How well or poorly are teachers and schools teaching beyond the knowledge society? Recent patterns of educational reform in England and the United States begin to provide an answer. An appraisal of how England’s educational reforms fared under Tony Blair’s ﬁrst period of Labor government found much to commend in its ﬁrst wave of initiatives. Raised standards, a commitment to narrowing the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, relaxation of government intervention when schools were doing well, celebration of successful schools and teachers, a range of initiatives promoting professional development, and the establishment of a National College for School Leadership, as well as a selfregulating professional body for teachers (the General Teaching Council)— all these developments indicated decisive support for professional learning and organizational ﬂexibility as a platform for continuous improvement. These are hallmark knowledge-economy initiatives.
Yet in all these initiatives, critics complained, something was also crucially missing: values. In government policy, operational issues eclipsed ethical and emotional ones. As Michael Fielding put it, England’s reforms, despite their achievements to date, have provided no place for values, no sense of how people should live among and care for others or how they should conduct their own lives. The reforms, he said, seemed to have
no place for either the language or the experience of joy, of spontaneity, of life lived in ways that are vibrant and fulﬁlling rather than watchfully earnest, focussed and productive of economic activity.
What the reform culture still needed was “an aspiring human narrative,” at the heart of which would be a belief in educating individuals as people in and through community.
In the United States, Jeannie Oakes and her colleagues undertook a sobering review of the failure (or short-lived success) of a range of liberal and democratically inspired educational reforms. The late 1980s and 1990s, they showed, had seen several initiatives make early headway. Among them was the Carnegie Corporation’s bold effort to reform the middle years of schooling. This initiative established high-proﬁle commissions at national and regional levels (which included President-to-be Bill Clinton), to implement changes that were known to be successful with young, diverse, and at-risk adolescents. The changes included smaller schools or mini-schools, mixed-ability teaching (de-tracking), interdisciplinary teaching based on a core of academic knowledge, and extensive professional involvement and development for teachers and leaders.
Through sixteen vividly described case studies, Oakes and her colleagues showed the great power of these reforms to boost all students’ learning in their observations of examples of striking success and impact. But all too often, it was hard to spread the success beyond a few schools or teachers and still harder to sustain it over time. Reform failed when elite parents insisted on gifted and honors programs’ being retained to keep their children apart from and ahead of the rest; when caring and respectful relationships with poor parents and students were replaced by more hierarchical deliveries of bureaucratic “services” to them; when interdisciplinary teaching trivialized learning for disadvantaged students instead of elevating it to higher levels; and when competing state- or district-reform imperatives such as standardized testing or the introduction of a specialized, contentdriven curriculum, directly contradicted all the emphases of the innovative effort. A few courageous and inspiring educators were able to hold out against these contrary tides, but in the main positive change that directly addressed social justice and values issues in the classroom did not spread or last.
The reason for the failure, Oakes and her colleagues found, is that those who implemented the changes, like the leading change theorists whose advice they followed, treated change as a technical, neutral process of pressure and support that was emptied of all controversy and values. It was the failure to address such values and controversies head-on in the process of change; to tackle issues of race, color, and injustice; to challenge deepseated beliefs about the incapacity of children in poor or minority families; and to resist political cowardice and tendencies to compromise in the face of elite parents’ pressure that ultimately undermined the reforms. What Oakes and her colleagues’ work shows is that values, social justice, and caring have to be central to professional development among teachers, to community development among parents, and to the agenda of large-scale policymaking if change is to make schools better for all students and foster the public good.
Teaching beyond the knowledge society therefore means serving as a courageous counterpoint for it in order to foster the values of community, democracy, humanitarianism, and cosmopolitan identity. Without these, there is little hope of sustained security for any of us. By being counterpoints for the knowledge society, the role of the teacher is to
- Promote social and emotional learning, commitment, and character;
- Learn to relate differently to others, replacing strings of interactions with enduring bonds and relationships;
- Develop cosmopolitan identity;
- Commit to continuous professional and personal development;
- Work and learn in collaborative groups;
- Forge relationships with parents and communities;
- Build emotional understanding;
- Preserve continuity and security; and
- Establish basic trust in people.
Teaching today must include dedication to building character, community, humanitarianism, and democracy in young people; to help them think and act above and beyond the seductions and demands of the knowledge economy.
