Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Rational and Caring Teachers: Reconstructing Teacher Preparation

by Barbara Arnstine - 1990

Examines means of achieving dispositional educational aims (rationality and caring) by redesigning teacher education programs. Prospective teachers must be prepared to cultivate rational, caring dispositions in themselves to encourage these dispositions in their students. (Source: ERIC)

My colleagues and the administration of California State University, Sacramento, provided both practical and intellectual support for this article. I wish to thank them, and also to express my gratitude to my colleague Donald Arnstine for the precision of his criticism and the kindness with which it was delivered.

One of the masters of science fiction in the sixties was Isaac Asimov. He wrote a great many stories about robots. One of the themes of his stories was the difficulty of creating robots that could perform complex tasks involving decision making and yet still behave like robots, that is, follow the steps and commands of their program. In Asimov’s stories, the humans who build these robots soon discover that the complex designs required for accomplishing some task result in robots that take charge of situations and make spontaneous decisions. The message seems to be that humans who design a robot for achieving human ends would be wise to consider what kind of robot will be created in the process.

It may be equally valuable to consider what kind of teachers we will have if we design them to achieve the educational ends we desire. Asimov’s stories illuminate some of the surprises that are in store when we do not adequately consider the relation between the ends we desire and the means we develop for achieving them. Some people believe that philosophy of education deals focally, if not exclusively, with the ends of education, but the effective preparation of teachers to achieve our valued educational ends demands an examination of the consequences of the means we employ that is independent of what we would like those means to achieve. I hope to point out in this article (in a way more prosaic then Asimov’s, of course) the surprises that may be in store if we seriously attend to the means of preparing teachers to achieve some of our valued educational aims.

Asimov’s robots got into trouble only when their tasks became both complicated and selective. A simple task requiring a simple program worked just fine, but as the number of steps and variables increased, something called “judgment” entered into the robot’s repertoire. While judgment was necessary for the completion of the task, it was difficult to predict the outcomes of these judgments, and difficult to keep them strictly within the defined tasks.

As long as educational aims are simple ones, the preparation of teachers can be a straightforward and simple undertaking. The vast majority of expectations about the outcomes of schooling, however, are not simple at all. We acknowledge the complexity of our expectations by casting our educational aims in dispositional terms such as rationality and responsibility, caring and curiosity. The language of dispositions allows us to talk not simply about programmable behaviors, but about a flexible range of tendencies to act that persist after schooling has been completed, and that will occur in a future that is essentially unknown. This article will be concerned with the preparation of teachers who are expected to achieve educational aims that are best understood as dispositional—those that persist in new situations but cannot be identified as simple behavioral repertoires.

Two aims for education that can best be described as dispositional have recently been offered by philosophers of education: rationality and caring. Creation of the rational person and the caring person is seen as an ideal goal for education and as a valued way that learners can respond to situations in the future. As dispositional aims, rationality and caring become criteria for the examination of current educational practice, and they also become dispositions to be realized in the future actions of learners. Nel Noddings and Harvey Siegel are particularly persuasive in their respective arguments for rationality and for caring, and it would be very difficult to reject these dispositions as worthwhile goals for education.1 One might offer alternative aims, but arguments against rationality and caring are hard to imagine.

Rather than criticizing or rejecting rationality and caring as educational aims, I will examine the means for achieving them. Educators and teacher education programs try to achieve many aims, and rationality and caring are only two of them. They also aim at subject matter competence, at an understanding of human development, and at fairness, to mention but a few others. There is nothing inherently incompatible about any of these aims, but exclusive concern with some of them may blind us to the fact that our programs are inhibiting the advancement of others. Hence the concerns of teacher educators are not simply the justification of these aims or their compatibility. I shall ask what kind of program might be required for the preparation of teachers if schools are to achieve the educational aims of rationality and caring.

Before we consider the shape that such a teacher preparation program might take, however, we need to be clear as to what a dispositional aim involves. My initial discussion will be about what is proposed, or talked about, when educational aims are cast in dispositional language. My second consideration will be what implications dispositional language holds for the means to achieve them, in the hope of clarifying how dispositions can be cultivated or changed. My concluding discussion will consider what kind of preparation prospective teachers will need to cultivate in their students the disposition to be rational and caring.


