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The University and the Teachers
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Oxford Studies in Comparative Education

The University and the Teachers

France, the United States, England


1994 paperback 286 pages, £30.00, ISBN 978-1-873927-08-3

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About the book

‘Here is a book for our times: a study in three countries of the relationship between teacher education and the universities. An Englishman looks at France; a Frenchman at the USA and two Americans at England, with the whole introduced and rounded off by Harry Judge, who was also the interlocutor of France ... It is a notable addition to the Oxford Studies in Comparative Education.’ John Tomlinson, Director of the Institute of Education, University of Warwick, The Times Educational Supplement

‘... this is an outstanding book on several levels. ... it is a worthwhile read for audiences well beyond those directly involved in teacher education. It will be of particular interest to researchers and students of comparative education. At a time when politicians seem bent on importing educational practices from other countries, it reminds us that there are no easy “lessons” to be learnt through international comparisons and that we cannot suppose that what is identified as good practice in one country can easily be imported elsewhere without taking into account the cultural context within which it is successful.’ Marilyn Osborn, University of Bristol, Comparative Education

‘The book is beautifully and engagingly written, enlivened by the authors’ efforts to make sense of that which is foreign to their personal educational experiences. The narratives are rich in detail and insights about the forms of teacher education and the cultural logic of their suitability. The chapters provoke “thought experiments” of a kind that are suggestive of outcomes for university-based teacher education if reforms currently proposed in one nation prove to be similar to long-standing practices in the others.’ Frank B. Murray, University of Delaware, Comparative Education Review

The work recorded in this book was undertaken over four years, with support from the Spencer Foundation of Chicago and under the direction of Harry Judge of the University of Oxford. Michel Lemosse teaches at the University of Nice, and Lynn Paine & Michael Sedlak at Michigan State University.



France: 1963: The Decision; The System; The Teachers

France: before 1963: Continuities; The Agrégation; The University; The Ecole Normale

France: since 1963: The Crisis of 1968; Holding the Line: the Right and the seventies; Pressures for Change: the Left and the eighties; An Uncertain Outcome?

The United States: 1963: Towards 1963; Normal Schools and Universities; 1963: two books

The United States: since 1963: A Non-System? The Uncertain Profession; Heart versus Head; Responses

England: towards 1963: 1963; The Rise of the Teacher Apprentice, 1789-1902; The Triumph of Academic Credentials, 1902-1963

England: after 1963

England: towards 1994: Towards 1994; The Story within Teacher Education: centralisation of control; Anti-Professionalism: resurrecting the teacher apprentice; Competition in a Destabilised Environment; Concluding the Era: surprise

Reflections: 1963 Again: the University; 1963 Again: the Teachers; The Dynamics of Change; After 1995

Bibliography: France, United States, England, General


This is on the surface a book about the role of the university in the education and professional preparation of teachers. It examines that relationship in a cross-national perspective, and in a way which we hope will be illuminating and believe to be original. The central argument is that describing the ways in which, within these three countries, universities regard school teachers and their professional education will serve to expose a whole range of embedded attitudes about education, of cultural assumptions, and of political habits. The three countries – France, the United States and England – were chosen precisely in order to throw such differences into sharp relief. This book therefore is, no doubt to the disappointment of some, about differences rather than similarities: its style is contrastive rather than comparative. It does not suggest that easy “lessons” are to be learnt, or that supposedly good practices can be whisked from one side to the other of the Channel or of the Atlantic.

If the countries were chosen with such purposes in mind, so was the subject. Teacher education, treated in artificial isolation, can indeed be a dull and unrewarding subject; so can the institutional behaviour of universities. The geometry of the following chapters is derived from the axiom that to understand teacher education, above all in a cross-national framework, is to understand much more than teacher education. How teachers are educated, and where and by whom, reflect beliefs about what teachers are for and why society employs them. Any examination of such beliefs must unpack underlying theories of the purposes of an education provided by the State. Such theories in turn can be shown to be part of a rich texture of national habits and assumptions (as well as controversies) about the nature of the State, the actual and desirable shape of society, the duties and autonomy of the citizen, the relationship between education and the economy, and the character of that culture which it is one of the purposes of the schools to transmit.

