Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

A Public Politics for a Public Profession

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

A Public Politics for a Public Profession

Article excerpt

My sister once told me a story about a husband and wife who drove across the country with their three-year-old son. They figured the kid would get bored, but he loved McDonald's, so every night they stopped to eat at one because they thought it would give him something to look forward to. It went well enough until the third night when the kid said, "Dad, how come we drive all day and still end up at the same place?"

--John Gierach (2003, p. 68)

This story captures my feelings about teacher education reform during the past decade. We not only have driven a long way but also thought we were on the right road, going the right direction, in a vehicle well suited for the journey. All was going as planned until the wheels started to fall off what most of us believed was just the vehicle that teaching and teacher education needed to become a true profession.

The story is well known by most teacher educators. How the criticisms and alternatives advocated by political conservatives, the failure to consolidate the "scientific knowledge base" for teaching, and the federalized school-performance paradigm legislated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 have combined to create a "perfect storm" eroding and, in some cases, destroying the professionalization efforts of the past 15 or so years. Many involved in these "wars," as they have come to be labeled, see this mainly as an issue of power politics, mostly focused within the Washington beltway. The solution usually advocated by educational leaders is to shore up the political opposition, consolidate progressive coalitions, gather up public opinion, and muscle our way back into a position of influence and power. What has surprised us the most (and irritates us to no end) is that those currently in the driver's seat of educational policy have figured out a way to do this work without us.


As a result of these developments and the derailing effect they have had on the teaching profession initiative in the United States, I would like to offer the following hypothesis: The professionalization strategy currently employed by U.S. educators may no longer be viable. Modeled after strategies successfully employed at the beginning of the 20th century by medicine and law, the goal of this strategy was to gather and consolidate control and jurisdiction for teachers' work by incorporating scientific and scholarly knowledge, university preparation, and internally generated standards for practice and licensure. I further venture to hypothesize that this "internal-control" strategy is no longer viable for most professions and may have been mistaken as a strategy for making true professions in the first place.


Educators are not alone in this professional predicament. Nearly all U.S. professions are experiencing similar attacks on the internal-control agenda. Work is going on in the fields of medicine, law, journalism, public administration, and psychology to understand this situation historically, philosophically, and socially. An emerging conception frames the professional dilemma as follows.

The emerging dominance of free market economics and consumerism in the past 50 years has exerted a definition of professional work as the efficient employment of technique for individual satisfaction. Clients and recipients of professional services are more and more likely to approach professionals in the role of consumer. Consumer goals and desired outcomes tend to be those of the individual good, private happiness, and therapeutic results. In contrast, much of the history of the professions in the United States reflects purposes aimed at exercising a commitment to the virtues needed to "realize the community's highest purposes," such as health, justice, education, and wellbeing (Sullivan, 1995). Originally, professional knowledge was to be exercised in service of the public good to yield civic virtue and public happiness (May, 2001). …

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