When we express our educational aims in dispositional terms, we indicate our hopes for the future behavior of learners. We do not indicate simply an expected behavior, however. Dispositional language enables us to predict “how a person might properly behave under a certain range of conditions at some future time.”2 For example, Siegel’s dispositional aim of rationality is defined as being “appropriately moved by reasons.”3 This is not offered as a description of a present state of affairs, but as a prediction about the future in which, under certain conditions, a person uses evidence and the soundness of arguments to decide on a course of action. Dispositional aims are optimistic—they imagine futures in which there are opportunities to act in the way the disposition indicates. But their claims to know the future are modest. They do not tell us the precise circumstances under which a person might be disposed to act in a particular manner. What they do indicate is a range of conditions under which a person might act according to the disposition in question.

When we ascribe a disposition to someone, we are making a prediction about how he or she will behave in some future set of circumstances. For example, if we say that someone has a caring disposition, we assume that there will be opportunities to care for someone. We can, however, imagine conditions that would limit such opportunities and thus inhibit the exercise of caring. A social worker who is disposed to care for her clients may have such a large caseload that there is no time to do anything but paperwork. Such conditions might lead to frustration and guilt, but they will not lead to exercising the disposition to care. They may in fact lead to a significant change in that disposition.

Dispositional aims speak to the relationship between a person and the environment in the future, but how is that relationship characterized? Certain conditions are expected, but how is the person to respond to those conditions? Certainly, the environment is not conceived of as a particular set of conditions that triggers a specific response. If that were the case, we would not be using dispositional terminology, but precise behavioral terms. Dewey notes that dispositions are formed “by means of the action of the environment in calling out certain responses.”4 He does not, nor does our current use of dispositional terms, predict a causal relationship. As he says, “The things with which a man varies are his genuine environment.”5 When we predict a disposition, we predict not only the characteristic activities of a person, but also the congruence of the environment with those actions. Thus, when we hope to identify a disposition, we do not point to some objective set of circumstances, but rather to the particular environment in which a person is disposed to act, an environment that reflects purposes, beliefs, histories. To speak of a disposition is to speak of the conditions that frustrate or sustain its development in this environment. It is not to identify some objective set of circumstances as causal or simply hospitable.

Neither can we assume that dispositions are tendencies or impulsions carried within the person, for the ascribing of a disposition indicates that we are dependent on situations for the exercise of dispositions.6 Suppose we say that a particular teacher is disposed to care for her students. If pressed to substantiate this claim, we would not reply, “Look at her. She has a kind face.” Our evidence for the teacher’s disposition to care would be garnered from her activities in the classroom, her plans, how she and the children interact, what she says about her students and herself. If she confided to us that the demands of the new principal were seriously undermining her ability to care for her students, we would take her perceptions seriously. If the teacher said, “I can no longer care adequately for my students,” the answer to the question “Why?” might be any number of statements about, difficult conditions. It would not ordinarily be a report of a personality change.

By expecting a tendency to act in certain ways under certain conditions, we are also expecting a particular relationship between the person and certain features of the environment. Use of a dispositional term is a prediction that ordinarily implies a particular environment in which a person will act purposefully, selectively, and deliberately. Dispositions are not predictions of impulses or routine habits. What is spontaneous or regular about them is a function of the activities that allow for their expression, for it is through activities that the existence of dispositions is verified. When I say that “X is disposed to do Y,” the evidence for the correctness of my prediction is future activities in which X does Y. In order for the doing of Y to qualify as evidence for a disposition, X must do it voluntarily, not as an automatic response. He or she must also do it in response to existing conditions, which makes the action deliberate. Finally, he or she must do it (not simply talk about it as a desirable trait), which involves purposive activity.

Hence dispositional language involves predicting what actions people will take in the future, but not all future actions. It is restricted to those actions that are voluntarily undertaken in response to a set of existing conditions that are identified as relevant and that result in deliberate activities that characterize the disposition.

Dispositional aims are particularly useful in education not simply because they point to the consequences of educational practice in the future behavior of learners, but also because they highlight the difference between education and the training of habitual responses, and education and the cultivation of particular feelings or indoctrinated beliefs. Deliberately to cultivate a disposition as an educational aim is to expect that knowledge and skills relevant to its exercise will be acquired, that conditions for its exercise will be recognized and selected, that actions embodying the disposition will be cultivated and practiced, and that the consequences of activities involving the disposition will be felt and recognized.

Since any number of dispositions might be cultivated in schools, the existence of a disposition and its worthiness as an educational aim are quite different matters for inquiry. However, the positing of educational aims in dispositional terms clarifies the kinds of aims we are after. Dispositions point to future activities and the way we carry them out—they have reference to the way we conduct our affairs, and the world in which those affairs are conducted. They cannot simply be conditioned as habits, nor will they spontaneously appear in the form of a developmental stage, or as a magical outcome of the acquisition of knowledge.


