THE PROBLEM OF THE SELF

Schools are designed by societies to purposefully influence the “the attitudes and dispositions necessary for the continuous and progressive life of a society” (Dewey, 1916). The pedagogy endorsed by Schools of Education for socializing the young into the life of society originates in Rousseau’s dictum that educators should follow the path traced by nature (Rousseau, 1762/1979).

The problem teachers confront when applying a pedagogy devoted to developing the nature of the child is the inherent conflict between a child’s private ways of knowing—language, culture, personal interests, friends and experiences—and institutional ways of knowing —the methods, structure, and content of the disciplines and the “intellectual, legal, economic, scientific, and political institutions of the larger society” (Olson, 2003).

Schools as institutions are dismissive of educational goals in opposition to their responsibility to “produce a certain output or effect in return for its entitlement of funds and social recognition” (Olson, 2003). To achieve the recognition and funding necessary to preserve the institution of schooling, educational leaders displace pedagogies devoted to “how children perceive, explore, understand, and enjoy the world” (Olson, 2003) with pedagogies devoted to enforcing institutional categories, distinctions, differentiations, and divisions.

To be an expert in today’s educational environment one must know the vocabulary, the processes, and the methods of accountability that will “normalize” a child’s private ways of knowing. In Olson’s (2003) words, “schools as institutions do not ‘care’ whether students enjoy quadratic equations as long as they solve them quickly and accurately.”

The process of “normalizing” (Popkewitz) the child requires that schools, teachers, and support personnel marginalizethe unique beliefs, desires, and intentions of children in the classroom and value a psychology which isolates causal factors (i.e. socio-economic states, impulsivity, learning disability) that detract from the achievement of institutional goals. 

What this normalization process looks like in school is the search by administrators, teachers, and all manner of “specialists” for “pathologies” which explain why a child is unable to conform to institutional norms and the application of “interventions” which “cure” the deviant behavior of the child. 

Strong Instructional Leaders recognize that the schools they lead are institutions designed to normalize the individualities of the children which enter their schools each day. A strong component of their philosophy of education and instructional agenda is devoted to developing curricular offerings, pedagogical practices, and organizational configurations which respect and give voice to “abnormal” talents, interests, and abilities.

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