Gary Fenstermacher

GARY FENSTERMACHER

…picture of the enterprise is, then in most institutions that are not guided by a particular etiology. And when a school is guided by an etiology that – teachers confidence in behaving in certain kinds of ways – if they perceive it as in conformance with that etiology, it’s so much greater, so they tend then to be much more powerful influences on their children because they have so much more confidence that they’re in conformance with the mission. So this – this idea that – of – of how teachers would cultivate or impede the moral and intellectual development of their students turns out to us, at least initially, to be heavily grounded in the sense of “Is there a mission here?” and how confident do these teachers feel that what they’re doing is part of this mission. It’s extraordinary.

Um – okay – ready. I think what often happens to teachers is they get confused about the difference between an ideal and a goal. It’s not so much their fault all the time that that confusion arises because by and large the system of education suffers that problem. To me uh the difference between an ideal and a goal is the difference between the North Star and Philadelphia. Um the North Star is the way we orient ourselves in order to get to Philadelphia. It tells us we’re going in the right direction, that we’re making progress, that we’re headed toward our destination. I think Philadelphia’s a kind of goal and the North Star is the ideal, and what happens is that the great moral concepts, the – the great theories we have about what education is about, our the ideals, the North Star, that guide our work as classroom teachers, getting us to Philadelphia. The thing goes wrong when we think that the North Star is where we’re headed and somehow we have to travel there. We mix the goal and the ideal up and say, “Oh, I feel so bad because I’m so far away from where I want to go,” but you’re trying to get to the North Star when that’s not where you should be going. You should be going to Philadelphia and the North Star lets you know that you’re on the right course. You’re making progress, so the ideal sort of is oriented uh activities, concepts for us, and goals are our outcomes.

There’s a lot of talk about this idea of equality of access to knowledge. Here’s an ideal that’s getting turned into a goal. Um we all feel bad because we’re not giving every child on Monday morning equal access to what John Goodlad calls the – the – the disciplined encounters with all the subject matters of the human conversation. We take this ideal, this notion that ought to guide our journey and orient our activities, and we turn it into an objective, and we then feel bad when we fall short of it. But when you think about it, providing equality of access to knowledge is an extraordinarily difficult activity for a classroom teacher to do. Children are different. They have different interests, different motives, teachers are different, subject matter is different. And what happens here so often is that our concept of knowledge is such that we privilege certain kinds of knowledge we say – when we say, “Equal access to knowledge” is a narrow concept of what we have in mind. Take America 2000, uh that we’re going to be first in the world in math and science. Nobody ever talks about being the first in the world in art or dance uh and it just makes so evident that when we talk about equal access to knowledge, we’re talking about equal access to a very small body of understanding that we could look at as privilege in contemporary Western civilization and in our discourse. Well, if that’s the arena and we turn that ideal into a goal, look how hard it’s going to be to take every child from every walk of life, every socioeconomic class, every motivation, every interest, and make that child a superb student of calculus, or a superb student of quantive mechanics. It’s unreasonable, I think. The only way I can make sense out of the idea of equal access to knowledge is to expand our conception of what it is to know and enrich and say it covers large domains, and also expand our conception of what it is for the child to learn so that you think about um the child understanding across Howard Gardner’s notions of multiple intelligences, across Karen Egan’s stages of understanding, and that with this much richer concept of knowledge and of learning, I think we can then begin to treat the ideal of equality of access to knowledge as something we can make real on Monday morning.

One of the ways, I think, that this concept of knowledge is so restricted is that it – when I think about it, for example, I think as a – from a – in a philosophical commode, there are really five ways of knowing. There’s sensory experience, there’s reason, there’s revelation, there’s authority, and there’s intuition. But when you look at the way we treat curriculum and the subjects we teach in schools, you would think that only reason and sensory experience were important. And even when we deal with subjects that ought to be grounded more in intuition, or authority, or revelation, we try to turn them in to subjects that are about reason and sensory experience. So if I wanted to have a course in religion and talk about creationism, for example, somehow I’m led to feel, given the privileged position of reason and sensory experience that I ought to consider this material in this context. Or if I’m looking and judging art or music, some kind of esthetic performance, what credibility – what credence is given to my intuitive reactions to this material as opposed to an insistence that I’d be able to explain it, give reasons, and defend it. So what I would like is to see as well when we talk about equality of access to knowledge is that we’re opening up this opportunity for the student to know along the lines of revelation, authority, and intuition, as well as along the lines of sensory experience and reason.