Once we decide that certain educational aims are worth pursuing, we have to make plans for achieving them. There are difficulties in achieving educational aims that are dispositional, however, because dispositions are not acquired in the same way one can acquire a new coat, a particular skill, or a British accent. We may point to particular behaviors as evidence of the dispositions we ascribe, but those behaviors are simply evidence, not the disposition itself. We cannot teach the behaviors that exemplify a disposition in the hopes that the disposition will follow, any more than we can teach a child how to use a ruler and then conclude that he is now disposed to measure carefully.

Dispositions are cultivated rather than simply conveyed or transmitted, and a number of conditions in the learner’s situation need to be attended to for their cultivation. In the case of cultivating a disposition to do things carefully, such as measuring, one of the first conditions to consider is whether the learner has anything worth measuring. The measure of worth is not determined by the teacher, however, for it depends on the student. It must be in his or her interest and for his or her ends that careful measuring is worthwhile.7 Thus admonitions to measure carefully must not come in the form of commands from the teacher, but from the demands of the activity itself.

Life demands a lot of careful measuring, whether it is two drops of medicine in the cat’s milk or enough paint for the kitchen wall. Children mark out playing fields and estimate their success in accumulating candy at Halloween by some standard of measure. Therefore, we can hope, as with most dispositions that we wish to cultivate, that activities outside of school have provided opportunities for the exercise of dispositions such as measuring carefully.

Something happens in school, however, when the same child who drew perfect squares for a jumping game or distributed treats with impeccable partiality gets a ruler and a piece of paper in his or her hands. A line that is supposed to be twelve inches is only eleven. A triangle does not have equal angles. There are slightly less than two cubic centimeters of water in the beaker.

Why is schoolwork so careless when this student’s measurement out of school was so accurate? What happens when dispositions that seem to be developing in the ordinary course of activities disappear in schoolwork? If we are to succeed in cultivating dispositions, we should not assume that the fault is in the child and reach so quickly for either punishing consequences or repetitive remediations (which are usually experienced as punishing consequences). If I am measuring carelessly and the teacher decides that as a consequence I should practice measuring for the rest of the day, I am not going to exercise care; I am going to be resentful and dislike measuring.

To cultivate a disposition, the teacher must look for activities that enable students to experience the disposition as worthwhile. Thus the first condition for measuring carefully is to have something that the learner perceives to be worth measuring. This means that the teacher must discover what students think is worth measuring; he or she must discover in what activity and for what purpose a measure of something might be seen as critical. There are all sorts of activities in the world like that, and many of them will appeal to students. The point is, however, that they are activities—situations in which something is going on that interests the students, that furthers their purposes.

In activities that involve measuring, the carefulness of our actions has consequences. These consequences do not need to be announced by the teacher as “right” or “wrong”—they are brought home by the activity itself. The table wobbles, the cake falls flat, the shirt does not fit because we did not take care in measuring—and the import of those consequences is itself measured by our investment in our efforts.

No amount of imprecations from the teacher, or contrived consequences such as a poor grade, can replace the conditions for cultivating dispositions that are available in activities perceived by students to be purposeful. However, since schools are highly structured, regimented places where students sit and receive instruction, rather than places where they are engaged in activities, it is worth considering whether dispositions such as measuring carefully can be cultivated, however ineptly, in the present organization of classroom practices.

Certainly, schools try to reproduce the behaviors that are indicative of a disposition to measure carefully. Knowledge of various standards of measure such as inches and centimeters is memorized and tested. Opportunities for guided practice are plentiful in the form of worksheets, and puzzles whose solution requires careful measuring are given as tests. Even when these conditions produce correct behaviors, however, correctness is so fleeting that we cannot with any confidence ascribe a disposition. As many teachers have discovered, what is learned under these conditions this year is gone the next. The high school chemistry teacher is as resigned to teaching students to measure carefully as the first-grade teacher was, and every teacher wonders, “Why didn’t they learn that last year?”

Sometimes the dispositions we wish to cultivate in school are so different from the ones students possess that we must change their dispositions in order to achieve our aims. Some children will come to school careless rather than careful in their attention to details such as measuring. In the elementary school, some children never seem to complete their projects successfully. Their results are cockeyed, smeary, difficult to read or interpret. Teachers are disappointed by such messy results, but not discouraged. They know that most of the time what is lacking is skill of execution, not desire. They also know that if desire and interest are lacking, even the most adept students will carry out tasks carelessly. Teachers frequently find, however, that it is difficult to act on these perceptions within the current structure of schooling. The highly detailed, regimented curriculum that must be taught and learned in order to achieve systematic progress through grade levels while achieving a common standard of performance on state tests leaves little room for the development of activities that reflect the purposes and interests of children. The sheer volume of the predetermined curriculum and the pressure of standardized tests make it almost irresistible to tell students about dispositions rather than to cultivate them. Most elementary school teachers know that admonishing children to measure carefully will not contribute to the development of dispositions to do so in the same way or with the same effectiveness as engaging in activities that students see as demanding careful measurement. Many teachers are aware that their own demand to measure carefully, particularly when delivered sternly and followed by poor grades, is often counterproductive. The child’s sense of self-worth and confidence in his or her own powers is undermined by the pressure to meet the standard, and by failure in testing situations.

