple questions, they are critically essential to any debate about education and school reform. Interestingly, they rarely get asked through the mainstream discourse about the education of future generations. Too often the debate about schooling and education is co-opted by politicians and those in the private sector who seek both financial profit and the ability to control a growing low-wage workforce. The standardization reform movement driven by neoliberal ideologies relies on the lowest level of cognitive learning, memorization and regurgitation. Becoming well educated under current federal and state legislation is directly tied to test scores and student achievement determined by others' far from the classroom. What is valued most is obedience and compliance. What does this say about the value of preparing teachers to engage students in critical analysis as a function of democratic citizenry?, What does this say about  the value of developing intellectual curiosity and the skills and knowledge to learn how to learn anything? The first question I ask in each class is, what do you want to get smarter about? I believe students need to take an active role in both what they learn and how they learn. Students need to take ownership of their learning and teachers need to provide the guidance and examples of academic work that represent high expectations in any field of study. It's not what we do as teachers that matters most. What matters most is what we are able to get students to do. It occurred to me from a young age that the ways in which content is organized in schooling is directly contradictory to the ways in which knowledge is used. Systems theory describes the world, the universe, as an enormous web of interconnections. If everything in the universe is interconnected and in constant flux, then why would we consider teaching and learning to be a linear process that culminates in a particular answer on a standardized test, one in which determines the value of a students' education? In my forty years in education I have never met a student who did not want to get smart about something. But I have met many students who find themselves turned off to constantly being told what to learn, when to learn it, and how to learn it, and then being evaluated accordingly. Pretty high stakes for a learner who has received the message that pursuing a passion and personal interest has no place in school. We also live in times of rapidly deteriorating planetary health. Global climate change is dramatically altering the conditions of life on Earth. The diversity of life is being threatened by human activities such as overfishing, over reliability on fossil fuels as energy sources, corporate control of monoculture food production, the poisoning of fresh water supplies, and the global expansion of the state of continuous war and militarization of almost all aspects of human organization. What are the roles and responsibilities of educators in addressing local and global ecological crises? It seems imperative that schooling and education must dramatically shift the policies, goals, purposes, and practices toward a pedagogy for human survival. What purposes should schools serve? What kind of world do we want our children to inherit? There is nothing more powerful than engaging in deep and meaningful learning. Why in the world would any of us want all students to know and be able to do the same things? Like in nature, health and well-being are determined by diversity. Our diversity is ultimately our greatest gift and power. Peace holds far more promise for the future of human expression than does hate and war. We need to shift from a focus on competition to a focus on cooperation. The future of humankind depends on it. Educator's everywhere need to rise and stand strong as critical agents of change against the hegemonic forces that seek to perpetuate social and economic reproduction for the good of corporate profit and political power. In the end, I fall back on Elliot Eisner's question about teachers work with students, "is what we do liberating or limiting."

My scholarly interests range from the ways in which geography of place influneces who we are, what we do, who we become, particularly among educators; human-environmental interrelationships as curriculum context; systems thinking and its influence on understanding schooling and education; the roles in which philosophies, ideologies, and politics play in schooling and education; interdisciplinary ways of knowing; sustainability education; the influence of neoliberal policies on educational reform; teachers' beliefs as influence on curriculum decision making; critical curriculum studies; qualitative research methods.

  • EDUC 209 Curriculum Theory
  • EDUC 302 Issues in Teacher Education  
  • EDUC 306 Curriculum Materials Development
  • EDUC 308 Issues in Curriculum and Instruction
  • EDUC 314 Contemporary Issues in Schooling and Education
  • EDUC 316 Interdisciplinary Curriculum Inquiry
  • EDUC 319 Curriculum Analysis
  • EDUC 320 Advanced Curriculum Studies
  • EDUC 322 Qualitative Research Design and Methods
  • EDUC 352 Applied Inquiry I
  • EDUC 321 Writing for Publication


Distinguished Service Award, California Council on Teacher Education for completing 12 years as Editor, Teacher Education Quarterly

