Are Pedagogical Ideals Embraced or
Imposed? The Case of Reading
Instruction in the Republic of Guinea
Kathryn M. Anderson-Levitt and Ntal-I'Mbirwa Alimasi
This chapter examines ideals of "best practice" or "good teaching," notions that are either explicitly or implicitly built into educational policy decisions.1 We begin from the premise that pedagogical ideals represent cultural and social constructions, not the simple discovery of scientific truth. What people consider "good teaching" has varied over time and from country to country. For instance, the ideal that students should "pay attention" (Vincent, 1980) or the ideal that children should "participate" in class (Cuban, 1993; Vincent, 1980) entered received knowledge at distinct historical moments. The lecture/recitation method now considered "backward" has actually proven very effective in the right contexts (Delpit, 1986; Noblit, 1993; see also Baker, 1997; Wagner, 1993). Today, ability grouping is falling under attack in the United States just when France embraces it for the first time (Anderson-Levitt, in press).
But, if pedagogical ideals are culturally constructed, who constructs them, and when, where, and how? Where do notions of good teaching come from and how do people respond when they encounter a new notion? Within the comparative sociology of education, two grand theories offer answers to these questions. On the one hand, John Meyer and his colleagues argue that ideals belong to a global culture of "modern" schooling that flows across national boundaries (see, e.g., Meyer, Kamens, & Benavot, 1992). Originally the ideals moved from one European nation to another; now they flow from the "West" to the "rest." According to this "cultural ideology" argument, countries adopt