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21st Century teaching and social responsibility

April 30th, 2009

I had intended to look through some of the data from the Teachers Work project by now and see what I could find that either supported the dispositions Jennifer identified in her blog or suggested new ones. However – somehow the time has got away on me and I haven’t done that, not yet anyway!  I have been thinking hard though about another teachers’ work project I am involved in and as part of that thinking I have been re-reading “Learning as Transformation” (Jack Mezirow and Associates). One chapter in that book that particularly grabbed my attention is one by Laurent A Parks Daloz about Transformative learning for the common good. When I was reading that, it struck me that there might be similarities between C21st teachers and the individuals he describes who have committed their lives to the common good.

The reason for wondering about the connection is that when I have asked teachers (in various projects) about what they think the purpose of education is nearly all have said something that includes some ideas about producing citizens who contribute to society in some way. The NZ Curriculum also talks about students becoming “contributers to the well-being of NZ” , which I guess is hardly a surprising goal for a state funded education system. So it seems to me to be only a small step from this to expect teachers to be driven at least to some extent by a sense of social responsibility. However, social responsibility through a 21st Century lens might look quite different from social responsibility through a 20th Century lens for example. For Parks Deloz a commitment to the common good is not a final product but a “stance of openness to necessary and on-going dialogue with those who differ or may not yet be full participants on the commons”. This sounded 21st Centuryish to me!

He also defines social responsibility as the capacity to identify one’s own self with the well-being of others. He says that we all have the potential to reflect on the formation of our own selves and through that develop a larger sense of self that identifies with all people and ultimately with all life , but whether or not we do that depends on the particular conditions of our lives. In their study on people who had committed their lives to the common good Parks Daloz and colleagues found that these people  had at least some of these key characteristics in common – they felt recognised and valued as children, they had at least one parent who was socially engaged, they grew up in diverse communities and they were mentored. What all had in common was what he describes as a “constructive engagement with otherness” ie  a significant relationship with someone who was in some way different. The important thing about the relationship was that both the differences and the similarities were acknowledged and the interplay between them. Anyway this is all a very long way of wondering whether any of those characteristics would resonate with teachers in this study? (I don’t think we have currently got data that would shed any light on that but perhaps some of the participants in the study might reply!) Are there particular life experiences that contribute particularly to producing 21st Century teaching dispositions? If there are can we replicate them (or at least their essence) in some way for others? What is the role of diversity/ otherness (I’m not sure what term to use) and our orientation to it in 21st Century education? The more I think about this, the more confused I get! (Perhaps if we muddy the water enough, Jennifer, we can ask the fish what water looks like!)

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