The methods of analysis and discussion adopted here are, therefore, in no sense peculiar to a study of teacher education, or indeed to a wider study of schooling. A similar case could be made for a contrastive study of transport in the three countries embraced by this study. French, American and British railway systems are as they are because of sharply differing assumptions and beliefs about the role of competition or the distinction between private and public. They are at the same time marked by differences in geography and demography, in political history and economic conditions. So much is obvious. AMTRAK has almost nothing in common with the SNCF and British Rail is about to be dismantled (at the very moment when it is being connected to the French system by a tunnel). Parallel arguments could be deployed for a contrastive study of the civil service in these three countries. This book is therefore in its essence an essay in cross-national studies rather than a technical study of teacher education and the universities.

The theme is chosen because (obviously) it is one in which all the authors have a particular interest, and a peculiar qualification. That qualification is the paradoxical one of expert ignorance. The studies reported in this book were undertaken by partners from France, the United States and Britain. Each of us, for good or ill, has been engaged for many years in the study and practice of teacher education in her or his own country. But the design of this work has required each of us to learn and to think about an experience quite foreign to our own. Each of us has struggled to maintain a distance, to observe from the outside, to interpret what we see in terms intelligible to those who for the moment are as ignorant as we were. The triangular nature of the study is therefore integral to its character. For example, the French partner in this enterprise, who brought to his task an extensive appreciation of the English as well as of the French educational world, is required to interpret the American experience (previously unfamiliar to him) in ways which make it intelligible to his British partner and which at the same time – but now in the judgment of his American partner – do not violate the facts. We have tried, carefully but not always successfully, not to influence one another’s opinions.

This study elects to concentrate on a small number of countries, namely three. This is because the authors preferred to work in depth rather than to employ more generalized survey methods. The reasons for this choice must be by now obvious. The thrust of the whole work is to clarify how one narrowly focused issue – the relationship of the universities to teacher education – can be illuminated by what is essentially a contextual and historical approach. This has entailed for the authors an extended study of the general workings of the educational system in the country under study. Examples will abound in the following pages. Wider surveys of course have their own advantages and uses, but do not permit a descent into the finer grain of reality. They must also seek to synthesize, to amalgamate, to homogenize: in a word to be comparative rather than contrastive. The choice to be narrow has therefore been consciously made.

A similar preference underlies the choice of these three countries, rather than of any others. Our belief is that there need to be enough comparable features to render contrast meaningful. Even if we ourselves had the necessary linguistic and other skills, we would all remain sceptical of the value of a study of the kind attempted here but focusing upon, say, Japan, Norway and the Ukraine. Two of our countries share a common language; all three of them enjoy, even if in one case the assertion has itself become contentious, continuity with a deeply rooted tradition of western civilization. Yet in education, as for example in law, the differences appear to be as fundamental as the similarities. Consider the use of one of the two key terms of this study: “Universities”. A French university has something, but not much, in common with an American university; the term “an American university” is itself almost devoid of meaning, given the rich variety of institutions covered by that one term; some British universities are more like the French grandes écoles, while others could be more readily likened to liberal arts colleges in the States. And so on. It is this mixture of propinquity and distance that makes our particular triad so rewarding a subject of study.

Harry Judge has been responsible for the work on France, as for the overall design of the project and of this book. He wrote (in addition to this Introduction) the first three chapters, as well as chapter 9. Chapters 4 and 5 are from the pen of Michel Lemosse. Lynn Paine and Michael Sedlak worked together on chapters 6, 7 and 8.

Harry Judge was until 1988 Director of the Oxford University Department of Educational Studies, where he had worked since 1973. He has been a Fellow of Brasenose College since the same year. Before that he was Principal of Banbury School in Oxfordshire and during that period was a member of the James Committee (reporting in 1972) on the reform of teacher education. His disciplinary background is in history and his graduate work in London was on early modern French history, which is the field of his earlier published work. During the 1980s he was increasingly active in discussions on teacher education in the United States, and in 1982 published for the Ford Foundation American Graduate Schools of Education: A View from Abroad. Two years later, Oxford University Press published his A Generation of Schooling: English Secondary Schools since 1944. He has served as Visiting Professor at several American universities, and for the first five years after his retirement from the Oxford directorship enjoyed a part-time appointment at Michigan State University, teaching a course in comparative education. He has published many articles and contributed chapters to collective works in recent years.

