An examination of teaching as practical political activity

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1990
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Virginia Tech
Abstract

This dissertation examined the notion of teacher as an agent of social change. The participants were feminist, university teachers. The study is important because it explored schools as political sites where teaching and learning are understood in terms of democratic citizenship and social justice. The theoretical base for the research was neo-marxist theory drawing specifically on the concept of teacher as "transformative intellectual".

The case study strategy, following an ethnographic model, was the qualitative research method employed. Symbolic interactionism was the theoretical orientation of the methodology. It was selected because of its consistency with the perspective that meaning is socially constructed which was an assumption of the study. Data analysis took the form of the constant comparative method. Two notions of validity that guided the study were the mutual development of self-consciousness by inquirer and respondents, and the creation of a dialogical ethnographic text which avoids violation of the participants realities.

The findings of the study suggest that the notion of transformative intellectual may rely too heavily on abstract, and highly rationalistic, constructions of "experience", "empowerment" and "dialogue" as transformative strategies. Moreover, the study underscores a need to attend to the transformative intellectual as complicit in the production, and legitimation, of certain kinds of knowledges, in the context of pedagogy as an "interactive productivity". Additionally, "transformative" may not refer to a state, or characteristic, of an individual teacher but rather to a relationship between individuals in a group. Finally, the study points to the immense difficulties posed by the university institution to the work of the would-be transformative intellectual. Further research may be needed to explore individual and group efforts to overcome those difficulties faced by the teacher as an agent of social change.

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