The concept of manner, it – it’s something that I started thinking about many years ago. I wasn’t the first one by uh a long shot, but I got interested in it because as I looked at the way we taught teachers, all we talked to them about is method, about technique, about performance, and I thought to myself, as someone very interested in philosophy, how do we talk to teachers about nurturing and encouraging the moral and intellectual virtues of their students? How do we take the grand ideas that we know brought so many people into the field of teaching and talk about it in a way that they might be able to learn and turn it into something that they could do in classrooms. I called it manner. Uh probably taking a line out of Shakespeare’s Hamlet “to the manner born,” and lots of people think it’s “the manner” in terms of “the manner house,” but it’s not. It’s that the manner of a kind of royalty or blue blood. And I was looking at it in a sense of “What kind of character is it appropriate to think of a teacher having as a – as a human being, as a fellow human being, in order to cultivate the moral and intellectual virtues of the child?” And I called that character “manner” so to avoid terms like moral education or moral development, which were highly contested ideas. I thought that idea of manner was a much more gentle, less contested and controversial notion, and in essence, it points to those uh traits of character of the teacher that are especially useful and powerful in nurturing the moral and intellectual development of the student.

This is very preliminary uh because we’re in the middle – I – I as a philosopher is married to a woman who’s an empirical researcher and we have a dandy time trying to take these ideas that I cook up in my hand or in my arm chair and turn them into things you can actually study and look at in the classrooms. Uh one of the papers that I’m working on now is entitled, “Making manner visible” because of the enormous challenge of turning this concept into something you can see and study. I initially thought when I began with this idea that it was all about developing a certain kind of character in teachers. What I was missing is that teachers construct persona when they move into classrooms, and those persona are often quite different from this person that you encounter on the street or talk to after class. Um and you hear teachers say that often times. I have heard so many female teachers say, “I wish I could treat my children at home as well as I do my students. Be as patient and as calm.” But what comes out is this idea of persona. Well once this id – discovering this notion that we take on a persona in a classroom, I really had to double back on my own thinking and say, “Well, what does this mean for this notion of manner that I thought was about the basic human character traits of this person?” And what I’m discovering as a result of working with Virginia Richardson, my spouse, in this kind of activity and her help is that what teachers do is they – they make a commitment to the moral and intellectual development of their children and then they find ways of expressing it in method. For example, call outs. We call them call outs. Teachers go in and they call out to children what their expectations are. “I – I always want you to tell the truth,” they say, or “I want you to share what you have,” or “I want you to acknowledge his feelings,” um “No, you can’t do it like that.” You have to show that you really care. And these call outs may or may not reflect the teacher’s own personality or manner, but they reflect the teacher’s expectations for what they want for the children. This setting up of the classroom rules is another way teachers do this. Um when you walk into a classroom, what you’re learning is a – a kind of navigation as a student, and the rules that teachers put together are the way you learn to navigate this environment. Well those rules have a lot to do with what the student comes away with thinking is “What kind of a person must I be when I’m here?” And those teachers can have powerful influences on the way students think about the kinds of persons they might be or can be when they set just the rules for how to conduct student – how students conduct themselves in their classrooms.

Why is it important for teachers to be able to articulate the beliefs that lie behind their practices? If there’s anything that is a core principal of mind, this is it. What happens so much in education is that life in the classroom is created by impositions. There – there are so many systemic characteristics of schooling, tests, and text, and marks, and grades, and schedules, and GPAs, and Carnegie units, and all of these things wash up on the shores of every classroom, if you will, and they shape what teachers do in that classroom. And often teachers themselves find it hard to understand how their behavior as teachers is constructed by all of these kinds of things, and becoming aware – self aware of this construction is an important part, I think, of developing into a powerful 1st grade teacher. Once you are aware, though, then you find that you are – you now have this opportunity to be in control of your own behavior as a teacher. You see what’s shaped and formed your conduct, what imposes, if you will, on what you do as a classroom teacher, and once understanding that, you now have the freedom to make choices about how to be different. In – in – in an old (Interruption) way, you have to grasp that freedom, you have to take it and go with it, and it’s scary and frightening, and yet what education is at heart is forming good intentions and living those intentions and living them well. And for children to learn to – that from their teachers, teachers have to learn that too in their classrooms.