Teachers, while disposed to obey authority themselves, recognize every day the distance between the demands of the predetermined curriculum and the interests, capacities, and purposes of their students. One teacher put it this way: “I’m sure that any teacher in the land would extend an invitation to any member of the many commissions on excellence to come to the classroom and show him or her how to make efficient use of school time on the day before Halloween, during a snow storm, on the morning after an X-rated movie on cable television, during the first half-hour after a child vomits in class, or immediately after the school nurse checks the group for head lice.”8

In the absence of interesting and purposeful activities, dispositions may be extremely hard to change or cultivate. But that is not the whole problem. The directed learning that demands careful measuring behavior is itself an experience that is cultivating dispositions. As writers about the hidden curriculum have argued, the conditions of authoritarianism and competitive grading foster certain dispositions independent of particular course content.9 Thus the student who must produce examples of careful measurement year after year may end up disposed to obey authority in an unquestioning manner, rather than disposed to measure carefully—may end up thinking that “Ivory Soap is 99 percent pure” is the authoritative report of an accurate measure.

Despite this knowledge, teachers succumb to the pressures of the school structure and attempt to implement the school curriculum through telling and testing. The distance between the predetermined, imposed curriculum and the realities of the particular classroom are exacerbated by the fact that teachers have their own dispositions to contend with. Years of schooling in a system of telling and testing have cultivated in the teacher dispositions to work alone and to obey authority.

Teachers whose classes are heterogeneous, multicultural, and crowded—that is, whose working conditions are typical—experience conflict, difficulty, and stress in simply trying to meet authoritative expectations. Even if these teachers hope to cultivate the dispositions of obedience to authority and working alone and competitively, the repression of activities that carry forward other dispositions is a difficult task. Harsh measures are needed to ensure that the naturally cooperative characteristics of social relationships do not infect the learning of the curriculum. Teachers are forced to identify certain activities as cheating and others as helping not in terms of what is actually happening, but arbitrarily, and because of their authority to do so.10 One situation is called a test, another permits helping your neighbor. The difference is not in curriculum content, or in what is going on in the present. It is in some predicted future, such as a G.P.A., that only the teacher understands. Thus the child must figure out what behaviors are called for in each situation as he or she attempts to please the teacher. A student who says to the teacher “What do you want?” is not hoping to understand something, but is searching for the right and satisfying behavior in an arbitrary and authoritarian world.

It could not be argued that the disposition to measure carefully is incompatible with students’ being disposed to be obedient or dutiful or even to daydream, but many educational aims seek to cultivate dispositions that are not compatible with a willingness to obey authority or to take advantage of one’s peers. For example, rationality requires a willingness to question authority rather than simply to obey it, and caring certainly encompasses empathy and cooperation with one’s peers rather than envy and competitiveness.

Teaching as you were taught, cultivating the dispositions to obey authority and to work competitively, presents great difficulties. Teachers who value the development of rationality and of caring as educational aims, however, will have even greater difficulty in developing those dispositions under the current conditions of schooling. Discussions of those dispositions simply as educational aims may even serve to obscure the difficulties of their execution. An example may serve to illuminate this point.

Noddings discusses the caring teacher in a situation where a student reveals his loathing for mathematics. She says: “What matters to me, if I care, is that he find some reason, acceptable in his inner self, for learning the mathematics required of him or that he reject it boldly and honestly.”11 Throughout her book, Noddings holds out the hope that teaching characterized by a caring disposition will result in a change in the student’s point of view, and that the mathematics that is required will be learned. She does not consider the legitimate reasons for rejection of mathematics, particularly as the study of it continues to expand in the required curriculum. It would seem quite reasonable, for example, to reject learning the metric system if students could substantiate that they would not have any use for those facts until next year’s class, when they will have to learn the metric system over again. Noddings’s statement implies that a rejection of the curriculum in mathematics is possible, and given the present curriculum, we could identify many situations where such a rejection would seem reasonable.

