Doc Carney

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Archive for March, 2010

Philosophy of Teaching Series: Postulate #3

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Here is the third elaboration in this series.

3. Teaching is not something that is done to someone else. The adult is not taught. Instead, the adult learns.

This idea of course builds on the twin imperatives of agency and consent already mentioned in previous postulates. The student must decide to learn. He must consent to the activities that the teacher designs to help bring that about. The teacher cannot decide for the would-be learner; the teacher is powerless before a person who does not consent to learn. Again, it must be remembered that students are not raw and insensate material upon which teaching can be applied to useful effect.  No curriculum revision, no application of classroom technology, and no entertaining antics from the teacher will make any difference unless a student takes hold himself.

If there is a classroom analog to the caveman club, it’s the control a teacher has over “points,” scores, and letter grades. It is indeed a blunt instrument, and it can raise a bump on the teacher’s head as readily as on the student’s. In short, in has very little to do with learning. It doesn’t even measure very well whether or not it has taken place.

[Here is the original article, "My Philosophy of Teaching" (opens in new window).  For all the articles in this series, click on the Teaching Philosophy link below or under Categories to the right.]

Philosophy of Teaching Series: Postulate #2

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Here is my elaboration on #2.

2. As a matter of human connection, teaching is not a process, procedure, or technique, but rather a consensual and intellectual communion between teacher and learner. Both teacher and learner must consent.

Publicly-funded education and factory industrialization developed during the same historical era and they share many of that era’s characteristics. Each emerged out of the Enlightenment of early modernity, and each were and are understood to be progressive and world changing. Technology in the broadest sense (that is, ordered, scientific, and rationalized method) has been employed by both. It is not surprising, then, that the one sometimes has taken on the color of the other. In spite of the clear absurdity of doing so, students are often conceptualized as though they were raw material upon which some process or technique must be applied as efficiently as possible, with the results measurable and cost-effective. Teachers, then, become the factory workers who operate the machinery that converts the raw material into finished goods. They are an educational proletariat, and that’s how both they and the taxpayer think of them. They are workers–not scholars, not practitioners or knowers–and, like industrial workers, they are to be paid as little as feasibly possible. The finished goods–the erstwhile students–are acculturated, law abiding, and productive citizens. Beginning as raw material and therefore treated as passive and devoid of human agency, passivity frequently becomes a lifetime habit.

So-called higher education has hardly been immune to the quasi-industrialization that mares K-12 schooling. The post-World War Two “multiversity,” perhaps epitomized by the University of California, has taken on many of the characteristics of the factory. This was made explicit in 1963 by Clark Kerr, a noted economist and president of the UC system:

“The university is being called upon … to respond to the expanding claims of national service; to merge its activity with industry as never before; to adapt to and rechannel new intellectual currents. . . . The production, distribution, and consumption of ‘knowledge’ in all its forms is said to account for 29 percent of gross national product … and ‘knowledge production’ is growing at about twice the rate of the rest of the economy … What the railroads did for the second half of the last century and the automobile for the first half of this century may be done for the second half of this century by the knowledge industry: that is, to serve as the focal point for national growth.”

My belief is that teaching and learning must not be reduced to an industrial process. Agency, consent, and mutual engagement are vastly more important than technique.

[Here is the original article, "My Philosophy of Teaching" (opens in new window).  For all the articles in this series, click on the Teaching Philosophy link below or under Categories to the right.]

Philosophy of Teaching Series: Postulate #1

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Last week I posted thirteen postulates that represent a breakdown of my philosophy of teaching.  I promised at that time to elaborate, qualification, and backpedal on each in subsequent posts.  Here is the elaboration, etc., for #1.

1. Teaching is the human connection between persons that allows for the transmission of knowledge and skill–one mind touching another mind.

The personal nature of teaching and learning is one of the reasons why it is often so emotionally charged, and why the failure to connect is sometimes interpreted by those involved as rejection. The student may feel rejected when the teacher holds himself aloof. The teacher may feel rejected when the student seems distracted or bored. Both may feel alienated by the realities of institutionalized mass schooling. Professionalism and “best practices” can lead to a cool (though pleasant) equanimity on the part of the teacher, easily interpreted by the sensitive student as standoffish. Environmental and even geometrical factors may interfere. School buildings often seem factory- or even prison-like in their esthetics, and inadequate funding may lead to deferred maintenance and rundown decor. Classroom seating is arranged at right angles in columns and rows like account books, with clearly-defined and separate space for students and teachers. Under all these conditions, establishing the human connection is problematic. Often, it never takes place at all.

