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

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