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Lortie begins by briefly reviewing the history of school teaching in America. He reviews the balance of continuity and change that’s taken place in schooling over the last three centuries. By measuring how the work of teaching changed over time, and how it didn’t change, we can understand the school system and how it influenced school teaching. He then explores the context of teaching during his present day. Lortie discovers three major orientations that are shared by all teachers. However, even these are not new. They were mostly detected by Waller in the 1930s and again by Jackson in the 1960s.
These orientations have been universal to the experience of schoolteachers for almost 80 years. Continuity becomes evident in these foundations, therefore, and definitive patterns now begin to become explicit for defining teacher development. A completely redefined school culture must become the medium of reform. This comes down to changing how schoolteachers think about social action, a recommendation that was common to Waller. This must begin by teaching teachers about how they think about these actions. It assumes that teachers must begin thinking about their actions in sociological terms. Passions, emotions, and feelings – all of these can be defined sociologically, and Lortie believes that if these are theorized appropriately we will likely have the means towards positive change. Schoolteachers are anachronistic in their thinking. This could be because they still self-select themselves. In doing so, they bring centuries of tradition with them into schools. But Lortie believes that a few simple alterations can undo these problems. Before prescribing these simple alterations, however, he provides us with an incredibly thorough examination of elementary school culture with especial attention to the main organ of that culture: the schoolteacher.

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