Social change, subject matter – and the
J. MYRON ATKIN
Much of this book centres on the settings in which schools operate and the impact of these conditions on the ways in which they and the teachers within them do or do not change. Community expectations have a strong effect on what happens in classrooms. So do norms of professional teaching practice. So does the organization of the school itself. Outside influences like these are receiving increasing attention not only because they are potent but, at least as importantly, because they are the factors most readily accessible to those who set educational policy. Thus, the most available policy instruments seem to reside outside the individual teacher: conditions of work, status, authority, professional socialization, organizational arrangements.
This chapter adds two elements to the picture that are somewhat different. First, it introduces images of the subject matter itself and what they imply for educational change. Second, it raises issues about the teacher as a person: who she is, who she wants to become, what she values and how her personal goals influence her view of desirable changes in her own classroom and school. There is a connection between the two.
A central goal of virtually all educational change is to affect the beliefs, skills and general perspective of the individual teacher. But individual beliefs and preferences seem to present an indistinct, elusive and seemingly inefficient target for school reformers. It is difficult to detect ‘progress’ in one's underlying attitudes and values. Even over relatively long periods of time in policy terms (like five years), change in these dimensions, if it occurs at all, tends to be modest. Nevertheless, students are as powerfully affected by how teachers view the world as by any other aspect of the teacher's thought and action, regardless of how accessible those thoughts might be, how well articulated they are or how readily they yield to the hopes of reformers. A focus on subject matter and