Chapter One: Making Sense of Public Schooling

1.7 Conclusion

The inconsistencies and tensions discussed in this chapter raise important questions. How do we work in an institution whose goals are uncertain, sometimes in conflict with one another, and perhaps unachievable? How do we decide what is worth our time and effort? Even more significantly, the idea that schools might actually require some students to fail—that this is a built-in part of what schools do—is a difficult one for many teachers who see their job as helping students to succeed. The shock value of the quotation from Metz (1990) lies in making us ask ourselves whether this quest for educational quality and equality can ever be totally successful, and whether the institutions we have created are in fact designed to ensure inequities are perpetuated.

Some teachers probably don’t think about these issues very much. They just go on doing their daily work, help students as much as they can, and try to avoid the contradictions in the system. Other teachers come to the conclusion that they cannot do the things they value in schools as presently constituted, and they leave teaching. Some combine their teaching with active involvement in larger educational and social issues, whether through their professional association or through other kinds of volunteer work and public service. Others make up their minds to live with the frustration and inconsistencies because they continue to believe that their work is important, and that they can make a difference, even if only in their own classroom. In taking this position, teachers are embodying a concept of schools as institutions that are based fundamentally on moral considerations. A vision of the good school is intimately connected with a vision of the good society and the good life.


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