Teaching as a Professional Discipline

By Geoffrey Squires | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5

Theory, Expertise and Practice

This book has been concerned primarily with the ontology of teaching—what it is. The models set out in the two previous chapters can be seen as attempts to develop, in some detail, the general ontology of professional disciplines presented in Chapter 2 and to apply it specifically to teaching.

Jackson raises the question as to ‘whether it is possible to define teaching ontologically—in a way that speaks of its true meaning or essence—without also getting entangled with a definition that is axiological—one that involves the meaning of “good” teaching’ (1986, p. 94, n. 16). ‘Good’ here is being used in the sense not just of effective, but ethical. The discussion of the instrumentality of professions in Chapter 2 suggests why there can be no easy answer to this question. Of all the professions, education arguably carries the most obvious ethical load, since it is concerned with meanings and values through the curriculum. But even the process of teaching is usually thought to have certain ethical features that, for example, are commonly used to distinguish it from training, indoctrination or socialization. Interestingly, the notion of learning seems, by contrast, to be largely value-free, and the current shift in public discourse from ‘teaching’ to ‘learning’ (as in notions such as the learning society) raises questions about possible value shifts as well.

It could well be argued that this model does become entangled with axiological issues, particularly in the list of functions it sets out. The notion that such functions can be carried out not only by the teacher but by the learner and his or her peers also has ethical implications, in terms of authority, responsibility, autonomy and empowerment. However, the contingent nature of the model and the strong emphasis on situational variables means that it is difficult to draw direct ethical conclusions from it. A great deal depends on how much emphasis one places on the various functions, and that in turn depends largely on the situational variables: largely, but perhaps not wholly, since a complete absence of, say, explanation, exploration or reflection would raise questions about whether this still counted as teaching. As I have already said, there is no simple response to Jackson’s point, but it remains an important one to consider.

This chapter will, however, be concerned with a second major question. What is the relationship between the ontology and the epistemology of teaching, between what it is and what we know about it? In this respect, the approach taken in this book is diametrically opposed to that taken in most of the current literature. There has been a great deal of writing in the last two decades on the epistemology of


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