Teacher Education and Social Justice. (Introduction)

By Weiler, Kathleen; Maher, Frinde | Radical Teacher, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview
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Teacher Education and Social Justice. (Introduction)


Weiler, Kathleen, Maher, Frinde, Radical Teacher


When progressive people today think about teacher education, they often focus on the discrepancy between the ideals of radical teaching and the realities of contemporary public schools. The articles on teacher education in this issue and the next confront these contradictions in various ways, both by examining aspects of the current situation and offering approaches to dealing with these issues in our classrooms. On one hand, examples of transformative pedagogy, the need to respect and encourage the voices of students, curriculum which critiques popular culture and analyzes social inequality are invaluable to prospective teachers. Moreover, progressive programs educating prospective teachers need to include both models of progressive pedagogy and curriculum and courses exploring the historical and contemporary politics of education, to give prospective teachers tools of analysis and action. On the other hand, calls for liberatory teaching can appear to ring hollow notes in underfunded and inequitable public s chools, where knowledge and teaching practices are increasingly standardized and monitored through high stakes testing. Analysis of the political context of teacher education is essential to an informed practice of teacher preparation.

As numerous educational researchers have documented, existing schools are profoundly unequal, stratified by race and class, and increasingly driven by the standardized testing of students and teachers and the deskilling of teachers through the introduction of packaged curricula geared to standardized tests. The "marketization" of education is dominant at both the federal and state levels, with free-market educators calling for the privatization of schooling through a variety of means--vouchers, for-profit charter schools, the commercialization of school spaces and forced dependence on advertising. Examples of the latter include the widespread presence of Pepsi or Coke machines in school buildings, with a cut of the profits used to pay for otherwise unfunded student programs, or Channel One, which provides schools with free TV sets but in return requires students to watch commercials during school time.

The changes that are taking place at both the state and national level reflect the interests of groups like the Business Roundtable, who see public education as both the source of "trained" (as opposed to educated) workers and a potential opportunity for private entrepreneurs. In one version of the free market vision, education would be restructured along the lines of national defense, with private business gaining access to public funds through a system of government contracts. Despite what it usually feels like to public school teachers, there is a great deal of money in public education, in the form of funds currently controlled by local communities and public officials. If education is restructured along the lines of the defense industry, private companies could make enormous profits from these public funds.

Needless to say, the lives of children are of very little interest in this scheme. Knowledge, however, may be even more dangerous than missiles. Conservative school reformers are not only interested in the possibilities of profit in restructuring schools; they are also concerned with control over what is learned in the schools. Encouraging students to think critically about the structure of their society and its values is not a priority for those who are now benefiting from the current arrangement. Thus, controlling knowledge through standardized tests is yet one more way of making sure that public education serves to reproduce the status quo.

In such a climate, progressive teachers and teacher educators quite naturally wonder what can be done to counter what seem like inexorable forces of reaction. How can a new generation of activist teachers be encouraged? How might teacher education programs be constructed to give student teachers knowledge and skills that can help them teach critically and progressively in the public schools?

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