“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?

William Deresiewicz on the Neoliberal Arts

An extreme example, to be sure, but one that could not have emerged except on the basis of an already diminished culture:

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, [Wisconsin governor] Walker “proposed striking language about public service and improving the human condition, and deleting the phrase: ‘Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.’” The university’s mission would henceforth be to “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

What to think, though, of a president of a leading liberal arts school who claims not to know the meaning of “liberal arts”?

[H]e said, a bit belligerently, “I’ve been here five months, and no one has been able to give me a satisfactory definition of ‘the liberal arts.’” … “So what do you think the college should be about?” I finally asked him. “Leadership,” he said.

Plato offers us some ideas about leadership, too. But they do not suit the contemporary soul.

The article.

“‘Flipped classroom’ is professional suicide”

Jonathan Rees asks:

Proponents claim it [the flipped classroom] frees up class time for direct interaction between faculty and individual students. Instantly suspicious of flipping my classroom, I wondered how my students would find time to do their assigned reading if they were watching class videos in their dorm rooms three times a week? I also wondered what the rest of my class would be doing while I personally interacted with other students, one by one. I am yet to get satisfactory responses to either of these concerns.

Very good questions, these. First, under the flipped classroom model, students are supposed to fulfil the traditional tasks of reading and going to class, and the new chore of watching recorded talks. More work, and thus less likely to get done. Or perhaps the videos will supplant the readings altogether (this writer would welcome the change). After all, tl;dr. Second, can’t students simply do the readings in advance as assigned so everyone can enjoy the benefit of class time free of the unregenerate hideousness of the medieval lecture? Why do we need the extra work of videos to achieve this end? Why this restructuring? A venture:

“In an age where people seem to think that education is just a matter of ‘delivering content’ that translates into mad workplace skillz, I’m uneasy about providing the university with any multimedia content that could be aggregated into a enormous-enrollment course taught by a grossly underpaid and underinsured Ph.D.”

“Self must stand aside”

Mark Edmundson, author of Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals, on “Why We Need to Resurrect Our Souls”:

At a certain point it will again become clear to young people that they have a choice in what they make of their lives. There are ideals of the soul and there are desires of the self, and young people will once again have the chance to decide which they will pursue. They may come again to understand that self at its best is a protection for the life of soul, and when the moment comes for soul to exert itself, self must stand aside.

Agreed. But an open question: What elements of contemporary culture support such a way?