Friday, September 01, 2006


Teaching Teachers

The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to
become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he [sic,
throughout] is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is
to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to
make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is
white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not.
To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those
questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.

—James Baldwin

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world
enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it
from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the
new and the young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where
we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from
our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from
their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something
unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of
renewing a common world.

—Hannah Arendt

The end of all education should surely be service to others. We
cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about the progress
and prosperity of our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough
to include the aspirations and needs of others for their sake and for
our own.

—Cesar Chavez

The drama of education is always a narrative of transformation. Act I
is life as we find it—the given, the known or the received, the
settled and the status quo. Act II is the fireworks, the moment of
upheaval and dissonance, the experience of discovery and surprise, the
energy of remodeling and refashioning. Act III is the achievement of
an altered angle of regard, new ways of knowing and behaving, a new
way of seeing and being. Act III, of course, will necessarily be
recast in some future educational encounter as a new Act I.
This is the fundamental message of the educator: You can change your
life. Wherever you've been, whatever you've done, the teacher invites
you to build on all that you are, and to begin again. There is always
something more to do, more to learn and know, more to experience and
accomplish. You must change your life, and if you will, you can change
your world.
This sense of opportunity and renewal—for individuals, for whole
communities and societies—is at the heart of all education, of
teaching and educational research; it constitutes the ineffable magic
drawing us back to the classroom and the into the school again and
again. Education, no matter where or when it takes place, enables
people to become more powerfully and self-consciously alive; it
embraces as principle and overarching purpose the aspiration of people
to become more fully human; it impels us toward further knowledge,
enlightenment, and human community, toward liberation. Education, at
its best, is an enterprise that helps human beings reach the full
measure of their humanity.
At the center of the educational adventure are communities, students
and teachers in their endless variety: energetic and turbulent,
restlessly struggling, sometimes eager, other times reluctant,
stretching, reaching; coming together in classrooms and community
centers, workplaces, houses of worship, parks, museums, and homes.
They gather in the hope of becoming better, smarter, stronger, and
more capable of rethinking and reconstructing their worlds; they come
together to claim themselves as subjects—lively, awake, and on the
move—in the face of all manner of blockades and obstacles. This
priceless ideal is an expression of every person's true vocation—the
task of humanization.
Simple enough to say, and yet, in countless ways, excruciatingly
difficult to achieve. For identifying humanization as a goal
immediately suggests its opposite: dehumanization as both possibility
and practice. Although education can ignite initiative and courage,
it can as easily become the practice of obedience and conformity. If
education stands in one instance for freedom and breaking through
arbitrary and imposed barriers, we can point to other cases where it
parades as a specific kind of repressive training. We are drawn,
then, into the contested space of teaching and research, of education
Education doesn't exist outside of history or culture, of course. It
is, rather, at the heart of each in a reciprocal and continuous
circle—education shapes societies; societies shape education. Our
schools belong to us, they tell us who we are and who we want to be.
Authoritarian societies are served by authoritarian schools, just as
free and democratic schools support free and democratic societies.
Because education is always enacted within a social surround—a
community or a society—it always involves ushering the young into some
social order or other, into an entire universe. So educators and
students must keep their eyes open: Why are we here? What matters?
What is the existing social order? Do we warrant or justify the world
as it is? What alternatives are possible? Who do we want to be?
What do we want to discover or understand more fully? What can we
hope for?
A functioning, vital democracy requires, in the first place,
participation, some acceptance of difference, some independent
thought, some spirit of mutuality—a sense of responsibility, an
awareness of mutuality and interdependence, a willingness to learn and
grow and change through dialogue and debate. Democracy demands
active, thinking human beings—we ordinary people, after all, are
expected to make the big decisions that affect our lives—and in a
democracy education is designed to empower and to enable that goal.
Education in a democracy requires imagination, initiative, engagement,
and courage. The promise of public education in our democracy—from
the common school movement of 150 years ago until today—is the deep
potential for equity. With great advantage comes great
responsibility; those with the greatest needs require the greatest
resources and interventions.
Teachers, professors, and researchers need to consider what they are
working for, and what they are working against—against oppression and
subjugation, for example, and against exploitation, hatred,
unfairness, and unkindness. We toil toward enlightenment and
awareness, wide awakeness, protection of the vulnerable, cooperation,
generosity, compassion, love, and peace.
Here we focus on teaching, research, and service as intellectual and
ethical work, something beyond the instrumental and the linear. We
understand that education requires thoughtful, caring people to carry
it forward successfully, and we commit to becoming more caring and
more thoughtful as we grow into our work. This focus requires a
leaning outward, a willingness to look at the world of children—the
sufferings, the accomplishments, the perspectives and the concerns—and
an awareness, sometimes joyous, but just as often painful, of all that
we find. And it requires, as well, a leaning inward, traveling toward
self-knowledge, a sense of being alive and conscious in an always
dynamic world. In each direction, each gesture, we acknowledge that
every person is entangled and propelled and sometimes made mute by a
social surround, and that each has, as well, a wild and vast inner
life—a spirit, a soul, a mind.
We begin with a faith that every child and every student and every
informant comes as a whole and multidimensional being—a gooey
biological wonder, pulsing with the breath and beat of life itself,
intellectual and spiritual, evolved and evolving, shaped by genetics,
twisted and gnarled by the unique experiences of living. Every human
being has as well a complex set of circumstances that makes his or her
life understandable and sensible, bearable or unbearable. Each is
unique, each walks a singular path across the earth, each has a mother
and a father, each with a distinct mark to be made, and each somehow
sacred. This recognition asks us to reject any action that treats
anyone as an object, any gesture that thingifies other human beings.
It demands that we embrace the humanity of every person.
We practice multicultural education as a response to reality: we are a
multicultural, multilingual society, after all. What would schooling
be if we rejected multiculturalism? Education for white supremacy?
What does opposition to learning many languages lead to? Promotion of
a barricaded ignorance? Teachers must learn to embrace the students
who actually come through the door—from a range of languages,
cultures, backgrounds, abilities—and challenge them to stretch, to
reach, to go further.
We oppose the manipulative reduction of lives into neatly labeled
packages. We resist both the easy embrace of oversimplified
identities—a reliance on a single aspect of a life to say it all—and
the corrosive gesture of fragmenting lives into conceptually crude
categories. Our stance is identification with, not identification of.
Our approach is one of solidarity, something beyond service.
We see knowledge as a form of power that can transform individual
lives as well as whole communities and societies. But to do so,
knowledge must be freely sought, explicitly linked to moral purposes,
and tied to conduct. It must stand for something. In the College of
Education we stand for humanization—for increasing human capacity,
human creativity, human intelligence and enlightenment, human freedom.