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Editor's introduction: who are our contemporary gadflies?

Socrates is well known for being an intellectual gadfly, questioning many popular or unpopular ideas that were unreflectively assumed by the masses or individuals to be true. He is often viewed as eroding confidence in a host of cherished beliefs, whether ancient or contemporary from his perspective. Many others, both before and after Socrates' time, have been gadflies, too. The value that is placed on Socratic questioning, however, was in his time and still is frequently diminished or dismissed, especially by those who overemphasize economy and efficiency when pursuing goals and outcomes. The dogmatic and ideologically driven of all persuasions have likewise often questioned the value of others' doubts and inquiries. In addition, so-called practical- and action-oriented people are sometimes inclined to write off important controversies as they rush toward simple solutions to complex and complicated issues. Listing oneself as a gadfly, therefore, on one's curriculum vitae may be ill-advised in many situations, especially if one is seeking a position in certain public policy circles or many education preparation programs, unless one can provide cogent evidence that her or his gadflyish tendencies are focused on the approved or sanctioned list of top ten ideas opposed by a set of policymakers or a cadre of professors. One-sided gadflies, so it seems, are commonly preferred over gadflies who engage in critiques of their own ideas as well as appraisals of the beliefs of their family members. Why would any of us welcome criticism of our own deeply admired assumptions, theories, data, paradigms, fads, practices, and prescriptions? Certainly, reigning, advancing, and passing ideologues too infrequently look favorably on those who critique familial presuppositions and pursuits.

Since we seem more inclined to cross-examine others rather than ourselves, Octavio Paz's claim that we should begin our criticisms with a critique of ourselves appears worth remembering. Likewise, John Dewey's complementary notion that we should allow both orthodox and unorthodox ideas to be studied and examined in classrooms may be a thought that is worth practicing. Nor should we overlook Maxine Greene's ideas of the need for "criticism from within" as well as for seeing things through the eyes of strangers. Of course, there are many factors that may influence whether we or others are consistently or habitually gadflies. Undoubtedly, we may assume--even if such is partially unfounded--we are gadflies if we measure ourselves by the thinking we sometimes see in general society. But are we gadflies among ourselves? Or do we silence one another by our unwritten but newly enshrined beliefs when we attack colleagues rather then their arguments or employ logic stoppers to suggest that further inquiry could only issue from a deep misunderstanding of a sacrosanct idea? Do we look for people who think like we do when we pursue faculty searches or do we want iconoclasts? Do we offer either traditional or progressive candidates in our fields faculty positions? Do we prefer mainstream conservatives, liberals, or radicals instead? Do we welcome intellectual diversity or do we seek to homogenize and indoctrinate our students? If our colleagues have resisted our ideological melting pot, can they earn tenure and be promoted? Do we listen to those who think otherwise in order to learn from them or are we mostly preparing our counterarguments to rebut what we consider an antiquated or dangerous idea that we have heard or inferred? Do we yield to the temptation to believe that our paradigmatic friends are the real gadflies?

At times, of course, it is difficult--as a former colleague once made clear--to distinguish between a horsefly and a gadfly. Consequently, it seems important to distinguish between comments that are horseflyish and gadflyish, those questions and comments that are vicious, mean-spirited, bloodletting, infectious, and counterproductive and those that are probing, educative, revealing, stimulating, insightful, disturbing, and constructive. Even so, a horsefly may suggest ideas that are worthy of our attention, for she or he may also be a gadfly. Even the occasional gadfly is, we may hypothesize, better than the pseudo-ones or those who come with a set of formulistic and standardized objections, accusations, issues, and questions. Fortunately, this responsibility of deciding whether and to what degree ideas, arguments, and research are gadflyish--if it is accepted--ultimately belongs to each person, including the readers of the Journal of Thought, not to the editor. Of course, the editor yields to the temptation to be a gadfly--and horsefly--on occasions. Perhaps this dual temptation is one that all of us encounter, including our current authors even if such is not manifested in their current articles. Whatever the situation, we hope you will find at least several of the enclosed articles provocative whether the authors are questioning current or past conventions or prevailing or passing assumptions. Ideally, the authors will enable us to question our own presuppositions and beliefs, not just the assumptions and ideals of those they are interrogating.

The first essay is "Situating History So It Counts: Learning from Education History's Shift toward Marginalization in U. S. Teacher Education" by Sonia E. Murrow. Murrow may or may not appear to be an early twenty-first century gadfly to us. All gadflies, of course, do not look or question alike. To others of us she may seem to be a gadfly both within her specialty (history of education) and outside of it in the broader field of educator preparation. She claims--manifestly a minority inclination in the world of educator preparation programs--that the history of education is sufficiently important to include in programs today. But she adds twists to her thinking about the claim that merit attention by even the most pragmatically oriented person. Should we give serious thought to integrating the history of education across educator preparation curricula? she asks. Obviously, she and her ideas are dangerous when measured by the reasoning behind many contemporary preparation programs.

Paul A. Wagner, in "Probability, Decision Theory, and a Curricular Approach to Developing Good Thinking," may immediately strike a few of us as someone who is a horsefly. Who--other than someone neatly consigned to a fundamentalist commune or a modernist cul-de-sac--writes about the importance of moral matters and a search for truth today? Or, perhaps, we may think that Wagner offers us neither the ideas of a gadfly nor a horsefly but, instead, those of a barfly. Has he imbibed too long with the ghosts of pedagogy past, the spirits of the curricular elite, or the souls of educational dreamers? Are his proposals realistic and futuristic even if partially rooted in a few ideas that are tinged with the heresies of the dead? And what are we to make of his discussion of probability and decision theory when many--or, perhaps, most--education policymakers are so certain of their prescriptions that they allow little to no room for educators to make genuine educational decisions? Are we to conclude that his ideas are both antediluvian and utopian? Or, on the other hand, are we misinterpreting him? Among other ideas, Wagner offers a rationale for interdisciplinary studies that are designed to provoke imaginative and problem-solving capacities. But after working in contemporary schools and universities, who can possibly have any imaginative or problem-solving abilities left?

Jodi MacQuarrie's "Against Interpretation" represents, at least for some readers, more gadfly-like questioning. Not only does she suggest there is much for classroom teachers to learn from psychoanalytic thought and practice (particularly the theory of D. W. Winnicott), she has the audacity to propose that we need to know less about our students. Know less about our students? Yes. No doubt, some will welcome this plea for more ignorance. But before we abandon the usual encouragement to understand our students and their worlds, we seem well advised to find out precisely what Winnicott and MacQuarrie recommend. Likewise, studying MacQuarrie's reflective blending of ideas from Nel Noddings, Vivian Paley, Martin Buber, Paulo Freire, and Friedrich Nietzsche with Winnicott's seems appropriate. In the end, she wants us to ask whether we are too invasive and impositional in the name of education. Are we guilty of having a blind spot in our inquiry about imposing ourselves on students? Dare we reintroduce the old-fashioned Buberian concept of I-Thou relationships in classrooms?

JoAnn Klinker demonstrates in "Qualities of Democracy: Links to Democratic Leadership" that on-going critical inquiry is needed in the field of educational leadership, an arena that frequently if not normally leaves little time for practitioners to be gadflies. In particular, she argues that reflecting on and applying democratic ideas and ideals, especially those regarding the substantive democratic qualities of responsiveness, equality, and respect for civil and political freedoms, are critical means of nurturing democratic leaders and schools as well as democratic governments and societies. Among other claims that are worthy of attention is the one that argues that emerging democratic schools, like countries, should be careful that personal agendas by educators do not result in impositions in the name of democracy. Is she cautioning us against so-called democratic invasions of traditional schools with their hierarchical cultures? Klinker's advice, if acted on, may assist in revolutionizing many school cultures and classrooms. But would her advice lead to the cultivation of students who score high on standardized achievement tests? And why should educators be interested in nurturing children who will help democratize schools and society when we only need good--i.e., competent and dependable--workers who will keep our economy vital and competitive? Can there be such as thing as healthy democracies and economies?

In "A Good Idea Gone Awry: A Comparative Study of Jefferson's Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge and Bush's No Child Left Behind Act," Edward A. Janak illustrates Murrow's claim about the importance of knowing educational history. But Janak could never be a gadfly, for historians only discuss the past which by definition is a temporal, spatial, and emotional abstraction--or should we say distraction?--that is oblivious and irrelevant to present-day and future interests. For some unexplainable reason, Janak-like Murrow--ignores the notion that history is irrelevant to evaluating contemporary issues and present-day laws. So, he injects queries throughout his study and closes as any insightful gadfly would by inquiring, "What then would Jefferson think of NCLB and the administration that created it?" Fortunately, having dialogued this morning with Jefferson, I am certain about his answer. Briefly--and politely--stated, Jefferson said that many of his worst fears, educationally speaking, are represented in NCLB and most of his greatest worries arise when he thinks of this administration. Still, you may wish to compare Janak's answer to this question with Jefferson's most recent comment on the subject. People--even presidential gadflies--do change their minds. And, perhaps, as unlikely as it may be, historians are gadflies at times.

Muthu Kumar's questions and reflections contained in "Organizing Curriculum Based upon Constructivism: What To Teach and What Not To" should never be allowed to cross the closed minds of those who are philosophically embedded in contemporary constructivist ideology. Anyone who is even partially inducted into the sacred teaching of Saint Construct immediately knows with absolute certainty that Kumar is a horsefly, not a gadfly. Or, to be generous, he may be a barfly like Wagner. But there are no signs of his being either mean-spirited or intoxicated. Could he be a gadfly and be thinking about his former thinking? Has he rejected some of his formerly prized ideas? While a constructivist, Kumar is neither a dogmatic nor superficial one. He offers a cross-disciplinary model for thinking about when prerequisite information and understanding is needed and when a constructivist approach to learning is appropriate. For him, either-or thinking about knowledge development is a tendency that is worth rejecting.

"A Destructive Dialectic: The Menace of Egalitarianism and Self- Esteem" by Gregory K. Stanley offers another critique-one that will be both cursed and praised. Why? Because he has written an editorial about two revered notions in some educational circles: the importance of building the self-esteem of students and the belief that being thoroughly egalitarian in school is both pedagogically demanded and ethically prescribed. The anecdotal, experiential, and interpretative lenses that Stanley offers may be immediately welcomed by those who think similarly and quickly rejected by those who think differently. But should we merely celebrate a piece that at long last affirms our own much cherished impressions? Or should we simply castigate an essay that affirms the distasteful opinions of our intellectual opponents? The question we select and the answer we provide may depend in part on whether we are gadflies or horseflies. Or, alternatively, whether we are becoming barflies.

This issue closes with an introduction to a collection of essays on school-business partnerships. In her review of Schools or Markets? Commercialization, Privatization, and School-Business Partnerships edited by Deron R. Boyles, Jacqueline Romano contends that educators and educational policymakers need to rethink many, probably most, school-business partnerships. Finding the essays in the work challenging and balanced, she recommends that we--educators, parents, citizens, and policymakers--read the work. She is especially interested in our pursuing questions that go beyond cliches and ready-made queries and that reach beyond our emotional and intellectual borders. Fortunately, she does not mention gadflies, horseflies, and barflies.

Douglas J. Simpson

Editor, Texas Tech University
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Author:Simpson, Douglas J.
Publication:Journal of Thought
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Words:2175
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