Tom Sergiovanni talks about the importance of developing not just school effectiveness and high performance but also what he calls school character. Schools with character, he says, have “unique cultures.”
They know who they are, have developed a common understanding of their purposes, and have faith in their ability to celebrate their uniqueness as a powerful way to achieve their goal. A school displays character when the purposes, hopes and needs of its individual members are taken seriously by its culture at the same time that these members are committed to the common good.
Schools with character recognize that teaching is not only a cognitive and intellectual practice but also a social and emotional one. Good teachers fully understand that successful teaching and learning occur when teachers have caring relationships with their students and when their students are emotionally engaged with their learning. Policymakers, administrators, educational researchers, and others who shape the nature of teaching, however, tend to neglect the emotions, play down their importance, leave them to take care of themselves. Performance standards, targets, checklists of competencies—these are their priorities. By putting exclusive or excessive emphasis on them, those who shape teaching often not only neglect but also actively undermine the emotional dimension of educating. They turn learning into a clinical and disengaging race toward targets or ﬁll teachers’ time with technical tasks so no time is left for creativity, imagination, and relationships—for all those things that fuel the passion to teach.
Teaching and learning, however, are always social and emotional practices, by design or neglect. Students are excited or bored, involved or excluded. Charles Darwin showed that even the most seemingly singular cognitive activity of reflection is itself an emotion because it relies on an affective state of quiet concentration. Emotions are therefore not only important as a context for learning (as in setting an effective classroom climate, or establishing safe schools); they are integral to learning and teaching themselves—as part of the learning process and as social and moral goals and consequences of it. Sympathy is the emotional foundation of democracy. Efforts to teach beyond the knowledge society must recognize, incorporate, and attend to this social and emotional dimension of teachers’ work.
One of the first implications of reintroducing a more overt emotional emphasis into teaching is the importance of teachers’ establishing emotional bonds with and among their students—building enduring relationships in which children (and their parents) are known and feel known by the teacher. One of the most common causes of high-school dropout is students’ feelings that no adult really knows or cares for them. England is trying to solve a massive block in performance as children move from primary school to secondary school by making improvements to the curriculum. But the curriculum is not the main problem. Kathryn Riley and her colleagues’ research shows that students who do badly in the early years of high school experience incredible fragmentation in their lives— between different parents and families and constantly changing homes. They are denied social capital. The school then compounds this fragmentation by subjecting students to a multitude of subject teachers, by repeatedly excluding them from class or school because of behavior problems, and by exposing them to an endless parade of substitute teachers and “casualized” teachers who make up the staff of many urban schools. Tragically, it is the students with the most fragmented lives who get the most fragmented experience of secondary schooling and who are prevented from developing social capital.
The educational answer to the angst of early adolescence is mainly to be found not in more curriculum but in stronger community. Especially at this point in young people’s education, improving achievement, especially among those most at risk, is not secured by concentrating on achievement alone. At a time that adolescents are assailed by so many other inﬂuences in their lives, focusing their minds exclusively on achievement is futile. Achieving at learning also demands intellectual and emotional engagement with schooling and all the relationships it contains.
Innovative and highly successful Grade 7 and 8 teachers my colleagues and I studied put the establishment of the emotional bonds of engagement at the core of everything they did. Teachers involved children in their own assessment, included students in parent–teacher meetings, advised and mentored students individually, extended their lesson periods to strengthen classroom relationships, and “looped,” or followed, their students from one grade to the next.
Our research on the emotions of teaching, however, reveals that highschool teachers often treat students’ emotions as negative things that intrude into the classroom from outside, for which they then have to make allowances. High-school teachers tend not to see it as their responsibility to develop their students’ emotions in a positive way as an integral part of learning. Instead of being built on relationships, therefore, high-school classrooms are often reduced to strings of loosely connected interactions.
Relentless drives for increased, measurable achievement and batteries of subject-based standards exacerbate these tendencies.
In elementary schools, caring has traditionally been a stronger priority for teachers. Typically, it is one of the most salient qualities of people’s most memorable teachers. Albert Camus, for example, wrote in The First Man that during his poor childhood in Algeria, his teacher was a man whose method “consisted of strict control on behavior while at the same time making his teaching lively and entertaining, which would win out even over the ﬂies.”
