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Professional Life and Work

Studying Teachers' Lives

Studying Teachers' Lives - problems and possibilities

In arguing for the provision of histories or genealogies of context, I am reminded of V.S. Naipaul's comments. Naipaul has the ultimate sensitivity to the 'stories' that people tell about their lives, for him subjective perceptions are priority data. Buruma has judged:

What makes Naipaul one of the world’s most civilized writers is his refusal to be engaged by the People, and his insistence on listening to people, individuals, with their own language and their own stories. To this extent he is right when he claims to have no view; he is impatient with abstractions. He is interested in how individual people see themselves and the world in which they live. He has recorded their histories, their dreams, their stories, their words[i].

So far then Naipaul echoes the concern of those educational researchers who have sought to capture teachers' stories and narratives, told in their own words and in their own terms. But I am interested by the more recent shifts in Naipaul's position; he has begun to provide far more historical background, he seems to me to be moving towards providing the stories but also genealogies of context. He is clear that he sees this as empowering those whose stories which he once told more passively: 'to awaken to history was to cease to live instinctively. It was to begin to see oneself and one's group the way the outside world saw one; and it was to know a kind of rage[ii].

MacIntyre has followed a similar line in arguing that man is 'essentially a story-telling animal'. He argues that, 'the story of my life is always embedded in the story of those communities from which I derive my identity'.

What I am, therefore, is in key part what I inherit, a specific past that is present to some degree in my present. I find myself part of a history and that is generally to say, whether I like it or not, whether I recognise it or not, one of the bearers of a tradition. It was important when I characterised the concept of a practice to notice that practices always have histories and that at any given moment what a practice is depends on a mode of understanding it which has been transmitted often through many generations. And thus, insofar as the virtues sustain the relationships required for practices, they have to sustain relationships to the past - and to the future - as well as in the present. But the traditions through which particular practices are transmitted and reshaped never exist in isolation for larger social traditions.

[i] Buruma, I. (1991) 'Signs of life', New York Review of Books, Vol.

XXXVIII, No. 4, 14 February, p. 3.

[ii] ibid., p. 4.

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Studying Teachers' Lives Ivor Goodson
  • Date of publication: 06/02/1992
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject:
    Professional Life and Work
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    Studying Teachers' Lives
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  • ISBN: 978-0-415-06858-1
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