Monday, April 27, 2009

Sacred, Secret and Cover Stories

Came across this interesting concept as a result of a the Twitter stream during the #tlt2009 conference that I watched via Ustream today at

I tracked down some of the resources for the concepts relating to the notion of different teacher narratives.

Clandinin, J., & Connelly, M. (1996). Teachers' professional knowledge landscapes: Teachers stories-stories of teachers-school stories-stories of schools. Educational Researcher, 25(3), 24-30. doi: 10.3102/0013189X025003024.

Classrooms are, for the most part, safe places, generally free from scrutiny, where teachers are free to live stories of practice. These lived stories are essentially secret ones. Furthermore,when these secret lived stories are told, they are, for the most part, told to other teachers in other secret places. When teachers move out of their classrooms into the out-of-classroom place on the landscape, they often live and tell cover stories, stories in which they portray themselves as experts, certain characters whose teacher stories fit within the acceptable range of the story of school being lived in the school. Cover stories enable teachers whose teacher stories are marginalized by whatever the current
story of school is to continue to practice and to sustain their teacher stories. We do not wish to imply that either secret stories or cover stories are necessarily good or bad.

Campbell, E., Campbell, A., & Groundwater-Smith, S. (2007). An ethical approach to practitioner research (p. 198).

Develops the idea is that teacher narratives are based on three different versions of events,
The Sacred story is theory driven views of practice shared by practitioners, policy makers and theoreticians. This is the story of events that would be provided in curriculum materials and constitutes the canon or the officially approved version of knowledge.

The secret story is the lived experience of classroom practice told to other teachers.

Cover stories=stories in which practitioners agree or collude with a version of events and portray themselves as 'experts', sometimes to protect their professional behavior or the participants in the story.

All this struck me a necessary background for understanding some important issues for critical pedagogy. Leads to the rhetorical question; Why is it necessary to construct different stories?

Of course the answer is obvious because no one has the true version of events although institutions try to claim it, reinforce it and enforce compliance with it. Teachers (or many other people in similar situations) may see the truth differently and may attempt to transmit their version.This could get them in deep trouble so they have to be very careful and on occasion construct a cover story that shows how their secret story and the sacred story are the same.

This may explain part of the reluctance that teachers have for having their classroom activities recorded in podcasts, vlogs etc. They are open to scrutiny by administration, parents, society at large. When it is just the students in the classroom there is a large degree of deniability but when others may be observing there is a large degree of distrust and discomfort.

Reminded me of the precepts of Action Science and the notions of espoused theory and theory in use. Also Glaser's notion of the different kinds of data that can be collected from interviews; baseline,properline,interpreted,and vague.

Don Tapscott in Wikinomics, developed the idea of information asymmetry where the 'experts' wield power because they have some sort of information advantage that they carefully control and maintain by manipulating the facts and limiting access to information resources. The Internet has made the construction of multiple versions of the truth problematic, because it is very simple for individuals to get different perspectives on events and to question the different versions of the truth being presented. This is great for consumers of information but puts greater demands on the constructors of knowledge. If there is too much variation between the sacred, secret and cover versions credibility is lost.

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