The Activist Mentality

29 Aug

I’m in the midst of writing a literature review–those of you who are doc students, I know you are commiserating with me–on novice teacher development.  My work has me examining the challenges that new teachers face, as well as the factors that either facilitate or impede novice teacher development/success.  I’m sure it’s not a huge surprise to those of us who work with teachers, but many of the factors that determine success are related to the individual–personality, depth of commitment, emotional intelligence, etc (you know, the kind of variables that make education a “soft science” because they aren’t “quantifiable”).

I was trying to figure out a way to categorize two articles dealing respectively with internal locus of control and internal locus of control, and I typed “internal orientation.”  One article found novice teachers with an internal locus of control–those who felt they had agency and power to shape outcomes in their classrooms–were more likely to exhibit the complex pedagogical reasoning skills of more experienced teachers, and so were more successful in their classrooms.  The other study found that novice teachers with an external locus of authority–those who looked to outside “authorities” for knowledge, rather than reasoning and critiquing for themselves–were more likely to revert to traditional teaching practices once they entered the classroom, while teachers with an internal locus of authority tested the progressive practices they learned in their preservice program in their classrooms and finding that these worked, continued to implement constructivist pedagogy throughout the longitudinal study.

Reflecting on the locus of control and authority made me think of an extremely influential book I read, Women’s Ways of Knowing, that spoke of different ways of knowing: the person who gets knowledge only from others (received knowers), the person who gets their knowledge from their gut (subjective knowers), the person who gets their knowledge from careful observation and analysis (procedural knowers), and the person who  constructs their own knowledge by integrating their own subjective knowledge with the knowledge obtained from other sources and creating their own meaning of the world (constructive knowers).   This book also compared linear and didactic ways of knowing versus connected, relational ways of knowing, and one particular metaphor stands out: the linear knower conceives of the world as a hierarchically constructed mountain, with the powerful at the top and the powerless at the bottom; to the linear knower, change is practically impossible–one would literally have to move mountains. However, the connected knower sees the world as a web, and for major change to occur, one has only to gently pull one gossamer thread.

If teachers have an internal orientation, they are more likely to be constructive, connected knowers, and more likely believe that they can enact change in the classroom–and outside of it.  I began to think about the implications of these concepts for teacher activism and the current movement–is an internal orientation an important component of the activist mentality?  If so, how can we foster an internal orientation both for our students currently in school and our preservice teachers? I truly believe with all my heart in the need to create a more humanized educational system that can serve as a new “social imaginary,” in the words of Pauline Lipman,  but in order to do so, teachers must not only stand in solidarity–they must believe they are agents of change, be able to act on that belief, and provide their own students with the tools for self-empowerment.  Our rising generation of children must believe in their own agency, actively critique the legitimated forms of knowledge they are fed by “authorities,” and know they they are not only capable of liberatory action, but responsible for it.

One Response to “The Activist Mentality”

  1. August 31, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    Giving students the ability to evaluate and judge information that they run across during their life experiences is probably the most important thing that a school can give a child. Without that ability to evaluate and judge the person is at the mercy of every lying politician, salesman, scalawag artist or whatever that comes along. We can always get information…the secret is in knowing how to manage and process that information.

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