Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Nobility, Competence, and Disruption: Challenges to Teacher Education

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Nobility, Competence, and Disruption: Challenges to Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Nobility, competence and disruption--an odd union of three words. Hardly alliterative and seemingly unrelated to one another. Just how these three words might be connected, and their pertinence to teacher education, is what I propose to explore with you in the next 40 minutes.

So you know precisely where I'm headed, here's what I'm going to assert. First, competence consumes far too much of the rhetoric of education and nobility far too little. Second, even though nobility is nearly absent from the rhetoric of education, it is alive but not altogether well in American schools. Third, teacher educators exhibit a regard for both competence and nobility but their preparation programs typically stress competence and ignore nobility. Fourth, and finally, disruption in teacher education may be the best hope for the earnest and simultaneous pursuit of competence and nobility. There. That's the speech. I hope you'll stay here to see how well I do in defense of these assertions.

Many critics of schooling in America seem to believe there is only one feature of teaching that trumps all others. That feature is competence. I believe there is a second feature with similar trump value: Nobility. Sadly almost no one talks about this second feature--except teachers and teachers of teachers. When teachers and teacher educators talk about nobility, they often use different words--caring, helping, empowering, doing good, making the world better. These notions are often the reason young adults become teachers. Once they become teachers, demands for competence--unaccompanied by nobility--become a reason for leaving teaching. I cannot pursue this line of argument any further without defining terms.

Competence is a term in common use in our profession. It is called upon to do a great deal of work in our field. So much so that one is reminded of Humpty Dumpty's response to Alice when she commented on his expansive use of words. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra." We educators are seriously out-of-pocket for all the work we make the word 'competence' do. In general, the word refers to the ability to do something well, to having the requisite knowledge and skill to reach a reasonable standard of excellence in one's performance. For our purposes, 'competence' refers to the practical skill of a teacher. In most instances that skill is manifest in fostering mastery of subject matter. As such, competence is situated within the domain of pedagogy, where it often connotes a proficient, perhaps even worthy performance. Defined in this way, competence is frequently accepted as the proper objective of teacher education. That is, the point of teacher education is to prepare candidates for competent performance as teachers of children and youth.

Nobility is different from competence. It is more a trait or disposition than a skill. If you were to look up the word, you would find among its several definitions the following: "having or showing qualities of high moral character, such as courage, generosity, or honor" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition). I'm going to expand a bit on that definition and use the word 'nobility' as shorthand for morality and courage, as well as three other traits that are related though not typically associated with the term. They are discernment, sacrifice, and passion. Were Humpty Dumpty to see what I'm doing here, he would certainly insist that I, too, pay extra. In this case, I am happy do so.

Morality, in the sense of being a moral person, refers to doing good, to doing the right thing under the circumstances. It encompasses such virtues as justice, fairness, honesty, respect, and compassion. Courage, though often included as part of morality, is here given a separate identity because it figures so prominently in teaching with moral integrity. For example, courage is often called for when a teacher must choose between the evidence of science and the biases of ideology, or take a stand for neutrality against favoritism, or when rising to the challenge of helping students who arrive at the schoolhouse door unready to learn. …

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