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The road to hell? Some cautions and concerns in the search for the perfect teacher

Posted By: tom cockburn on May 23, 2006
I do not wish to suggest that the writer intended anything but to reduce or avoid teacher graduates emerging with a limited and potentially 'limiting' approach to their professional duties(to students they teach). However, I do wish to exercise a right to challenge parts of what has been said. The simple expedient of banning them from entry or from graduating is only one approach and not necessarily the best.There are a number of possible pitfalls in the recommended 'prescriptions' in the article on how to treat such 'affectively-challenged', student 'advocates' of corporal punishment.

You don't have to be a supporter of the use of corporal punishment as a 'teaching tool' or classroom management practice to see the potential issues with assumptions of objective standards-based assessment as described in the review. 'Standards' have been used to both good and ill-effect throughout history, even in democratic countries such as the USA and others in the European Union.

Holding a viewpoint does not logically or necessarily entail carrying out particular actions. People are contradictory, often 'pragmatic' or compromise and thus often fail to do what they say will do or what they believe in. So it is by no means inevitable that those people correctly reflect the 'values' they espouse and teachers are no different in that regard from others in the community.As Argyris and Schon's work indicates, smart people are adept at feigning acquiescence whilst actually resisting change.

On the other hand, those who rigorously or religiously hold acceptable standards of the day can be equally oppressive in their bland acceptance of the status quo. Thus, presenting a 'learning environment' which merely serves to encourage dull conformity to the current norms and practices. The work of Kuhn, Lakatos and others in the field of science suggests that the 'challenges' to the current established norms are often perceived and assessed as threats to be suppressed rather than to be addressed.This happens even where such norms are in a minority and even where they may be dying out.

Doesn't the system of democracy though also presume a right to hold such disparate views--including minority viewpoints not shared by many others,provided that illegal actions are not taken to further such views such as propagandising for them in class? Even for those who do not share Voltaire's belief in free speech and other democratic rights,there are some obvious areas for concern.

'Dispositions' seems to me to already have a set of built in, deterministic assumptions about unknown 'future' or potential actions, about the unassailability and absolute 'correctness' of the ('social-scientific'?) standards prescribed and about the nature of personality, of the possibility of changes or 'redemption' and reform etc. Many of these do 'shade' into the moral dimensions of 'character'. All of which could be construed as part of a unitaristic rather than pluralistic discourse. The work of Stanley Milgram amply and graphically illustrated the ability to promote harm without 'strong-arm' tactics and 'ostensibly' in a 'good cause' to do with improving 'learning'.

“Are they likely to do what we taught them to do when we are no longer watching them?” could be seen as a simple approach to measuring teaching and teacher efficacy at one level of examination but there might also be a shadow side, especially in the light of recent cases considering the sorts of material that some authorities felt should be taught in some science classes in some states.

It may not be too extreme to ask the question 'In what ways then does this normative expectation differ from the sorts of assessments of teachers' suitability made by authoritarian regimes or the kind of self-policing suggested by Winston Smith's interrogators in Orwell's "1984" or forms of indoctrination used elsewhere? ' Standards were applied, or could be easily applied in the latter cases and their 'validity' and reliability statistically analysed, allowing necessary adjustments to teaching programmes to compensate or amend outcomes.

None of the comments above should be seen as suggesting that no action is taken to challenge such belief systems and others that individuals hold but that action should be thoughtfully considered in its complexity, and restrained in its application lest we become what we fear in others.

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 The road to hell? Some cautions and concerns in the search for the perfect teacher by tom cockburn on May 23, 2006
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