I think one of the things that helps teachers become aware of how their behavior is often constructed by the systemic properties of school, is revealed to us in much of the literature of critical pedagogy. Um it – if you talk to educators about this literature, you will find that some of them are fans of it, some people detest it, I – without taking a position myself on critical pedagogy – and – and by the way, for me the – critical pedagogy differs from ordinary pedagogy in the sense that ordinary pedagogy likes to say that knowledge is power, but in critical pedagogy they say power is knowledge, that to the critical pedagol power is what enables you to privilege knowledge to make knowledge what it is. And I find that very revealing because what it says to me – and I – now I can confess I probably regard myself as much more of a standard ordinary pedagol then a critical pedagol, but by paying attention to critical pedagogy and listening to what they have to say, I understand what I do much better. It’s like a fish coming to understand that there’s water out there. Uh so often I’m – that – that – philosophers often talk about a fish coming to understand that there’s water out there. Uh so often – the – the – philosophers often talk about a fish can’t have the concept of water or the word water in language because it’s a medium in which the fish – with which the fish is surrounded and there’s no contrast, there’s no difference there so the fish can’t discover water because there’s nothing to contrast it to. Well if you don’t have critical pedagogy or some alternative point of view, it’s so hard to discover what constructs your standard pedagogy. And so I – I think it’s important for all of us to think about ideas that are oppositional and contrary to where we are or where we see ourselves because it exposes the medium in which we live. It helps us understand, and thereby even if we were to rebutte critical pedagogy, we’re so much more powerful in our own worlds then.

The importance of beliefs for both teachers and students I think can be found in (Interruption) wonderful question, “How should I live?” And education ultimately is an attempt to help us understand that question and answer “How shall I live?” Underneath that question, though, is this basic notion of – that we are intentional beings. We act with purposes, and ideals, and points of view. We have – in short, we have to have those purposes, and points of view, and ideals, and if we don’t we can’t answer the question, “How should I live?” Getting in touch with what you believe with understanding your own perspectives on these kinds of things is absolutely critical in – to – to getting at this “How shall I live?” to realizing what an education is all about. If a teacher can’t do that with respect to his or her own teaching, how could he or she model for the students? That what this is about is us as teachers understanding that it’s not simply enough for us to be educated, we have to model becoming educated, and therefore we require, I think, more then many other professions, the freedom and the opportunity to ground ourselves by getting in touch with our own beliefs, examining them, and then being given permission to act on what we think is the best approach.

John Goodlad often speaks of public school teaching as a “special case of teaching” and for awhile I was puzzled by that. Why – why would you call public school teaching a special case of teaching? But as I thought about it, I began to understand that there’s something quite nice and helpful about that idea because too many of us want to uh generalize from a tutorial relationship, or uh being in a classroom for a day or two, or visiting, or from our own experience as students in a far more tranquil time, 20, 30, 40 years ago as students in classrooms, that we don’t understand the extraordinary complexity of today’s modern classroom that is brought about by the – the tremendous impact of television, on what children understand, and the sensibilities that they bring to school, that’s brought about by the complexity of pluralism and multiculturalism, the complexity of the special education agenda, and those kinds of initiatives, the exploding body of knowledge we have about how children learn, um the – the – the political demands that are made on education to – on schooling today for what it ought to accomplish, its articulation as a political agenda at the state level and the federal level. All of these things create a much more complex environment for teachers to work in and make so much more uh extensive demands on these teachers to understand these forces and to work with them, and thus, it requires a capability and a capacity very different from what you would think if you thought of teaching out of a tutorial relationship, or a family meal, or even my experiences as a student in school 30, 40, 50 years ago.

Some of this may have come from the view that – I have always been uncertain that the way you learn a discipline is to learn what’s in the textbooks that report that discipline. That the – the – the challenge of gaining entry to a discipline is typically quite different from the way we portray it in text and in many classrooms. Unfortunately, in order to meet that challenge, it requires a teacher who himself or herself is steep to this and understands how to reconstruct what’s in the text in order to make it accessible to the child. It’s a Vagodskian, Pedachetian set of ideas that float out there about setting up the discipline so that a mind can find entry into it. And often times it requires cracking the discipline open in ways that are quite different from the way it’s cracked open in the text, or in a film, or in a video, and it – it’s so typically a matter, I think, of saying, “Well, what is it that we want to come out of the student’s engagement in the discipline?” And too often we think that the whole point of taking the child into the discipline is to master the discipline, when what it is, it’s for the child to master a way of thinking and a way of living. That’s the – the rational for taking a child into a discipline, I think, in kindergarten through 12th grade. Not to get them ready for advanced study in that discipline in another field. And if you think of it that way, if you think that – the reason I’m bringing this child to the study of chemistry, or the study of history, or the study of mathematics, is to provide that child with other ways of processing experience, of rethinking about the world. That music is a different language, that mathematics is a different language. That I’m acquiring new discourses, and the point of acquiring these new discourses is to make me more powerful and not to get me ready for the more advanced course in that subject matter. And my sense is that thinking about the subject matter in that way offers us another degree of freedom about what we mean when we talk about equal access to knowledge.

Mandy Marvel: Fenstermacher, Manning, Ramaro, Oakes, Esquirel PAGE 1