Making Professional Conduct in Education More Intelligent: Using Knowledge and Skills to Enhance Moral Sensibilities (Dispositions)

Jack Benniga, Mary Diez, Erskine Dottin, Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Peter Murrell, Hugh Sockett
Teacher Education as a Moral Community
February 2008

This short paper exemplifies the kind of soft-hearted but hard-headed thinking that pervades so many discussions about teacher education. The particular topic under discussion here is whether ed schools should inculcate and evaluate teacher "dispositions," which the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) put at the center of its standards in 2000. Dispositions, according to NCATE, are the "values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities and affect student learning, motivation, and development as well as the educator's own professional growth." Nothing could be vaguer, of course, but many observers saw the language as a ploy to insert left-leaning morals training into ed school curricula. (In response to a paper by William Damon, NCATE removed from its standards the mention of "social justice.") What do the authors of this report think? They like the concept but believe it needs some fine-tuning. For instance, dispositions shouldn't be thought of simply as "attributes of an individual like beliefs or attitudes," but as "embedded in a context of action and activity." Furthermore, dispositions have a place in ed schools "as an aid cultivating aspects of ethical and moral teaching practice, and not as the inculcation of those aspects." Got that? All this opaque talk stems from the authors' belief that "the task of educating all children well is as much a question of collective will as it is one of resources and expertise." This is a common refrain. If we could only get teachers to care more and in the right way, to teach from their hearts, etc., our schools would be so much better. But teaching kids is not a challenge that requires us all just to commit, damnit, to turning things around. We'd be much better off if, instead of recruiting the same underqualified bunch and trying to rally them to alter their dispositions, we simply provided the incentives to recruit a better bunch. Read the paper here if you must.

Coby Loup is a Policy Analyst/Web Editor at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute