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Dressing the Corpse: Professional Development and the Play of Singularities

Dressing the Corpse: Professional Development and the Play of Singularities

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Published by Mary Ann Reilly
An article appearing in Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy that explores professional learning.
An article appearing in Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy that explores professional learning.

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Published by: Mary Ann Reilly on Nov 17, 2011
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11/17/2011

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in
education
wor-
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Mary
Ann
Reilly
79
DressingtheCorpse:
ProfessionalDevelopmentandthePlayofSingularities
MARYANNREILLY
MorruSchoolDistrict,
Morri.ffowl2,
NJ
Abstract
Inthispaper,theauthorreasonsthatasstudentssometimesarepositionedas
being
lowability,average,orhighability-alikebeliefofteachers'andschools'"intelligence"undergirdsdecisionsaboutprofessionalismandlearn-ing,andsanctionssubstituting"someinnerresource"inlieu
of
sustainedprofessionallearning.Shearguesthatprofessionaldevelopmenthaslargelybecomeamatterofimplementing"proven"programsandproductspro-ducedbyexternaldevelopers.Inexaminingthesemanifestations,shesitu-atesdevelopmentasanepicconstructusingMikhailBakhtin's
(1981)
delineationbetWeenepicandnovelandsuggestingthatmeaningisunder-stoodhereasatransferableconunodity.Theauthorsuggeststhatimple-mentationofliteracyprogramsasasubstitutionforprofessionallearningunderminesteachers'agency,obscurescapacitytorecognizeanomaloussituations,anddiminishesthinkingandlearning.Asacountermodel
to
de-velopment,shedescribes'professionallearningasrhizomatic(Deleuze
&.
Guattari,1987),offersexamples,andadvocatesforlocallydeterminedpro-fessional·learning.Presently,asignificantmeasureofthequalityofK-12publiceducationintheUnitedStatesisbasedonresultsgleanedfromannualhigh-stakesstatetestsoflanguagearts/readingandmathematics,mandatedthroughtheNoChild
Left
Behind(NCLB)Actof2001andusedasdataforitsac-countabilitysystem.Federalpolicymakers,politicians,businessleaders,schoolboardmembers,andothe~sroutinelyrelyonthissolemeasureasareliableindicatorofpublicschooleffectiveness,eventhoughonetestalonedoesnotprovideavalidmeasure
?f
achievementforindividualstudentsorgroups(Bracey,
2000;
Gardner,
1999;
Jones,
1997;
Kohn,2000,
2004;
Linn,
2000;
Nichols
&
Berliner,
2007;
Stake,
1995).
Thisbelieffuelspublic
 
,80
Journal
of
Curriculum
anJPedagogy
perceptions.Forexample,itisnotunusualtoseefront-pagearticlespro-claimingthesuccessorfailureofschoolsbasedonthepercentageofstu-dentsscoringbelow,at,andaboveproficiencylevelsonannualstatetests.Thesereports,castashardnews,proclaimthewinnersandlosers.Howwerespondtotheseperceptionsmatters.Theubiquityofusingsingletestdataasvalidrepresentationofstudentachievementandschooleffectivenessappearstohavebecomeinpracticeageneralandacceptedtruth.OnehasonlytoqueryprofessionaldevelopmentandteacherabilityontheInternettogetmorethan
12
millionhits,offeringwaystoimproveteachers'andschools'performance.Hundredsofbooksandarticlespub-lishedannuallyclaimto"develop"teachers'abilities;ideasfromsomeofthesetextsarepackagedasprogramsandadoptedbydistrictsorgiventoeducatorstoimplement.SinceNCLBtherehasalsobeenthepropagationof"scientificallyproven"programs,products,andmethodsaimedatim-provingstudent,teacher,andschoolperformance.
ScientificaUyproven,
akeyphraseappearingmorethan
100
timesinNCLB,suggeststhepresenceofrigorousandexperimentalmethodsofresearch.Yet,understandingthesepracticessimplyaswaystoincreaseteachers'abilitiesmayobscureamoreperniciousbeliefatplaythecorrelationofabilityandintelligence.GuyClaxtonassertsthat"inWesterneducationalculture,theword'ability'isusedasasynonymfor'intelligence',andistakentorefertosomeinnerresourcewhichexplainsoraccountsforper-formance"
(1999,
p.28).Inthisarticle,Ireasonthatasstudentssometimesarepositionedas
being
lowability,average,orhighabiliry~alikebeliefofteachers'andschools'"intelligence"undergirdsdecisionsaboutprofessionalismandlearning,andsanctionssubstituting"someinnerresource"inlieuofsustainedprofes-sionallearning.Iarguethatprofessionaldevelopmenthaslargelybecomeamatterofimplementing"proven"programsandproductsproducedbyex-ternaldevelopers.Inexaminingthesemanifestations,Isituatedevelopmentasanepicconstruct(Bakhtin,
1981)
wheremeaningisunderstoodasatransferablecommodityandexaminethiseffect.Isuggestthatimplementa-tionofprogramsasasubstitutionforprofessionallearningunderminesteachers'agency;obscuresourcapacitytorecognizeanomaloussituations,anddiminishesthinkingandlearning.Asacountermodeltodevelopment,Idescribeprofessionallearningas
rhizornatic,
GilleDeleuzeandFelixGuat-tari's
(1987)
metaphorforhorizontalthinkingthatisnonhierarchical,andadvocateforlocallydeterminedprofessionallearning.
UnpackingDifferer
Inthinkingabouttbprofessionallearning,U[t]hedifferencebetwalargematter=-r'tis
th
ning"
(1890,
pp.87-8learning,dissimilaritieDevelopmentisa
I
tachingtoverbs,suggasanobjectbeing
aci
tionsasaverbalnounquiresadoer.Learner:chasmbetweenbeing~Historyisrepletepositionsofpowerwning.Iwaskeenlyremcountryofmybirth,
<
Irelandforthe6rsttinowhailingfromtheandFahanStreetinIers'homes,andlook
1
Istaredatthatstronsurroundedbyaperilmyownsenseof
posii
encesinherentinbeinthebones.Itseemslikeanodimprovingtheirprofe:developmentcaneasiManifestDestinyruncan'tbemovedaninc
htin,1981,1986)anc
childrentomimea1U[dJiscourselives,asobject:ifwedetach
0
isthenakedcorpseofProfessionaldevecorpse:straighteningandthendonningdiBentdecaybeneathth,
 
