Editor's Introduction: Challenging Contemporary Politics-(Re)imagining the Professionalization of Teaching and Learning

By Nelson, Thomas | Teacher Education Quarterly, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Editor's Introduction: Challenging Contemporary Politics-(Re)imagining the Professionalization of Teaching and Learning


Nelson, Thomas, Teacher Education Quarterly


In the recently released book, Education and the Making of a Democratic People, John Goodlad comments on educational policy directives:

   The American people are not accustomed to having nonnegotiable
   mandates for their schools (like NCLB) imposed by federal
   authorities, mandates that, if not observed, call for monetary
   penalties. There is a void regarding information-seeking queries
   and debate. The people responsible are invisible. The essence of
   political democracy is cut off at the ankles. (pg. 22)

Contemporary school reform is rooted in a politics and language of deprofessionalization. Decisions about what occurs in classrooms continue to be driven by non-educators located at great distance from the classroom. In fact, politicians legislating widespread mandates have seldom, if ever, spent time working in schools and classrooms, let alone experiencing themselves the incredible challenges and complexities inherent in teaching and learning in the diverse environments in which schools are situated today. Decisions are made based on the assumption that all students need to know and be able to do the same things and that schools themselves should adhere to a prescribed uniformity of practice and, thereby, offer equal educational opportunities for all. Context is irrelevant.

Another major policy orientation suggests that adults know best what students ought to know and be able to do, and further assumes that policymakers and think-tank lobbyists themselves know best what professional educators need to know and be able to do. All the while, the body of educational research is replete with contrary findings as to what constitutes teacher effectiveness and, hence, student academic achievement. A far more substantial basis for viewing teaching and learning as a dynamic, complex and contextually based phenomena belies the notion of one-size-fits-all policies.

Efforts to connect teacher effectiveness with student achievement, primarily represented by standardized test scores, underlie a reform movement clearly meant to de-professionalize the work of educators, and at the same time define student learning in narrow, and mostly shallow terms. To consider that multiple choice responses on standardized tests require and value levels of learning associated with memorization and regurgitation suggests that contemporary school reform is driven by efforts to undermine any attempt to intellectualize the ways in which teachers and student engage in subject matter content. Educational aims that seek student evidence of abilities to exhibit critical thinking, problem-solving, analysis, and synthesis are being marginalized and reduced to an anti-intellectual rhetoric that has become the mantra for school reform as publicized widely through mainstream media.

Teacher Education Quarterly, however, is committed to recognizing and honoring teaching and learning as an intellectually complex academic activity while supporting scholarly research efforts that more realistically describe and analyze the conditions and challenges educators face today. The collection of articles in this issue is indicative of the kind of evidence-based research that is being generated, informing teacher education and professional development efforts, and representing a (re)imagining of professionalism as a response to large scale legislated mandates.

We are proud to open the Summer 2009 issue with a very special contribution by one of the leading educational philosophers of our time, and one of my long-time mentors, Gary D Fenstermacher. Along with co-authors Richard D. Osguthorpe and Matthew N. Sanger we present, "Teaching Morally and Teaching Morality," an exploration of the complexities inherent in how morals are represented in teaching and learning, and how they are too often overshadowed by conversations about student achievement and curriculum standardization. …

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