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Engaging with Ethical Resistance and Courageous Activism: A Response to Where Do I Fit In? Adrift in Neoliberal Educational Anti-Culture


by Catherine Hamm, Nathalie Nehma, John McCartin, Jeanne Marie Iorio, Brenda Lovell, Mindy Blaise, Kelly Boucher & Kirsten Agius - January 09, 2017

As a group of critical early childhood teacher educators, we take inspiration from a recent commentary Where Do I Fit In? Adrift in Neoliberal Educational Anti-Culture and engage with Burn’s ideas of ethical resistance and courageous activism. We suggest that by "being present," we resist the ways teacher education has been reduced to a set of simple, technical skills, void of ethics and politics.

Inspired by the recent Teachers College Record commentary, Where Do I Fit In? Adrift in Neoliberal Educational Anti-Culture (Burns, 2016), we take up the idea of creating spaces to disrupt neoliberal structures in higher education. Examples of these structures include student evaluations of teacher performance, teacher registration, and program accreditation requirements. For Burns, ethical resistance and courageous activism are ways to resist the ethos of techno-rationalization described as “essentialized teacher education as the accumulation of auditable and decontextualized skills and an obsession with strategies, assessment, and data management” (2016). As a group of critical early childhood teacher educators, we engage with Burns’ ideas of ethical resistance and courageous activism by being present and resisting the ways teacher education has been reduced to a set of simple technical skills devoid of ethics and politics.


In another previous Teachers College Record commentary (Iorio & Tanabe, 2015), we offered the idea of being present as a way of resisting techno-rationalization in our work as teacher educators in an initial teacher education (ITE) program. Being present involves engaging with the ethics and politics of teaching, resisting taken-for-granted practices, and understanding that activating the micropolitics of everyday teaching can create uncomfortable spaces (Iorio & Parnell, 2015, p. 12). We see these spaces as generative places to create ethical resistance and courageous activism.


Ethical resistance and courageous activism are practices creating spaces where neoliberal structures can be challenged and reconfigured as ethical practices. This reconfiguration sets out to do more than simply critique the structures we find ourselves trapped within. It instead brings them together with ethical practices to generate different ways of working. In this commentary, we share three examples of how creating uncomfortable spaces of ethical resistance and courageous activism can assist our work within structures that seem unethical. We begin by illustrating how we make our work visible through our collective. We are a group of critical early childhood teacher educators working at a university in Melbourne, Australia. Next, we show how thinking with concepts as a starting place for new ideas can create generative spaces. This finally leads to our recognition of how courageous activism can grow the collective and enlarge spaces for ethical resistance.


Our first example of ethical resistance and courageous activism is how we have become visible as a collective. As a group of critical teacher educators, we seek to engage others as public intellectuals. This often includes asking questions, disrupting the dogmas of our field and higher education, and consistently challenging the neoliberal order of the university (Said, 1996). We see our collective meetings as spaces of ethical resistance to discuss, think, and write together (see Iorio & Parnell, 2015; Iorio & Tanabe, 2015). This collective work is generative and one way to shift some of the neoliberal spaces in higher education. It opens up spaces for ethical and political work, often challenging the neoliberal discourses that bombard us on a regular basis. We spend time reading government reports, undertaking critical analysis, and attending university-wide meetings to generate alternative views. Our focus in higher education is the collective student body, not individual marketized needs. For example, we disrupt the idea of student-as-consumer and position our learners and ourselves as public intellectuals. These student intellectuals are expected to engage with ideas, social justice issues, and advocacy and activism. As emerging teachers, they come “to understand themselves in the world through the curriculum they study” (Pinar, 2012, p. 44).


We create a space of ethical resistance by standing together, responding to the tensions that are created when students demand to be taught something that we find ethically irresponsible as an academic collective. For example, we experienced resistance from students who demanded more technical, skill-based aspects of teaching (e.g., lesson plans, developmental milestones) in preference to engaging in conceptual thinking (e.g., foregrounding Aboriginal knowledge in teaching pedagogy) over this past year. Although student resistance is not a new phenomenon in critical teacher education, an increased focus on structures and policies creates “a sterile vision of teaching as doing rather than teaching as an abundantly messy, evolutionary, and subjective struggle of being and becoming” (Burns, 2016).


Recently a small group of students demanded to learn more about the technical aspects of teaching, such as how to do developmental milestones. This request for more positioned the academic collective as service providers and students-as-customers who consume their degree. When these students are taught the technical aspects of being a teacher, rather than beginning their inquiry with the conceptual ideas that might underpin their pedagogy, they do not engage with complexity. They are instead only served the often decontextualized and politicized technical tools of teaching. This creates tension between the view of the student as consumer and how they are viewed within their early childhood/primary course. The spaces for ethical resistance and courageous activism at times seem too hard to maintain. There are conversations about walking away and giving in to customer demands (e.g., student-as-consumer) and presenting the technical aspects of teaching. Standing together and being visible as a collective, we are able to be strong in our resolve to enact pedagogy as an intellectual, ethical, and political practice.


