Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Reifying the Ontology of Individualism at the Expense of Democracy: An Examination of University Supervisors' Written Feedback to Student Teachers

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Reifying the Ontology of Individualism at the Expense of Democracy: An Examination of University Supervisors' Written Feedback to Student Teachers

Article excerpt

Although he enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a philosopher and educator, John Dewey's (1916/2004) most enduring accomplishment may be that he articulated a vision of democratic education that remains compelling, if largely unfulfilled, today. His commitment to democratic values, and to the inherently fluid and progressive nature of democracy as both a political system and a way of life, ranks among the most revolutionary ideals of the Twentieth Century. Dewey offered what many of his forebears could not: a sense of philosophy as inextricably tied to the amelioration of social ills and to the construction of more viable and socio-culturally inclusive futures. While Dewey continues to provoke debate amongst philosophers on the meaning of his pragmatic dogma, his impact on educators has been no less profound. He has been followed by countless acolytes eager to spread the gospel of democracy to others, especially new generations of teachers and students.

Despite persistent questions about the nature and purpose of social studies education in the United States, there exists general agreement that social studies should be about democratic citizenship (Avery, 2004; Nelson, 2001; Saxe, 1991; Stanley, 2001). But much depends on how individuals view democracy, and the extent to which they think it has been, or could be, realized through education (Ross & Marker, 2005; Stanley, 2005; Vinson & Ross, 2001). This dimension of social studies education, and, indeed, of education in general, poses unique challenges to those involved in teacher preparation. This study considers some of these challenges as they relate to one relatively unexamined area of teacher education practice--the written feedback provided to student teachers by their university supervisors (in this case, the first three authors of this article).

While we recognized some of the limitations of the locus for our study, we also believed that using a Deweyan perspective to examine our feedback would not only shed useful light on social studies education for democratic citizenship but, in the words of Noddings (2005), could also "be extended profitably to every subject in the curriculum" (p. vii). In what follows, we first provide a brief overview of the conceptions of democratic citizenship education germane to social studies in the U.S. context. After this overview, we discuss the role of cultural values in influencing educational aims. The next section details the objectives of the study and the methods used to analyze the data. Finally, we conclude by presenting our findings and discussing their implications for current practice and future research endeavors in social studies education.

Conceptions of Democratic Citizenship Education

The lack of consensus regarding what it means to teach for democratic citizenship has led to widely variant ways of attempting to promote democracy in schools. Parker (1996, 2003) identified three distinct conceptions of citizenship education associated with social studies teaching and learning, which he labeled "traditional," "progressive," and "advanced." These conceptions are discussed below, in order, according to their perceived ability to address the challenges, and facilitate the ideals, of democratic living in a pluralistic society.

The traditional conception is most common in classroom practice, and focuses on maintaining the status quo through the transmission of "core" values, knowledge, and skills (Barr, Barth, & Shermis, 1977; Goodlad, 1984; Stanley & Nelson, 1994). This emphasis for instruction suggests a belief that democracy has been accomplished in this country, at least to the degree it is possible (Parker, 2003). Traditionalists aspire to protect that accomplishment by passing along the values, knowledge, and skills that contributed to the formation of society as it currently exists (Thornton, 1994). Their overarching goal is for students to become citizens capable of leading personally responsible lives (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). …

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