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Afterword: The Need to Re-Balance Our Portfolio of Education Means and Ends


by Margaret S. Crocco - 2020

The author responds to several themes that emerge across the articles in the special issue, considering them in light of contexts of schooling, teacher education, and the contemporary historical moment in the United States. The articles raise salient concerns about what the reform movements of the last twenty or so years have meant for scholars, practitioners, and students who are involved in schooling and teacher preparation.

INTRODUCTION


Let me begin by thanking the originators of this project, Professors David Hansen and Megan Laverty, for their invitation to participate in such an exciting intellectual endeavor. The opportunity to be in conversation with a group of scholars who are keenly interested and deeply involved in both philosophy and teacher education is a rare treat. Thanks as well to the authors of the articles contained in this special volume. Reading their work in its multiple iterations has been a potent reminder of the deep and thoughtful levels of engagement of young scholars working on teacher education across the country. Their work inspires and encourages me, especially in the face of so much education policy that troubles me.


The perspective I bring to their articles is that of a long-time social studies scholar and teacher educator who has held faculty appointments in several institutions of higher education over many years. During that time, my scholarship has attended to issues of identity and difference as they inform or are ignored by research and practice in these fields. I also have written a number of monographs and articles concerned with the history of education, which is an area of study that, like philosophy of education, has been neglected in recent years. In both cases, I believe that examination of these subjects can offer a better informed, less culturally encapsulated, and more nuanced understanding of educational practice at all levels.


The field of teacher education would benefit from renewed interest in the contributions of scholars who pursue questions of fundamental importance in these foundational areas. In the case of philosophy of education, as these articles demonstrate, issues of identity, practice, ethics, and inter-personal relationships come to the forefront. Bringing together philosophy and teacher education surfaces significant questions of perennial interest about the purposes of schooling, but ones that are even more critical at a time when a confluence of social, economic, and political factors give urgency to how we think about the public enterprise of education ( and the future of democracy .


Disputes over educational aims have always existed in the United States. Over the last several decades, however, state and national education policy has moved dramatically towards an instrumentalist viewpoint that reduces the aims of schooling to raising test scores on standardized tests and of higher education to occupational preparation . At the same time, the work of teacher education has focused somewhat narrowly on problems of practice, with little attention paid to the democratic aims of education or the many ethical issues embedded in education and teacher education (cf: Levinson & Fay, 2016, for a notable exception to this generalization), and when so much of “official knowledge” has suppressed the histories and perspectives of various groups within our multicultural society . In literal and figurative ways over the last several decades, American education has been impoverished by policies that have focused on accountability measures  leading to teacher demoralization  and teacher shortages in many parts of the country.


The articles featured here have emerged from an exciting project of dialogue, reflection, and philosophical reconsideration of the means and ends of teacher education. Collectively, they call upon us to use the skills and values manifest throughout philosophy, literature, and qualitative research, including self-study and auto-ethnography, to promote the importance in teaching and teacher education of questions such as: What are we doing? Who are we serving? Towards what ends? How do we engage with our students productively across different social locations and worldviews? A tremendous appetite exists today among practitioners of education to re-engage questions like these that have largely been left on the sidelines of educational “reforms” over the last 20 years.


As David Labaree wrote so presciently over twenty years ago , the United States has struggled over its history between three competing aims for education: democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility. This contest can also be seen in tensions throughout the country’s history between its foundational values of liberty and equality. Even before passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, pressures were building to advance the importance of social mobility above the other two goals. Since that time, K–20 education has increasingly become a credentials race , with an emphasis on “college and career” preparation promulgated through the Common Core curriculum and associated assessments. The impact of these policy initiatives has been felt across the nation, albeit to a varying extent in different states with corresponding differences in the degree of resistance from parents, teachers, and teacher educators to these impositions .


In this essay, I respond to the themes that have emerged across the articles in this special issue of Teachers College Record, considering them in light of the contexts of schooling, teacher education, and the contemporary moment in the United States. Each of these essays raises salient concerns about what the reform movements of the last 20 or so years have meant for scholars, practitioners, and students.


REFLECTION, DIALOGUE, AND CONVERSATION


In this section, I highlight themes that cut across the articles in this volume. Although I separate these themes heuristically in the sections below, in many respects they are interlaced, with facets of each blended with others, and mutually reinforcing. Taken together, the issues raised in each section point to the ethical aspects of teaching and the humanizing potential of teaching and teacher education that is often masked or overlooked in the social scientific emphases that dominate the scholarly literature in education.


