Introduction to reflection and action plan paper

“Shaken to my ethical foundations”: a reflection on my educational practice and a challenge to improve my ethical action (praxis)

Andrew Bendelow
Ethics and Foundations of American Education (Hybrid) EDU 6460
11 December 2009
Professor Jason Lukasik
Concordia University of Chicago

Through the quantity, but mainly by the quality of its readings and activities, EDU 6460 Ethics and Foundations of American Education brought my 23-year teaching career to a standstill–it caused me to stop, re-examine, and question many of the suppositions of my professional practice. It amounted to a praxis overhaul on my professional engine. To prospective 6460 educators might be given a “Warning–this class may induce professional discomfort and partial paralysis.” Because of the alienated feelings it induced, I cannot say that during EDU 6460’s duration I was totally “there” for my 150 or so students each day. Going through my teaching routines, I felt constantly “frozen” by reflective thoughts generated by EDU 6460 readings. Though certainly one of the least comfortable cohort classes I have ever taken at CUC (this is my 14th, so my basis for comparison is sound), EDU 6460 has been nonetheless one of most professionally valuable I have had the fortune to take.

For any working professional, being “shaken” to one’s ethical “foundations” should be required practice. Its affective nature–inducing strong feelings of anxiety, aspiration, and regret in practitioners–makes the experience a powerful (if uncomfortable) precursor to improving one’s practice over time. Professor Lukasik’s careful and coherent selection of material and his decision to politicize and “problematize” issues for students are commendably effective. His management of the course is “ethically” efficacious for a teacher of teachers (one who wishes to evoke professional self-reflection and improvement). He took a class that, in a non-critical educator’s hands, might easily have been a boring overview of American Educational history–a noncommittal survey of various philosophies–and instead made it into stimulating, challenging exploration of the educator’s place in public education. It stimulated me to radically reflect about the profession of public school teaching.
First, the course shocked me–through Applebaum (2005) and Delpit (1988)–with exposure to the morally unhelpful position I hold in the teaching profession. Public school teaching can sometimes be a job perilously similiar to that of jailor. Through Kohn (1999) and Spring, J. (2009), I saw afresh the way in which schools operate as oppressive, depersonalizing institutions. But the course also encouraged me to go beyond the reflection step into action. As Hinchley (2007) says, “critical educators understand the need to go farther [than mere recognition and reflection], to embrace action as an essential component of practice” (131). This paper will describe my “going farther”: my reflection on my practice is followed by some possible reforms suggested by my critical re-examination.

To my credit, I had been aware of my lack of critical effectiveness before the course readings made it abundantly clear. The course reminded me just how poor my pedagogy of oppressed learners was, but also gave me ideas for improving it. In an October blog entry, I described my difficulties getting across my possibly authoritarian-seeming cultural message (“This is correct knowledge. Your knowledge is wrong.“) to sophomores I refer to as my “ghetto” children–learners from socio-economically marginal places. I felt frustrated in my efforts to get them to understand what I believe to be the real value of a “quality public education.” I wrote,

Here is a serious place for me to focus future reflection and self-examination. My action plan can have something to do with reconciling the vast differences between my educational “values” and that of these hard-to-reach students. If I cannot sell them on what school is, perhaps I can make school a better fit for them.

The observation implies an inherent value in fulfilling the equalizing, democratizing functions of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution in bringing about high quality public education for all. My goal was and still is to make school “a better fit” for my ghetto students. How fortuitous that EDU 6460 came at this particular juncture in my career, and that the current assignment allowed me to profitably follow up on my improvement plans, providing me with the space to reflect and plan! The reflection part of the paper will describe my current situation and practice. The action portion of this paper contains my ideas on how to “make school a better fit” for my disadvantaged students. It also contains links to a new school model that would embody the suggested reforms. Given that the “ghetto children” are increasingly crowding our public schools, my plans are extremely practical, if not also ethical,

Before intervening, of course, a critical practitioner will examine and reflect on the uniqueness of the problematic situation in analytical detail. He will strive to make his reforms suited to the purposes he is charged with fulfilling. What follows is:

1. Reflection: an overview of the teaching I now do, with its implicit philosophical stances and values described. In addition to the “what” of my current practice, I will ask the “why” question with Ayers (2006): “What is my teaching for? What is it against?”

2. Action: a discussion of possible methods designed to democratize and experientialize the “lived curriculum” of students; to systematize actual practice into closer alignment with my ethical ideals.

This reflection/action process seems to me eminently practical for an overworked public servant in a democratic society. I cannot stop working, but the critical evaluation table-toolI have devised allows me an ongoing dialog with myself, even as I continue practicing. If I can collaborate with others, it will also function as a collaboration station for like-minded public servants.

In American society, one may actively ignore and attempt to avoid the full implications of one’s professional actions. I am guilty of having done so. But willfully ignorant or not, one cannot avoid one’s share in the collective consequences of one’s professional behavior on “the commons.” The welfare of the whole of society is affected in one way or another. As Abraham Joshua Heschel is reputed to have said, “In a democracy, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Upon critical inspection, my practice has indeed been “guilty;” but in carrying out the present assignment, I take responsible steps toward making my educational practice more just.

In the reflection that follows, I will, as much as it is possible to, stay objective in descriptions of the subject (me); but I can make no claim of certain authority thereof. The usual distortions and unconscious forces will doubtless express themselves. In an effort to avoid too much subjectivity, I will proceed in the reflection that follows to refer to myself in the third-person, as “the buffalo-teacher.”

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