A bold and honest rejection should at least sometimes be met by the caring teacher with acquiescence. However, the rejection of the curriculum is not a consideration that even caring teachers can take seriously under present conditions. As Noddings says, “I begin, as nearly as I can, with the view from his eyes: Mathematics is bleak, jumbled, scary, boring, boring, boring. . . . What in the world could induce me to engage in it? From that point on, we struggle together with it.”12 There is no indication that the struggle could end with the happy conclusion that the student is right. Nor is there any way that the teacher, under present school conditions, could accept such a conclusion. Conditions for the cultivation of a caring disposition may require the most tentative of curriculums. Thus it seems extremely difficult for caring to develop under conditions where a predetermined curriculum must be presented and the results of the curriculum must be displayed to the public with scores that are better than “last year’s.”

Perhaps Noddings does not equate a bold and honest response with a rational one. It may be that a rational person in this society at this time would not reject learning mathematics. Noddings is not talking about mathematics in general, however. She is talking about what is “required,” namely, what happens to appear in the curriculum.

It does not seem possible that teachers and students who were disposed to be rational could avoid inquiring into the reasons for a required curriculum that controls both the form and the content of their classroom experiences. Siegel offers an extended example of the application of critical thinking to the practice of minimum competency testing.13 In his analysis, he not only examines the arbitrariness of minimum competency standards, but also questions what sort of educational aims such testing entails and criticizes the narrow expectations we have for the futures of students who are minimally competent. He uses this analysis of minimum competency testing to make the larger point that “such questions demand careful philosophical reflection, and educational policy and practice will remain ineffective and inconstant until it is guided by such considerations. Thus, educational practice and philosophical reflection are wed. Without the guidance of the latter, the former can only be folly.”14

Since teachers and their students are most intimately engaged in educational practice, it seems reasonable to suppose that Siegel would view their inquiring rationally into the curriculum and the reasons for its requirement as necessary to the cultivation of a disposition to be rational. What is proposed by most other educators who value the aim of rationality, however, is the inclusion of another course of study in the curriculum, one called “critical thinking.” The inclusion of this subject calls for the same conditions as the existing curriculum. Critical thinking must be a requirement. Its fulfillment must be measured through standardized tests. Its practice must be taught to teachers as a set of strategies for classroom use.15 Under such conditions, the dispositions that are cultivated are those of obedience and competitiveness. Embedded in a hierarchical authoritarian system, critical thinking loses its full meaning and is reduced to required activities involving the logic of propositions. What happens under those conditions is that critical thinking becomes, in Noddings’s terms, “bleak, jumbled, scary, boring, boring, boring”—but of course the teacher and the pupil must continue to struggle with it.

In arguing for such dispositional aims as rationality and caring, we need to take a closer look at the conditions necessary for their cultivation. Without a full understanding of those conditions, teachers who become persuaded and committed to the worthiness of those aims may be continually frustrated in their attempts to cultivate them in the classroom. The absence of opportunities to develop rational and caring teaching can lead even committed teachers to abandon these aims for the more familiar dispositions of obedience and competitiveness that schools foster. The distance between the aims of education that were so reasonably presented in university classes and the present realities of the public school becomes the difference between an ivory tower and reality. For many, the distance is so intolerable that the only choice left is to leave teaching and become administrators, in the hope that when they are in power, obedience to their rules will foster rationality and caring.


Teachers themselves must be rational and caring persons if they expect to cultivate rational and caring dispositions in their students. There are many arguments for this. One is the necessity for modeling that Noddings presents so poetically when she notes that the roots of our caring are in the memories of being cared for. Another is that choosing appropriate conditions for cultivating a disposition to be rational requires that disposition—conditions that encourage rationality need themselves to be rationally chosen.

Educational aims expressed as outcomes to be achieved by students often overlook the teachers who are expected to foster them. Dispositional aims, however, are particularly dependent on teachers, since dispositions call for the establishment of activities worthwhile to students in which the exercise of the desired disposition can bring fruitful results. Since educational researchers cannot identify the interests and purposes of all students, and people outside the classroom cannot predict the exact direction a particular classroom activity will take, the achievement of a dispositional aim rests particularly on the teacher’s ability to respond to and create appropriate conditions. To do this, the teacher must at least have the dispositions to be rational and to be caring himself or herself, in order to begin cultivating those dispositions in students.

How are we to get rational and caring teachers? We can certainly try to select candidates who already have these dispositions. I believe we do this in some of our entrance requirements for teacher preparation programs, where we hope that prior experience with children will reveal caring, and success with the curriculum will reveal rationality. We could even assume that teaching is selected as a career by many people who are disposed to be rational and caring.