A concern for teachers and teacher educators as more than “practitioners”


Jeff and Joe take up a prominent idea in teacher education today—the notion of core practices. Their essay asks readers to balance “effectiveness with goodness.” They correctly note that “the drive to see teaching through the lens of effectiveness often outweighs much else.” It would be hard to argue with this statement even though, as they note, prominent voices in the field of teacher education have criticized this approach. They ask the important question of whether such an emphasis, even if useful, is sufficient to the work of teacher education. They also call upon teachers to bring goodness, including imagination and warmth, to the enterprise of teaching.


Such concerns, expressed both explicitly and implicitly, about our conceptualizations of teachers and teaching are threaded throughout the articles in this volume. Although the word “practitioner” is often used as a synonym for “teacher,” the import of these essays is to point – individually and collectively – towards recognition of this role less reductively. Teachers do not just practice—as in the repetitive activity of an art or skill in order to become better at it. Teachers bring their personhood to the work of teaching, as we see, for example, in Maria Paula and Stephanie’s meditation on motherhood and its meaning for their work and in Shilpi and Shaireen’s essay highlighting tensions in their encounters with students that emerge from their taking up culturally responsive teacher education issues in their classrooms. Likewise, in John and Mark’s concern for the symbolism of college pennants in a high school classroom and an administrator’s insistence that a teacher display such educational artifacts, we are drawn into the ethical issues that teachers struggle with as they become more than merely an agent of someone else’s prescription for their work.


In considering the role of the teacher, a few conceptual distinctions may be helpful. The etymological root of the word “effectiveness” is closely related to that for the word “efficiency.” Both words denote the ability to make something happen, to produce a desired effect. And, of course, today we focus on teacher effectiveness directed towards the improvement of student learning as policymakers seek to achieve “excellence for all” (Schneider, 2011). The educational reforms of the last 20 years have focused on elevating educational achievement, not only in terms of the proportion of students who graduate high school having learned what is required (as measured, for example, by raising graduation rates) but also in terms of the quality of the curriculum they are presumed to have mastered and for which the diploma stands as symbol. With “college and career” readiness now serving as the hallmark of the social mobility aims that Labaree highlights, teacher effectiveness has become ever more important as a benchmark for assessing the quality of teacher education as well.


Introducing the notion of efficiency into consideration of teaching harkens back to the notion of “social efficiency,” made (in)famous by some elements within the progressive education movement . As Labaree notes, the notion of social efficiency, however muddled it may be (Fallace & Fantozzi, 2013), has been on the defensive, with the banner of “college for all” having superseded older frameworks that slotted certain groups (e.g., persons of color, women, etc.) into pre-ordained roles seen as more fitting for their social status. However, as John and Mark’s piece illustrates, teachers may experience ethical conflicts about the imposition of a new version of “one size fits all” aims for their students’ learning.


Too often today practitioners are viewed as mere instruments, cogs in a machine of transmission and accountability, who relay information (as opposed to cultivating knowledge and understanding) drawn from a prefabricated curriculum created by others who have little sense of the students who are the objects of their designs. Thinking of teachers in this manner overlooks the ethical dimensions of the work teachers are called upon to do as well as the ways of being that Jeff and Joe’s piece highlights. To enact goodness into teaching is to assume a certain quality of personhood embodying the role of teacher. This is no small matter, and one that contemporary writing about teacher education only skirts in its emphasis on equity and social justice. To treat a student with reverence is to respect the fact that the student is not an empty vessel when they arrive in school but brings with them not only a capacity for learning but significant cultural imprinting that can be used as an asset in the classroom. For example, in Maria Paula’s and Stephanie’s essay, they point out the ways in which contemporary policies appear to continue the traditions associated with the 20th century social efficiency movement demanding that teachers “sort, categorize, and label children” (p. 10) rather than respecting the “lived experiences” and “cultural knowledge” (p. 25) children bring to their schooling. And, in Shilpi and Shaireen’s thick description of a lesson on multiculturalism in a teacher education class, the reader is reminded of how the embodied agent of such a lesson (or the actor in any other activity in which a person of color encounters Whiteness, whether it be a police officer or another representative of the state such as a customs agent) can provoke resistance when issues of power and privilege are made visible.


Being and doing


Cara and Shannon’s essay calls readers to think about the potential of “interrupting” or “thinking-in-action” as an approach with the potential to help educators break out of their daily routines. Their article begins with the idea of a teacher as conjured up in struggle, which, even in the limited sense in which they are drawing upon the image of Socrates during a military campaign, may seem entirely appropriate to many teachers and teacher educators. It is important to emphasize here that the interrupting comes from a close collaboration between two teachers and friends who, in a trusting and mutually supportive fashion, open up their classrooms to each other for help in improving their work in teacher education.


