Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Notes toward a New Progressive Politics of Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Notes toward a New Progressive Politics of Teacher Education

Article excerpt

The Context

Any discussion of the politics of teacher education needs to take place within the larger political context in the United States. The current administration and its intellectual allies in the conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute are seeking a new political consensus for the United States that they sometimes call "an ownership society," although the agenda is actually more complex than even a seeming embrace of unfettered capitalism would imply. As articulated by the administration, the new consensus includes

* A foreign policy of preemptive first strikes--if Iraq and Afghanistan are the models, can Iran and North Korea be far behind?

* An attack on social security that is really part of an overall effort to dismantle the welfare state and undermine the widely held belief that a public safety net allowing a decent life for all is a moral responsibility.

* An assault on anyone who does not conform to their notion of "middle-class morality" symbolized by their attack on gay and lesbian citizens, whether they wish to marry or simply send a postcard via Buster the rabbit.

* Support for "school choice," meaning vouchers and a systematic effort to undermine public education.

* An almost incomprehensibly bitter and never-ending attack on schools of education.

Ed schools? "How did we get on the list?" we wonder. "Why do they have it in for us so deeply?" Of course, attacks on schools of education are not new. As David Labaree (2004, pp. 113) reminded us, attacks on schools of education have been fairly consistent at least since James Koerner's (1963) The Miseducation of American Teachers. But still we wonder at the intensity of the current attack. And most important, we ask, "What can we do about it?" "How can we build an effective alternative agenda?"

It is my belief that those of us who consider ourselves progressive teacher educators--dare we say people of the Left--and heirs of John Dewey's philosophy of progressive education have not been as effective as we might have been in staking out an alternative vision. Like Dewey, we need to keep our focus on the twin goals of preparing effective teachers who will truly foster student learning and linking that learning to a vibrant democracy in the larger society. We need to advocate for an internationalist and multicultural approach to foreign policy and school curriculum, and we need to foster mutual respect among the people of the planet and the students in any given classroom. In addition, I believe, we need to be as flexible as possible about the institutional arrangements we support, even as we are unbending in our commitment to a democratic schooling that ensures achievement for all.

Teacher Education and the Crisis in Education

My friend Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester, New York, Teachers Association, and I like to say that the two most unpopular people at most education gatherings are the teacher union president and the education school dean. And we both add that we understand all too well the reasons for our predicament. Indeed, we believe that it is our own past willingness to defend what should not be defended that has led to the current situation. For Urbanski and his colleagues in the Teacher Union Reform Network, this understanding has led to rethinking even the most sacred structures of traditional unionism, such as seniority rights and teacher accountability. Teacher educators, I believe, need an equal commitment to rethinking our enterprise.

In the past few years, some of the most urgent voices for educational change have come from the Right. Conservatives have urgently called for improving the preparation of teachers, for much more academic content knowledge for future teachers, and for much greater flexibility in the ways in which people enter teaching so that unnecessary barriers are removed. …

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