What we cannot assume, however, is that our candidates for teacher preparation have ever acted on those dispositions while they were students in public schools. As I previously noted, the conditions of public schooling are most likely to cultivate dispositions to obey orders and to work independently. While teacher educators may support the aims of rationality and caring, and may even select prospective teachers who give evidence of these dispositions, the structure of most teacher preparation programs is more likely to continue to foster obedience and independent work. Since these programs replicate the familiar conditions of public schooling, prospective teachers find few opportunities to act in a rational and caring manner during their preparation. Here is an example of how the ordinary conditions of teaching in public schools inhibit prospective teachers from behaving in rational and caring ways.

Many candidates for elementary school teaching are mature women starting careers after raising children. Their responses as parents were both rational and caring, particularly in relation to such conditions as noise. As rational parents they saw the noisiness of their children as indicative of energy, interest, or distress. As caring parents they saw the necessity, from the child’s point of view, for such expression. So they often put up with a lot of noise.

A condition of public schooling is that many people are gathered together in a small space. Under such a condition, listening—which typifies the way in which learning is thought to occur—can be achieved only through the suppression of noise. Thus the prospective teacher who formerly considered noise a necessary expression of a child’s activity must now learn to see noise as the enemy of schooling and the enemy of learning. She studies disciplinary methods in the hope of learning how to keep the children well behaved and quiet. She selects lessons on the basis of the amount of noise they will generate, rejecting active participation and group work as too noisy. She worries that her supervisor, other teachers, or the principal will think her class is too noisy and take that as an indication of her inability to control the class. If her own children were this quiet at home, she would have called the doctor. In school, if she can achieve silence for long stretches of time, she is both pleased and grateful.

In her classes on campus the prospective teacher may talk about the benefits of active learning, of the cultivation of interest and excitement in the subject, or of the human need for socialization and interaction. While the conversations on campus may make her uneasy or angry or guilty about school practices, she finds that in her practice teaching she is expected to deliver a predetermined curriculum in a very short time while maintaining a quiet and orderly classroom. Under such conditions, natural inclinations to be rational and caring give way to teaching methods that are authoritative and promote competition.

Despite the fact that their courses promote the educational values of rationality and caring, prospective teachers find that their practice in the public schools offers few opportunities to act in a rational and caring way. Prospective teachers often deal with the discrepancy between what they are required to do as student teachers and the way they would like to teach by hoping for future conditions that will not constrain rationality and caring. They long for the day when they can do what they want to do, when they have their own classroom, or a real job, or tenure in the public schools.

Dispositions are not wishes that can be postponed until they can be fulfilled some day in the future. Waiting to be rational or caring at some more opportune time does not mean that a vacuous neutrality fills the present. Activities are going forward that cultivate other dispositions, and these turn out to be ones that are inimical to being rational and caring. Not only do prospective teachers have few opportunities to be rational and to care in their teaching activities, but their experiences as students in a teacher preparation program continue to foster the dispositions to obey authority and to work alone and care little for others—just the dispositions that characterized their actions as public school students.

The activities of students in a teacher preparation program are remarkably similar in character to those of their pupils in the public schools. Teacher preparation programs are designed to deliver a predetermined curriculum that fulfills credential requirements in a short period of time. They use a system of competitive grading that reassures the rest of the campus that teacher education’ is academically respectable. Thus, prospective teachers are encouraged to obey authority and to work alone and independently. When school experiences consistently call for obedience and competition, even the most obvious possibilities for acting in a rational and caring way go unrecognized.

For example, a competitive grading system requires faculty to ensure that prospective teachers work independently. Not only must this system be used during course work, but prospective teachers must also practice alone in the public schools. Success as a teacher is in part measured by the ability to be “left alone” with the students. Such a system must be strictly enforced, because a cooperative community of prospective teachers with common purposes would afford many opportunities for sharing expertise that would contaminate an independent assessment.

The lack of a supportive community of peers in the teacher preparation program leads prospective teachers to turn to supervisors and teachers for care and reassurance. These faculty are usually disposed to care and may even advocate it as an educational aim in their teacher preparation classes, but the system provides no time for these people, however well-intentioned, to care for their many students adequately. “I wish my supervisor had more time for me” is the evaluation given by many student teachers. Constrained from forming a cooperative community, prospective teachers believe that their inability to get care or to give it is a matter of “not enough time.” It does not occur to them that there never will be enough time to care for thirty students, that conditions need to be changed so that students can care for each other.

