Jardine, D., Friesen, S., Clifford, P. & LaGrange, A. (2001). “Back to basics”: Re-thinking what is basic to education through an interpretive study of the work of teachers and students in elementary school classrooms

Jardine, D., Friesen, S., Clifford, P. & LaGrange, A. (2001). “Back to basics”: Re-thinking what is basic to education through an interpretive study of the work of teachers and students in elementary school classrooms

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  The Alberta  Journal  of Educational  Research Vol.  XLVII,  No. 2, Summer  2001,187-190 Research Notes David  W.  Jardine University  of Calgary Patricia  Clifford Sharon Friesen Galileo Educational Network and Annette LaGrange University  of Calgary Back  to  Basics : Rethinking What  is  Basic  to Education  Through  an  Interpretive Study of  the  Work  of  Teachers and Students in  Elementary School Classrooms Introduction There  is a  long-standing allure  to the  idea  of  back  to  basics in  educational theory  and  practice.  It  drives reactionary school reform movements (Berk, 1985;  Holt,  1996) and  critiques  or  defenses  of  liberal or  progressivist education (Grumet,  1993). It  also subtly underwrites  how  curriculum guides  are conceived  and  organized;  how  disciplinary knowledge  is  envisaged  and delivered;  what  the  work  of the  classroom  is  understood  to be; how  children are thought  of  regarding their participation  in  and necessity  to the  work  of the classroom; what  teachers  are  expected  to  know  and to do; and how  teaching and  the  assessment  of  teachers'  and  children's work  is  organized  and evaluated. Even more subtle,  but far  more pervasive, powerful,  and  diffuse  is the  use of  basics  as an  often unexamined, incendiary clarion in public discourse and  the  public press (Freedman,  1993). In  our  ongoing  SSHRCC  research project  we  have been engaged  in a rethinking  of the  idea  of  basicness in education in order: David  Jardine  is a  professor  in the  Faculty  of  Education.  He is the  author  of  three books  including most recently  Under the Tough Old Stars:  Ecopedagogical  Essays.  He can be  reached  at jardine@ucalgary.ca. Annette LaGrange  is the  Dean  of the  Faculty  of  Education  and is  currently involved  in  major national research efforts in  the  area  of  day  care  and teaching.  She can be  reached  at avlagran@ucalgary.ca.  Patricia  Clifford  is a  co-founder  of the  Galileo Educational  Network,  which  offers professional support  to  teachers  interested  in the  effective integration  of  technology into classrooms.  She is the co-author  of  several articles and book chapters in journals such  as the  Harvard Educational Review. She  can be  reached  at  pclifford@home.com. Sharon Friesen  is a  co-founder  of the  Galileo Educational Network.  She is the  co-author  of  several articles and book chapters in journals such  as the  Harvard Educational Review.  She can be  reached at sharonfriesen@home.com.  187  D.W.  Jardine,  P.  Clifford,  S.  Friesen,  and A.  LaGrange 1. to unearth and critique the  philosophical  underpinnings, hidden histories, and  appearances of the idea of basics in contemporary educational theory and  practice; 2.  to provide an alternative version of basicness and to  test  the effectiveness of this alternative in educational theory and practice. We have been systematically documenting the work of  children,  teachers, and researchers in  various elementary school settings to see what sorts of work, conversations,  thinking,  creation, and controversy arise through orienting to this alternative; 3. to show how and the  extent  to  which  what currently counts as basic education is not lost in this alternative version, but is rather revived and strengthened by it; 4. to  link  educational ideas of basicness more directly to the ideas of basic ness  that inform the disciplines we are entrusted to teach; 5. specifically to explore the discipline of mathematics and the practice of elementary mathematics education as the central  case  of how  these  tradi tional  and alternative ideas of basicness manifest themselves and what dif ferences  they make in the work of  teachers  and students. Background  and  Rationale  for the  Study In our previous research work (under  SSHRCC  grant #  410-95-0380,  which ended  April  1998),  we explored classroom,  disciplinary,  and intellectual com munity  as it appears in mathematics education (Jardine, 1994; Jardine  with Friesen,  1997),  language arts education (Jardine &  Field,  1996),  environmental education (Jardine,  1995a, 1995b, 1996b, 1997a, 1997b),  ideas of curriculum integration (Jardine,  1995a, 1997a;  Jardine, LaGrange & Everest,  1998),  developmental theories (Jardine, in press; Jardine  with  Friesen,  1997),  and the character of the teaching profession (Jardine,  1996a).  