Monday, September 25, 2006

Guest Posting by Michael Katz: The Gap Between Philosophy of Education and Teaching

Michael Katz, president-elect of the Philosophy of Education Society (USA) and former professor at San Jose State University in California, responded recently to a question posed on PHILOSED (A Google Group for the discussion of Philosophy of Education). His response struck us as worthy of further notice, and he agreed to let us post it here.

The question was: "Has the gap between philosophy and practice for teachers grown too wide? And how can we fix this?"

Michael's response:

I have been actively involved in teacher education since 1977 and in academia since 1974; I could not agree with you more; here is some speculation on why the divide is so great between teacher education and philosophy of education--as well as other social foundational areas such as history of education, anthropology of education, etc.

The following are speculative reasons growing from my experience as a "teacher of teachers" in teacher education programs:

1)The thrust of accreditation has minimized the importance of broad theoretical perspectives on education, in spite of efforts of national organizations such as AESA and the Council of Learned Societies (where Philosophy of Ed. made significant financial contributions for many years); accreditation visits did not, for the most part, chastise and take action against programs that did not have essential foundations courses in their undergraduate and masters programs or programs that used faculty not trained in foundational areas to teach these courses;

2) the major thrust of education schools has been a "methods" orientation, even though methods courses are also experienced by students as "not being practical enough" as they are often analogous to teaching driver training without getting students behind the wheel of a car; lots of "how to do it' talk in an experiential vacuum.

3) there has been little coherence or cohesiveness to what philosophers of education consider to be the central "questions" of our field and particularly little emphasis on the importance of teachers having begun to develop a well thought out philosophy of teaching, wherein students have begun to define the core values and ends to which they are committed and thought through the cultural, historical, social, institutional constraints they will face in implementing their philosophy. I doubt that most student-teachers emerge from philosophy of education course with a much clearer vision of what it means to be an effective educator or to be part of a "good school." In fact, there has been considerable sentiment in our field that philosophy of education should not overly contaminate itself by trying to be "too useful to teacher" or "future teachers."

4) In spite of the wonderful work of many of our colleagues, we have few "giants" in our field that most educators know about---if we asked our colleagues in education to name the prominent philosophers of education of the last 30 years, I doubt many of them could name one from the following list: Israel Scheffler, R.S. Peters, Nel Noddings, Tom Greene, Maxine Greene, Walter Feinberg, etc.

5) We have not taken our work significantly into the public press and made it accessible to a lay audience. Out here in California, for awhile, Larry Cuban (a historian of education at Stanford and a former superintendent of Schools) wrote a bi-weekly column in the San Jose Mercury News critiquing common misconceptions of American education--such as our obsession with testing as a vehicle for improving our economic competitiveness. That effort was very useful, but unfortunately, short lived.

6) Philosophers of education and other foundational scholars have been notably silent and notably ineffective politically in making their voices heard or their influence felt. Occasionally, one of us, such as Nick Burbules, ventures into the political world with a blog, and tries to make a difference there, but that effort is not usually associated with advancing the political or academic status or clout of our field.;

7) We have witnessed an incredible loss of key positions in our field at some of our leading institutions---U.C.L.A., Ohio State, Georgia among others---I could name 10-15 prestigious jobs in our field that have disappeared in the past 15-20 years; why is that? Because we are the "general service "
courses in a professional field where other programs have dedicated constituencies who do not value us--elementary educators, secondary educators, administrators, counselors, special educators, etc.; so we are like the "economics course" in a business school--which similarly minimizes more abstract theoretical thinking.

8) We have missed major opportunities to connect our field to the "hot curricular trends" that became "au courant"--e.g. multicultural education (Young Pai urged us on here), "critical thinking" (which has helped save some philosophy programs), applied ethics (also saving some philosophy programs, but we have done little here). And there must be many more reasons I have left out. This is not an exhaustive list--simply some "speculative brain food" for folks to chew on.

In recent years I have experienced a good deal of "policy despair" as educators watch the "no child left behind" movement takes its reductionist view of education and schooling as the effort to improve cognitive test scores to its logically absurd conclusions--firing administrators who do not raise school scores fast enough, engaging in unethical practices to raise scores (passing out previous tests, fudging results, encouraging certain groups of kids to miss the test, etc.). In spite of some valiant efforts by some of our colleagues, including the Presidential efforts of Nel Noddings on the American Council of Education, this "bandwagon" of teaching to the test, and measuring effective schools by test scores, however inappropriately achieved, marches on--rolling over all informed opposition. So, as educators consider what schools ought to emphasize and what it means to educate the next generation of Americans, philosophers of education, presumably folks with some expertise in the area of "the appropriate ends of education" have increasingly been left out of the conversation---and definitely without much influence on public policy.

But, we persevere as an Academic Society, trying to nurture our young scholars, trying to be the best citizens we can be in our own limited sphere of influence, and never ceasing to believe that he/she who lacks a philosophical perspective on education lacks something very, very central to the task of educating others.

May the dialogue continue. --Michael Katz


Anonymous said...

