Professing Education
Dec,2002.Vol 1.No.1 P.4-P.7

Education, Teaching, and Presence in Today's Schools

Robert C. Morris

State University of West Georgia

We have been living through a revolution in education that may be as profound as the original invention of the school. It is a revolution compounded of several elements, the rapid expansion of higher education to a point where one out of every two high school graduates has been going on to college; the massive shifts in population, from east to west, from south to north, from country to city, and from city to suburb, which have created new and extraordinary clientele to educate; the movement of women into paid employment outside the home in unprecedented numbers, with prodigious consequences for the family; the changing character of work associated with the emergence of a postindustrial society, and in particular the growth of the so-called knowledge industries; the various civil rights and liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, which have so radically changed the management and politics of education.

And beneath all of these, and inexorably affecting them, has been the educational transformation wrought by mass television. In 1950, fewer than 10% of American homes had television sets. Today, that figure has leveled off at around 97%. Moreover, so far as can be determined, at least one member of the average American household is watching television more than six hours out of every twenty-four, with the greatest amount of viewing being done by the very young, the very old, and the very poor. Once one recognizes that television teaches, not only via channels specifically labeled educational but across the entire spectrum of public and commercial programming, the fact of television in 97% of American homes being viewed six hours a day itself constitutes revolution. That revolution has drastically altered familial education. It has radically altered the education of the public at large. And it has fundamentally modified the context in which all schooling proceeds.

Most important for our purposes, this complex of revolution has transformed the traditional profession of education at the same time that it has created a variety of new educating professions, one thinks, for example, of day-care workers, script writers in children's television production units, learning consultants in libraries and museums, training officers in business and industry, and gerontologists in senior citizen's centers. All these people carry an educational work of profound significance that can surely be enhanced via sound professional preparation.

Moreover, to be most effective, each must pursue his or her special activities with full knowledge of what the others are doing. Their work as educators is inextricably intertwined; in fact, they are in many ways members of a single profession.

What should the education of these educators look like during the years immediately ahead? In my opinion, we can do no better than to take James Earl Russell's four components of what is essential to all educators, not merely the leaders of the profession, and reformulate them in to present-day terms. Russell stated his beliefs in 1900, but they still ring true today.

First, he identified general culture. Obviously, educators working with clients of any age in any field and in any institution ought to be broadly cultivated individuals. And this means that they ought to receive their undergraduate education at institutions where faculty members and students think seriously together about the substance and meaning of a liberal education, and particularly, to repeat Russell's concern, about the relationships among the several fields of knowledge. This is not to suggest that every undergraduate institution ought to reach the same conclusions about these matters; it would be revolution enough in my opinion if the colleges simply began to reflect on them.

A second component is special scholarship. Educators working with clients of any age ought to have at least one teaching field in which they are an expert or have been expert in the past. No matter how general an educator's responsibilities, no matter how far removed from the diurnal business of teaching, he or she should ideally have mastered some field of knowledge or art sufficiently well to have been able to reflect systematically on the various ways in which it might be taught to clients at different stages of development and in different teaching situations. I myself have taught history in schools. I have taught history to fifth-graders, using facsimiles of the New-England Primer; to 12th-graders, using their own programs of study as the point of departure; to school-board members, using their most pressing problems as grist for my will; to other professors, using recent articles in the field as the basis for my discussion. The approach, the sequence, the level, and the materials for immediate consideration differed from one instance to another; in all of them, however, I was teaching the same American history.

A third, component is that of professional knowledge. Here Russell, reflecting the period in which he wrote, tended to concentrate on the history, philosophy, and psychology of schooling, though he was patently aware of the need for trained educators in "trade schools, industrial schools, Sunday schools, reform schools, houses of refuge, and other philanthropic institutions." Given the breadth of today's educational enterprise and the explosion of scholarly knowledge in the relevant humanistic, social, scientific, and behavioral disciplines, I would propose a reformulation that would include three elements: policy studies, developmental studies, and pedagogical studies. By policy studies, I refer to those studies of the humanities and social sciences that contribute to an understanding of the aims of education, of the situations and institutions in which education proceeds in different societies, and of the inextricable ties between educational institutions and the societies that sustain them and that are in turn affected by them. By developmental studies I refer to those studies of the humanities and behavioral sciences (including biology) that contribute to an understanding of human development over the entire life cycle and of the various ways in which different forms of education affect that development. Of critical importance here would be studies of socialization, enculturation, and learning that clarify the nature and outcome of the educational process. By pedagogical studies I refer to those systematic studies of the practice of teaching and learning in a variety of situations that unite policy and developmental studies with studies of the substantive characteristics of various fields of the curriculum and with studies of the structural characteristics of various learning environments. These environments must be pursued in the world of practice _ in schools, colleges, day-care centers, libraries, museums, work places, and community agencies _ all regarded as centers for creative inquiry as well as for the demonstration of excellent performance. I believe every faculty of education worthy of the name ought to have networks of such institutions associated with it in a research and teaching capacity.

Russell's fourth component, technical skill is the realm in which the professional preparation of educators has been weakest over the years, despite the attention that has recently been paid to so-call laboratory experience in the pre-service phase and to so-called competency-based instruction throughout the program. At their best, pedagogical studies join professional knowledge and technical skill in a way that bridges the gap that has historically existed between the two. Pedagogy is not merely a science of design; it is also, in Joseph Schwab's terms, one of the eclectic arts, marked by a quest for practice

based on continually changing calculus of knowledge drawn from many relevant sciences. The hallmark of the technically skilled educator in our time ought to be his or her profound awareness of the relationship between what goes on in any particular educational situation and what goes on in all the other educational situations in which the client participates. It is this as much as anything else that dictates both a diversified internship, involving not only schools, but libraries, museums, community centers, and the like, and a common professional preparation for the educating professions. I close with a short excerpt from Deborah Meier's 1991 Degarmo Lecture in Chicago, Illinois. She stated:

If we want schools for the twenty-first century to resemble schools of the twentieth century, we can afford to tinker a little and leave the structure pretty much intact. Then teacher-training institutions need only follow suit, tinkering too. But if we want the least of our citizens to know and be able to do the kinds of things that only those lucky few at the top of the ladder have ever achieved before, then we need to begin a slow and steady revolution in how and what teachers must know and know how to do. But to do this means we have to learn how to drive while changing not only the tire but the whole mechanism! Impossible? No, but very, very hard. The place it will happen is in the schools themselves _ not the schools as we now know them, but reinvented schools created by school people and their communities. And it doesn't come with any guarantees.


Meier, Deborah (1991), To be a good Teacher, the 1991 Charles Degarmo Lecture for the Society of Professors of Education (SPE) at the Annual American Education Research Association Meeting. Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago, Il. April 4, 1991.

Russell, James Earl (1900). The Function of the University in the Training of Teachers, Coumbia Univeristy Quarterly, I (1898-99), pp. 323-342.