Sunday, March 23, 2008

Teachers' narrative as literature

A suggestion I made during the discussion session of Prof. Karen Johnson's workshop (Kobe campus of Hyogo University of Teacher Education, March 11, 2008) was to treat teachers' narrative as literature. We need to try hard to understand the narrative with its due dignity and sensitivity.

The suggestion was agreed by Prof. Karen Johnson, but not by one participant (who is actually my friend.) She argued that making the teachers' narrative "scientific" would be a better strategy for narrative inquiry. She adopts a loose definition of "science" as you see in an expression like "human sciences" and argues that calling narrative inquiry "scientific" gives it more academic legitimacy.

Even if this is a matter of terminology, I disagree. If you claim that narrative study is a "science," you as a researcher of the method are begging to be included in the hierarchy of science at the bottom, hoping to rise to a higher layer of the hierarchy some day.

This strategy is doomed as a failure, for as we learn the complexity of TESOL practice more, the distance from the top of the hierarchy (hard science) increases. Narrative inquiry as science will ever be downgraded, if it is regarded as science at all.

Regarding teachers' narrative as literature (at least a genre of it), on the other hand, puts us in a better position. Narrative inquiry is by far closer to the canonical literature (whatever it is) than to hard science. We even claim that narrative inquiry is "deeper" than science.

Even if this is only a matter of academic politics, we should express our sympathy with literature.

Before TESOL industry flourished, language teachers were respected as literary persons. This is a tradition too great to miss.

That there is something that can only be expressed in a careful, but free use of words is beyond contention. Teachers' narrative is literature in name and substance.


This argument concerning science and literature is based on the distinction made by Bruner in Acts of meaning: paradigmatic mode of thought and narrative mode of thought. Among the books Prof. Johnson cited I also found Dewey's Experience and education and Polkinghorne's Methodology for the human sciences.

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