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Curriculum Studies

Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson

Representing Teachers

The great virtue of stories is that they particularize and make concrete our experiences. This, however, should be the starting point in our social and educational study. Stories can so richly move us into the terrain of the social, into insights into the socially constructed nature of our experiences. Feminist sociology has often treated stories in this way. As Hilary Graham says, ‘Stories are pre-eminently ways of relating individuals and events to social contexts, ways of weaving personal experiences into their social fabric’ (see Armstrong 1987, p. 14). Again, Carolyn Steedman speaks of this two-step process. First the story particularizes, details and historicizes – then at second stage, the ‘urgent need’ to develop theories of context:

The fixed townscapes of Northampton and Leeds that Hoggart and Seabrook have described show endless streets of houses, where mothers who don’t go out to work order the domestic day, where men are masters, and children, when they grow older, express gratitude for the harsh discipline meted out to them. The first task is to particularize this profoundly a-historical landscape (and so this book details a mother who was a working woman and a single parent, and a father who wasn’t a patriarch). And once the landscape is detailed and historicized in this way, the urgent need becomes to find a way of theorizing the result of such difference and particularity, not in order to find a description that can be universally applied (the point is not to say that all working-class childhoods are the same, nor that experience of them produces unique psychic structures) but so that the people in exile, the inhabitants of the long streets, may start to use the auto-biographical ‘I’, and tell the stories of their life (Steedman 1986, p. 16).

The story, then, provides a starting point for developing further understandings of the social construction of subjectivity. If the teachers’ stories stay at the level of the personal and practical, we forego that opportunity. Speaking of the narrative method focusing on personal and practical

teachers’ knowledge, Willinsky writes: “I am concerned that a research process intended to recover the personal and experiential (aspects or not?) would pave over this construction site in its search for an overarching unity in the individual’s narrative” (Willinsky 1989, p. 259).

Personal and practical teachers’ stories may, therefore, act not to further our understandings, but merely to celebrate the particular constructions of the ‘teacher’ which have been wrought by political and social contestation. Teachers’ stories can be stories of particular political victories and political settlements. Because of their limitation of focus, teachers’ stories – as stories of the personal and practical – are likely to be limited in this manner.

A Story of Action within a Story of Context

This section comes from a phrase often used by Lawrence Stenhouse (1975), who was concerned in much of his work to introduce a historical dimension to our studies of schooling and curriculum. While himself a leading advocate of the teacher as researcher and pioneer of that method, he was worried about the proliferation of practical stories of action, individualized and isolated, unique and idiosyncratic, as our stories of action and our lives are. But as we have seen, lives and stories link with broader social scripts – they are not just individual productions, they are also social constructions. We must make sure that individual and practical stories do not reduce, seduce and reproduce particular teacher mentalities, and lead us away from broader patterns of understanding.

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  • Date of publication: 15/09/2005
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies, Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
  • Appears in:
    Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £27.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-35220-8
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