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Unsettling Education

Searching for Ethical Footing in a Time of Reform


Edited By Brian Charest and Kate Sjostrom

Unsettling Education: Searching for Ethical Footing in a Time of Reform offers a counter-narrative to the prevailing orthodoxies of schooling and school reform that conflate education and learning with that which can be measured on state-mandated examinations. Despite the push to "settle" the purposes of teaching and schooling in ways that see education as the teaching of a discrete set of skills that align with standardized exams, there are teachers and students who continue to resist standardization and whose stories suggest there are many ways to organize schools, design curriculum, and understand the purposes of education. Unsettling Education shares stories of how teachers have resisted state and local mandates to teach to the test in dehumanizing ways, how such teachers have sought to de-commodify educational spaces, how they have enacted their ethical commitments to students and communities, and how they have theorized such practices, sometimes even reconsidering their roles as teachers and the very purposes of schooling. Volume contributors offer concrete ways in which teachers might challenge the structures of schooling to reveal the full humanity and potential of students through different forms of resistance pedagogy, institutional critiques, and critical self-reflection. Featuring a wide range of voices and contexts, the collections’ chapters blend story and theory, resulting in a volume both accessible and thought-provoking to varied audiences—from undergraduate students of education and concerned citizens to veteran educators, teacher educators, administrators, and policymakers.

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Introduction (Brian Charest / Kate Sjostrom)


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Last fall, Christopher, a former student of Kate’s, entered student teaching excited, but exited unsettled. He documented his development in narratives such as this one:

This is Freshman English. There are rules here. This is supposed to be the year that we “prepare students for their entire high school experience.” These kids are not babies anymore. This is High School. And yet, I am reading “Where Have You Gone, Charming Billy?” [O’Brien, 1975] and all I can think about is how the Vietnam War feels like what we are doing to these kids. The first sentence in the story: The platoon of twenty-six soldiers moved slowly in the dark, single file, not talking. Twenty-six soldiers; twenty-six students in a class. Single file lines. No talking. Aren’t these elements of the story the things we should dislike about the training that occurs in war? Earlier in the week when doing vocabulary with the sophomores, one of the students says, “School is a synonym for prison.” The class chuckles and I am left wondering whether I should copy this onto the board and validate the student’s contribution. I smile and editorialize: School sometimes feels like a synonym for prison. I cannot tell if my mentor teacher is amused. I erase the vocab for the day and we move on. Back in Freshman English, our protagonist, Private First Class Paul Berlin, “pretend[s] he...

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