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Nudging the Opportunity Structure: A Modest and Ambitious Aim for Teacher Education

by John P. Fantuzzo & Mark Dixon - 2020

Background/Context: Teacher candidates are being educated in a political and economic context that calls the value of their professional preparation into question. What is more, a rising generation of teacher candidates has only experienced education during the Era of Corporate School Reform, meaning, the political aims of public education were systematically neglected during their upbringing due to an intensive focus on high-stakes competitions, consumer preferences, and the privatization of public schools. This essay asks how teacher candidates, raised to value a narrow and reductive form of academic success, can be prepared to attend to their students’ flourishing and collectively work towards social justice.

Focus of Study: Stressing the indispensable role of teacher education, with a focus on the importance of educational foundations courses, we argue that teacher candidates should learn in such courses to nudge students towards a pluralistic opportunity structure, defined by political philosopher Joseph Fishkin, as a structure of opportunity comprised of many less harshly competitive and therefore more accessible paths to diverse forms of flourishing and economic opportunity.

Research Design: The proposed aim seeks to reconcile the social ambitions of early progressive theorists with the method of reflective equilibrium used by contemporary educational ethicists. It is developed using a case study method. Cases are drawn from the reflections of three academically successful teacher candidates. Each candidate, for distinct reasons, critiques the conception of academic success they were habituated to value during their P–12 schooling and each urges their peers to not reproduce its harms by teaching differently. The argument proceeds by exploring how their critiques are reflected in the value of equality of opportunity and how their advice for teaching differently is continuous with the work of pluralizing the opportunity structure.

Conclusion: The teacher candidates’ critiques of academic success are not simply private reflections, but nascent expressions of a principle of social justice, a new theory of equality of opportunity, that can be realized by attending to the wellbeing of all students, including advantaged students attending independent schools.

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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: 23078, Date Accessed: 7/29/2021 6:40:28 PM

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About the Author
  • John Fantuzzo
    Valparaiso University
    E-mail Author
    JOHN P. FANTUZZO is an assistant professor of education at Valparaiso University. His research interests lie at the intersection of educational theory, social theory, and political philosophy. He has published articles in Studies in Philosophy of Education, Educational Theory, and the Journal of Philosophy of Education.
  • Mark Dixon
    Delaware County Christian School
    E-mail Author
    MARK DIXON is presently the Head of the Upper School at Delaware County Christian School (PA). Prior to this, he has served as the Head of the Middle School at Montgomery School and the Dean of Students at Stoney Brook School (NY).
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