The problem of pedagogy

Schools, as institutions, require administrators and teachers to design instructional programs that are efficient—efficiency is defined as transmitting large quantities of information, to large groups of students, with the minimum expenditure of time, money, and effort. Studies of the social context of schooling (Eckert, 1989; Jackson, 1990; Rosenholtz, 1991; Wexler, 1992; Bourdieu, 1993; Lortie, 2002; Pope, 2003;) describe how institutional approaches to schooling influence how teachers think about pedagogy and how those beliefs become realities in the classroom. The dominant pedagogy of the day is the expectation that teachers in the classroom will be covering objects of knowledge (knowledge as “immobile solid” (Dewey, 1902/1990) so students can possess the knowledge for final transfer from one context to another.

The opposing pedagogy to the “assign and assess” model of instruction is John Dewey’s portrayal of a pedagogy in which a teacher creates situations requiring students to interact with their environments to discover possible solutions to problematic situations that arise in a society with scarce resources, with elites and masses, with different moralities, and with different identities.

Educators and state legislative bodies have largely dismissed the other problems of schooling (e.g. institutions, goals, the self, and experience) in favor of turning research agendas and policy initiatives over to researchers who use quantitative methodologies to establish causal relationships between teacher traits, dispositions, and behaviors and student achievement (Nuthall, 2004). For educators, quantitative studies of the relationship between classroom teaching and student learning provide a distinct body of knowledge that secures their status as a profession.

Legislative bodies find the relationship between the studies of teaching and student achievement attractive because it provides legislators with a rationale for holding teachers and school administrators accountable for the effective implementation of “scientific approaches” to teaching and learning. The scientific turn in education has displaced the philosophical inquiries that historically guided discussions of what it means to be educated (Egan, 1983) and has transformed the complex practice of teaching into the mere implementation of techniques and scripted lesson plans.

The Table below represents the two traditions of pedagogy that clashed in schools for the last century. The organizational structure of institutional schooling, public perceptions of what schools should look like, and accountability mandates favor the employment of mimetic tradition of pedagogy in our nation’s schools. There have been brief periods in the history of American schooling where transformative traditions of pedagogy (Eight Year Study) bubbled to the surface in particular schools. These experiments in progressive pedagogy were quickly silenced, however, by managers of virtue, who viewed progressive teaching, as too costly and too idiosyncratic for the efficient operation of schools.

Strong Instructional Leaders recognize that the schools they lead are designed to support a pedagogy suited for imposing order and accountability are large groups of students. A strong component of their philosophy of education and instructional agenda is developing curricular offerings, pedagogical practices, and organizational configurations that support theories, ideas, and practices that reconnect the child with their school’s curriculum.

How should children Learn?ImitateDiscover
What knowledge is of most worth?Facts
Big Ideas
How should subject matter be organized?Textbook
How should we assess what students understand?Forced choice testsAuthentic Assessments

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