"I had never been exposed to teaching like that": Progressive teacher education at Bank Street during the 1930s

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What happens in a teacher education program when control is neither exercised by formal professional or state standards nor by traditional dominant "disabling" market influences (Labaree, 1994)? To answer this question, the focus of this paper is on looking at teacher education through the lenses of pedagogical practices and discourses not in traditional institutions such as normal schools, colleges, and universities but in an alternative institution. Thus, this paper presents detailed accounts and analyzes the practice of the preparation of teachers in a progressive program during the 1930s in New York at Bank Street College of Education. Mostly, these accounts are grounded in the participants' perspectives, providing data about how this progressive teacher-education program was experienced, and in particular on Lucy Sprague Mitchell's teaching based on data especially composed to describe two courses: (1)Environment (a mix of what today can be called social foundations and social studies methods) and (2)Language (mostly about the writing process). Bank Street, initially called the Cooperative for Student Teachers and intrinsically connected with experimental schools and a well-known institution among practitioners and progressive educators, was formed in 1930, which were times with heavy ideological discussion given the social and economic American and international contexts. Teaching at Bank Street centered on making experience a subject matter of study, while making connections between learning about children, the self, the world (the social contexts), and schooling, to foster progressive practices in the classroom. This case about pedagogical practices suggest a need to pay closer attention to the teaching of progressive teachers as an important aspect of learning to teach and teacher education improvement beyond dominant discussions about standards, organization, regulations and control of teacher education. This paper shows that it was possible to have a highly intellectual and inquiry-oriented teacher-education program, with a rigorous study of experience, with passion to understand children, subject matter, social contexts, and the self, and with a commitment to justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1422-1460
Number of pages39
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2002


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