Caring teachers who are disposed to develop caring dispositions in their students cannot find the time to do it under the present conditions of schooling, whether they teach in a first-grade classroom or a university teacher preparation program. To change those conditions calls for a rational inquiry into their sources and support, and for the development of a plan to change them. It is possible to inquire rationally into the conditions of schooling during a teacher preparation program, and such an inquiry can be helped considerably by the examination of the irrational and uncaring acts of prejudice, stereotyping, racism, sexism, and authoritarianism that systematically occur in the society and in the schools. Unfortunately, students usually receive this information in a context where they must deal with it alone, and where they expect to be tested on it. Under these conditions, understanding the material for the sake of a test score becomes a very different problem from understanding its relevance and application to their teaching activities. Those students who do grasp its relevance are so overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems cast in these general terms that they become either angry or cynical about the possibilities of solution, and expect no outcome other than a passing grade for their understanding.

Prospective teachers who are disposed to care and to be rational, and who learn to value these dispositions as educational aims, can become increasingly guilty, depressed, and cynical throughout their preparation. In a program dominated by a predetermined, tightly packed curriculum evaluated by competitive testing and organized within a hierarchical, bureaucratic, efficiency-minded institution, however, they cannot become more caring and rational teachers. The absence of activities that deliberately seek to foster these dispositions, and the necessity for their suppression in a system that requires obedience and competition, may still yield verbal sentiment for these goals on the part of prospective teachers, but whatever comfort teacher educators may draw from the value prospective teachers attach to the aims of rationality and caring, the absence of opportunities to act on these values makes them dreams, not dispositions.

The obstacles to providing opportunities for rationality and caring in a teacher preparation program can appear daunting when put in such stark terms. Faculty involved in these programs can no more imagine resisting their predetermined curriculum or their competitive grading system than the public school teacher can imagine putting the curriculum on hold while attending to the particular needs of students. The restructuring of a program to cultivate these dispositions would require time and energy that are now given to more traditional academic pursuits that the institution rewards. If faculty involved in teacher preparation support the educational aims of rationality and caring, however, it does seem counterproductive, if not actually irresponsible, to participate, either actively or through acquiescence, in conditions that systematically suppress their cultivation.

Changes in the preparation of teachers are particularly compromised when we consider change only in terms of a massive, wholesale undertaking, where we must dismantle the present structure of schooling and replace it with something else. Not only is this posture immobilizing, it undermines the very conception of cultivating dispositions as an educational aim, for in determining and controlling the conditions of schooling, teacher educators are not cultivating dispositions but trying to create predetermined responses to controlled environmental conditions. When we replace one school structure or strategy with another in the name of cultivating dispositions as educational aims, we ignore the cultivation of those dispositions in teachers. For example, the reasons given for using cooperative learning strategies in the public schools are that this can, without lowering achievement, provide opportunities for the cultivation of rational and caring dispositions.16 Therefore teachers are invited, or pressured, into taking classes and workshops on cooperative learning strategies. Many teachers are enthusiastic about these strategies, but they do not question why they are learning them alone, or why they must study and receive a grade for their efforts. They are encouraged to think of cooperation solely as a set of strategies for use in the classroom, not as a way of behaving toward their colleagues in the school or as a way to make decisions about curriculum and methods.

Cooperation must of course lose its full meaning if it is to be embraced by a hierarchical authoritarian system whose teachers must work alone and competitively. Soon this perversion is reflected in the classroom, where cooperation becomes the name for group activities that require obedience, and use competitive measures.17 Cooperative groups dutifully explore their preassigned pieces of a predetermined curricular task, spurred on by the prospects of beating another so-called cooperative group. It becomes increasingly difficult for group members to care for each other when inadequate effort on the part of one member brings down the grade that all will achieve—and of course there is no rational inquiry by the groups into whether this particular curricular task is worth doing.

When we attempt to achieve the educational aims of rationality and caring by using the same authoritarian means that sustain obedience and isolation, we ignore the relationship between means and ends that is integral to the cultivation of dispositions. Put quite simply, the achievement of any dispositional aim in the future is dependent on the means we use in the present. If teacher educators want to further the aims of caring and rationality in schooling, then the means must be the cultivation of appropriate activities in the teacher education program.

Developing activities that cultivate rationality and caring in prospective teachers is not so daunting a prospect when we focus our attention on the idea that the dispositions we wish to cultivate are already present in the activities of our students, and that a wide variety of activities can foster their expression. The cultivation of rational and caring dispositions encourages us to look for evidence of those dispositions in the ongoing activities of our students. If we respond to the needs of prospective teachers for care and reassurance, and to the ample evidence that they are capable of giving care and reassurance, then a cooperative learning community seems the most effective environment for activities that cultivate this caring disposition. Consider what would happen if the prospective teacher did undertake learning activities in a cooperative community of peers. Cooperative learning would not be a new and unfamiliar method that requires step-by-step training in teacher workshops. It would be the outgrowth of the prospective teacher’s own experiences as a learner, discovering opportunities to care for peers and to work for mutually desired purposes. Of course, the experiences of cooperation would extend to colleagues in the public school as well, where he or she would expect to share expertise, purposes, and friendship with other teachers. A cooperative community of teachers who are disposed to care for one another and for their students might react very differently when obedience to school rules conflicted with caring.

