Promoting Teacher Education Curricula by Using Methods of Historical Research: Estonian Case

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Historical documentation and analysis of teacher education principles, content and organization can serve as a powerful tool for understanding and solving current problems of teacher education in institutions of higher education and universities. As noted by Fraenkel and Wallen, the main purpose of historical studies is making " ... people aware of what happened in the past so they may learn from past failures and successes" (2003:548). This is just what the organizers of teacher education often fail to do. In reality, two radically different situations can be identified in the long-term operation of teacher education curricula worldwide. In countries with a relatively stable social order and long established traditions, the principles and organization of teacher education tend to remain unchanged for decades. For example, Houston (1996) pointed out ten years ago that, in spite of numerous campaigns, most of America's teachers were still being prepared by the same framework employed six decades ago. In this case, an historical inspection of past practices and various campaigns (so characteristic of teacher education) might be helpful for understanding the meaning and perspectives of similar initiatives in the future, and thus decrease the threat or misery of reinventing the wheel, a common educational practice (e.g. Bloom 1974).

In countries that have suffered or are suffering under radical social changes and in which traditions and continuity in teacher education were destroyed, research into the historical experiences in this field could be valuable for understanding what is of temporary and what is of lasting value. This applied, for example, to post-Nazi Germany after World War II, and it especially applies today to many European post-socialist countries belonging to the former Soviet bloc. In these countries the Communist regime declared many deeply ingrained educational ideas, approaches and traditions as inappropriate for achieving its educational goals. For example, any reference to Western education ideas or attempts to use these ideas was strictly prohibited during the Stalinist period in the Soviet Union. Though the regime's grip weakened during Khrushchev's "thaw" in the beginning of the 1960s, no alternative ideology was tolerated, and the introduction of Western educational ideas was allowed only under the disguise of the "critical analysis" of these ideas right up to the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Publication of education papers in Western scholarly journals was practically impossible for the entire Soviet period. Isolation, ideological brainwashing and cultivating the so-called Soviet pedagogy lasted in these countries between 50 and 70 years. Such conditions instilled a biased and narrow worldview in many generations of people in these societies, and created a unique culture (e.g. Mestenhauser 1998).

Today, at least two questions arise when one tries to understand the changes in teacher education that took place under the conditions of establishing and building democracy in these countries. Firstly, what impact did the long Communist regime have on the emerging or re-emerging institutional and national systems of teacher education? And, secondly, what features of teacher education, if any, from the Soviet era could the new curricula and organization of teacher education benefit from or rely on? The last question remains typically unanswered, as experts from these countries usually emphasize the intended or ongoing changes in teacher education (see e.g. Karsten and Majoor 1994) but ignore parts of the former experience that deserve to be retained. For example, Razma (1992) claimed that after regaining national independence in 1991, Lithuania's new teacher education curricula would be free of ideology and would emphasize contemporary teaching structures; they would be humanitarian and would make use of the nation's history, its ethnic culture, traditions and understandings. …