Reclaiming Passion in Educational Practice: Teaching, Learning and Loving
reviewed by Sharon Hobbs - 2004
Title: Reclaiming Passion in Educational Practice: Teaching, Learning and Loving
Author(s): D. Liston and J. Garrison (Editors)
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415945143, Pages: 224, Year: 2003
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During the first class period of my “Society, Schools, and Teachers” course each semester, I ask my freshmen students to fill out a brief information sheet that ends with this question: “What is the most important reason you want to be a teacher?” I watch as the students get to this part of the information sheet. Some students know exactly what they want to say; others stare off into space, sigh, write and erase, and generally struggle with their response. And each semester the responses are remarkably similar. The single most frequent response has something to do with love: “I love kids.” “I love to help children learn.” “I love the feeling of making a difference in my students’ lives.” After a class period where we discuss the students’ responses, it is clear that some students use “love” in the same way they might say they love hotdogs or baseball. For others, however, “love” captures their sense of the importance of the relationships they will forge with their students. These students are just beginning their journey on the road to becoming teachers. When I meet many of these students again several years later in a legal issues course they take just before student teaching, the language of love seems to have evaporated, replaced with concerns about accountability, standardized test scores, and how to survive their probationary years without rocking the boat. The ten essays in Reclaiming Passion in Educational Practice: Teaching, Learning, and Loving, edited by Daniel Liston and Jim Garrison, refocus attention on what my freshmen students seem to know intuitively – that teaching requires both the engagement of one’s intellect and one’s emotions.
Liston and Garrison identify the common thread in these essays as a “desire to create hope, meaning, and mutual understanding in the pursuit of better classrooms, more equitable education, and more effective teacher education” (p. 6). Noting that neither research on teaching nor teacher education programs has adequately explored the complex connections between thinking and feeling or the ways in which metaphors of love and passion inform teachers’ practice, Liston and Garrison have collected essays that bring together insights from both Western and Eastern perspectives designed to lift emotions from “the ontological basement of educational scholarship” (p. 5). To that end, the first set of essays offers various ways to envision love in teaching and learning as well as some of the ways in which love, oftentimes with the best of intentions, can become warped or distorted. Of particular interest to teacher educators is Lisa Goldstein’s essay, “Loving Teacher Education,” in which she develops a model of love-based teacher education based on commitment, community, and passion. Goldstein argues that if we want our preservice teachers to grow into loving teachers, teacher education faculty must model loving teaching within programs that welcome preservice teachers into learning communities. Goldstein asks the provocative question, “What would community feel like in a teacher education program?” The implications from Goldstein’s essay are profound for teacher education programs since the goal of helping new teachers discover and develop loving relationships with their students depends upon loving teacher/student relationships first being established and modeled at the university level.
The second set of essays explores emotional components of critical pedagogy as it is used as a lens to focus students’ attention on issues of social justice. Megan Boler’s essay, “Teaching for Hope: The Ethics of Shattering World Views,” is powerful as she grapples with students’ resistance to identity transformation when confronted with what she terms a “pedagogy of discomfort” (p. 119). I teach in an area where most of our teacher education students come from small, rural, homogeneous communities. My students have little or no personal experience with diversity, social inequity, or oppression. I share Boler’s frustration with students who react with anger, confusion, and sometimes apathy or, perhaps the most frustrating response of all, those students who simply turn these issues around 180 degrees so that they fit neatly into the students’ unexamined meritocratic vision of how the world works. Working to overcome students’ naïve hope that good intentions will ultimately prevail, Boler’s experiences have reinforced her belief that pushing students to examine their own deeply held assumptions about social justice can only succeed when placed within a context of compassion and where students are helped to develop “resources to help them replace the lost sense of self” (p. 129).
The third section of the book is titled, “Love’s Losses and Love Regained.” These essays explore inevitable aspects of loving: loss, grief, and reparation. We cannot fully understand love without also understanding and coming to terms with its loss. For teachers, the last day of school brings joy at the growth and possibilities in their students but also a sense of sadness that these teacher/student relationships, lovingly nurtured, are coming to a close. The essays by Rachael Kessler and Ursula A. Kelly probe not only this sense of loss but also the ways in which grief and the loss of love enhance our teaching, sensitizing teachers to the need to help students deal with loss and grief in their own lives.
Throughout the book each author brings his or her own understanding of love and passion to the discussion. The overall impact of the book forces me to rethink my own responses to my students’ heartfelt belief that teaching is about love. I have been too quick to dismiss their statements as overly sentimental and naïve, failing to really hear what they are saying about their understanding of the basis of teaching and to build on those understandings. Yet I am not convinced that infusing the language of love into teacher education programs is the best way to translate the insights from this book into practice. Our society has too many negative connotations attached to notions of love in an educational context. Ann Diller’s remarkably rich essay, drawing upon Buddhist tradition, offers a compromise that may give teacher educators a new and less problematic way to talk about the emotional side of teaching and learning. Diller identifies four aspects of true love called the “Brahmaviharas”: lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. This term “lovingkindness,” although somewhat unexpected, combines the sense of caring embodied in Noddings’ work (1984, 1992) with insight and affection, “looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy” (Hanh, 2003, p.4).
Teaching, Learning, and Loving makes a compelling case for the need to break the silence in educational dialogue and research on the emotional components of teaching. Yet in the face of increased pressure for accountability, from No Child Left Behind legislation at the K-12 level to NCATE’s outcomes-based assessment criteria for teacher education programs, there seems to be little time or energy left to do anything but concentrate on the basics. The consequences of ignoring the basics – unsatisfactory standardized tests resulting in schools being labeled as failing, teacher education programs that fail their accreditation review – are so serious that it is understandable educators believe that all this talk about love and passion constitutes an indulgence we can no longer afford. But I would argue that it is exactly at that point where teaching risks being stripped of its ability to connect to students’ hearts as well as their minds, when only “what is measurable is considered ‘real,’” (p. 3) that teachers and teacher educators must actively redefine what it means to teach and to learn. Liston and Garrison’s collection of essays invites us to join this crucially important conversation about the very heart of our work as educators.
Hanh, T. N. (2003). Teachings on love.
Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and education.
Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools. New York: Teachers College Press.