When it does, though, it is a satisfying experience for both parties.  Juices are flowing, so to speak.  The work and effort of each person is bringing rewards and “accomplishment feedback.”  Art, literature, and music is filled with soaring and swooning blubbering over the human connection between two who are “in love”; I’m not sure there are many poems or songs that celebrate the communion between teacher and student.  Maybe it sounds absurd to even suggest it.

[Here is the original article, "My Philosophy of Teaching" (opens in new window).  For all the articles in this series, click on the Teaching Philosophy link below or under Categories to the right.]

My Philosophy of Teaching

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Rodin's "The Thinker"Over the years, I have resisted the idea of coming up with a “teaching philosophy.” The one’s I’ve read were so fluffy and fuzzy and full of flatulent flummery that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Nor could I ever quite make out just what “help students realize their full potential,” or “assist in the actualization of student intellectual growth,” or “nurture joy and wonder in the art of learning” really means, if anything real at all. Admittedly, I brought to the issue a deeply-ingrained sense that all such pronouncements were, prima facia, nonsense. Vague, vacuous, but voluminous bullshit, not to be taken seriously.

Recently, though, my views on the idea of having an explicit teaching philosophy have modified somewhat. To be sure, I still find little real content in the usual platitudes applied to the cause. I have no more patience for them than I had before. All that is twaddle, pure and simple. But to say I have no teaching philosophy at all would be just wrong. Of course I do. No one could teach, or do anything else for that matter, without some sort of principles or ideas guiding him, however sub rosa and tacit those may be. What, then, are my principles–okay, what is my philosophy–when it comes to teaching? For my own sake, I should make it explicit. Students, or potential students, should be aware of it also.

[Note: If you comment on this posting and the AP article, relating them to your own experiences, you’ll receive 5 extra-credit points in whatever course of mine you are registered. It is your responsibility to call my attention to your comment. Click on the “Comments” link below (it might say “No Comments” if you are the first one).]

Well, here it is below, broken down into propositions and numbered in causal order–each postulate leading to the next. Keep in mind that what follows applies most directly to the teaching of adults in a college or university setting. The reader will also notice that these philosophical points are nearly as much about learning as they are teaching.

1. Teaching is the human connection between persons that allows for the transmission of knowledge and skill–one mind touching another mind.

2. As a matter of human connection, teaching is not a process, procedure, or technique, but rather a consensual and intellectual communion between teacher and learner. Both teacher and learner must consent.

3. Teaching is not something that is done to someone else. The adult is not taught. Instead, the adult learns.

4. The ultimate burden of learning is on the learner, if he or she is an adult, and shared by teacher, learner, and parent if the learner is a child, but only until such time as the learner becomes a responsible adult.

5. One can learn without a directly- or personally-involved teacher. One can learn from books and from other media. One can also learn from oneself. That is what experience is.

6. The most fruitful role a teacher of adults can play is that of guide. An adult can teach himself, but he profits from the guidance of a scholar, practitioner, or other knower.

7. Oral communication, teacher-to-learner, is best reserved for guidance rather than detailed content. Other forms of communication greatly exceed the capacity of speech for substantive material.

8. The organization of teaching and learning into courses, classes, schools, colleges, and universities are for matters only of logistical convenience and the allocation of scarce communal (e.g., public) resources. The individual teacher-learner connection remains the essence of education in spite of the appearance of collective activity.

9. For an adult, the most important work of learning takes place away from the presence of the teacher. The teacher points to the work to be done and the learner does it, either alone or in voluntary association with other learners working on the same materials.

10. That learning is taking place is the essential justification for whatever activity engages the time and energies of learner and teacher. Institutional functions associated with screening and credentialing (grades, degrees, etc.) are subordinate and ancillary to learning, and may even interfere if allowed.

11. The necessary posture of the learner is humility, the realization he has things to learn.

12. The necessary posture of the teacher is duty. His first obligation is to the student rather than the institution that employs him.

13. Teaching and learning are subversive in both their motives and their affects. The fundamental purpose of education is to change the status quo.

Each of these deserves plenty of elaboration, qualification, and backpedaling. I will provide all that in coming posts.

[For all the articles in this series, click on the Teaching Philosophy link below or under Categories to the right.]