Our second example of ethical resistance is generating spaces for new practices. Positioning pedagogy as an ethical and political practice requires different kinds of spaces underpinned with concepts, rather than the mandated structures populating the technical aspects of teaching (e.g., the number of placement days, lesson plans, and traditional child observation techniques). We collectively rethought the Bachelor of Education’s (Early Childhood/Primary) first-year placement by beginning with conceptual ideas that foreground Aboriginal knowledge as the cornerstone of the placement experience, rather than building a lesson plan. Students worked in small groups with their mentor teachers to create and implement a playgroup experience for young children and their families. As part of the rethinking process, we brought the mentor teachers and students into spaces of ethical resistance and courageous activism by including complex concepts that respond to the ethics and politics of living in postcolonial Australia. For example, paying attention to the place where teaching and learning is enacted by respectfully foregrounding local Aboriginal perspectives brings complexity to everyday practices.


Finally, growing the collective as part of our everyday practices is also an example of ethical resistance and courageous activism. We work to consistently generate new spaces for thinking and acting in ways that do not privilege neoliberal structures by intentionally positioning ourselves as public intellectuals at different places across the university. At college- and university-wide staff meetings, we work to create shifts by presenting the narrative of academics and students as public intellectuals in response to structures and policies. Presenting these ideas consistently has provoked different kinds of discussions. We are beginning to notice some colleagues are interested in joining our spaces for ethical resistance by working with us to rethink the structures populating our work. However, at other times we are shut down as still other colleagues strive to check the boxes, rather than engage in academic debate and discussion. In an attempt to find spaces of ethical resistance as a collective, we want to rewrite what the checkbox looks like. Growing the collective is generating further rethinking as others join us.


We were recently asked to comment on a discussion paper titled Working Together to Shape Teacher Education in Victoria from the Victorian State Minister of Education (Victoria State Government Department of Education and Training, 2016). The paper was written in response to national recommendations for improving initial teacher education in Australia titled Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers report (Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, 2014). The discussion paper outlines several solutions to improve teacher quality including four focus areas drawing from international examples of improved initial teacher education quality practices. By looking at the recommendations, it becomes clear that some ideas are in tension with others. We particularly note that these recommendations have the potential to maintain the status quo for our students enrolled in ITE. For example, privileged students will continue to be privileged and disadvantaged students will continue to be disadvantaged. We raise these issues at our meeting, generate discussion, and debate about the report. These conversations enlarge spaces for ethical resistance as other colleagues join our collective.


In this commentary, we have shown some of the ways we find spaces for ethical resistance and courageous activism. This is challenging at times as we continually confront neoliberal structures and policies in our work as academics. As a growing collective, we will continue to create spaces for ethical resistance, not just by disrupting structures, but also by offering ways to rethinking them. We are committed to finding ethical ways to work in higher education privileging Aboriginal knowledge, positioning students and academics as public intellectuals, and generating new spaces to resist the current obsession with the technical aspects of teaching and learning.


References


Burns, J. (2016). Where do I fit in? Adrift in neoliberal educational anti-culture. Teachers College

Record. Retrieved from http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=20275


Iorio, J. M., & Parnell, W. (2015). Rethinking readiness in early childhood education: Implications for policy and practice. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.


Iorio, J. M., & Tanabe, C. (2015). A modest proposal reimagined–Hope, utopian pedagogies, and higher education. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=18828


Pinar, W. F. (2012). What is curriculum theory? (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Routledge.


Said, E. W. (1996). Representations of the intellectual. London, UK: Vintage Books.


Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) (2014, December). Action now: Classroom ready teachers. Canberra, AU: Australian Government Department of Education and Training. Retrieved from http://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/action_now_classroom_ready_teachers_accessible.pdf

 

Victoria State Government Department of Education and Training (2016, August). Working together to shape teacher education in Victoria: Discussion paper. Melbourne, AU. Author. Retrieved from http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/workingtogether.pdf

 





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 09, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21789, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 2:46:28 AM

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About the Author
  • Catherine Hamm
    Victoria University, The Victoria Institute
    E-mail Author
    Victoria University, The Victoria Institute
  • Nathalie Nehma
    Victoria University
    E-mail Author
    Victoria University
  • John McCartin
    Victoria University
    E-mail Author
    Victoria University
  • Jeanne Marie Iorio
    Victoria University, The Victoria Institute
    E-mail Author
    Victoria University
  • Brenda Lovell
    Victoria University
    E-mail Author
    Victoria University
  • Mindy Blaise
    Victoria University
    E-mail Author
    Victoria University
  • Kelly Boucher
    Victoria University
    E-mail Author
    Victoria University
  • Kirsten Agius
    Victoria University
    E-mail Author
    Victoria University
 
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