Philosophy of Teaching Series: Postulate #2

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.]