“A guy who believes the classroom should be a democracy, not a dictatorship”

Democracy or dictatorship — are these our only choices in the classroom? False dilemma, anyone?

Says this GTA teacher:

“The idea of a teacher as ‘lead learner’ is important, and a teacher’s desk represents the holy grail of authority. If we’re supposed to be a democracy but I have a ‘throne,’ how can I say equity in my classroom is real?” he asked.

On this account, teachers have no real ability to inform or guide, so “equity” demands that teachers and students occupy the same intellectual (and even physical) level, with no unfair (fascist) presumption of greater ability on the part of the teacher (er, um, “lead learner”). We should, naturally, expect to teachers to be learners, too (which should keep teachers humble, as this “lead learner” points out rightly). But teachers and students, we should figure using common sense, occupy substantively different levels — and if they do not, things are amiss.

In today’s “inquiry-based learning” approach, a teacher might start a lesson by asking, “What do we wonder about this topic? What do we need to know?” and then work with students to figure out how to find the answer together, said Education professor Nancy Steele, of the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Are teachers allowed to come into the classroom with any sense of direction? Are we here looking at an organic dialectical process cultivated in a principled way or mere anomie? Tom Nichols offers this timely and exceedingly valuable thought:

I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

No one (well, almost no one) wants a return to the bad old days of authoritarianism. Authority or expertise means roughly the considered views of those with important experience in an area. But we all have our own “experiences,” don’t we? Yes, but not all experiences are equal, Nichols reminds us:

I am (or at least think I am) an expert. Not on everything, but in a particular area of human knowledge, specifically social science and public policy. When I say something on those subjects, I expect that my opinion holds more weight than that of most other people. I never thought those were particularly controversial statements. As it turns out, they’re plenty controversial.

Mark Bauerlein asks in The Dumbest Generation (186): “If mentors are so keen to recant their expertise, why should students strain to acquire it themselves?”

Why, indeed?

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