Moving Towards a New Paradigm
What is the purpose of education? This is a simple yet challenging question that needs to be considered in order to understand the foundations of TI. We acknowledge and advance that questioning the purpose of education underpins our thinking in profound ways and resides in the heart of what we do. We also humbly suggest that in order for you, as a be~coming teacher, to enter into the current educational climate and truly make a positive difference in the lives of children, you must also ask this question. And, at the very least, explore some of the answers that emerge. However, before attempting to address the purpose of education, it might be more appropriate to reframe the question to read, what is a purpose of education, because admittedly there are multiple ways of addressing this question, none of which are quantifiably right or wrong.
We do know that historically, education has closely identified with the structural model born out of the economic demands of Industrialization. This model is aligned with a positivist paradigm characterized by scientific objectivity and precision that seeks out definitions, clear answers and one truth. A school experience that resides in a positivist paradigm could be dominated by structured worksheets and desks organized in carefully ordered rows with little attention devoted to the needs of the individual student; certainly not the picture we paint of optimal classrooms today. We do however want to tread lightly to acknowledge that elements of this and any other paradigm can co-exist in a re-visioning of education. What differs is that positivism does not drive our vision for a purpose of education.
Sir Ken Robinson addresses the need for a paradigm shift in his call for change. In the popular video from RSA Animate (Interactive 3.1), Changing Education Paradigms, Sir Robinson astutely points out that the current system of education was designed and conceived for a different time and place where students were judged as either academic or non-academic. Under this system, the vast majority of students fit into the latter category and they are therefore underserved by our current system of education. Further, he explains that schools continue to be organized on factory lines; we batch students by age not ability or interest, we isolate subjects from one another and use tests as a major determinant of what students can do and arguably who they are (RSA, 2010). Teacher education programs have been somewhat complicit in this technocratic approach with its emphasis on prescribed learning outcomes, lesson planning, content knowledge and the technical/practical aspects of teaching which have eclipsed more “humanistic and nuanced concerns” (Goldstein, 2003, p. 35) in the preparation of be~coming teachers.
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 others on 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. (Arnstine, 1990 p.36)
Our purpose of education reflects a greater emphasis on the dispositional aspects of teaching; the beliefs, values and attitudes we hold. The TI process requires you to dive deep into what really matters to you, not just as a teacher but as a human be~coming. Freire (1998) describes dispositional qualities that he believes to be indispensable for teachers: humility, love, courage, tolerance, decisiveness, security, the joy of living. These strike us as qualities also suited to learners! In our experience, one of the shortcomings of teacher education is the lack of attention devoted to these arguably essential qualities. Perhaps such reluctance is because these are characteristics difficult to describe, let alone to measure and assess, within a given teacher’s dispositional practice (Tanaka, 2009).
We understand why teacher educators gravitate towards a positivist focus on skill and knowledge acquisition because it is much easier to construct and evaluate a high quality lesson plan than it is to delve into the complexities that arise from the multifaceted process of learning to think, know, feel, and act, like a teacher (Feiman-Nemser, 2008). Britzman (1990/2003) points out that the structure of learning to teach is flawed in that it bases readiness to teach on simplistic notions of whether a pre-service teacher is “prepared” or “ill-prepared,” and suggests that it would be more useful to develop deep reflection skills in pre-service teachers. Cole and Knowles (1993) state that “most pre-service programs concentrate almost entirely on teaching pre-service teachers to teach; little attention is placed on helping them to become teachers” (p. 469). They report that new teachers often leave the profession or “merely survive” in it unless they can do the hard work of clarifying and upholding their beliefs. Clark (1988) suggests that teacher education can be improved by acknowledging the “dilemmas and uncertainty” of teacher practice.
Our intentions with TI are to engage individuals in a deeper interrogation of the spirit and soul of what it means to be a teacher. By connecting with that, we believe that caring, engaged, humble, and joyful teachers can emerge.
As we ask you to consider your role in education, we present a metaphoric fork in the road. Do you~we continue to be complicit to a model of education that is arguably faltering and at the very least, underserving the needs of students? Is this possible even when we find ourselves in disempowered positions such as being a student teacher where others at least partially decide your fate? Or is there another path we can choose? When we enter into classrooms, we frequently see students who are just plain bored and unchallenged. Obviously the wording of our questions are intended to lead you down the path of TI, not kicking and screaming but instead, seeing its potential for making the experience of education and schooling a more caring endeavour. Like curriculum scholar, Nel Noddings (1995), we believe that education has a great deal to do with “caring for self, for intimate others, for strangers and global others, for the natural world and its nonhuman creatures, for the human-made world, and for ideas” (p. 675). Such efforts towards this as a purpose of education, promote passion and engagement that frankly, we all may benefit from.
We close this section with the powerful words of Maxine Greene (1995) with the hope that her words inspire you as much as they inspire us:
All we can do is speak with others as passionately and eloquently as we can; all we can do is to look into each other’s eyes and urge each other on to new beginnings. Our classrooms ought to be nurturing and thoughtful and just all at once; they ought to pulsate with multiple conceptions of what it is to be human and alive. They ought to resound with the voices of articulate young people in dialogues always incomplete because there is always more to be discovered and more to be said. We must want our students to achieve friendship as each one stirs to wide-awakeness, to imaginative action, and to renewed consciousness of possibility. (p.43)