This kind of caring has a rather paternalistic quality about it, though, that is not enough any more. When today’s learners are more diverse and demanding, caring must become less controlling; more responsive to students’ varied cultures; more inclusive of their ideas, perceptions, and learning requirements; and more ready to involve and not just compensate for the families and communities from which students come. The curriculum must be ﬂexible enough to allow for these accommodations. If students are to become democratic adults, they must experience democracy in their learning choices and in their contribution to school policies and school missions. Care must become more than charity or control. It must become a relationship in which those who are cared for (students or parents) have agency, dignity, and a voice. This is the social and emotional mandate for teachers in a profession that strives to reach beyond the knowledge economy.
Caring begins with people you know, people you can see. Sympathy starts with people around us. In a globalized world, though, caring also stretches far beyond our immediate face-to-face relationships. Arlie Hochschild argues that in today’s complex and interconnected world, we are all connected in chains of caring or uncaring to people in communities and continents far beyond our own. These chains of caring or uncaring are expressed in what we buy (and the labor conditions that produce it), in the money and time we donate to other people and causes, and in our attitudes toward other cultures. Teaching beyond the knowledge society means developing a cosmopolitan identity that can build chains of caring for those who are out of sight but should never be out of mind. There are many ways to do this, including environmental and global education, communityservice programs in the curriculum, student and teacher exchanges with other countries, paired relationships and resource-sharing between schools in rich and poor communities, and so on.
This moral mandate involves teachers’ paying attention not only to their continuous professional learning but also to their own personal and professional development. Professional development involves more than learning knowledge and skills. It is through professional and personal development that teachers build character, maturity, and other virtues in themselves and others, making their schools into moral communities. Professional development amounts to more than a slick, self-managed portfolio of certiﬁcates and achievements accumulated as individual credits, like frequent-flyer points. Collecting course credits does little more than put “bums on seats.” It rarely reaches people’s souls. Professional development, rather, is a personal path toward greater professional integrity and human growth.
Teachers who are personally and professionally developed have evolved a strong sense of themselves as teachers and as people. Their ego boundaries, their senses of identity, are secure enough for them not to feel ﬂooded, invaded, or overwhelmingly vulnerable when they are challenged by, evaluated by, or asked to work with other adults. Well-developed teachers display as much self-conﬁdence and openness in their professional relationships with adults as they do with children. They are at ease in their own skin. Reaching this stage of maturity is a matter of personal growth, not of formal learning—and still less of in-service training on government or district priorities. It is the product of shrewd selection, varied experience, good leadership, and effective mentoring. All these things are being threatened by the pressures of rapid demographic turnover in the teaching profession. This suggests a need for initiatives to keep older teachers engaged and motivated so they will be eager to support their younger colleagues part time or voluntarily after they have retired. Dragooning teachers into early retirement in climates of recrimination and bitterness removes these essential sources of wisdom and memory from the profession. Professional-development priorities must pay attention to these vital processes of informal learning and personal growth. Professional learning and professional development both matter in the knowledge-society school.
Teaching beyond the knowledge society therefore means developing new and better relationships with other adults as well as with children. There is more to this than learning to work in short-term cooperative teams that disband when the pressure is off and the learning task is done—as often occurs in the context of large-scale, top-down reform. Teaching beyond the knowledge economy also calls for teachers to work in long-term collaborative groups together; committing to and challenging one another as a caring professional community that is secure enough to withstand the discomfort that disagreement creates. A humane knowledge society needs teams and groups. Teaching in the knowledge society means constructing a profession where teachers can experience and become effective at both forms of working with their colleagues.
If teachers are to serve as strong counterpoints for the excesses of the knowledge society, their schools must be not only dynamic learning organizations in a ﬂexible economy but also caring, moral organizations in a public democracy. Nowhere is this more true than in teachers’ relationships with parents and communities. Being true partners in children’s learning entails more than being recipients of workshops and other kinds of learning as described in the previous chapter. Teachers also have much to learn from parents and communities—about the children whom parents mostly know best, and about the unseen strength and wisdom that is possessed in even the most apparently deprived communities. Learning from parents and communities requires building caring, trusting, respectful, and reciprocal relationships in which parents are more than the targets of government services and teachers’ intervention. They are vigorous participants in improving their children’s opportunities. This may mean moving into the parents’ space and away from the school, a space that may have intimidated the parents when they were students themselves. Holding parent–teacher nights and school celebrations in a community center or a high-proﬁle professional sports club is just one way to achieve this.
