ddams‘ Little Italy neighborhood kids–I liked her notion that even “the most ‘brutish man’ has a value in our common life, a function to perform which can be fulfilled by no one else.” Her equation of value with unique function
makes sense to me, since the more rare the function, the greater its value.
Recognizing my students’ individual talents and helping them to acknowledge themselves, I help them develop a sense of their
own value and uniqueness in a mass culture where negativity and conformity are the norms. Addams strove to mitigate the de-humanizing effects of industry, and give factory workers,
treated as interchangeable parts in an assembly line all day, a sense of their worth evenings and weekends at Hull House. I share her “social ethics,” believing that what makes an
oppressed human life meaningful is the capacity to grow and develop as an individual–to be edified by education. She believed, and I am her follower, that when educators are doing their job, they “free the powers of each man and
connect him with the rest of life.” Good education gives a child social awareness; school reminds him “that he shall be a conscious member of society” and have “some notion of his social and industrial value” (192).
When I feel best about my work is when I can see my efforts helping to bring such consciousness (self-worth) about. It is the memory and knowledge of my having increased this consciousness
that keeps me getting up day after day through the decades, imbued every morning with Albert Schweitzer‘s sense of “duty undertaken with sober enthusiasm.”
I also appreciated the matter-of-fact and kind of off-handed way Addams describes commercial influences on American public schools. She says that even though business men may not come out and say, “I will have the public schools train office boys and clerks so that I ma
y have them easily and cheaply,” they do set the agenda at schools, where to the exclusion of much else (like nature education) literacy and numeracy are valued. Economic forces make the schools into places where instead of learning anything else, children learn “to write legibly and to figure accurately and quickly; to acquire habits of punctuality and order…” (191). There is nothing in the market-driven public school, Addams suggests, that addresses the unique educational needs of each intrinsically valuable human being who attends there.
I also appreciated David T. Hansen’s description of a
vocation being at “the crossroads” of one’s “public obligation and personal fulfillment. He states that in 1994’s “The Idea of Vocation in Teaching,” which appeared in
the publication Philosophy of Education.It reminded me immediately of the Yeats poem “Among School Children (1928),” where he talks about a job being the best when “body is not bruised to pleasure soul.” That’s been teaching for me, even in the public schools. Perhaps teaching has been like that since I began my full-time teaching in the Chicago Catholic schools, where “vocation” meant something real. Lay people, dedicated to a “social gospel,” and religious people, devoted to God’s service in various orders surrounded me. In my early years in the public schools, I found myself gravitating to those teachers who had a sense of calling, who, like me, had a sense of doing more than just a job. Many years on in the public schools, I still enjoy most the company and collaboration of those teachers who share my sense that we “are on a mission from God, or something equally awesome”
To believe that teaching is more than just a job accounts for some, but by no means all of the quality in education. As Hansen reminds the reader, merely feeling a sense of calling does not make a good teacher. It also takes skill. But with that spiritual feeling of vocation comes a sense of “determination, courage, and flexibility” (p. 5) that elevate average instruction into great teaching.
Hansen has many nice descriptions. He calls teaching a form of service (5) “that can evolve as one responds to one’s circumstances–to the changing needs of students, the changing shape of knowledge.” And there is an artistry, an imaginative, emergent quality to good teaching that Eisner (2004) would recognize in Hansen’s definition of “a person enacting a vocation” as having an “active and creative relationship with the work” (5). No great teacher (or performer of any sort, probably) can get great without such “vocational” engagement.
Finally, I liked the enobled vision of teaching as a vocation that Hansen’s article presents, since in the end he equates it with a rather heroic role: “the sense of vocation presumes a desire to engage the world and a certain mixture of realism and humility… These qualities… make possible a more respectful appraisal of oneself and one’s setting.” The way he puts it, the educator following a “vocation” is on the path to enlightenment!