Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

In the Meantime: The Possibilities of Caring

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

In the Meantime: The Possibilities of Caring

Article excerpt

Two classroom teachers, Pam and Martha, taught the authors that caring is central to education - the glue that binds teachers and students together and makes life in classrooms meaningful. But caring requires educators and parents to think about teaching and school in unaccustomed ways.

Teachers and students were constructing caring relationships long before intellectuals realized the importance to humans of making connections$with others. These caring relationships, however, are not a priority in the hierarchy of curricular and policy concerns in our schools. They are devalued because their true value is difficult for those outside of particular relationships to understand. We, of course, support the efforts to reorganize the structure of schooling to promote caring. "Revolutions" in the education system, such as the one Nel Noddings proposes in The Challenge to Care in Schools,(1) are worthy objectives. Yet, as needed as such a revolution is, there are things that can be done in the meantime. In the meantime, a subtle shift in focus may allow for caring relations to be more easily fostered and may help alter the culture of schooling.

Our research reveals that caring is a value.(2) Morally and culturally, caring is a belief about how we should view and interact with others. In this way, caring is essential to education and may guide the ways we instruct and discipline students, set policy, and organize the school day. It frames and gives meaning to what happens in classrooms and schools. Caring in our schools lies hidden beneath the technical and instrumental ways of viewing culture and schooling. Instruction, discipline, classroom organization, and all the other pedagogical aspects of classroom work are based on a foundation of caring. Yet we cannot see caring because it is foundational to so much of the vivid and contested life in classrooms. To see it, one has to focus on the relationships between teachers and children.

The more technical aspects of teaching dominate our thinking about what makes schools and classrooms "good." It is this logic that undergirds our preferences for bureaucratic modes of organization, our insistence that control is the primary means for achieving goals, and our notion that teaching and learning are separate but linked technologies. This need for control manifests itself as:

* teachers' use of fixed, predetermined curricula, with no allowances for situational modification;

* a competitive approach that pits students against one another and forces them into destructive forms of social comparison;

* disciplinary patterns inflicted on children to stop bad behavior without assisting their academic or social development; and

* class sizes, daily schedules, and administrative tasks that inhibit teachers from building relations and bonds of trust with students and other teachers.

Unlike these technical features of schooling, caring concerns values and how we socially construct them. It enables us to reclaim education as moral action. Caring gives priority to relationships. In the classrooms we studied for the project described below, teachers worked to create relationships with their students and, as we will show, had some notable successes. Caring, however, was not the formal goal of the school we studied. It was something that teachers did because they understood that, without a relationship with a teacher, a student has little reason to commit to the instructional activities required by the curriculum. Moreover, teaching devoid of relationships with children is not a meaningful activity for teachers. In these attitudes, our teachers were like most of the teachers in the United States. Most teachers come into teaching primarily to work with children and youths, and those who leave teaching do so because they find that the logic of schooling interferes with their ability to work meaningfully with young people.(3)

Learning About Caring

We came to understand what could be accomplished on a small scale by working with two teachers: Martha, a white fourth-grade teacher, and Pam, an African American second-grade teacher. …

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