Dr. Robert Bullough - Reconsidering Access to Knowledge: A View from Three Conflicting Perspectives
In his lecture Reconsidering Access to Knowledge: A View from Three Conflicting Perspectives, Dr. Robert Bullough reframed the issue of knowledge access from a position of moral responsibility and then considered its implications from perspectives central to the BYU-Public School Partnership.
Dr. Bullough, a Professor of Teacher Education at BYU, was the second of five speakers for a lecture series on the Moral Dimensions, sponsored by the Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling (CITES) as part of the celebration activities for the 20-year anniversary of the BYU-Public School Partnership.
"There is a widely shared view among citizens, policy makers, and even educators that the problem of providing access to knowledge is primarily a school issue" began Dr. Bullough. "School is not the only place knowledge is gained."
Dr Bullough used several illustrations to show students do not come to school with the same knowledge, background and insight. This is well illustrated by two classmates: Ali and DeShaun. Ali was foreign born and came to America with no background knowledge on how to act in school. DeShaun was African American.
Ali wanted to be part of the class and knew that he wanted to learn. "For Ali, doing well in school was essential to his conception of himself," explained Dr. Bullough. He then told how DeShan grumbled and ignored schoolwork. Though living in a home with both parents present and employed, education was not an honored privilege. Deshaun did not come to school wanting to learn, said Bullough. "The teacher felt like a failure with DeShaun and his indifference and sometimes muted hostility made it increasingly difficult for her to stay engaged with him.... Both [boys] were alien to school, but only Deshaun was alienated," concluded Dr. Bullough.
Reading, writing, and communication are important, said Bullough. However tacit knowledge is absorbed through life experiences and is more fundamental as it serves as the basis of interpretation for what school is, what school is for, and how important learning is. Thus differences children have in regards to learning relate to culture, education, and traditions.
Access to knowledge issues need to be reframed said Bullough. He quoted form the report A Nation At Risk, which infers that schools should fix teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, delinquency, and even economical issues. "The school exists as part of a larger ecosystem that often hampers the school's effort to become a renewing culture in which the very best educational social values permeate daily life," explained Bullough. "Access to knowledge," he continued, "is a community issue that is affected by policy and legislation, family issues, and even social ranking."
Bullough noted that testing has become threatening to some parents, students, and even teachers. The impact is magnified by the redefinition and reduction of what is categorized as knowledge. He called attention to an increasing parallel neglect of non-cognitive items like civility, kindness, and honesty, which adds to the problem. According to Dr. Bullough each of these issues and their related impact affect access to knowledge for students.
Bullough described the process of students taking on the labels schools give them, both academic and social. Students lose the ability to see themselves for what they are and what they might become, a condition Dr. Bullough described as facticity, a concept he took from Heidegger. Students lose this ability when they see themselves only by the definition that others "pin" on them. Bullough explained that students become their test score, their athletic ability, etc. Dr. Bullough defined schools bestowing privilege to "titled" students as immoral.
Dr. Bullough tied democracy to a moral education. He quoted John Dewey, "Democracy has many meanings, but if it has a moral meaning it is found in resolving that the supreme test of political institutions and industrial arrangements shall be the contribution they make to the all-around growth of every member of society." According to Bullough, in addition to encouraging excellence, the school society must exemplify democratic living. The problems within schools must be reframed within a social framework that promotes access to knowledge for all students, not just those who fit within the existing and dominating social system.
Dr. Bullough suggested six actions that participants of the BYU-Public School Partnership could pursue to promote access to knowledge for all students:
Schools need to pursue the opportunity to expand what they consider legitimate knowledge.
Careful consideration needs to be given to the life lived by children in our schools.
Educators need to examine whether or not children have deep and caring relationships with school personnel.
Ongoing teacher education is critical, including effective in-service presentations on content and on wider school issues.
Early childhood education must become a part of all children's lives, and stronger links must be established to families.
Better links are needed with other agencies that help families and communities. These agencies need to be in the schools.
Dr. Bullough concluded by quoting John Dewey: "What the best and wisest parents want for his own child, the community must want for all its children."
Dr. Robert Bullough's biography information
Dr. Bullough is currently a professor of teacher education and associate director for teacher education research in CITES, the Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling at Brigham Young University. He received his bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Utah and a Ph.D. in curriculum and foundations at Ohio State University in 1976. Prior to coming to Brigham Young University in 1999, Dr. Bullough was a professor of educational studies at the University of Utah for 23 years. He is currently an Emeritus Professor of Educational Studies at the U of U. His book, Uncertain lives: Children of promise, teachers of hope (2002), was selected by American Education Research Association, Division B, as its outstanding book in curriculum and by Choice Magazine as an "Outstanding Academic Title" for 2001. He has received numerous other academic awards and honors. He is the author of 10 books, 15 book chapters, and over 70-refereed journal articles.