The 19th ISATT Biennial Conference

"Education beyond the crisis: new skills, children's rights and teaching contexts"

1 - 5 July 2019, Sibiu, Romania







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ISATT’s big picture

Alan Brown
Professor Emeritus, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of The University of Toronto

I find it fun to watch clubs growing up, be they academic societies like this one, or car clubs. Take my Saab club’s monthly meeting to tell each other “Saab” stories. We pooled our problems with this quirky car and learned by mutual exploration. But today, what a difference! We get excited about bells and whistles: a cultural shift from independent critical analysis to becoming corporate cheerleaders.

Culture shifts are not uncommon in voluntary organizations. One academic society on educational research I know of shifted from research inquiry to the passion of becoming corporate cheerleaders for granting agencies. ISATT is different. It triumphs by meeting things head on as when it changed its name. Maybe some of us in the cognitive science club were hesitant and didn’t want a society of teacher-boosters having to listen to a plethora of journalistic papers or reports from back home. But why not?

Or so I thought until a colleague said: “But Alan, ISATT does nothing for teachers,” made me think. We can do both so long as we never lose the element of dispassionate critical inquiry which is an essential part of the truly unique mission of ISATT which is charged with seeing as a unified whole the sheer enormity of the teaching-learning experience.

At this conference we’ve had many different takes on the teaching-learning process: what it is, what it does the many factors that affect it. That is our big picture: our Guernica, our Primavera.

Building a better picture may well be your purpose. Doing something about it may be central or merely peripheral to your basic inquiry. Yet once you find out something about teaching some “dang fool” is going to launch a teacher improvement program.

Teachers don’t always like this and perhaps with good reason. One teacher told Michael Huberman: “You know, when I teach, it’s an act of love. Between me and my students, there’s a relationship that creates a current that explains whether they learn something or not. You won’t be measuring that current because you and your instruments can’t see it and probably don’t even think it’s there.”

See how the construct “love” always finds its way into studies of interpersonal dynamics and teaching is nothing if not interpersonal. Scholars looking at the teaching-learning activity have been guided half a century by what was seen as an excellent two-dimensional model using love — or consideration or some other antiseptic synonym– and its orthogonal counterpart of control– or its own scholarly metaphor. Yet what strikes us today as alarming is the omission in that model of anything to do with fun!

The message here is that by missing the obvious — be it the joy and beauty found in Aristotle’s “aesthetics” or just the theme from some Shakespearian drama — we’ll find ourselves, as many before us, overlooking some of the most meaningful detail in our “big picture”. A missing dimension? If ISATT works anywhere it works well in hyperspace– a space where we can find different sources for understanding be they new places, familiar ones or the very old places. When it comes down to it we could put dimensionalities on the shelf, store our methods of meaning, cut those criteria for advancement and just bask in the aesthetics of reality. Do I hear a call for the arts and humanities? Long overdue!