Teaching as Community Property: Essays on Higher Education
By Lee S. Shulman
Department of English
Director, Faculty Center for Professional Development
California State University, Long Beach
The tile of this collection of Lee Shulman's essays, Teaching as Community Property, implicitly identifies a chronic problem concerning teaching in higher education. The problem, which we have known about for some time, is that although teaching has always been publicly proclaimed to be an important activity, presumably just as important as research, in practice it is not usually treated as having equal value. While many faculty are excellent researchers and scholars, too many are not skilled at articulating what good teaching is nor judging the teaching of others. Moreover, only a tiny number of us actually study teaching as rigorously as we conduct our research in more traditionally recognized areas.
Shulman insightfully suggests "that the reason teaching is not more valued in the academy is because the way we treat teaching removes it from the community of scholars" (140-1). In other words, the common perception has been that research is done in isolation (the scholar laboring away in the library stacks, the scientist in her laboratory, the archeologist digging among the ruins in a distant land), while teaching is more social and public, performed in the company of others. This, however, is a misperception, Shulman argues. He claims that research is not necessarily more valued than teaching but that "we celebrate those aspects of our lives and work that can become ... 'community property'" (141). This astute observation either directly or indirectly undergirds many of the claims Shulman makes in the sixteen essays collected here. The essays span the period from 1987 through 2004 and provide an excellent roadmap for the development of Shulman's thinking about teaching and learning. The various dimensions of Shulman's vision are well worth careful study and further development by those of us involved in teaching, doing research, or managing affairs within any postsecondary educational institution--in other words, just about all of us who work in higher education. Nevertheless, while these essays in various ways argue for and suggest ways to make teaching more scholarly, more communal, I was left wondering whether Shulman's vision of "community property" might end up being more accessible to some than to others within our respective institutions.
Shulman is currently the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and has held this position since 1997. He began his career as a professor of educational psychology and medical education at Michigan State University and was later at Stanford University from 1982-2000, a period in which he helped establish the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (xiii). This volume of Shulman's essays has been released with a companion volume, The Wisdom of Practice: Essays on Teaching, Learning, and Learning to Teach, which is focused on research and teacher education in K-12. Shulman first delivered several of the essays in this volume, Teaching as Community Property, as speeches at various professional conferences, forums, and other venues before revising them for publication.
Shulman's style is accessible and unpretentious. He also knows when to use an apt example to illuminate a key concept. The length of each essay varies--from a brief five pages to thirty, and the book is divided into three parts: Learning, The Profession of Teaching, and Practices and Policies. Each section includes one work previously unpublished, and essays are arranged chronologically. Consequently they often build upon one another. This interconnection of Shulman's thinking helps deepen the reader's understanding of some of his key concepts and primary claims. Nevertheless, the repetition of some material (for example, Shulman defines the scholarship of teaching in several places in the latter half of the book) can be a bit distracting.
Since the goal of excellent teaching is significant learning, in section one Shulman offers four essays intended to help us see where we need to go if learning is to become truly meaningful and transformative for our students. In the opening essay, "Professing the Liberal Arts," Shulman seeks to re-establish the value of liberal learning. Instead of continuing the unproductive conflict between liberal learning and mere vocationalism or a pragmatic professionalism, Shulman contends that we can transform the liberal arts by making them not less, but "more professional" (12). If we consider what it means to be a "professional," as Shulman indicates, the list would include the following six characteristics: (a) A primary goal of any profession is service for important social ends; (b) a profession is grounded by a base of knowledge that is created, elaborated, critiqued, and transformed, all usually within the academy; (c) a portion of this knowledge base is developed in practice; (d) a professional must also exercise keen judgment in negotiating the gap between theory and, in Shulman's phrase, "the gritty particularities of situated practice" (15); (e) a member of a profession must learn from experience and through reflection on one's practice; and (f) any profession is public and communal in that the body of knowledge and standards for practice are shared and evaluated by its participating members (14-16).
After elaborating on the six characteristics involved in learning to be a member of a profession, Shulman identifies and explains the complementary principles that should guide liberal learning. These principles are "activity, reflection, collaboration, passion, and community" (23). When we apply these principles thoughtfully to our teaching, we can "overcome" the primary challenges to learning, challenges that Shulman labels the three "pathologies" (21). These pathologies of learning are amnesia ("I forgot what I learned"), fantasia ("I thought I understood it, but I guess I don't"), and inertia ("I understand it, but I can't use it"). Finally, Shulman offers the use of cases and the vehicles of learning communities and service learning as curricular innovations exemplifying the kind of new liberal learning he advocates.
