Problematic versus axiomatic conceptions of teaching

Related to the concept of ‘restricted’ vs. ‘extended’ professionality is a conception of teaching as ‘problematic’ in England and ‘axiomatic’ or self- evident in France.

Partly because of the diffuse nature of the role they impose upon themselves, and partly because of the lack of clear social consensus about what it is appropriate for a teacher to do, even down to the content of what is to be taught, English teachers see their role as fraught with dilemmas, not to say contradictions, whereas French teachers take it for granted, very largely, that they know what is expected of them. These contradictions were expressed both in terms of means and of ends that is, pedagogy and curriculum. In comparison with the confident commitment to ‘firmness’, ‘rigour’, the three ‘Rs’ and ‘academic skills’ which French teachers expressed, English teachers often described their teaching style in dichotomous terms such as “at the same time traditional and progressive” or “a mixture of formal and informal!” Their responses suggested the difficulty they have in balancing competing priorities, torn between a child-centred professional rhetoric and a wider public concern for standards.

Part of the reason why teachers in France appear to experience a less problematic definition of their professional responsibility is simply that it is clearly defined for them by government directives. However, at least as important is the homogeneity of the underlying national culture the reproduction of which has been an informing principle of French education since the days of Napoleon, who recognised that the State had a potentially powerful role to play in cementing and encouraging nationalism (Barnard, 1969). Napoleon asserted that schools must be of, not in, the State “as the State is one, its schools must be the same everywhere” (Liard, 1894) thus in 1808, when Napoleon instituted a national bureaucracy for educational provision—the Universite—this was an attempt to impose a state monopoly of educational provision (Crozier, 1970) which included the key areas of teacher provision and training, schools, qualifications and the curriculum. “The development in France of a rationalised, articulated, bureaucratised educational system and the absence of such a system in England is therefore a special case of more fundamental differences in the development of institutions in both countries” (Laqueur, 1973, p. 60).

The continued persistence, relatively unchanged, of the primary school of Jules Ferry whose 1881 law introduced mass elementary education in France is explicitly recognised by many French teachers. Such persistence is further testimony to the coherence of French culture and the power of successive generations of educational institutions to reproduce it. Durkheim (1977) writing at the turn of the century and Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) in recent years have pointed to the significant role of teachers in this process of reproduction. Their analyses show how the persistence of a belief in the reality and desirability of a ‘national culture’ have been directly instrumental in leading teachers to accept the imposition of a centrally-determined curriculum and have rendered unproblematic to teachers their role in passing on this culture to the next generation.

Thus where English teachers may experience feelings of ‘anomic’ stress and even ‘burn out’ because of the open-ended and ill-defined nature of their role, French teachers’ principal source of stress is the opposite problem. The external provision of a teaching programme relieves the teacher of the need to justify or decide upon what is to be taught but the accompanying lack of professional freedom can result in some teachers in feelings of helplessness and alienation, of an impersonal machine, bound up with red tape, which has little contact with classroom reality. At a time when changes in the social context as a whole are resulting in life-styles which in France, as elsewhere, have little in common with tradition, French teachers are finding themselves increasingly confronted by strains which are the product of the very homogeneity of purpose which has traditionally been their protection and rationale. French teachers’ flight from schools in inner-city areas to those in rural and ‘bourgeois’ districts where more traditional cultural values still prevail (Table 5.4) is in strong contrast to their English counterparts and provides clear testimony to the dilemmas confronting teachers who find themselves unable either through conviction or training,

Using the comparative approach 133

Table S.4 Length of service

Country

Length of service

Location of teachers

Rural

Average

suburban

Inner-city

Affluent

suburban

Mean

France

<5 yrs

6.5

8.7

12.5

6.9

5-10 yrs

10.9

7.8

29.2

2.1

12.5

11—20 vrs

35.9

35.0

37.5

18.5

31.7

>20 vrs

46.7

48.5

20.8

79.4

48.9

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

N = 360

England

<5 yrs

3.6

8.0

5.7

6.7

6.0

5-10 yrs

17.9

19.5

21.6

12.4

17.9

11—20 vrs

42.9

43.7

50.0

58.4

48.8

>20 yrs

35.7

28.7

22.7

22.5

27.4

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%,

N = 360

to adapt their teaching to meet the increasingly diverse needs of children in a rapidly changing society. In the light of this analysis, the move to introduce a national curriculum in England could have two possible outcomes. On the one hand it could reduce the “triangle of tensions at times invigorating, and at other times almost overpowering” (English teacher) that the English teacher experiences in feeling responsibility

directed towards my pupils, their parents, my professional colleagues,

my employer and to the teaching profession at ‘large’,

by considerably reducing the scope for ambiguity in the expectations of these various groups. On the other hand, uninformed as such a national curriculum would necessarily be by any long-standing cultural consensus, teachers may experience it as a source of arbitrary restriction and professional frustration.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >