Educ 4321     Section B                      Social Issues in Education                      Summer (July) 2018

Introductory Statement


Getting The Big Picture­

There is a natural tendency for beginning teachers, preoccupied with the demands of their practicum placements, to focus almost entirely on the "how to" knowledge necessary for survival in the classroom. Important as this craft knowledge is, it is not sufficient.

Just as there is a difference between "training" and "education", there is a difference between the teacher who is satisfied to remain a technician and the teacher who goes on to become a fully autonomous professional.


The teacher-technician simply applies his "how to" knowledge to train students as directed by the central bureaucracy. Because the teacher-technician limits his attention to the isolated context of the classroom, he is ill equipped to anticipate, understand, and address those issues that constantly press in on him from the "outside". He often complains, for example, that he cannot understand where his students are coming from, but sees this as the students' problem rather than his own. Because he conceives of teaching as the application of a series of "how to" formulae, he seldom thinks to question the curriculum (Why these particular skills? Why this particular knowledge and not some other?) or the status quo. Unwilling or unable to explore the implications of his actions beyond the classroom, he is vulnerable to the manipulation of those in power, so that instead of educating, his teaching degenerates into indoctrination.

In contrast, the fully professional educator realizes that her classroom does not exist in a vacuum, and that the ability to examine and understand the larger social context in which we operate is crucial to our success as educators. How can we hope to have any impact on our students' lives if we know nothing of the forces that influence their thinking outside our classrooms? How can we create an environment that will allow each individual to develop to their fullest potential if we remain blissfully unaware of the systematic but subtle influences that gender, ethnic origin, and social class still have on the schooling students receive? How can we even begin to address the problems facing the school system, such as the dropout rate, if we simply focus on (i.e., blame) the individual student without seeing the larger pattern that connects the dropout rate to changes in school policy, the economy, and peer culture?

Thus, the fully professional educator is not content with just getting her subject across to her students, but is informed about and actively involved in formulating a response to the social trends shaping her society, her school, and her students. Although her background in the teacher's craft is as strong as that of the teacher-technician, she goes beyond mere mastery of technique to the broader and more fundamental step of goal-setting. By refusing to lose herself in the day to day minutia of the classroom, by understanding the social context in which she functions well enough to identify the real needs and motives of her students, she is able to carve out a niche in which real education can occur.

This Foundation course, then, is an attempt to get you thinking about the "big picture".



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The Role of Uncertainty in Reflective Practice

This course is deliberately designed (objective 7) to avoid providing pat answers to complex issues. When I say there are no right answers in this course, I mean that I have consciously chosen not to provide solutions to the problems posed. We will spend some class time brainstorming possible approaches to some of the issues raised, but I will consider this course a success if you leave with more questions than answers.

Some students find this approach disconcerting or discouraging, but I hope to demonstrate that a true professional is someone who is prepared to take a stand and act, even in the face of uncertainty (objective 7).

It is also important to remember that when I or others question your statements in this class, (objectives 3,6, 10), this is not intended as an attack on you or your opinions. Rather, it is an invitation to expand on your initial statement. (Note that I said "when", not "if" I question your position — I will strive to continually challenge you to expand on your arguments and for you to reach deeper.) In other situations, when people ask you why you believe something, or ask you how you respond to facts that could be interpreted as evidence against your position, they are trying to get you to change your mind. That is not usually the case in this class. Instead, the goal is for you to be able to formulate and articulate your own position more clearly (objective 3). This module will strive to ensure that you have examined the underlying assumptions on which your philosophy of teaching is based, and that you have thought through the implications of your position (objectives 2b,2c,3,4,5,6), so that you can become a more effective spokesperson for what you believe (objective 3).

I believe that great teaching is always grounded in a personal vision: a commitment to a consistent set of ideas, skills, attitudes or approaches that constitute the individuals' unique contribution to the growth of their students. One objective of this course (objectives 3, 10) is to help you to begin to articulate your own professional vision.


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Last updated March, 2018.