Education as a field of radical possibility

A good place to start any discussion about successful teacher identity and professional learning is to ask what is the purpose of the successfill teacher and, a related question, what is the purpose of education? What is the purpose of education nowadays in a policy world awash with a terminology of learning that suggests all that is worth talking about is a narrow and undefined construct called “teaching and learning” rather than “education” (Biesta, 2012). My understanding since I qualified as a teacher is that education is a field of study that is multidisciplinary and crosses boundaries between the foundational disciplines, e.g., history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology of education. Bernstein (2000) talks about vertical and horizontal knowledge forms, about hierarchies of knowledge (science) and hierarchies of knowers (humanities and the arts) and about the weak framing that allows the field of education be at once relational, pedagogical, philosophical, and political. The field of education has historically attracted a high number of competing interests and there have always and ever been discursive struggles for the soul of the curriculum.

Education is not a discipline and it is decidedly not a discipline in the hard sciences. Although there is evidence nowadays that teaching and teacher education are increasingly pushed in the direction of the hard sciences, toward a medical model of clinical practice that is based on an ovcrrcliance on data, metrics, and evidence. Only that which is counted, counts (Lynch, 2015) as the ideal human is defined using a bio-psycho-ncuro-socio-cultural model embedded in the social psychology of education. Education is thereby reduced to the science of behavior change for a new social psychology of education that claims universal answers.

It makes sense to aim for some universal understandings and to require teachers to use counter-intuitive views of practice (Butler, Mooney Simmie & O’Grady, 2015; Galvin, Mooney Simmie & O’Grady, 2015; O’Grady, Mooney Simmie & Kennedy, 2014). However, this becomes an issue when research findings arc narrowly interpreted by policymakers, when they lack nuance in relation to limitations (e.g., decontextualized nature; short time scale) or when used as exhaustive listings of standards, codes, and competences that are presented as the complete picture (Osbcrg & Biesta, 2020). A neolibcral/elite imaginary is used to silence the dynamic nature and messiness of human interaction in teaching and to eschew the feminine, aesthetic, political, the particular, cultural, and contextual. Instead, good teaching as a messy narrative of discursive struggles and change as presented in this chapter holds the tensions, contradictions, and joys inherent in universalist-particularist subjectivities. The purpose of education and teaching then go beyond the qualification and socialization purposes to include the existential and emancipatory (Mooney Simmie & Moles, 2019; Mooney Simmie, Moles & O’Grady, 2019).

Successful teacher identity in the academy of teacher education is currently governed by a flawed universalist notion that is fully described by a narrow scientism, a toolkit of predetermined attitudes, skills, knowledge, and competences Fielding (2007). A universality teacher identity is presented as a flexible adaptable entrepreneur focused on achieving and reporting on their individual best and investing over a lifetime of learning in pursuit of credentials and fidelity to outcomes already known in advance. Ball (2003) shows how the soul of the teacher in the UK was displaced by these “terrors of performativity.” Similarly, Santoro (2017) shows how the inner moral commitment of experienced teachers in the US has been suppressed amid growing despair at a new performativity of “what works” and how this leads to the ethical suppression of teachers’ voices (Zipin & Brennan, 2003).

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