An Editorial Statement

By Jay L. Robinson


In 1886, John Dewey, with others who were to become his colleagues, founded the Michigan Schoolmasters' Club at the University of Michigan. The place isn't important, but likely the persons were. Dewey was only one of the founders and never became more than the Club's Vice-President, which he was in 1887 and 1888. Dewey spoke at the first regular meeting of the Club on May 1, 1886: his topic was "Psychology in High School from the Standpoint of College."

What he said we do not know in detail, save that it had to do with whether or not psychology should be taught in high schools. But what he said likely had influence (or perhaps his listeners did) for The Schoolmasters' Club, as a cooperative endeavor, lasted many years. Joseph Ratner, a would-be biographer of Dewey, said of the Club:

"Unlike other existing teachers' associations, the newly formed Club brought together for discussion of their common professional problems two classes of teachers that were universally regarded to be, if not two different breeds, at least two separate and distinct kinds. The radical nature of the Club's membership can be fully appreciated only when one realizes that, according to the best information available, it is, sixty years later, still alone in the field."

Ratner hints at one reason why the Club endured:

"...apparently, even teachers find it much easier to talk about democracy than to practice it. And it requires an imperious democratic sentiment voluntarily to give up the enjoyment of caste distinction. To think of themselves as on the same level as 'schoolmasters' and 'schoolma'ams' is more than the majority of college professors can stand."

Ratner's perspective is obviously that of a university teacher, and his language is antique. Yet "class," maybe even "caste," distinctions still separate university from school teachers. Daily routines are there to make differences and make them real: the ways each kind of teacher gets and holds a job, and then does it in a way to benefit students. And of course the daily pressures on each kind or class or caste of teacher differ: those that come from students, those that come from colleagues and administrators, those that come from interested constituencies, and those that come from agencies that would hold each kind or class or caste of teacher accountable. Ratner had his own notion about why The Michigan Schoolmasters' Club endured in spite of all of that:

"...immeasurably...important in the Club's rapid development...were the ideas it stood for and promoted. It was a living embodiment of the idea that the college is an integral part of the educational system and not a precious ornament decorously poised on its head. And by papers and discussions, the Club gave direction and momentum to the idea that the problems of college edcation and secondary education cannot be solved independently of each other but must be solved together."1

In 1993, many more "clubs" than Dewey's exist: many that join university and secondary school teachers together, many that invite elementary school teachers as well into collaborative work. And many new collaborations continue to form, to take on new shapes, and even, in some cases, to endure. Yet even with these, those that do endure, so do the problems: how to work effectively together to work past distinctions of kind, class, maybe even caste; how to work past the differing obligations the different challenges that even those who wish to work together must ultimately face; how to find a common language that is resistant to distinctions of kind and enabling of mutual understanding and cooperative work. The publication we now announce the publication we will ask you to read and write for is intended to provide a forum in which a common language may be found, in which important questions can be raised, in which meaningful answers, no matter how tentative, be proposed.

On Common Ground will be a periodical publication of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute and will focus upon the development of teachers and their curricula through university-school collaboration. But the publication will not be parochial. Its Editorial Board, a mixed group of people concerned with schools and schooling, knows that a notion like "curriculum" is a contested one a place for inquiry and for talk, a topic about which talk can become very contentious since no talk about curriculum can ever be anything other than value-laden. Its members know too how much is both revealed­and hidden­in a phrase like "the development of teachers." Which teachers, when university and school teachers work together? Both, or school teachers only? What questions of kind or class or caste will arise? What kinds of questions allow for mutual inquiry into common problems when one prepares to meet the dizzying complexity and diversity in America's schools and universities as they now exist? On Common Ground means to invite questions of just this kind for they seem, now, to be the most urgent ones. As an Editorial Board, we struggle with these questions, even as we struggle to find a language that will unite us, yet allow us to speak of our diverse interests and obligations.

As an Editorial Board, we see issues of substance, content, language, as the important ones. But we consider the mechanisms of collaboration important as well. How do we find means to encourage and support new collaborative arrangements among teachers in college and teachers in pre collegiate education? The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute has done that through conferences and through other publications. Others too have tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes with not much success. The notion of collaboration, very popular now, does not always mean cooperation: colleagues working together toward a common sense of who they are as professionals; colleagues searching for ways to seize on and make common the notion that "the problems of college education and secondary education cannot be solved independently of each other but must be solved together." The ideal of cooperation is hard won, no matter how earnestly people mean to collaborate. We mean this publication to be practical, even as it aims at the ideal.