  • Advisory BoardTeacher Education Quarterly
  • Editorial Board, Issues in Teacher Education
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Editorial Board, Eco-Justice Press
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Mentoring and Tutoring

Selected Publications            

  • Flores, J., Cardinal, D., Nelson, T. & Soohoo, S. (Eds.) (2017). The CCTE Reader on Social Justice. Published for California Council on Teacher Education, San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press.
  • Nelson, T. (2017). Pedagogical Considerations for University Classroom Use. In, Flores, Cardinal, D., Nelson, T., & Soohoo, S. (Eds.). The CCTE Reader on Social Justice. San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press.
  • Nelson, T., & Cassell, J. A. (2016). Re-imagining education for eco-justice: Through the lens of systems thinking, collective intelligence, and cross-cultural wisdom. In Eco-justice: Essays on Theory and Practice 2016, Diethelm, D. (Ed.). Eugene, OR: Eco-Justice Press.
  • Cassell, J. A., & Nelson, T. (2015). Epistemology and apostasy: The role of education in times of neoliberal hegemony. In Abendroth, M., & Porfilio, B. (Eds.) Schools Against Neoliberal Rule. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishers.
  • Nelson, T., Cassell, J. A., & Arnold, H. B. (Eds.) (2014). Sustainability education: Multicultural interdisciplinary inquiry into human-environmental relationships. Multicultural Education, 21 (1). San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press.
  • Cassell, J. A., Nelson, T., & Arnold, H. B. (2014). The journey from Babel: Unleashing the power of the collective through creative dynamism of difference. Multicultural Education, 21 (1). San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press.
  •  Cassell, J. A., & Nelson, T. (2013). Exposing the effects of the "invisible hand" of the neoliberal agenda on institutionalized education and the process of social reproduction. Interchange: A Quarterly Review of Education, 43 (1).
  • Cassell, J. A., & Nelson, T. (2013). Control, choice, and the fulfillment of fundamental human needs: William Glasser's humanistic vision of individual, classroom, and school-wide behavioral support. In Brown, Lara-Alicio, & Irby (Eds.). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
  • Nelson, T., & Cassell, J. A. (2012). Pedagogy for survival: An educational response to the ecological crisis. In Wals, A., & Corcoran, P. B. (Eds.). Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change. The Netherlands: Wageningen Academic Publishers.
  • Nelson, T. ,& Coleman, C. (2012). Human-environmental relationships as curriculum context: An interdisciplinary inquiry. In Lee, J. & Oxford, R. (Eds.) Transforming Eco-Education for the 21st Century. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Press.
  • Nelson, T. (2011). Critiquing scholarship as formal review: The role and responsibilities of readers of academic journals. Issues in Teacher Education, 2 (1).
  • Nelson, T., & Brodie, C. (Eds.). Chronicles from a Watershed: Considerations of Place and Pedagogy. San Diego: Cognella (2010).                        

Selected Conference Presentations

  • Nelson, T. (2016). Writing for publication: What prospective authors need to know. Workshop: Hawaiian International Conference on Education. Honolulu, HI.
  • Nelson, T., Starks, C., Coss, R., Perry, R., Vail, T. & Cassell, J. A. (2014). Perspectives, orientations, and beliefs of future teacher educators: In their own words. Presented at the meeting of the California Council on Teacher Education. San Jose, CA.
  • Nelson, T., & Cassell, J. A. (2013). Pedagogy for survival: An authentic and socially powerful educational construct. Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA.
  • Nelson, T., Cassell, J. A., Clark, K., Coss, R., Jamal, D., Perry, R., Sloan, C., Starks, C., & Thoeun, C. (2013). Interdisciplinary ways of knowing in teacher education: A systems based focus on place-based learning and sustainability education. Presentation at the meeting of the California Council on Teacher Education. San Jose, CA.
  • Nelson, T., & Jones, A. H. (2012). Writing for publication: Maximizing opportunities for success. Presentation at the meeting of the California Council on Teacher Education. San Jose, CA.

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