Other verbs get deployed in these chapters to characterize the work of teaching: educators who are nudging, inquiring, revering, meditating, reflecting, telling stories, challenging, embodying, and “seeing through serpents’ and eagles’ eyes.” Throughout the 20th century, educators have struggled to position their enterprise as intellectual and professional, often using various forms of resistance to the established order in education  to achieve voice and standing in debates about teaching, learning, and schooling. Too often their voices and perspectives go unheard in the places where decisions are made about their work. These chapters offer a range of action words that, taken collectively, signify the multi-dimensional aspects of teaching and provide portraits that remind us how complex teaching is, even if its professional status, autonomy, and compensation rarely respect that reality.


In this complexity, we also get a more humanistic vision of teaching—involving real human beings who bring their own life stories and invite their students into dialogue through sharing their own stories. In this respect teachers become, along with all the rest, “handlers of memories” who are called upon to treat these memories with the reverence necessary for marking the legitimacy of these memories in classroom curriculum. While we often talk about the “whole child” when considering the aims of education, we rarely discuss the “whole person” when we talk about teachers. And yet in these portraits we see the importance of creativity and imagination, ethical thinking, sensitivity to self and other, and the possibilities found in meditation, dialogue, and reverence for advancing more humane forms of education. None of these holistic dimensions of teaching gets captured when accountability is measured chiefly or solely through a high-stakes test deeming a teacher as “effective” (or not) in producing student learning. By contrast, these chapters suggest the need for resistance against the reductionist characterizations of teaching and learning inherent in such accountability systems.


John and Mark’s essay on the opportunity structure and Jeff and Joe’s call for goodness illuminate the need for creating spaces and supports for teachers to enact more humanizing pedagogies in their schools. How do we build environments, whether in schools or in colleges of teacher education, that allow for consideration of a multiplicity of ends for teaching and teacher education? How do we ensure that teachers are encouraged in this work by school leadership aligned with such a vision of schooling? Nevertheless, it is also important to acknowledge the danger with multiple pathways and aims, as Maria Paula and Stephanie capture so vividly, since we know historically that this diversity of outcomes have all too often resulted in tracking systems closely aligned with students’ identity characteristics—as non-native speakers of English, or poor students of color. How do teachers interrupt these systems through their pedagogies and persons? How do they resist the weight of so much inheritance that both de-humanizes students by defining them according to a cultural logic of deficits and undermines their ability to bring their entire beings—ethical, creative, and intellectual—into their doing of the work? How do multiple pathways through education emanate from students’ interests and goals in life rather than rooting their choices in race or gender?

 

Teaching as socializing; the tensions between identity and culture


Cristina and Erin’s essay turns our attention towards the role of teachers as “handlers of memory.” In approaching teaching from this angle, they remind us that teachers embody authority—not only personal authority but as cultural representation of a certain kind of social capital that is highly gendered and racialized . Teachers symbolize, among other things, what it means to be an educated person, a status afforded more or less respect depending on the environment in which one lives and work. In many ancient and some modern societies, the status of the teacher was high. In modern America, however, it is, at least as captured in contemporary public opinion polls, the object of declining respect and little appeal as an occupation that one might, as a parent, aspire to for one’s children . Over the last several decades a marked erosion has occurred in the status of teaching as a profession or semi-profession due to low salaries, difficult working conditions, and declining parental support for teachers’ authority in classrooms, among other factors.


Despite these shifts, it might be easy to underestimate the role of the teacher as an agent of socialization, especially as a “handler of memories.” Teachers’ choices in classrooms, their role as gatekeepers of knowledge and culture, still has the potential to either affirm the individual student and whatever she or he brings into the classroom or to negate the value of those inheritances, as so many past and present narratives about schooling remind us . In that so many teachers are female, White, and middle class, they often represent the dominant culture, one that has subjugated and oppressed the histories and perspectives of persons of color in this country since time immemorial. Unless they actively work to challenge dominant perspectives through critical pedagogy, they may simply contribute to what Cristina and Erin call the “deadening of curriculum” in restricting what gets privileged as knowledge in the classroom from their students’ lives.