Readers are perhaps more familiar with the next essay, "Taking Learning Seriously" published in Change magazine in 1999. Here Shulman again highlights the three main learning pathologies and explains that we must develop a "scholarship of teaching" and a base of knowledge that would inform our various pedagogies. He concludes this essay by describing how the recently formed Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) will play a major role in developing and disseminating this knowledge base. Shulman is passionate about and committed to the CASTL project and provides further details of this project in three other essays in Section Two (see below for related web sites). Another noteworthy essay in section one is "Making Differences: A Table of Learning." Here Shulman offers a taxonomy of learning that reinforces his argument for renewing liberal learning. It is a taxonomy that builds on Benjamin Bloom's well-known Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and can be used, as Bloom's taxonomy has been used, as a heuristic for designing effective learning experiences for students. However, Shulman's taxonomy also synthesizes elements of other notable taxonomies, such as Lawrence Kohlberg's and William Perry's. This synthesis makes Shulman's scheme more robust in that it includes, along with knowledge and understanding, engagement in tasks and projects, performance, reflection, judgment, and commitment.
Although it is difficult to draw direct causal connections between acts of teaching and significant student learning, Shulman's quest to make teaching community property appears to be moving in that direction. The longest essay in the book that begins section two is "Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform." If teaching merits the same status as research, then teaching requires a knowledge base that can be used to develop rigorous standards for evaluating teaching performances. This knowledge base would consist of "a codified or codifiable aggregation of knowledge, skill, understanding, and technology, of ethics and disposition, of collective responsibility-as well as a means for representing and communicating it" (87). Shulman contends that this knowledge base would include the following essential categories: content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, curriculum knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of learners, of educational contexts, and of educational ends (92-3).
To my mind, the most important category here is "pedagogical content knowledge" because if an educator were adept in this area, I would assume she would be knowledgeable in the other four areas as well. Consider that in order to select, shape, and present content to meet particular students' needs, an educator must already know the content well; must understand something about pedagogy in general; must recognize how the particular content fits in with the current curriculum; and most definitely must know about one's students, where they come from and what they bring with them to the classroom. Finally, she must also understand the skills and knowledge the institution hopes students will attain by the time they graduate.
In other essays in section two, Shulman elaborates on what's involved in learning how to teach well, how to develop a "pedagogy of substance" (connecting subject matter with students' lives and culture), and how we can make teaching community property through disseminating various artifacts. In the last three essays of this section, Shulman explains and promotes the scholarship of teaching and learning. This scholarship he defines as something that is made public, that is made the object of critical review and evaluation, and developed further by others. The five essays in the final section then focus on practices and policies that would encourage this kind of scholarship. In the concluding essay of this volume, which has not been previously published, Shulman describes how educators might better prepare doctoral candidates for teaching careers. While this essay may be less relevant to those of us in the CSU, Shulman's discussion of the Ph.D. as "steward of the discipline" is an insightful analysis of what it means to represent one's discipline as a teacher and scholar.
Along with the "insightful analysis" that characterizes many of the essays in Teaching as Community Property, throughout this book readers will see Shulman exemplifying the teacher-scholar, the model he advocates. Schulman, the teacher-scholar, is a person grounded in the Deweyan tradition of endless experimentation. He is also a person who continually reflects and builds on ideas that are intended to reveal and to explain the complexity and richness of teaching and to show how we might study and document that work in order to make it valued community property. I am concerned, however, that Shulman talks about the scholarship of teaching as if it were equally accessible and beneficial to all faculty. Yet within a huge system such as the CSU in which nearly half the faculty workforce is temporary and often does not have equal access to the resources available to permanent faculty, would these faculty be encouraged to pursue the kind of scholarship Shulman is promoting? Would they be included in campus-wide conversations about teaching and learning as well as in the scholarly projects designed to study those activities? And would these faculty be encouraged to adapt and build upon the fruits of this scholarly labor? "Teaching as community property" is a wonderful concept, yet the actual material conditions of our teaching need to be carefully examined so that Shulman's vision does not remain only attainable by the more privileged within the academy.
Additional Resources on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning:
Posted February 10, 2005.
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