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Curriculum Studies

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

Representing Teachers

In educational bureaucracies, power continues to be hierarchically administered. I have often asked administrators and educational bureaucrats why they support personal and practical forms of knowledge for teachers in the form of narratives and stories. Their comments often echo those of the ‘true believers’ in narrative method. But I always go on, after suitable pause and diversion to ask: ‘What do you do on your leadership courses?’ There, it is always ‘politics as usual’ management skills, quality assurance, micro-political strategies, personnel training. Personal and practical stories for some, cognitive maps of power for others. So while the use of stories and narratives can provide a useful breathing space away from power, it does not suspend the continuing administration of power; indeed, it could well make this so much easier. Especially as, over time, teachers’ knowledge would become more and more personal and practical – different ‘mentalities’. Wholly different understandings of power would emerge, as between, say, teachers and school managers, teachers and administrators, teachers and some educational scholars.

Teachers’ individual and practical stories certainly provide a breathing space. However, at one and the same time, they reduce the oxygen of broader understandings. The breathing space comes to look awfully like a vacuum, where history and social construction are somehow suspended.

In this way, teachers become divorced from what might be called the ‘vernacular of power’, the ways of talking and knowing which then become the prerogative of managers, administrators and academics. In this discourse, politics and micro-politics are the essence and currency of the interchange. Alongside this and in a sense facilitating this, a new ‘vernacular of the particular, the personal and the practical’ arises, which is specific to teachers.

This form of apartheid could easily emerge if teachers’ stories and narratives remain singular and specific, personal and practical, particular and apolitical. Hence, it is a matter of some urgency that we develop stories of action within theories of context – contextualizing stories, if you like – which act against the kinds of divorce of the discourses that are all too readily imaginable.

Carter had begun to worry about just such a problem in her work on ‘The Place of Story in the Study of Teaching and Teacher Education’:

And for those of us telling stories in our work, we will not serve the community well if we sanctify story-telling work and build an epistemology on it to the point that we simply substitute one paradigmatic domination for another without challenging domination itself. We must, then, become much more self conscious than we have been in the past about the issues involved in narrative and story, such as interpretation, authenticity, normative value, and what our purposes are for telling stories in the first place (Carter 1993, p. 11).

Some of these worries about stories can be explored in scrutinizing the way in which powerful interest groups in society actually promote and employ storied material. 

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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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