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Professional Life and Work

Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives: studies in education and change

Educational Research as a Public Intellectual

It may not be true that as Adam Smith said 'every profession is a conspiracy against the people', it is, however, certainly true that professional groups construct their ' missions' in terms of the pursuit of status and resources as well as ideals.  Hence, faculties of education have codified and created bodies of knowledge to maximise the terms of the 'devil's bargain'.  Bodies of knowledge were created with two major functions: the creation of a corpus of 'expert knowledge' with which to instruct trainee teachers; secondly, and closely allied to this, bodies of knowledge were designed to maximise status and esteem within the university milieu.  Disciplinary theory served both purposes and symbolically enshrines the essentially academic and scholarly purposes of the faculties of education.  If a side-effect of these strategies was to reduce field-based inquiry and collaboration, this, it seems, was once judged a price worth paying.

Hence the question 'whether educational research' is one of great importance.  C. Wright Mills, I think, comes close to the nature of our dilemma and spells out the implications of the devil's bargain when he talks of the way 'men of knowledge' orient themselves to 'special segments of society'. This has been the fate of much educational and curriculum theory and the effect has been that, as Mills puts it, different groups 'talk past each other' (Mills, 1979). With few exceptions I would argue this is precisely the relationship between faculties of education and school practitioners: they constitute a model of how to talk past each other.

The crucial point to grasp, however, is that the communication and ongoing displacement between theory and practice is not an intrinsic, but rather a socially structured problem.  New structures of collaboration and forms of knowledge might rapidly ease the current problems.

It was to solve some of these problems that Lawrence Stenhouse developed a notion of applied research.  But I think the reaction to disciplinary theory went too far and as we shall see, although no one could have foreseen this, the timing was bad.  The issue was not to dismantle theory altogether but to replace foundational theory with a more engaged theory/practice equation.

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Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives
  • Date of publication: 01/09/2003
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 160
  • Publisher: Open University Press
  • Subject:
    Professional Life and Work
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  • Appears in:
    Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives: studies in education and change
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  • Price of book: £23.99
  • ISBN: 9780335204113
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