UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Hannah Arendt goes to school : promoting action in a teacher resource centre Orme, Elizabeth J.


In her book The Human Condition (1958), Hannah Arendt claims that one of the fundamental problems with the world today is that humans have lost sight of what is important in terms of living an active life or the vita activa. Arendt believes that an explanation for this can be found through comparing our society with the ancient Greeks. Their vita activa categorized human activity into a three-step hierarchy: labour, work, and action. Labour was the most basic of three and involved the tasks necessary for survival. Work came next and involved the creation of artifacts and the beginning of the establishment of a personal identity. Action was the most important of the three categories; it depended on people assembling in public to create something new. People were expected to participate in this public space; it was considered the moral obligation of each to contribute. For the ancient Greeks public action was the highest form of human activity there was. This is no longer the case and, according to Arendt, herein lies our problem. The modern world is incompatible with the human spirit because we have devalued action to the point where it no longer exists and have replaced it with labour and work. We are distracted from what is truly important and thus cannot be truly fruitful because there is no longer a venue for action, let alone an expectation for it. In this thesis, I will view the field of education - specifically, teacher support services like Winslow Centre where I work - through the lens of Arendt's ideas on labour, work, and action. Although teaching should involve all three, current practice devalues action to the point where it is non-existent and celebrates labour and work to the point where educators are paralyzed. Teacher support centres like Winslow facilitate this imbalance. I therefore come to this investigation from a point of dissatisfaction with many of the accepted ways of acting as a curriculum coordinator. I feel I am not serving teachers as I could and should be. This thesis will be developed as an allegory in which a coordinator like me searches for answers about what is missing within the constructs of her job. Arendt's ideas are taken and situated with the context of my own experiences and explained through allegory, literature, personal experience and relevant research. Chapter One explains how Winslow Centre, an organization dedicated to fostering good teaching, needs to be clear about its mandate; I intend to argue that this involves all three aspects of practice (labour, work and action). Chapter Two explains the current situation at Winslow Centre, which is a place that tends to celebrate labour and work and neglect action. Promoting action requires that Winslow Centre foster natality and plurality, which will be discussed in Chapter Three. Chapter Four will describe how action, natality and plurality are dependent on creating webs of relationships or a community. The final chapter, Five, reviews the implications - which include issues around bureaucracy and accountability - for curriculum coordinators, or other educational leaders, who would like to work towards including action in their support of classroom teachers. I hope that reading this will inspire other educators to stop and think about his or her own practice.

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