Disputing dispositions

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In latest issue of the newsletter FWD:, billed by the Fordham Foundation as "Arresting Insights in Education," Stanford University education professor William Damon examines the topic of teacher dispositions. Damon takes issue with his colleagues' swift elevation of teacher disposition to the third seat of a new teaching triumvirate, right alongside teacher knowledge and skills. One's disposition, he observes, is now a legitimate object of inquiry for educators to cultivate and assess.

Damon, a psychologist by training, pokes some holes in teacher educators' basic understanding of disposition, that educators would have us believe that a person's disposition is not imprinted on the brain at birth but malleable if only it's exposed to just the right mix of ed coursework. Conversely, psychology's understanding of disposition, asserts Damon, is that it constitutes the most entrenched and fixed parts of our personality, the "me of me" and the "you of you."

But is Damon taking issue over harmless education rhetoric, as he admits is a possibility, a "sloppy definition cobbled together without careful scholarship," or is it more sinister as he comes to conclude, a "dictatorial effort at mind and behavior control"? After all, people do have certain aptitudes for some jobs and not others. While Damon concedes this point, he contends that the ed school accrediting body, NCATE, has made a hash of any legitimate attempt to assess aptitude through their psychological inaccuracy, linking disposition with "moral beliefs and attitudes." The approach has yielded an Orwellian result, claims Damon, where "virtually all of a candidate's thoughts and acts" are subject to scrutiny--ideological thought control at its most dangerous.