That work demonstrated that it is possible to conceive of the classroom and the disciplines we teach as  living communities and that such a conception can lead to quality work being done in the classroom by  teachers  and children alike (Jardine &  Field,  1996). Through  an interpretive investigation of specific classroom conversations, projects, and events, our current study demonstrates that education is being driven  by an analytic idea of basicness that has been inherited from a  limited, literal-minded,  and outdated version of the empirical sciences. This idea can be simply  stated: that  which  is most real or most basic to any discipline we might teach are its smallest, most clearly and distinctly isolatable, testable, and  asses sable bits and pieces. In the area of language arts, for example, phonemes and graphemes are clearly and definitively distinguishable from each other, and a child's  mastery of sound-symbol relationships can be equally clearly and  definitively  tracked, tested, and assessed. Children's abilities regarding such masteries (and through provincial testing  scores  the accountability of classrooms and schools) can be then unambiguously rank-ordered.  Analytically isolatable features of language such as graphemes and phonemes are in this sense  understood as somehow basic to the teaching and learning of language. A  similar line of thought occurs in mathematics, where isolatable and  testable math  facts  are considered more basic than, for example, the complex fields of relations that knit together numeracy,  addition,  subtraction, and the operation- 188   Back  to  Basics al  character of mathematical work and all the  difficult  conversations that might go into opening and exploring such matters  with  children. Our  study has demonstrated  (e.g.,  thus far in the  areas  of mathematics education, Friesen,  Clifford,  & Jardine, 1998, 1999; art education, Jardine, Graham,  LaGrange, & Kisling-Saunders  2000;  environmental education,  Jar dine,  2000;  Abram  & Jardine  2000)  that such basics are in  fact  abstractions that are the outcomes of a highly complex, theoretical, analytic process. What are in fact abstract  and  arcane  products of analysis are believed to be what must be taught chronologically first to the youngest of children,  because  they are considered (analytically) basic. In  our project we have been exploring images, ideas, and practices of ancestry, memory, generativity, community, relationship, intergenerational- ness,  and conversation as fundamental and basic to what can be considered a living  discipline entrusted to children and  teachers  in schools. We are explor ing  how the basics of a discipline constitute it as an open, generous,  living  field of relations and real work (Snyder,  1990).  We are also exploring how in the light  of such an image of basics, the work of education is to draw children into the real, complex, interrelated, often ambiguous, often contested work of a discipline,  and not to fragment it into static, established structures, but in the living  conversations that constitute their being passed on in ways that are healthy, whole, and sustainable. In  our study we have refused to  enter  into the war of polarities that is all too common in educational discourse. We do not  wish  to  reject  or disdain the results of analytic work in educational theory and practice. Fragmentation and the isolation of  skills and  facts may be occasionally precisely what is required  in the day-to-day work of schooling or in dealing  with  specific difficulties of particular children. However, we contend that such a judgment as to the appropriateness of fragmentation requires an understanding of some thing  more basic than such fragments: a knowledge of the  living  discipline in which  such fragments gain their place and meaning. It is only in this wider, more difficult, more ambiguous realm of a  living  discipline that a sound pedagogical judgment can emerge. In  fact,  as the Corporate  Council  on Educa tion  reported to the Conference Board of Canada (n.d.), it is precisely this sort of deeper, more difficult understanding that the  world  for  which  we are educating our children demands. We believe that our project  will  help open a new conversation about the basics in education beyond its current narrow, often overheated confines. We believe as  well  that the alternative we  will  be exploring allows for the pos sibility  of recovering a deeper, more sustaining, and more intellectually pleasurable understanding of the  world  for  which  we are educating our  chil dren. References Abram,  D., & Tardine, D.  (2000).  All  knowledge is carnal knowledge: A conversation.  Canadian Journal  of  Environmental Education, 5, 167-177. Berk, L.  (1985).  Back to basics movement. In  The  international  encyclopedia  of  education:  Research  and studies  vol. 1).  Oxford,  UK:  Pergamon  Press. Conference Board of Canada, (n.d.).  Employability  skills profile.  A document developed by the Corporate  Council  on Education, a program of the National Business and Education Centre, CBC. 189  D.W. Jardine, P. Clifford, S. Priesen, and A. LaCrange Freedman,  J. (1993).  Failing  grades.  Red Deer  AB:  Society  for  Advancing  Educational Research. Friesen,  S.,  Clifford,  P.,  &  Jardine, D.  (1998).  Meditations  on  community, memory and  the intergenerational character  of  mathematical truth.  Journal  of  Curriculum  Theorizing,  14(3),  6-11. Friesen,  S.,  Clifford,  P.,  &  Jardine, D.  (1999,  October). Basic betrayals: Mathematics  in the  middle school.  Mathematics Education Dialogues: The National Council of  Teachers  of Mathematics, 8, 8. Grumet,  M (1993). The  curriculum:  What  are the  basics and  are we  teaching them?  In J.  Kinchloe &  S.  Steinberg (Eds.),  Thirteen  questions:  Reframingeducation's conversation  (pp.  15-21).  New York:  Peter Lang. Holt,  M (1996). A  cautionary tale: School reform in England.  Journal  of  Curriculum  and Supervision,  12(1),20-24. Jardine, D.  (1994). The  ecologies  of  mathematics and  the  rhythms  of the  Earth.  In P.  Ernest (Ed.), Mathematics, philosophy and education: An international  perspective, studies  in  mathematics education  (vol.  3,  pp.  109-123).  London:  Falmer Press. Jardine, D.  (1995a). The  stubborn particulars  of  grace.  In B.  Horwood  (Ed.),  Experience and the curriculum:  Principles and  programs  (pp.  261-275).  Dubuque, IA:  Kendall/Hunt. Jardine, D.  (1995b).  On  the  integrity  of  things: Ecopedagogical reflections  on the  integrated curriculum.  In  G. Vars (Ed.),  Current  conceptions  of  core  curriculum:  Alternative  designs  for integrative  programs  (pp.  33-38).  Kent  OH:  National Association  for  Core  Curriculum. Jardine, D.  (1996a). The  profession  needs  new blood.  Journal  of  Curriculum  Theorizing,  11(3), 105-130. Jardine, D.  (1996b).  Under  the  tough old stars : Pedagogical hyperactivity and  the  mood  of environmental  education.  Canadian  Journal  of Environmental Education, 1, 48-55. Jardine, D.  (1997a).  American dippers and Alberta winter strawberries.  Raising the  Stakes:  The Planet Drum Review, 27  (Special issue  on  Mainstreaming Watersheds ),  11. Jardine, D.  (1997b) To  dwell with  a  boundless heart : On  the  integrated  curriculum  and  the recovery  of the  Earth.  In  D. Flinders  & S.  Thornton (Eds.),  The curriculum  studies  reader: Essential contemporary  readings  (pp.  213-223).  New York: Routledge. Jardine, D.  (2000).  Under  the  tough old stars : Ecopedagogical Essays.  Vol.  4 of the  Foundations of  Holistic  Education  Series  Catalogue Number 4177.  Brandon, VT: Psychology Press/Holistic Education  Press. Jardine, D. (in press). Welcoming  the  old man home:  A  meditation  on Jean  Piaget, interpretation and  the  nostalgia  for the  srcinal. Taboo:  The  Journal  of Education and Culture. Jardine, D.,  &  Field,  J. (1996). On the  post-modern shadow  of  whole language theory and practice and  the  ecological wisdom  of  good work.  Holistic Education Review, 9(2),  54-58. Jardine, D.,  with  Friesen,  S. (1997). A  play  on the  wickedness  of  undone sums,  including  a  brief mytho-phenomenology  of  x and some speculations  on the effects of its  peculiar  absence  in elementary mathematics education.  Journal  of the Philosophy of Mathematics Education, 10 [Online].  Available:  http:/  /www.ex.ac.uk/~PErnest/pomelO  Jardine, D., Graham,  T.,  LaGrange,  A.,  &  Kisling-Saunders, H.  (2000).  Staying  within  the  lines: Re-imagining  what  is  elementary in the  arts  of  elementary schooling.  Language and Literacy [Online]. Available:http://edul0.educ.queensu.~landl/papers/stayingwi  thin .html Jardine, D., LaGrange,  A.,  &  Everest,  B. (1998). In these shoes is the  silent call  of the  earth : Meditations  on  curriculum  integration, conceptual violence and  the  ecologies  of  community and  place.  Canadian  Journal  of Education,  23(2),  121-130. Snyder, G.  (1990).  The  real  work.  New York: New Directions. 190
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