Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Whither Schools of Education?

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Whither Schools of Education?

Article excerpt

The history of schools, colleges, and departments of education (SCDEs) suggests that they were born with a congenital malaise, into an inhospitable surround, or both. Conduct of their teacher education function brought into academe the often-unappreciated baggage of connections with the low-status occupation of teaching in the lower schools. Conduct of their academic function and assumption of the designation education was an affront to the traditional departments that saw themselves also in the business of education. The consequence for many SCDEs appears to have been a kind of schizophrenia, with its complex etiology clearly manifested in the institutional exercise of the faculty reward structure.

The malaise intensified with the transition of normal schools to teachers colleges to state colleges to state universities. Responsibility for teacher education did not diminish as the decades of the 20th century passed by, while the importance of research escalated (Ducharme, 1993; Shen, 1999). With each step in the transition, the status of teacher education in institutional priorities dropped and, with it, the status of and identity of the SCDE (Ducharme, 1987; Ducharme & Agne, 1986). Dependent on the arts and sciences departments for their necessary contribution to the preservice teacher curriculum, education neither sought nor attained the autonomy of professional schools for whom the academic disciplines were largely precurricular admissions requirements.

Early in the century, John Dewey had urged the new schools of education to look to the training of architects, engineers, doctors, and lawyers so as to learn from the more intensive and matured experience of other callings (Dewey, 1904, p. 10). Was he seeking for them the relative autonomy that the major professional schools secured within the universities? The record shows that schools of education did not follow such a course. Or was Dewey seeking something else that study of the education for these other callings might have provided? If so, might following his advice have helped ameliorate the seeming malaise and troubled circumstances of the nation's SCDEs? Responding at all usefully to these questions requires some inquiry into both Dewey's thinking and the evolution of these entities in the 20th century.

Dewey on Pedagogy

My analysis suggests that it was not greater autonomy for the new schools of education that Dewey sought but the intellectual methods that he may have overgenerously attributed to other professional schools. He had been quickly at odds with faculty members of the Chicago Institute acquired by the University of Chicago in 1901, even though he presided over them in what had recently become the university's school of education (Ryan, 1995, p. 120). He viewed these new colleagues as engaged almost exclusively in giving teachers in training working command of the necessary tools of their profession; control of the technique of c/ass instruction and management; skill and proficiency in the work of teaching (Dewey, 1904, p. 1) to the neglect of principles derived from theory tested in the laboratory. For Dewey, there was no duality of purpose that separates practice and inquiry. They nourish each other.

During the concluding years of the 19th into the early years of the 20th century, Dewey's considerable powers of thought and energy were focused on his laboratory school, learning, and pedagogy. It is important to remember that he was as much a psychologist as a philosopher with a deep interest in human development. His proposal to President William Rainey Harper for a department of pedagogy to be closely linked with philosophy and psychology (Tanner, 1997, p. 16) stated, The conduct of a school of demonstration, observation and experiment in connection with the theoretical instruction is the nerve of the whole scheme (Dewey, 1896 [?], p. 434).

Accounts of the time suggest the existence of a veritable crucible in which all of the issues that have plagued SCDEs and teacher education were being melted down and shaped. …

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