In a similar vein, Maria Paula and Stephanie call our attention to the “discourse of improvement” (p. 1) that views students, including those in early childhood classrooms, from a deficit perspective who need socializing into a mono-cultural way of being defined by the dominant society. Such framing all too often directs students—young and old—to put aside aspects of their own biography, language, and culture (coded as deficient) in order to move into preferred ways of being, acting, speaking, and inter-relating. One is reminded in reading their piece of Jeff and Joe’s call for goodness—for imagining other ways of being in the world than one’s own singular biography or professional training—and respecting others differently situated selves, especially what students bring into classrooms through their own biographies, memories, and family cultures. Despite all the work in schools of education undertaken in diversity courses under the banner of equity and social justice, this narrow, constricted form of professional practice remains too common among beginning and seasoned teachers, especially under the weight of systems and structures that impose forms of action and evaluation providing little tolerance for anything other than what the highly regimented educational environment dictates in terms of standardized schooling. Moreover, Shilpi and Shaireen’s article makes it clear that good intentions will not be sufficient for White teachers to move beyond the imprint of systemic racism and its power in undermining their ability to respect the brilliance and promise of their students of color.


Whether students who come into K–20 classrooms as “carriers of troubled knowledge”—personal, institutional, disciplinary, or cultural—or are less troubled by the knowledge they carry with them, our duty as educators is to engage them in gaining critical distance on what they study, probing why the knowledge they receive is so partial (even while masquerading as whole) or as the most significant. Memories are tricky; memories are suspect. And yet they must be handled with care while they are being questioned. How do we do that in ways that provide reverence and respect to our students yet nudge them towards interrogating their own and others’ outlooks?


Place-based teaching, learning and teacher education—context matters


One of the unique features of the American educational system has been its hyper-localism, which stands in contrast with centralized systems of education found in some other nations. As a result of historical factors and the political arrangement in the United States known in the United States as federalism, the architecture of which was set out in its Constitution in the 18th century, control over education resides in the states. And, due to the ways in which education continues to be funded (largely through local property taxes), control over education in many states is situated in local school boards. Although some states such as New York are more centralized in the ways in which they approach curriculum and assessment, other neighboring states such as New Jersey and Connecticut take a more decentralized approach, relying heavily on decisions made by local school boards about curriculum and assessment, even if the state stipulates graduation requirements and issues “mandates” of one sort or another (e.g., in New Jersey, a mandate exists for teaching about the Holocaust).


Nevertheless, since the 1960s the federal government’s power of the purse string has been used to exert its authority to move states in a common direction, for example, providing funds for schools serving large numbers of poor children or mandating special education or services for English language learners . The most notable incursion into K–12 schooling came in 2001, with passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a bi-partisan effort enacted during the presidency of George W. Bush, a Republican, and Race to the Top, enacted during the presidency of Barack Obama, a Democrat. The latter program provided huge sums of money to states that won grants for implementing policies and practices that would advance NCLB’s aims of closing the achievement gap between different groups of students in U.S. schools. In 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reflected the strong desire in many states to roll back the federal authority over education that had accumulated since 2001. It is significant that under the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, ESSA-related policies have been modified but not overturned. Even with the unpopularity of the Common Core in many Republican-led states and the degree to which this program became a flashpoint during the 2016 presidential election, the Common Core remains officially in place in the majority of states and unofficially in many others given its impact on textbook revisions over the last decade.


Despite or perhaps due to these trends towards educational specialization in this country, the authors whose articles are brought together for this issue write in ways that show their appreciation of the importance of what I call here “place-based education.” Moreover, they are concerned with creating environments in which multiple stories can be told and in which the felt need for resisting standardization and recognizing multiple ways of knowing, being, and doing will stimulate customized responses from teachers and teacher educators to their students. All too often, they remind us, the differences between people, traditions, and cultures have been analyzed according to a hierarchical order in which one story/one tradition/one canon was considered the only thing of value while the languages, cultures, and values of the “other” were evaluated as lesser and unworthy of expression, recognition, or validation in school curriculum.


Mark and John’s chapter asks us to consider whether alternative goals for schooling can be supported in a charter school with a singular goal of placing all its graduate into colleges. Shilpi and Shaireen’s chapter reminds us that, even in a relatively diverse, suburban context—at least by comparison with some other regions of the United States—the overwhelming Whiteness of the teacher education classroom means that professors of color fight an uphill battle in introducing issues of equity, diversity, inclusion, and White privilege among students who may, especially in the contemporary cultural climate, assume that their racial status as Whites positions them as the aggrieved parties in a rapidly changing demographic profile for the United States. Maria Paula and Stephanie’s article brings home the importance of place by focusing the reader’s attention on a large urban environment where multiplicity and difference among students is hard-wired into the very fabric of the city and its schools. Yet, even in environments characterized by some measure of demographic diversity, the educational and ethical challenges of enacting culturally sustaining pedagogies  may be acute since, in so many ways, the educational policies of schools and states vitiate against this effort and White fragility makes talking about racism so difficult for White people (DiAngelo, 2018).