Professor Katz has certainly hit the nail on the head with this one. I would just like to add, again, that I also think the problem is that foundations has not made enough of an effort to sell itself as an independent degree option. Our own Cultural Foundations of Education Masters program is packed (we had the largest increase in enrollment in our entire school this year) and there is a growing interest in our Social Foundations Ph.D. program. And we're far from being a top-tier university. These are local folks, in Milwaukee (not the most intellectual place). So there are ordinary people out there--teachers and non-teachers--who are seeking just the kind of educational environment that foundations can provide. Remaining simply a service program for other departments is a losing strategy for us--for all of foundations, not just philosophy. In most cases, in third- and fourth-tier universities like mine, only departments who can generate their own credit hours will be able to maintain a robust enough faculty presence to be able to fight for more inclusion in teacher ed when the pendulum swings again.

Aaron Schutz said...

Sorry--that's me above.

--Aaron Schutz

A. G. Rud said...

I really appreciate what Michael has done in thoughtfully addressing this important issue. I know philosophers of education have wrestled with this topic many a time, and recently too. After all, we talk about Socrates in the marketplace and Dewey's lab school, but wonder if our words resonate beyond the classroom walls of where many folks hear from us, namely, large, undergraduate required courses in "foundations of education" (that many undergraduates endure on the way to a teaching license).

Michael's points:

1 - This is right on, but we have also made arguments to our faculty here at Purdue that NCATE requires attention paid to historical and philosophical elements to teacher preparation. I used to know where that was in the NCATE standards. I would be willing to bet this is more of an important issue with TEAC.

2 - Again, correct and succinct. It gets worse too, when influential faculty (full professors) in areas such as agricultural education and ed psych ask whether they can just teach their students what they need to know about philosophy (this can happen if the students complain that the regular foundations faculty are: poor lecturers, too left wing, or some other characteristic they don't like. Some students would prefer not to have a gadfly for a teacher.)

3 - Many philosophers of education have not spent time in schools. Mine is scant, but I am deeply interested and passionate about what goes on in schools. But perhaps more to the point, it is hard talking to many undergraduates in education about philosophy, as they have virtually no background and many are not inclined to read or think about issues in the liberal arts. How many education undergraduates read what many of us read, namely, the New Yorker, the NYRB, the Atlantic Monthly, or other such journals that are standard fare for reading expectations among the kind of people who study philosophy with any seriousness. Or if you don't read these journals now, (I confess, I haven't read the Atlantic recently) at least you KNOW what they are and stand for. Most undergraduates haven't a clue. I asked my foundations class recently what the words "pragmatic" and "puritanical" meant, and I don't think more than a few out of 130 could say. And we had just talked about Puritan New England and earlier I had mentioned Dewey.

4 - I think a few might recall who Nel is (she does "caring" right, they might say) and a few who know about the arts might know Maxine, but you are right here.

5 - Many of us are actively discouraged from publishing in newspapers and such. A sociologist friend of mine said he got more feedback from a brief op ed he wrote for our local paper than from all the refereed articles he has published. And he said the feedback was thoughtful and immediate.

6 - I believe Nick purposely keeps his blog separate from his professorial work. Anyone with half a wit can Google Nick and find out what he does for the rest of the day after he posts PBD, and I wonder if any have made the connection. Since Nick does not have comments on his blog, it is hard for me to evaluate whether others are seeing what he does as part of his identity, just as being a philosopher of education is, and that of course the two are linked in the same person.

7 - We have had to fight for our positions here at Purdue. I am the lone "philosopher of education" with a historian, and next year, we got one of the coveted "strategic hires" in our university to search for someone in Latino studies, qual, with an anthro/soc bent. We have an active group in "curriculum studies" in our "other" department, C&I, and we are collaborating more, but it is hard to do at a large university, even if you are in the same building. Everyone is so busy.

8 - I am regularly called upon at the university to chime in with the philosophical angle on "learning" projects and such. At a place like Purdue, however, outside grants carry the day, so many want to know what kind of funds I could corral. And they don't mean small Spencers.

In closing, the publishing expectations for junior faculty are such that peer reviewed articles in prestigious journals are the sine qua non for fast promotion and healthy raises. Philosophers may percolate longer on topics, or they are naturally, as humanists, drawn to writing books. Such writing puts them at a competitive disadvantage at many institutions.

Philosophers of education, at least some, don't want to appear too popular or too involved with (what I remember from an opinion piece years ago) the dreaded "E" word, namely, education as practice. Education, especially teacher education at all but a handful of places, is lower status. As Sherman Dorn indicated, the colonization of education by psychology, and lately, more specifically, assessment and measurement, is pretty much hegemonic, and hard for folks who might get a puny Spencer small grant to do some writing to challenge.

I have said enough, and would enjoy hearing what others might say on this topic.

A. G. Rud said...

Aaron, I wouldn't consider UWM a third or fourth tier university. What I learn about it, from you and your former president, Nancy Zimpher (a casual friend), impresses me greatly.