Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Public Expression of Citizen Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Public Expression of Citizen Teachers

Article excerpt

In this second decade of the 21st century, the conditions of teaching in this country are deplorable. Ostensible concerns about equity rationalize achievement pressures, which, in turn, are presented to justify the subordination of teachers to externally mandated and closely monitored curricula, scripted and timed instruction, merit pay tethered to achievement scores, and public humiliation when students fail to meet the formula for expected progress. When I think about these conditions and the social and political arrangements that have generated them and work to hold them in place, I feel overwhelmed, almost inarticulate in anger and frustration (see Grumet, 2006, 2007).

Now, no one would describe me as shy and retiring. I am a professor of education, with endless words, and I have served as a dean of two schools of education. Yet, in the face of encroaching regulation, my colleagues and I have been stymied, silenced by neoliberals' claims to social justice accompanied by their accusations that higher education and public schools have failed to provide the equality that their greedy and unregulated pursuit of profit forbids.

The invitation to write this article challenges me to claim the one arena in this debacle in which you and ! have some agency: teacher education. I will use this opportunity to explore what it might mean for teacher education to prepare the nation's teachers to enter the work of education ready to participate in what has always been, and, in my opinion, always should be, a hotly contested practice. Joining many colleagues in the fervent conviction that schooling is, as Jefferson understood, essential to the processes of democracy, I wonder just how democratic our own practices of preparation for democracy are. Can the education of teachers prepare them to struggle for democratic processes in the places where they will work and in the organizations and unions developed to represent their interests? How democratic is the discourse of our classrooms?

The Subordination of Teachers

To walk down the corridors of our universities or the tiled halls of the elementary school is to sense the histories of teaching that hover there, like old layers of paint showing through the surface of a painting. It is impossible to walk through a school without sensing the rhythms and gestures of old choreographies, egg crate architectures, ancient texts. The work of teaching is so patterned. It is, as Merleau-Ponty (1974) says, "within a world already spoken and speaking that we think" (p. 184). Although it is always tempting to delve into these persistent traditions, semiotics, and relationships, in this essay I will merely try to identify how teacher education participates in sustaining them and how, perhaps, we might, very deliberately, move beyond them. Of all the participants in this pageant, we still have more agency, more than the school, more than the state, to imagine and create other arrangements.

Ours is a vulnerable privilege. It is challenged by arguments that our visions for education are irrelevant. Too often it is arrogated by our universities or other institutions in their eagerness to comply with legislatures and funding agencies. And often, we relinquish our initiatives when we get too tired to remember that our work is not only about scholarship and publishing and preparing teachers; it is also about joining the debate about what teacher education should be.

When I was being interviewed for the deanship at Brooklyn College in the spring of 1988, I was informed that the City University of New York (CUNY) system, of which it was a part, was intent on dismantling its majors in educational studies. The preparation of teachers was to become a licensure-only program, added on to a major in one of the academic disciplines. Proponents of this agenda may have been influenced by the disdain for teacher education and valorization of the disciplines in the positions of William Bennett, who had served as the Secretary of Education under George Bush from 1985 to 1988, and Lynn Cheney, who led the National Endowment of the Humanities in the same era. …

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