Teaching as a Professional Discipline

By Geoffrey Squires | Go to book overview
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Chapter 6

Research, Training and Evaluation

I began this book by setting out a number of different paradigms of teaching. The point was made that a paradigm involves not just a particular way of conceptualizing a field or problem, but comprises a whole package of associated attitudes, assumptions, habits and practices. So what comes in the package associated with the model set out in Chapters 3 and 4? What kind of paradigm is being suggested here?

There are implications for research into teaching, the training of teachers and the evaluation of teaching, and these will be sketched out in a moment. First, however, something must be said about the idea of teaching as a professional discipline. Education has long had a rather uncertain place in the academic scheme of things. There are doubts about where it belongs, indeed whether it belongs at all. Probably some of this uncertainty is a result of historical and social factors: it has not always been part of higher education, and teaching does not have the unambiguous professional status that medicine, law and even engineering have. But there are deeper, more academic worries as well. It has not been clear what kind of a discipline education is, and some have wondered whether it is actually a proper discipline at all.

If one accepts the analysis presented in this book, then the answers to both questions are quite clear. Education is a discipline, a professional discipline. Teaching shares with other professional disciplines the three basic characteristics of instrumentality, contingency and procedurality. Of course, there is more to education and the study of education than teaching, but the activity of teaching lies at its core, and as long as this cannot be conceptualized, there is a fatal weakness at the heart of the subject. I have offered an ontology of teaching, an account of what it is. Much of the detail of that account—the various headings in the model—is open to dispute, but the model as a whole makes, I would argue, a coherent case.

What does this imply for the relationship between education and other disciplines? In the past, the closest links tend to have been with those disciplines that were often regarded as providing the foundations for the study of education: philosophy, history, psychology and sociology. The model presented here implies a different pattern. The idea that teaching (and by extension, education) can be seen as an autonomous professional discipline eliminates the need for foundations; we have our own building now. Indeed, the idea that education needs to be founded on other disciplines simply delays the process of working out its own nature. Clearly, such disciplines will always inform the process of teaching, but we do not need the

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