Enacting ‘The WHY’

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To borrow an earlier phrase, teaching is not a matter of act but a matter of character. Someone may already agree with this before understanding what I mean.

The previous post considered decisions arrived at with phronesis, practical wisdom – an acuity of discernment and a benevolence in the weighing of options, something we might generalise more simply as savvy good will. Where ‘savvy’ is internal, note with care that ‘good will’ is inclusive: others as well as you.

And if that’s somehow alarming, because not everyone is your friend, then note with added relief that practical wisdom is something we can exercise in concert with healthy scepticism. I say we can because, of course, not everybody does. On the other hand, the reverse is equally true: we can exercise our scepticism. Either way, we implicate education, things people profess to know, and teaching.

So then… a matter of character and, specifically, teachers. Practical wisdom informing decisions is a nuanced thing: why to act, why under the present circumstances to pick ‘this’ decision over ‘that’ one, the kind of nuance that we often call ‘the why’. Of course, every question asked, “Why… ?” is answerable as some sought-after outcome, the corollary “Because… ,” and ‘why’ might be offered in different ways at different times. Where there may be some clever reason to withhold ‘the why’ and keep people wondering, surely any such decision would be good will at its savvy best, lasting only as long as necessary.

But this continual reasoned weighing of possible outcomes is, in very large part, the daily work of teaching. Justifying each decision is arguably the greatest professional responsibility teachers face. So where some chosen course is the outcome of practical wisdom, then maybe let’s consider this to be meaningful teaching.

The continual reasoned weighing of possible outcomes is, in very large part, the daily work of teaching.

Something curious here… where ‘course’ often means Social Studies or Math as we commonly say “course,” in this case it means something like a path, that decision taken to follow ‘this’ way over ‘that’ as we aim for some objective or goal, i.e. some chosen course.

Note further that “curriculum” derives from currere, which likewise suggests a flow or path to be run, as we might say “a race course” or a river that “runs its course.” Curriculum is coming from somewhere, and heading somewhere, and in between these, it’s dynamic and influential upon encountering whatever’s already there. Add one bonus mark if you’re now also noticing a temporal past-present-future quality, but for me, the relationship most central to curriculum, far less abstract than tangible and personal, is the one between teacher and student because they’re finally the ones who not only face each decisional fork-in-the-course, whether ‘this’ way or ‘that’, but also they’re the ones who finally take action as well.

More colloquially, you may have heard curriculum described as what teachers teach, ‘the what’. If so, then you may also have heard curriculum paired up with pedagogy, ‘the how’, but these simplifications really do little to convey their complexities, much less their concerted interconnectivity, much less their significance within the holistic scope of school and education, where a lot is going on all at once. Overall, of curriculum and pedagogy, I might say it this way… the better we know someone, the more meaningful our interactions become, and I wonder if curriculum and pedagogy, as two concepts, are better considered as one.

For now, though, for space and sanity, I’m satisfied to describe curriculum as relational – ‘what we do with someone else’ – which has a lot to do with abiding respect and time spent together – and pedagogy as purposeful – ‘what we do for someone else’ – which has mainly to do with motives and objectives. On behalf of others as well as themselves, teachers must know with whom, for whom, and up against whom they might be taking action as well as what such action might look like when they take it and, finally, who will likely be paying the cost.

On that note, I haven’t even addressed power and authority, which of course are also central considerations to this broader relational concept – that last emphasis being my way to ask whether the common phrase ‘of course’ means anything more for you now than it did before.

So… a matter of character, practical wisdom? …remind me again how we arrived here? One last thing I should probably mention, the previous post was an obliquely political critique since, for all their connection to policy and legislation, the branches of politics just hang so low that, honestly, who can resist but be tempted. But true to healthy scepticism, any take on practical wisdom can probably do better than those posturing purveyors of politics, and me being a teacher, and nothing whatsoever political about school and education… well, therein the physician must minister to himself, I guess, and besides, you could always go start a blog of your own.

Seriously, which seems harder to sustain: being persuasive or being in control?

They’re obviously not, but say those were really the only two choices: which work would you rather be doing? How would you prefer to spend your efforts? Because wouldn’t that tell us something more about you.

Author: Scott Robertson

Scott is a Canadian school teacher, a doctoral candidate in Education, an avid gardener, and a football (soccer) coach. He is also a Dad. Scott worked in high school classrooms for 17 years, teaching mostly Secondary English. He describes learning as a continual renovation: intentional self-reflection aimed at personal growth, alongside people who share similar aims. At the core of his lessons is personal responsibility, an approach to living with integrity by adopting the habit of thinking. It's a blend of philosophy, literature, grammar, history, and science, all tied in a bundle by classical rhetoric. His students often described his approach to be unlike others they knew—mostly in a good way—which prepared them for post-secondary school and adulthood, citizenship, and whatever else. Outside the classroom, Scott has been coaching football (soccer) since 1990 and still enjoys playing, too, except when he’s too injured—then he tries to play golf instead.

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