Sunday, June 8, 2008

Teaching as Utopian Realism

Let's be honest:  if you're getting into teaching for the money, you either have very few job options or an intelligence so questionable perhaps you should not be teaching.  It's no secret that, compared with other professions that require four years of college, some specialized training, and see many holding Masters degrees, teachers don't get paid a lot.  True, there's a good pension, but that's only after you've put in a good amount of time being underpaid and, most likely, under appreciated.  So, why teach?  If I had to make a wide, sweeping generalization--and apparently, I do--I would say that teachers posses  what David Halpin calls utopian realism, a world view that might be imagined as a string tethered to two points: one located in a world of imagined ideals and the other anchored in the here and now.  I think that teachers, or maybe more specifically, pre-teachers and young teachers, before they might become jaded or cynical, tend to exist along various points on that string, realizing that they have to work with what exists but hoping to transform what exists into something better.  And, what's important, is that maybe they not only tend to exist in that frame of mind, but they have to.  Halpin discusses that utopias are about transcending the status quo, and I find it nearly impossible to imagine someone wanting to become a teacher so that he/she can maintain the status quo.  Teaching is always about change, even if that change is just the difference between your students' minds in September and their minds in June.  To teach, perhaps necessarily, is to want to improve, to make different and better, to envision a realistic utopia for each student and work bring him/her there.

I was going to begin this response by noting how important a sense of hope must be in urban education, but upon further reflection, I think that hope is important for all education, urban or suburban or rural.  Moreover, it is characteristic of all education.  To the extent to which a sense of utopian realism might differ in various education settings, it would be a difference perhaps in the scope of the idealism.  In more impoverished environments, the utopian realist might envision wide-spread institutional reform that corrects the socioeconomic disadvantages of students.  In wealthier districts, the utopian realist might wish to see students who hungrier for knowledge and less complacent.  In either case--and in all cases--I think education, as it is practiced by those actively involved in the teaching of kids, is comprised of Halpin's utopian realism. 

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