So many problems are out there and other kinds of partnerships than those among teachers must be considered. Partnerships with students, for example, speaking to and with others both inside and outside the classroom. One member of the Editorial Board remembers a poem a student wrote in a class involving school and university teachers working together to invite students to raise their own voices to speak about issues that deeply concern them. The poem, read in a certain way, invites others into the conversation­new partners who might have means teachers lack to act as participants in helping this student and others understand problems of the kind she writes about, and then do something about them.

The student's topic is unemployment; she titles her poem:

MISFORTUNE

In his abandoned room,
a man lies shivering,
forgotten in the silence,
of a nation otherwise preoccupied.

After two decades
at Dawson Tool and Die.
he reads his name
on the layoff list.

Canvassing the one-industry
town, he finds only empty words.
"Sorry pal, I'd like to help,
but you know how the
recession is."

Near the broken window,
a sieve for a February wind,
a man lies rigid,
shrouded in a silence,
where even nature's elements refuse compassion.

The adolescent author of this poem 2 lives in an inner-city, and is growing up in a community in which she doesn't have to be taught the facts of unemployment. Her good teachers, thinking of her future, invited her to imagine what it feels like to be unemployed, what the world feels like to those who are unemployed. When she does, as she does in this poem, she has something important to say both to her teachers and to other would-be school partners who might think about unemployment in other terms­the terms employers customarily use. The facts of unemployment are important, but so too are the feelings.

We mean to invite employers into conversations with teachers and with students to encourage partnerships that reach beyond classrooms. But we mean to do so in a way that does not ignore or silence the voices of students or the voices of teachers when the conversation is about serious issues like unemployment. Good teachers want to teach skills that will make their students employable, and to do that, they need to know what skills are demanded. But good teachers want more than that: opportunity and time to ask a student to write a poem, ponder her past, wonder about a future, and ask for herself what skills she both needs and wants. We mean to ask together what we can do as partners, in partnerships, acting in collaboration, to use what we learn to solve problems that trouble us all­not just one young woman trying imagine what it would be like to be unemployed should she become so.

We mean to do no less and perhaps more, and perhaps we should explain why we want to. We think we must do no less because the collaborative movement, if it is to be effective, must be about change: change in the ways schools and universities do what they do; change in the ways those of us who care about schools and schooling express our caring. On Common Ground will be about change and about how people can work together to effect change­work together to help children, young adults, teachers too, to imagine better lives for themselves, maybe even find better lives. We are all of us in that together, and somehow, we must find common ground.

But in our country, it's not always easy to find common ground. In our country, for reason of our complicated but interesting history, few forums exist for discussion of common problems­the difficult and important kinds of problems that affect large numbers of people of very different backgrounds and interests. In our country, few institutions exist that are, and must be, sensitive, sometimes very quickly, to voices asking for change­a multiplicity of voices asking for change, often demanding it.

The place called "school" is one such forum. But schools, especially public ones, are not, as they are so often imagined to be, efficiently functioning organizations with clear consensual goals which can easily be rationalized, easily changed. Schools, especially public ones, must make room for the social, economic, ethnic, and linguistic diversity that exists in twentieth-century America: a diversity of patterns of living and of believing that makes consensus difficult if not impossible. Schools, in our time, are complex cultures in which the inhabitants (those who learn and teach), and interested parties (parents, caretakers, policy-makers, commentators and educational researchers), have sometimes common, more often conflicting, even sometimes directly contradictory interests, motivations, and goals. And schools, right now, are dangerously vulnerable to those who would only mandate, to organized groups who would deny diversity and silence multiple voices and multiform oints of view. To think about schools and schooling­even curriculum­in this way, is to be sensitive to the complexities of human intentions: to those of teachers, those of administrators, those of students, those of union leaders, those of educational researchers, those of policy makers, those who would mandate, those of the various complicated constituencies who live outside schools but who inevitably shape the beliefs and actions of those whose lives­short and long­are lived inside them.

In this way of thinking, any thought about collaboration­any impulse toward cooperation­becomes thought about roles and relationships, and urgent questions get raised: For those who would collaborate in making a school, what role should and can be played­expert? policy maker? social engineer? pundit? partner? For those who choose to act a role, what relations should be enacted with others who choose to make a school? Once a role is chosen, what relations can be enacted with others? If partner is the role, what relations need to follow?