We hope, of course, that this community will act rationally as well. The wide variety of activities that allow for the cultivation of appropriate dispositions helps us to see how a teacher preparation program might cultivate rationality. The activities of student teachers, their struggles in the classroom, afford many opportunities for rational inquiry. We do not need to provide them with textbook problems to get them to be appropriately moved by reasons. The problems they encounter in teaching are an ample resource.

In a cooperative setting, prospective teachers would find they shared common problems, but this sharing would not lead to some natural and effective solution for these problems. The development of rational solutions would require some understanding of the experience of others in dealing with similar difficulties. Questions about the value of that accumulated experience would have to be asked, so that prospective teachers could distinguish between responsible recommendations involving reasons and research and the myths and stereotypes that may be offered as practical advice. Teacher educators would have to provide opportunities for student teachers to know and use many of the theories and facts we now insist on packaging as a predetermined curriculum. The contribution of ideas and concepts to the ongoing exercise of a rational disposition is, however, very different from their usual acquisition in a required curriculum. In the cultivation of rationality, it is the ideas that are tested, not the student’s recollection of them, and just what ideas will further rational inquiry and action for a particular group of teachers cannot be known beforehand.

The facts and ideas that prospective teachers examine should be relevant to the activities of teaching. In this way teachers can become rational about what they are doing, and the rationality that is our educational aim can be the means through which present purposes are achieved. We might call this criterion for the selection of curriculum content a criterion of relevance. A criterion of relevance for curriculum content may be disturbing to those who consider teacher preparation the first step toward scholarly expertise. Researchers such as Lee Shulman argue for the development of a knowledge base for teachers and the verification of that knowledge base through testing.18 Shulman does admit that there are legitimate and crucial concerns about what he calls “unintended consequences that could result from taking seriously our view of knowledge for teaching.”19 He describes these “unintended consequences” in response to a criticism of his plans for determining and evaluating the knowledge base of teachers.20 Shulman says: “I share his worries over teachers who are uncaring, whose manner teaches students far more destructively than their words will ever ameliorate, who are reflective in prospect but thoughtless in action, who teach efficiently but not ethically or equitably, or who cannot see beyond the student’s test scores.”21 In dismissing these possibilities as unintended consequences, what Shulman fails to see is that the means required to transmit a predetermined curriculum that is individually tested do not cultivate rational and caring dispositions. Those means cultivate instead the very consequences that Shulman worries about as if they were merely possibilities.

Rationally inquiring into one’s ongoing activities does not preclude the development of interest in the inquiry itself. It does preclude the constraints of a predetermined curriculum that ignores the purposes and experiences of students, and a grading system that encourages a disassociation from others who have common purposes. The criterion for curriculum content of relevance to teaching activities not only indicates the conditions under which rational dispositions are cultivated; it also recognizes the fact that “the obligation to be scholarly is not so universal as the obligation to understand and deal intelligently with the institutions within which one lives [and works].”22

We can expect that a teacher preparation program will contribute to the cultivation of caring and rationality as educational aims insofar as it provides conditions for a cooperative community of prospective teachers to inquire rationally into their purposes, into the obstacles to those purposes, and into the means for achieving them. The teacher who thinks critically about school conditions and who cares for students cannot help but recognize how those school conditions affect students. This teacher cannot become an insensitive and unwitting participant in the creation of a classroom environment that suppresses and discourages rationality and caring.

What we cannot expect from such a teacher education program is a predetermined outcome, and since the outcomes of the program are not robots, we will sometimes be all the more surprised at what rational and caring teachers will do. We could predict, however, that one of the outcomes of seriously and practically pursuing rationality and caring as educational aims will be a revolution in school structure and practice. It would not begin at the top with a stated policy, because a hierarchical, bureaucratic organization cannot make this sort of policy, and it cannot be expected to begin everywhere and all at once, however much that might appeal to our sense of the dramatic. It will begin whenever conditions are provided that enable the cultivation of rationality and caring in the activities of prospective teachers.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 92 Number 2, 1990, p. 230-247
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 327, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 10:20:36 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue