CHAPTER FIVE: A PERSONAL SUBJECTIVE AND NARRATIVE ETHIC
But all this depends on there being at the heart of the school a core of people, at least a small group of people, who are prepared to create a new kind of research presence, who want to produce experiences and knowledge which is usable by teachers. I think that's the crucial feature -- that their research would be usable. That it would be engaged collaboratively with teacher, that it would be conducted on line in experience with teachers, and that it would be aimed at healing the splits between teaching and doing, school and life, research and practice, which have been so insidiously effective at deadening the experience of school at all levels. (Schön, 1987).
"I wonder if research ethics (regardless of paradigm) are only as good as the people who are researching?" (S. Drake, personal communication, July 2001)
I believe that teaching is an artistic endeavour undertaken with the input and assistance of science, not based upon positivist notions of science. Much of our discussion in the masters' cohort revolved around the person of the teacher or the individual. An emphasis on journal writing and the making of personal connections to the assigned readings fostered this discussion. In this vein, we were exposed to the influence of Jack Whitehead and his insistence on the inclusion of the "I" in the conception of research into practice (1993). This is my basis for the personal in an ethic of teacher research. Further, I believe that teaching is based on personal relationships between students and teachers. It is subjective. To explain my teaching, I need to use the stories of my relationships with my students. It is narrative in nature. When I conduct research in this narrative, subjective and personal manner, I believe that my research becomes more relevant to my colleagues.
I am not an ethicist. However, the thrust of this project has been to suggest that the creation of an ethical norm for research on teaching is not the job of ethicists and institutions, but emerges from the personal stories of teachers. I believe that there must be room for a subjective notion of ethics specific to teacher research. Any attempt to devise an all-encompassing ethical framework exacerbates the "squeeze play" of which Schön (1987) spoke. The squeeze play operates between "resurgence of technical rationality in the university" (Schön, 1987) as evidenced by the positivist Tri-Council document (Stuart, 1998), along with the current atmosphere that supports the testing of teachers. The notion of a test for teachers presupposes the notion of the molecularization of knowledge; (Schön, 1987) the belief that there is a definable set of competencies or skills within teaching that can be measured. Further it presupposes that the acquiring of those skills or competencies is necessary and sufficient to ensure good teaching practice. When coupled with a research environment that seeks to limit the subjective and the personal within university research, we arrive at a situation where the stories and experiences of teachers are negated.
A Personal Ethic
I believe that ethics are only as good as the people doing the actions. The ethical guidelines of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans still have to be followed by the researchers. At some point, REBs need to trust that the procedures outlined by the researchers will in fact be adhered to in reality. The Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans supports a research process that is known from the outset. Procedures are then outlined and certified as ethical by the REB. The procedures are not necessarily dependent upon a person; anyone following the outlined procedure can theoretically carry out the research. Any changes to the process need to be passed through the ethical process again. This assumes that change is unlikely and unwanted, and, if research is considered a procedure to be carried out, they cannot allow secondary researchers to change it at will. However, when we see research as a journey with an undefined end, when a journey will go beyond what we can conceive of at the onset, then it is imperative that the notion of what is ethical must change to fit the new circumstances. To adapt to these changes, we need to hold to the belief that the agents involved in the process can determine the ethical path while they walk it. We cannot simply acknowledge that ethical actions are dependent upon people for their completion; I believe that we need to make that the foundational stance. Teaching and teacher-research stands and falls on the ethical nature of teachers. Teaching is not a procedure, but a journey undertaken by people reflecting-in-action (Schön, 1987) on the nature of the path as they travel it. I believe in the art of teaching.
Teaching as an Art
. . . if you find yourself in a university, you find yourself in an institution built around an epistemology -- technical rationality -- which construes professional knowledge to consist in the application of science to the adjustment of means to ends, which leaves no room for artistry. . . . No room for these indeterminate zones of practice -- uncertainty, situations of confusion and messiness where you don't know what the problem is (Schön, 1987).
Technical rationality emerged from positivism that dictated that new knowledge be created scientifically and systematically (Schön, 1987). It was the business of the university to create theory, which then informed practice, hence the split between research and practice (Schön, 1987). Knowledge was molecularized, divided into pieces only to be reassembled to form ever more complex knowledge (Schön, 1987). Eisner traced educational research back to its social science roots. What he saw as the problem with these roots was that they did not take into account what was "unique or special about schools, classrooms, teaching, or curriculum" (1999, p.83). Teaching could not be divided into essentials and then handed out piecemeal to teachers to put together and form the teacher-proof curriculum (Eisner, 1999). We needed to see teaching as an art.
Ornstein (1999) insisted on a core to teaching that consisted of practices that produced predictable results -- a science. I felt that he set up a false dichotomy between art and science. He saw art as "packed with emotions, feelings and excitement" (Ornstein, 1999, p. 71) and thus difficult to analyze. This concept of art was too narrow. Eisner (1999) offered the metaphor of a conductor to describe a teacher, and I extend that metaphor to show that art is more than feelings and emotions.
Conductors are, among other things, technicians. There are a multitude of beat patterns, baton techniques, and conducting conventions to learn. Then there is the knowledge of musical conventions, chord patterns, notation, and instrument transposition. They need to understand the history of music and the context in which the music was created. They need to have or develop an "ear" for intonation and harmony. Finally they need to "know the score." Conductors must have an intimate knowledge of the music they will lead. They must draw on a tremendous amount of technical knowledge. None of these elements will make them into a conductor, and all of them are not necessary to the same extent for a conductor to emerge. However, significant gaps in any of these technical areas will preclude the creation of a conductor.
The artist conductors must put it together. They "hear" the music they are leading and apply their knowledge to understand how it should sound. They must find the interplay of notes and lines and hidden patterns in the music, some by analysis, and some by intuition. They must convey their messages to the orchestra, and then translate them into wordless motions communicating with split-second precision and timing exactly what needs to happen, and then they need to change the interpretation to meet new understandings that emerge in the performance. It is in the using of the skills that the artistry emerges, but without the techniques, artistry is not possible. Once the techniques are in place, then artistry can develop.
In the conductor metaphor we can see that art and craft are inextricably linked; both are required to a certain extent. The predictable relationships that are evident in teaching can be dealt with by appealing to craft without looking for a prescriptive relationship from science. Looking for science where it does not belong leads us back to the insignificant.
Teaching has a core of practices that we can view as allowing for good technique, or as Eisner would have it, craft. Whether this craft translates into a core of predictable scientific techniques is doubtful. In the sense that there is a science of teaching, I believe that Eisner's sense of science as providing a framework that underlies and drives the practice is more accurate. The theoretical framework is an embodied core of values that inform and drive practice (Whitehead, 1993). This conception of science/theory is appropriate because of the multitude of student-teacher variables involved in teaching. Rather than controlling for variables to determine the effect of a teacher, we must view the effect of the teacher as taking into account all the variables and remaining effective.
The ethical framework provided by the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans functions in the same way as this notion of science in teaching. The framework is helpful for considering the ethical, but it cannot adequately address all the nuances of the art of teaching and researching. Rather than trying to remove the effect of the teacher in ethical reasoning, we have instead to rely upon their ethical capabilities. We must see research and teaching as a journey, a creation emerging from the relationship between a teacher and students. A procedural framework may inform the ethical character of that relationship, but it ultimately stands and falls with the ethical character of the teacher.
A Community Ethic
Although an ethic for teaching relies upon the personal qualities of the teacher, it is not an individual ethic. When I remember the discussions that we had around the tables in our cohort group, the idea of "living one's values"-- or "walking the talk" to use the vernacular -- comes to the fore. Although Jack Whitehead would have us acknowledge that we are "living contradictions"-- simultaneously holding values and having them negated in our practice -- the emphasis is still upon the values. On one hand, it is understandable why ethicists should want to try to control for the foibles of humans in the creation of ethical statements. If people admit that they might do things that are contrary to their values while still holding to those values, then it seems natural to want to find ways to minimize the emphasis on values and move to a more concrete set of definable standards. The Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans appears to have taken this route. We can, however, take another path. Hauerwas (1981) characterizes the alternative as the following:
An ethic of virtue centres on the claim that an agent's being is prior to doing. Not that what we do is unimportant or even secondary, but rather that what one does or does not do is dependent on possessing a "self" sufficient to take personal responsibility for one's action. What is significant about us morally is not what we do or do not do, but how we do what we do. A person of virtue is often said to be a person of style or class in that he or she may well do what others do but in a distinctive manner. Nevertheless, virtue is not the same as "style"; we associate virtue with a more profound formation of the self. (p. 113)
As portrayed by the title of the book --A Community of Character-- Hauerwas' ethic revolves around character.
As persons of character we do not confront situations as mud puddles into which we have to step; rather the kind of 'situations' we confront and how we understand them are a function of the kind of people we are. Thus 'training in virtue' often requires that we struggle with the moral situations which we have 'got ourselves into' in the hope that such a struggle will help us develop a character sufficient to avoid, or understand differently, such situations in the future. (1981, p. 114-115)
Thus Hauerwas' emphasis on character and virtue is also an emphasis on craft over technique (1981). We can compare this with the emphasis of art over science in a concept of teaching and researching. What Hauerwas offers then is an ethic appropriate to a concept of teaching that emphasizes art over science. An ethic of virtue is also a personal subjective ethic. Hauerwas claims, "an ethic of virtue seems to entail a refusal to ignore the status of the agent's 'subjectivity' for moral formation and behaviour" (1981, p. 116). The ethic of virtue is a narrative ethic that "requires that one live faithful to personal history," and "to a community's history" (Hauerwas, 1981, p. 116).
It is the other emphasis of Hauerwas' ethic--that of community--that makes this ethic appropriate to teacher-researchers. "Exactly because an ethic of virtue has such a stake in the agent's perspective, it is profoundly committed to the existence of communities convinced that their future depends on the development of, and trust in, persons of virtue" (Hauerwas, 1981, p. 117).
We could apply this statement to the community of teachers. The actions of the Ontario College of Teachers, along with many other similar groups worldwide, to create standards of practice for the teaching profession are evidence of this commitment. Hauerwas claims that the move to "expurgate and deny status to the 'subjective' in moral argument and justification" stems from the "tacit fear that we lack the kind of community necessary to sustain development of people of virtue and character" (1981, p. 117). And yet this community seems that to be forming within the teaching profession, or at least, the germ of the community is there.
Once, a teacher in the cohort group told a story and mentioned the name of a teaching colleague. The teacher drew a comparison between their respective ways of dealing with students and expressed dismay at the manner of the colleague. Several members of the cohort group, including myself, were quick to point out that the story would be inappropriate for publication without the consent of the teacher. Moreover, seeing the reference to the colleague as negative was possible; and some people made the point that the guidelines of the Teachers' Federation proscribed the sharing of information that might negatively affect the position of a fellow member. The teacher later came back to the group to acknowledge that she had shared the story in error and that it would not be used.
This is an example of the kind of understanding that can arise out of a community of persons committed to maintaining a high ethical standard within the profession. In her PhD thesis defence, her examiners asked Terri Austin (2001) to remove certain statements that showed strong and rather negative feelings about fellow teachers. I recognize the dilemma that she articulates as it is one that is present in any research that includes stories and personal emotions. She wanted to present a real account of her practice that included both the negative and the positive; however, in doing so, so she exposed negative aspects of the practice of colleagues. While I will not deal with all of the issues involved in this account, what is pertinent to this project is her dependence on community for a view of her ethical practice. She consulted her students, asking them whether her account was accurate. She engaged in dialogue with colleagues and members of the broader educational community (Austin, 2001). Throughout the process she engaged in research of her personal practice, but enlisted the educational community as a gauge of the validity and accuracy of her claims. Research about teaching is for teachers and students (Cole & Knowles, 2000), the ethics for the research need to come from that community.
For Teachers and Students
The basis of this research is the process -- the story of the events as they occurred and the interpretation and analysis of those events by the researcher. Subjecting that process to a procedural ethic -- one that places strictures on how we will conduct the research -- changes the nature of the knowledge that we will create. Friere asserts that "alienated men [sic] . . . cannot overcome their dependency by 'incorporation' into the very structure responsible for their dependency. There is no other road to humanization -- theirs as well as everyone else's -- but authentic transformation of the dehumanizing structure (1970, p. 11). If we do not question the structures -- here ethical structures -- that limit the practice of teacher research, then we cannot be sure that the knowledge that we create is true to the nature of teaching. If I use the metaphor of the peg in the hole, I would have to suggest that the peg of teacher research and experience represents a large round peg being squeezed through a small square hole that is the Tri-Council's notion of ethical research. I either have to carve out the hole to fit my research, or trim the research to fit the hole. If I hold with Friere, the second option is not one that "humanizes" teacher research. If research on teaching is to be relevant to teachers and students, then it cannot be restricted by an ethic that threatens to change the nature of the knowledge.
My colleagues and I in the Masters' program and other teachers around the world are engaged in research into their practice. We gain an understanding of the intricacies of the ethical practice of research by listening to the stories that we choose to tell about that research. No one can fully anticipate all of the situations in which we, as teachers, will find ourselves. However, what we can share is the knowledge that we will all be involved in complex and confounding situations. As we look at the stories of others, we can gain an appreciation for the artistic ways in which teachers deal with ethical issues in the everyday carrying out of their duties.
When I read Terri Austin's story, I see that the value of dialogue guided her in maintaining validity and accuracy in her research (2001). I also see the ethical struggle she engaged in when considering how to use personal journals in her account. By itself, her conflicts around the issue do not constitute ethical guidelines. However, many teachers use journals in their accounts of their practice. Many teachers have elements in their journals that fall into the questionable category when it comes time for publication. Taken together, all these stories will begin to outline an ethical context for the use of journals. The stories of teachers as they struggle with the process of remaining caring and ethical in their relationships with their students as they research with them become the "living standards" (Whitehead, 1993) by which we judge the ethics of the projects that follow.
Teacher research can take place within the context of classrooms, focussing on the actions of individual self-identified teachers researching their own practice. As long as the teachers remain true to the values agreed upon by the community of teachers -- standards derived from the stories of teachers -- they can be assured that they are engaged in ethical research.