Beginning Hargreaves

by Mr. Sheehy

Upon reading the introduction to Andy Hargreaves’s book, Teaching in the Knowledge Society.

I’m sure to react to much of what I read in Hargreaves’s book, since I reacted so frequently while reading only the first few pages. One of the difficulties of an introduction to such a work is that it inevitably simplifies situations in its attempt to summarize, and knowing that Hargreaves has done that, I will try to react less emotionally to what I see are overstatements or simplifications of complex issues.

A knowledge society, or as he later terms it, a learning society, does not seem to be amoral, but is almost anti-moral, in that it seeks out the individual’s benefit at the cost of the community. This seems like a natural result of learning “for learning’s sake” or “learning how to learn.” Those catch-phrase cliches seem to summarize the ideal model for learning in this knowledge economy, since learners have to be able to retrain themselves, learn new jobs, etc., as Hargreaves explains. With whichever way it is stated, though, what is learned is not important, and that makes teaching morals and choosing curriculum fairly difficult. Teachers like me have always had to explain to our students why they should read classic literature (because it’s good!) but the battle will be more difficult as fewer people (administrators, theorists, fellow teachers) agree that what is learned has any value.

I feel a sense of irony as Hargreaves explains how these future people need to possess a ranging collection of skills and learning abilities (page 3), because to me he is reiterating the rationale for a classic (or even classical) Liberal Arts education. But I can’t see that education maintaining much favor in this particular knowledge economy, because it is hard and seemingly irrelevant (see the previous paragraph). And I do emphasize the hard characteristic, because I can’t see how a selfish society like the one Hargreaves describes would be willing to work hard for intangible reasons . . . at least not the populous in general.

I’m looking forward to interacting with more of Hargreaves’s ideas, though I will track a few of the following concerns:

He seems to underestimate teachers and why they do what they do. He reiterates the argument that poor, uncreative work environments will lead potential teachers away from the profession (page 2). Maybe, but I tend to be more optimistic of teachers’ ability to blow off other people’s lousy expectations – didn’t he see Dead Poet’s Society or any other movie of its genre?

He claims that schools will have to teach values because this society won’t – but whose values do we teach? Clashes over core values are why politics are so polarized in this country. It’s not polarized because people are not speaking kindly to one another or because George W. Bush has an odd way of smirking whenever he disagrees with someone; if that were the case, the mean-talk would have died out long ago. The clash is over core values, and as we teach the country’s children, schools will continue to be a battle ground for which values are to be taught, and my guess is that educators will be forced to become insincerely amoral for fear of litigation. And I say that from experience, because I feel that if I answered students’ questions about moral issues too sincerely, I could be putting my family’s financial security in jeopardy.

And I wonder as Hargreaves examines some schools doing something well and some doing something poorly, will we be looking at programs and formulas where passion and people are the real factors? Teaching may be a science, but so much of it seems like it’s an art of matching the right program with the right people for that program, that I figure it’s possible to over-analyze a particular program.

Anyway, I hope to write less than this in the future, or I’ll never finish a single reading assignment . . .

Hargreaves, Andy. Teaching in the Knowledge Society. New York: Teachers College Press: 2003.

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