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Inquiring Into Notions of Educational Improvement by Teaching Where We Think: Philosophical Meditations as a Practice of Teacher Education

by María Paula Ghiso & Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd - 2020

Background: This paper is part of the special issue “Reimagining Research and Practice at the Crossroads of Philosophy, Teaching, and Teacher Education.” Early childhood initiatives have joined a nexus of educational reforms characterized by increased accountability and a focus on measurement as a marker of student and teacher learning, with early education being framed as an economic good necessary for competing in the global marketplace. Underlying the recent push for early childhood education is what we see as a “discourse of improvement”—depictions of school change that prioritize achievement as reflected in assessment scores, data collection on teacher effectiveness, and high-stakes evaluation. These characteristics, we argue, foster increasingly inequitable educational contexts and obscure the particularities of what it means to be a child in the world.

Purpose: We use the practice of philosophical meditation, as articulated in Pierre Hadot’s examination of philosophy as a way of life, to inquire into the logics of educational improvement as instantiated in particular contexts, and for cultivating cross-disciplinary partnerships committed to fostering children’s flourishing. We link this meditational focus with feminist and de-colonial theoretical perspectives to make visible the role of power in the characterization of children’s learning as related to norms of development, minoritized identities, and hierarchies of knowledge. Research Design: In this collaborative inquiry, we compose a series of meditations on our experiences with the logics of improvement inspired by 12 months of systematic conversation. Our data sources include correspondence between the two authors, written reflections on specific practices in teacher education each author engages with, and a set of literary, philosophical, and teacher education texts.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our meditations illuminate the value of collective inquiry about what constitutes improvement in schools. We raise questions about how the measurement of learning is entwined in historical and present-day relations of power and idealized formulations of the universal “child” or “teacher” and argue that we must work together to reimagine the framings that inform our work. Ultimately and most directly, these meditations can support dynamic attempts to cultivate meaningful and more equitable educational experiences for teachers and students. Philosophical meditations at the crossroads of philosophy, teaching, and teacher education thus extend beyond critique toward imagining and enacting a better world in our classrooms, even though (and especially when) this path is not clear.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 4, 2020, p. 1-26
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23079, Date Accessed: 9/24/2021 2:45:22 AM

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About the Author
  • María Paula Ghiso
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    MARIA PAULA GHISO is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her scholarship focuses on literacy in multilingual and transnational contexts and on community-based and participatory methodologies. Recent publications: Ghiso, M.P. (2016). The laundromat as the transnational local: Young chidren’s literacies of interdependence. Teachers College Record, 118(1), 1-46, which received the 2017 Arthur Applebee Award for Excellence in Research on Literacy from the Literacy Research Association. Campano, G., Ghiso, M. P., & Welch, B. (2017). Partnering with immigrant communities: Action through literacy. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, which received the 2017 Edward Fry Book Award from the Literacy Research Association and the 2018 David H. Russell Award from the National Council of Teachers of English.
  • Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd
    Lawrence University
    E-mail Author
    STEPHANIE A. BURDICK-SHEPHERD is an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Lawrence University. Her current research focuses on the philosophical and ethical issues demanded by the work of teaching and working with young children. She facilitates an innovative approach to elementary teacher certification at Lawrence University in cooperation with local schools. Recent publications: Burdick-Shepherd, S and Cammarano, C. (2017). Philosophy for children goes to college: transformative changes in philosophical thinking when college students practice philosophizing with young children” Childhood and Philosophy, 13(27), 235-251. Burdick-Shepherd, S. (2019). Souls in the lab: Enriching practical experience for pre-service educators and young children” In C. Lowry, (Ed.), Handbook of Dewey's educational theory and practice (pp. 175-188). Rotterdam, NL: Sense Publishers.
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