On Common Ground invites inquiry into such questions. Its ground, difficult enough to map, is what has and can be made of school-university collaborative efforts focused upon the (reciprocal) development of teachers and their curricula. But other territory is there to be explored and understood, as this editorial has implied. Curricula have often been imagined as means to make both "schools" and "schooling." But good teachers know, and learn anew every day, that schools and schooling are much more than curricula, which can easily be mandated but less-easily enacted unless teachers act out roles that establish collaborative and cooperative relationships with the students they teach. For good teachers, schooling gets enacted and learning takes shape in the complicated interchanges that happen every day in classrooms among teachers and students working together to form a community of learners. And good teachers know that community is not easily formed in a society that is and should be multi-cultured.

Commenting on the kind of education our times demand, Maxine Greene, the educational philosopher, argues for a kind of knowing "that surpasses and transforms, that makes a difference in reality." For her, that kind of knowing demands fresh thought about subject matter, about curriculum. Curriculum is important, she argues, but "Students must be enabled, at whatever stages they find themselves to be, to encounter curriculum as possibility. By that I mean curriculum ought to provide a series of occasions for individuals to articulate the themes of their existence and to reflect on those themes until they know themselves to be in the world and can name what has been up to then obscure." 3 Curriculum as in part an occasion for a student to write a poem about unemployment and to reflect on its human meanings and costs.

But to make such an occasion come alive, to make curricula that will serve active learning, requires a pedagogy that is sensitive to the needs of individual learners in all their splendid diversity.

"...today, given the cataclysmic changes that have taken place in the advanced technological society, we must recognize that more is demanded than an alteration of objective relationships to the means of production or to the machine. Human subjects have to be attended to; human consciousness must be taken into account, if domination is to be in any way reduced. This is one reason for the central importance of pedagogy in these days: once pedagogy becomes crucial, the splits and deformations in those who teach or treat or administer or organize take on a political significance never confronted in time past."4

As we seek to find common ground to stand on in order to change education in productive ways, we must not allow curriculum to be separated from pedagogy. To do so is perhaps to invite a separation of university from school teachers; certainly it is to leave in place the gulf that separates liberal arts colleges from schools of education and to discourage partnerships that can be made productive. The communities we form through collaboration must be inclusive ones.

Robert Westbrook connectsJohn Dewey's commitment to education­to the place called "school," to the ideal of cooperation­to Dewey's lifelong commitment to the ideals of a democratic society. He writes this about Dewey's notion of what such a society owes a child to enable her to join a democratic society and help sustain it:

"All members of a democratic society, he declared, were entitled to an education that would enable them to make the best of themselves as active participants in the life of their community: '...To extend the range and the fullness of sharing in the intellectual and spiritual resources of the community is the very meaning of the community.'

"For a child to become an effective member of a democratic community, Dewey argued, he must have 'training in science, in art, in history; command of the fundamental methods of inquiry and the fundamental tools of intercourse and communication,' as well as 'a trained and sound body, skillful eye and hand; habits of industry, perseverance, and, above all, habits of serviceableness.' In a democratic community children had to learn to be leaders as well as followers, possessed of 'power of self direction and power of directing others, powers of administration, ability to assume positions of responsibility' as citizens and workers. Because the world was a rapidly changing one, a child could not, moreover, be educated for any 'fixed station in life,' but schools had to provide him with training that would 'give him such possession of himself that he may take charge of himself; may not only adapt himself to the changes which are going on, but have power to shape and direct those changes.'"5

Dewey calls for the development of sound academic curricula and for the reciprocal development of teachers as they work together to make curricula. But Dewey's challenge to education goes beyond that, for he calls on students­with help from adults­to develop skills, habits, and powers that can only be developed in community with others acting as partners. For Dewey, the stakes were nothing less than the continuing renewal of a democratic society­the nurturing and maintenance of a full and participatory liberty that recognizes difference but provides for all some common ground as individuals act for and with others. Perhaps through collaboration, perhaps through partnerships, we can model the democratic multi-cultured society we should have.

Notes

1. Leslie Anderson Butler, The Michigan Schoolmasters' Club: The Story of the First Seven Decades, 1886-1956 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 1958).

2. Sarah Edwards, a member of one of two classes in Saginaw who produced Footsteps: Looking Back, Moving On(Saginaw: Arthur Hill High School and Saginaw High School, 1991).

3. Maxine Greene, Landscapes of Learning (New York: Teachers College Press, 1978), pp. 18-19.

4. Greene, p. 96.

5. Robert C. Westbrook, John Dewey and American Democracy(Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 64.


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