This is the first article to be discussed in the Primary Teachers’ Journal Club. Please read the article (you can download it through the link below), and have a think about the discussion questions. You are invited to share any thoughts you have about the article in the comments below; responding directly to the questions is optional. Please keep comments constructive and within the guidelines of graceful disagreement, if disagreement occurs–as it might! A synchronous discussion about the article will be held for an hour on Twitter on Thursday, 26 March, at 7 pm Qld time/6 pm NSW time, using the hashtag #pritjc and the questions as discussion points. It is hoped that a new article will be posted in the second week of each month, with a synchronous chat held on the last Thursday evening of each month, except December.

‘What is Education For?’ develops an interesting discussion of the purposes of education and how these are balanced by teachers’ pragmatic judgements and decisions regarding teaching. Biesta situates the discussion within the current discourse of teachers as ‘effective,’ and in evolving intersections between educational policy and practice. He argues that

we need not only to judge the impact of our ways of doing — in the wide sense — on their effectiveness, but also on their educative potential.

Reference

Biesta, G. (2015). What is Education For? On Good Education, Teacher Judgement, and Educational Professionalism. European Journal of Education.

Abstract

Teaching and teachers have recently become the centre of attention of policy makers and researchers. The general idea here is that teaching matters. Yet the question that is either not asked or is only answered implicitly is why teaching matters. In this article I engage with this question in the context of a wider discussion about the role, status and significance of the question of purpose in education. I suggest that this is the most fundamental question in all educational endeavours. It is a normative question which poses itself as a multi-dimensional question, since education always functions in relation to three domains of purpose: qualification, socialisation and subjectification. Against this background I analyse the specific nature of teacher judgement in education and show how the space for teacher judgement is being threatened by recent developments in educational policy and practice that concern the status of the student, the impact of accountability and the role of evidence. I indicate how, where and why these are problematic and what this implies for regaining a space for teachers’ professional judgement.

Length

12 pages, including references

Download this article

Charlotte’s summary (for Primary Teacher Journal Club participants who may not have time to read the full text prior to the discussion, or, having read the full text, want to revisit the ideas briefly before participating)

Questions to consider:

  1. What do you think education is for? Why do you get up every morning and teach?
  2. Biesta argues that the language around learning is insufficient and potentially misleading; that we should instead discuss and question the content, purpose and relationships of education. What do you see as your role in, and responsibilities for, the definition of the content, purpose and relationships of education?
  3. Biesta criticises recent attempts to mandate evidence-based instructional techniques as valuing the domain of qualification too heavily over the other domains of purpose. Is this true? If so, how has this played out in your classroom? If not, how do you maintain a balance between the three domains?
  4. If you’ve been teaching for a while, you might have observed gradual changes in the way that your teaching practice is observed, managed, or ‘policed’. Has your practice changed in any way as a result of external policy or pressures to be accountable? What has not changed?
  5. How do you feel that your subjective judgement as a teacher is valued? By your principal/head of curriculum, by your school community, by the department that you work for, or by the wider Australian community?
  6. What kinds of subjective judgements do you have scope to make about your classroom and teaching practice? For what purposes? In what contexts?
  7. How might teachers reclaim their professionalism?

Many thanks to Stewart Riddle who helped me with the preparation of this discussion, and to Greg Thompson, who directed me to the article in the first place.

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