Aren’t trainee teachers a pesky bunch? In ‘Preservice Teachers and Numeracy Education: Can Poststructuralism Contribute?’ Mary Klein of James Cook University writes*:
“…I am referring to the tenuous link that often exists between teachers’ knowing about and approving more inquiry based teaching practices and the actual facilitation of “cultures of sense-making”, where the child is at the centre of the learning process, constructing personally meaningful solutions. Oftentimes it is assumed that there is a linear link between knowing and doing, but teachers often revert to traditional ways of working even when they are well versed in, and approve of, more innovative and inquiry-based methods. Related to this is the phenomenon whereby some teachers and preservice teachers feel uncomfortable with proposed ‘new’ methods and resist them from the start. For example, as Nicol (2006, p. 31) found in her research with preservice teachers, they collectively agreed that “teaching in ways that respect students’ thinking and sense-making was not worth the time, the effort or the consequences”. Clearly pedagogic challenges present themselves for teacher educators who hope that their students will teach a rich and robust mathematics in ways that inspire their pupils with confidence and a passionate regard for mathematics and its responsible use in the world.” [some references removed]
Klein’s solution is to ground theory in post-structuralism. This is a relativist philosophical stance that, according to philosophybasics.com, apparently asserts:
“The concept of “self” as a singular and coherent entity is a fictional construct, and an individual rather comprises conflicting tensions and knowledge claims (e.g. gender, class, profession, etc). The interpretation of meaning of a text is therefore dependent on a reader’s own personal concept of self. An author’s intended meaning (although the author’s own identity as a stable “self” with a single, discernible “intent” is also a fictional construct) is secondary to the meaning that the reader perceives, and a literary text (or, indeed, any situation where a subject perceives a sign) has no single purpose, meaning or existence. It is necessary to utilize a variety of perspectives to create a multi-faceted interpretation of a text, even if these interpretations conflict with one another.”
In one of Klein’s conference papers, we read:
“In this paper I highlight the inadequacies of contemporary theoretical and philosophical orthodoxies to fully address pedagogic change. The required change is in mathematics education, and away from instructional practices based on knowledge transmission to those that recognise and take seriously the productive and constitutive effects of student initiated inquiry and sense making in mathematics.”
So inquiry learning is simply “the required change” and post-structuralism is the means for bringing it about.
This all seems a long way from the concerns of the public who have probably never heard of post-structuralism and just want effective teaching. No political party has stood on a ticket of post-structuralism and yet this philosophy is being enacted in schools of education and, alarmingly, in the context of mathematics teaching; an area of critical public interest. There is no Brian Cox of post-structuralism whose duty it is to explain the concept to the masses.
And, of course, it’s absurd. To accept Klein’s position is to both hold an extreme relativist stance that ‘self’ is a fictional construct simultaneously with the absolutist position that inquiry learning is ‘required’. However, it does hint at the reasons why the lack of evidence for such approaches has not led to a revolution in education in favour of more effective practices.
Part of this is due to the current way that the training of new teachers is structured and incentivised. In part II, I will examine these issues in more detail.
*Thanks to @penpln for the link