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r
,
I
I
efront-pagearticlespro·onthepercentageofstu-
vels
onannualstatetests..nersandlosers.·s.Theubiquityofusing
t
achievementandschool~ageneralandaccepted
prnent
andteacherabiliiyofferingwaystoimprove:-booksandarticlespub-ities;ideasfromsomeof~dbydistrictsorgivento
ilso
beenthepropagation
id
methodsaimedat
im-
·Scientificallyproven,
akeysuggeststhepresenceof'I1aystoincreaseteachers'tplay:thecorrelationof"inWesterneducational·for'intelligence',andislainsoraccountsforper-nesarepositionedas
heing
·ofteachers'andschools'malismandlearning,andlieuofsustainedproies-
nent
haslargelybecomea
iroducts
producedbyex-
ms,
Isituatedevelopmentaningisunderstoodasasuggestthat
implementa-
mallearningundermines
uze
anomaloussituations,
-rmodel
todevelopment,IDeleuzeandFelixGuat-
at
isnonhierarchical,andng.
Mary
Ann
Reilly
81
UnpackingDifference
Inthinkingaboutthedifferencesbetweenprofessionaldevelopmentandprofessionallearning,
I
amremindedofMarkTwain'sobservationthat"[t]hedifferencebetweenthealmostrightwordandtherightwordisreallyalarge
matter
c-r'tisthedifferencebetweenthelightning-bugandthelight-ning"
(1890,
pp.
87-88).
If
wetakeamomenttounpackdevelopmentandlearning,dissimilaritiescanbeseen.Development
is
anoun.Itssuffix
-ment
usedtoformnounschieflybyat-tachingtoverbs,suggestsasubjectwhoisnolongerdoing,butratherexistsasanobjectbeingacted-upon.Incontrast,learningisagerundandfunc-tionsasaverbalnounindicatingongoingaction.ToprofessionallyJearnre-quiresadoer.Learnersactivelydeterminetheirpresenceandagency.
It
isthechasmbetweenbeingacted-uponandactingthatweneedtounderstand.Historyisrepletewithaccountsillustratingkeydifferencesregardingpositionsofpowerwithinthelivesofthosebeingacted-uponandthoseact-ing.IwaskeenlyremindedofthiswhenIrecentlyreturnedtoIreland,thecountryof
my
birth,andtravelednorthcrossingtheborderintoNorthernIrelandforthefrrsttime.
It
wasdisquietingasanIrishCatholic,evenonenowhailingfromtheUnitedStates,tostandonthecornerofLeckyRoadandFahanStreetinDerry,amongthepolishedpoornessofoldmillwork-ers'homes,andlookupthesteepinclinetowherethepolicestationsits.As
I
staredatthatstrongholdperchedabovetheFreeDenyneighborhood,surroundedbyaperimeterofbarbedwirefencing,
I
eltamarkedshiftinmyownsenseofposition.Suchanexperienceremindedmethatthediffer-encesinherentinbeingacted-uponandactingareoneswecometoknowinthebones.Itseemslikeanoddmarriagetome,thisdoinguntoothersasameansofimprovingtheirprofessionalperformance,foralthoughcompletedplansfordevelopmentcaneasilybetransportedacrosswholecontinents-akindofManifestDestinyrunamok-thekernelideasusedto(in)formsuchplanscan'tbemovedaninch.Meaningisdeterminedatpointsofutterance
(Bak-
htin,
1981,1986)
andcannotbepackedandsentalongforteachersandchildrentomimeatsomelatertime.MikhailBakhtinexplainsthat"[dJiscourselives,asitwere,beyonditself,inalivingimpulsetowardtheobject;
if
wedetachourselvescompletelyfromthisimpulseallwehaveleftisthenakedcorpseoftheword"
(1981,
p.
292).
Professionaldevelopmentconcernsitselflargelywithdressingthiscorpse:straighteningthelimbs,emptyingthebowels,settingthefeatures,andthendonningdiffer~tJ.tclothswithsuchsleightofhandthattheincipi-entdecaybeneaththefinerymaybedifficulttodiscern.Educatorsbeing
1
I

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