Developing mature, caring, and respectful relationships with children and adults also calls for more than the learnable skill sets of emotional intelligence. It draws on what N. Denzin calls emotional understanding—the ability to recognize what others feel as they feel it. Accurate emotional understanding depends primarily on establishing relationships with people so we know how to “read,” “interpret,” and respond to the subtleties of their emotional responses. Absence of these relationships creates emotional misunderstanding in which teachers misinterpret slender cues about students, parents, or others and, as a result, misconstrue and respond inappropriately to others’ emotional states—believing they are interested when they are bored, hyperactive when they are enthusiastic, or angry when they are embarrassed. An overcrowded curriculum and school structures that fragment teachers’ contacts with students, parents, and one another impede emotional understanding. Emotional intelligence comes down to questions of individual, learned skill. Emotional understanding is a matter of enduring relationships and the organizational conditions that make them possible. Without these conditions, students, parents, and colleagues are really not known and are easily reduced to stereotypes.
Strong relationships often prosper and grow from change, but they are ultimately rooted in experiences of fundamental security. Alongside being forces of change, risk, and endless improvement, teachers who are counterpoints for the knowledge society must help to preserve the continuity and basic trusting relationships that are the very core of risk-taking, and community-building among students and adults alike. Valuing many different kinds of excellence among teachers, celebrating real achievements, cherishing and capitalizing on the school’s collective memory through mentoring and other measures, making all members of the school feel part of and knowledgeable about the “big picture” of the school’s development, and taking leadership succession seriously so there is continuity between one principal and the next—these are just some of the ways to create the security that is a platform for risk. Exotic travel can be enjoyed only when there is a home to return to. Endless change, like endless travel, is like eternal exile, the tragic destiny of homeless minds. The line between being committed to change and addicted to it is a very ﬁne one. It is important that principals and teachers stay on the right side of it.
In fast-changing, ﬂexible organizations, teachers certainly need to trust processes of teamwork with many different colleagues (some of whom they may not know well). But somewhere, sometimes in their workplace, they have to trust particular people, too—leaders, close colleagues, supportive parents on whom they know they can rely. This basic trust that is ﬁrst established in childhood and extended through close personal and family relationships is essential to making other, more ﬂexible kinds of process trust possible. People with basic trust are less likely to feel unnecessarily suspicious, envious of, or betrayed by colleagues in their schools. Balancing change with continuity, professional trust in the process with personal trust in people, is an important professional priority in a humane knowledge society. Teachers who are personally supported by their leaders and their colleagues are less likely to have suspicious minds.
We live in a lopsided world of growing intolerance, individualism, exclusion, and insecurity. Being a teacher who is a counterpoint for the knowledge society therefore means being concerned with character as well as performance; social and emotional as well as cognitive learning; personal and professional development as well as professional learning; group life as well as teamwork; caring as well as cognition; and preserving continuity and security alongside promoting risk and change. It means developing social capital, laying the emotional foundations of democracy, and creating the kernels of cosmopolitan identity. Teaching beyond the knowledge economy means being in a reinvented profession that does not just deliver value but that is driven by values. In short, teaching beyond the knowledge economy cultivates
- Cosmopolitan identity
- Continuity and collective memory
- Personal and professional maturity
Teaching in the knowledge economy requires levels of skills and judgment far beyond those involved in standardized test scores and simply delivering someone else’s prescribed curriculum. It requires qualities of personal and intellectual maturity that take years to develop. Teaching in the knowledge society cannot be a refuge for second-choice careers, a low-level system of technical delivery, or, as some policymakers are saying, an exhausting job that should be handled mainly by the young and energetic before they move on to something else. Teaching in the knowledge society, rather, should be a career of ﬁrst choice, a job for grown-up intellectuals, a longterm commitment, a social mission, a job for life. Anything less leaves our sights far below the knowledge-society horizon—and teaching should never be about settling for less.