Michel Lemosse is a Professor at the University of Nice, where he teaches British Civilization, and in particular the political and social history of Britain since the seventeenth century. He is a product of the classically French école normale who went on to study for the agrégation at the Sorbonne. He has taught in both anglophone and francophone Africa. He has published many articles on education and on white-collar unions: his work for the Doctorat d’Etat was on teacher unions in Britain and his Education in England and Wales was published by Longman in 1992.

Lynn Paine is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University. Her own undergraduate work was in East Asian Studies at Princeton, while her graduate studies in sociology and education were completed at Stanford. Her research interests include the relationship between teacher education policy and practice, the links between teacher education and teaching, and the connections between educational reform and social change. She has conducted extensive field research in China and published journal articles and book chapters on teacher education policy, the educational policy process, and teaching in Chinese classrooms. As a senior researcher with the National Center for Research on Teacher Learning she is currently participating in a cross-national comparative study of novice teacher learning with and from mentors.

Michael Sedlak is Professor of the History of Education and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the College of Education at Michigan State University. His undergraduate work in history was completed at the University of Washington and his graduate work at Northwestern University. He has worked with the Rand Corporation on an array of projects related to history and to policy, and has directed two large-scale historical projects funded by the US Department of Education. He has published widely on the history of professions and of professional education, on high school reform and on public policies and services for adolescents. He is the author of a score of articles and of four books, including Education in the United States: An Interpretive History (1976), with Robert Church, and Selling Students Short: Classroom Bargains and Academic Reform in the American High School (1986).

Our work is based upon the published sources cited in the text and brought together in the bibliography at the end of this volume, and upon an extensive series of visits and interviews across a period of four years. In several of the cities and regions listed below interviews were conducted in more than one institution of higher education, as well as in primary and secondary schools, and with educational administrators, civil servants, politicians, and senior officials in private as well as public agencies. In all cases a commitment to protecting anonymity has been observed, and in some cases more detailed information is given in the notes at the end of relevant chapters.

Interviews were conducted:

  • in France: in Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Limoges, Rouen, Nice and Caen
  • in the United States: in Massachusetts, Virginia, Louisiana, Michigan, Connecticut, California and Washington, DC.
  • in England: in London, Exeter, Staffordshire, Leeds, Cambridge, Reading, Oxford, Coventry and Bristol

The reader will have noted the reference to “England” rather than to Great Britain or to the United Kingdom. This is of course deliberate. There are significant differences between Scotland and England, in education as in law and not least in matters relating to the training of teachers. We chose to concentrate on England as a case study. Although most of the comments made will also apply to Wales, and many to Northern Ireland, it would have been cumbersome to keep adding such special references. The context will make it clear when the references are to Britain as a whole.

The dominant method of this study is historical, although unfortunately history has not stopped while we have been working. “The university” may be resumed as the key example. The use and definition of that term were radically changed in Britain in 1992, when institutions that had in the 1960s been baptised as Polytechnics changed overnight not only their names but also their relationship to the apparatus of the State. In France in 1991, new university institutions were created (again overnight) to provide novel forms of teacher education. Things, for good reason, may not happen so abruptly in the United States but the years during which this study was conducted have seen changes of deep if often contradictory importance in the interaction between universities and teacher education.

It soon became clear to each of us, writing of a foreign country, that nothing in the present scene could possibly be explained without a constant and regressive appeal to the explanatory power of history. Even in France there is no such thing as pure rationality. It became equally clear that to explain the 1990s in terms of all the necessary history of (at least) the past century produced no explanation at all: only a bewildering account of successive changes, described from a contemporary angle. Hence our dilemma: history alone could explain everything but only by making it unintelligible. Circumstances differ widely in all three countries, but for all of them it can be argued that the mid-1960s represented a time of dramatic and fundamental change. For reasons that are given in the body of the text, 1963 is an appropriate year to take as a starting point for each of our expositions.

Each of the three studies therefore begins with an overview of the situation in that year. An analysis is then offered of how the prevailing relationship between the university and the training of teachers had by 1963 been generated. Some degree of stability and clarity having been established, the evolution of that relationship since 1963 is examined and, it is hoped, explained. History is usually written forwards and sometimes backwards: in these pages, it is written outwards, from the middle.

In order to focus attention on this aspect of our work, the first chapter is written in the present tense, so that the reader is invited to adopt the perspective of 1963 and (for the moment) to leave out of account all that has happened since. And so to France.


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