Academic journal article American Educational History Journal

Article 4: A Not-So-Hidden Curriculum: Using Auto/biographies to Teach Educational History

Academic journal article American Educational History Journal

Article 4: A Not-So-Hidden Curriculum: Using Auto/biographies to Teach Educational History

Article excerpt

Autobiography and biography are productive genres for exploring historical events and processes, even as such works have sometimes held a peripheral role in the 'community' of history of education scholarship. (1) This paper focuses on the pedagogical productivity and challenges of a recent graduate course I offered in auto/biographical research as a method of introducing students, indirectly, to issues in educational history, particularly those affecting the lives of marginalized people. The course primarily focused on methodological approaches and issues in the craft of auto/biographical scholarship. However, I also conceptualized the course as a productive site for incorporating historical issues, in part as a response to low levels of student interest in history of education courses at our public research institution and the general college, and increasingly on a national level, malaise regarding foundations courses in general. Indeed, declining support for history of education courses is a national trend, as Goodchild and Spencer's analysis presented at the History of Education Society indicate (2013). Donald Warren's insightful article charting the ebbs and flows in levels of support for the interdisciplinary field of Social Foundations also suggests more broadly that (both manufactured and legitimate) educational crises and public calls for school reform, accountability, and 'practical' subject matter, often renew scrutiny of foundations courses (Warren 1998).

Goodall and Spencer suggest that historians of education need pedagogical tools for their labor and perhaps particularly so in a time of "precipitous" decline of history of education offerings (2013, 2). Such a decline has widespread implications for the type of knowledge students absorb and faculty create. If we are to take this call for pedagogies seriously, discussing specific teaching approaches and wrinkles we encounter in the process can only enhance our "community" mission. While educational biographers have championed the genre as a way to highlight educational patterns in individual lives, the methodological complexities involved in crafting auto/biographical work are compelling avenues for discussing processes of historical construction more broadly. As biographer Hermione Lee has expressed artfully, biographers must contend with an array of challenges in researching lives--the "epic and the absurd, legends and gossip, gravity and foolishness," as well as difficult subjects, fragmentary records and suspicious descendants (Lee 2009, 38).

The genre offers opportunities to consider how social and structural forces shape subjects' lives differently. Tuchman writes that "as a prism of history, biography attracts and holds the reader's interest in the larger subject" and "encompasses the universal in the particular" (Tuchman 1996, 74). Indeed, Lucy Townsend and Gaby Weiner's text, Deconstructing and Reconstructing Lives (2011), and Linda Morice and Laurie Puchner's text, Exploring Issues in Educational History through Biography (2013), detail how biographies remain underutilized resources in connecting readers to the lives and investments of historical figures. While scholars have explored issues in educational history through the lens of autobiography and biography previously, as well as considered ways to teach educational biographies in varied courses, my interest here is in considering how to incorporate historical content and issues in courses focused on other subject matter that remain core offerings, such as qualitative methodology, in a period in which sustaining history courses poses increasing challenges.

Educational scholars have published various resources to aid those interested in incorporating autobiographies and biographies into their historical research and teaching. Particularly useful in this regard are the annotated bibliographies they have painstakingly compiled. For example, more than thirty years ago, Tom Cook published a bibliography of auto/ biographical accounts in the History of Education Society Bulletin (1977) which Tom Gammage (1980) extended to increase awareness of such archival resources available for history of education scholars. …

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