The stories presented across these chapters suggest the power of place to shape our understandings of the world—from experiences in families and early childhood settings to the work of teacher education in smaller and larger colleges and universities across the country. Chimamanda Adichie  reminds us of “the danger of a single story” in her powerful TED talk, a lesson that these writers have clearly taken to heart. Similarly, in considering teaching and learning in our nation and across the globe, these articles also remind us of the impact of different places not only in bringing together an individual teacher and her students but also the convergence of time and space with a particular set of educational aims, policies, and practices that constrain or enhance what goes on in her classroom. For as much as our contemporary educational policies, as enacted through federal legislation, would like us to believe that common “core” curriculum or common assessments might produce “common” results, we know all too well how much alchemy is involved in teaching and learning, where the same mix of ingredients produces highly varied outcomes from student to student.


One lesson from these articles, at least for me, is that, for all of education’s social science pretensions, the work of teaching remains a humanistic enterprise, built from old and new, place and space, person and practice in ways that will never allow for the kind of social efficiency framework that has been all too seductive over the history of education in and beyond this country . The authors featured in this issue illuminate not only why teaching is bound up so inextricably with aspects of the human condition but also why taking this recognition seriously demands addressing difficult questions about memory, knowledge, power, justice, and more, with greater honesty, humility, self-awareness, and respect for students, their families, and their communities than has been the case in recent years throughout the educational enterprise.


CONCLUSION


In the popular book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind , the author reminds us of the important role of story in creating and sustaining civilizations. Ella Saltmarshe  draws upon Harari’s book and other theories of social change to advance her argument that stories are powerful enough to change complex systems. From other research , for example, we learn about the effect of stories in moving people beyond “psychic numbing,” even in cases of global disaster such as genocide. More and more, scholars from across the disciplines emphasize the importance of stories to create a sense of inclusion, identity, and community  that can stimulate positive and negative action and reaction. One aspect of this research is the finding that many individuals find stories more compelling than statistics, rational arguments, expert testimony, or ethical precepts in reasoning their way through difficult questions to make decisions.


Saltmarshe (2018) summarizes this research in following way:


Story has many different qualities that make it useful for the work of systems change. It’s a direct route to our emotions, and therefore important to decision-making. It creates meaning out of patterns. It coheres communities. It engenders empathy across difference. It enables the possible to feel probable in ways our rational minds can’t comprehend. When it comes to changing the values, mindsets, rules and goals of a system, story is foundational.

                               (para 7)


Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this collection of articles in Teachers College Record lies in the compelling ways in which each author draws on stories to make their arguments about larger truths about the state of education than can readily be captured through other means of discourse. As in Plato’s Symposium, story has a revered place in philosophical discourse because, as with literature, story gets at those larger truths of the human condition and educational enterprise overlooked by other modalities of representation.


By way of conclusion, therefore, I suggest that story—and philosophy—should have a more prominent place in teacher education. If we are going to move schooling towards less technocratic means and ends, perhaps stories can be helpful in bringing about the systems change that Saltmarshe argues that it can by identifying and defining a problem, serving to synthesize disparate and confusing facts, and creating community among individuals, even those with differing perspectives, who identify a common purpose and can unite towards change. In contemporary schooling, perhaps we need more story and fewer statistics in order to re-balance educational aims and practices.


The stories featured here point the way towards a more humanizing set of pedagogies and aims than the portraits of international competition and national decline that have dominated the rhetoric of educational reform since the 1980s. As a  result of this rhetoric, many policymakers were attracted and implemented ideas rooted in neo-liberal paradigms that relied upon accountability and privatization as among the preferred responses to perceived educational ills (. The articles in this issue highlight some of the collateral damage to teaching and teacher education that has resulted from such policies, among them significant levels of teacher demoralization and widespread teacher shortages. We would do well to reflect, critically as well as ethically, upon these stories and consider the questions they raise as we think about working towards systemic change in education.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 4, 2020, p. 1-15
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23088, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 9:20:01 PM

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About the Author
  • Margaret Crocco
    Teachers College Columbia University
    MARGARET SMITH CROCCO is Professor Emerita. She has also served on the faculties of Michigan State University and the University of Iowa. Her research interests focus on issues of gender and diversity within social studies education and civic education. Among her recent publications are the following: “Moral outrage and teaching about Hurricane Katrina,” Theory into Practice (https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2018.1518641) and “Deliberating public policy issues with adolescents: Classroom dynamics and socio-cultural considerations,” Democracy & Education, with Segall, Halvorsen & Jacobsen, https://democracyeducationjournal.org/home/.
 
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