Hope and the Moral Dimensions of Teaching

“The schools are failing, the schools are failing!”

Empty rhetoric about public education keeps filling newspapers here in Washington state and across the country. For more than a decade, or a hundred years depending on how you count, detractors and retractors, extractors and segregationists have been claiming that the cornerstone of American democracy and cultural globalism are faulty and only getting worse.

In the meantime, generations of students have been raised, launched, and lived through this so-called failure. The media has portrayed all of us, the products of these so-called failing public schools, as insolent, apathetic, and largely irrelevant minus our capability to produce and consumer according to their want and desire. We have defeated these shackles though, more and more in succeeding years, to become the powerhouses of social ability. Rather than failing, we are thriving. Rather than withering, we are bursting forth with the positive powerful possibilities of a future unimaginable to those who’d keep us from succeeding.

Last night I met with a muse of mine, the spectacular Donnan Stoicovy. Donnan’s the Lead Learner (aka principal) at a Student Voice Super School in State College, Pennsylvania. Her hard work has included tirelessly supporting her teachers and their students. Their countless struggles against a public education system hellbent on squashing any consideration, let alone practice, of democracy in schools are a model for all of us. Meeting with her and Bernard Badiali from Penn State reminded me of all the reasons why our work in schools is absolutely crucial to the critique, survival, rebirth, expansion, and re-examination of democratic education in America.

While we were talking they graciously introduced me to John Goodlad’s “Moral Dimensions of Teaching“:

  • Enculturating the young in a social and political democracy. Foster in the nation’s young the skills, dispositions, and knowledge necessary for effective participation in a social and political democracy
  • Providing access to knowledge for all children and youth. Ensure that the young have access to those understandings and skills required for satisfying and responsible lives
  • Practicing a nurturing pedagogy (the art and science of teaching). Develop educators who nurture the learning and well-being of every student
  • Ensuring responsible stewardship of schools. Ensure educators’ competence in and commitment to serving as stewards of schools

Considering my own experiences of the previous week and anticipating my coming weeks, I can see how Goodlad has managed- again- to provide us with an essential template for our work. I urge my colleagues and friends in this work to consider these Dimensions in their own practice, and think about how they apply to the individual and collective futures of our work. The urgency and agency apparent in these deceivingly simple Dimensions can help us in countless ways, particularly as we attempt to counter the popular Henny Penny narrative that’s actively inculcating young people to believe their failures while pacifying corporations’ narrow self-centered interest in ending support for public education.

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.


Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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