Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Engines of our Epistemology


I wonder sometimes if Dr. Lienhardt is trying slip a little subversion past us.

Consider this episode of "Engines of our Ingenuity," which played on the local Houston NPR station twice on Friday.  It argues that the best teachers are not the ones who reduce everything to a thorough and easily digested explanation, but rather the ones who make us see the subject in all its glorious complexity, and struggle ourselves to understand.

Not, in itself, an absolutely challenging idea, but an engaging one, and a method I've used more often than not.  It's an approach guaranteed to annoy the hell out of at least some of your students, especially the ones used to being educated to pass a standardized test.

So think about that in the context of the current debate over education reform and standardized testing and "teaching to the test" and "teacher assessment" based solely on tests which only test retention of data and do nothing to test "ability to think critically" or to reason, because those things don't fit in the bubbles of a scannable answer sheet.

And think about what Dr. Lienhardt is saying about the real value of real teaching.  Well, maybe you just have to think about it to get the point.  Maybe you have to set up his argument against the argument of, say, Michelle Rhee; and then you start thinking.....

3 Comments:

Blogger alberich said...

It argues that the best teachers are not the ones who reduce everything to a thorough and easily digested explanation, but rather the ones who make us see the subject in all its glorious complexity, and struggle ourselves to understand.

The problem is that those best teachers, in order to be effective require students, who are interested in seeing a subject in all of its glorious complexity and in struggling to understand a subject. Of course, the best teachers will also inspire their students to want to struggle with a subject, but that only goes so far.

For example, last spring I taught chemistry to future gym teachers, personal trainers and the like. Even those students who were interested in chemistry (rather than taking the course because they had to take it), certainly were not interested in struggling with the subject or understanding it in all its complexity. I would imagine even the best teachers wouldn't necessarily be able to inspire many of those students to struggle with the subject or see it in all of its complexity without those students giving up on the struggle and saying "well, it's too complex for me".

A best teacher is like a cowboy who leads horses to water -- and is able to actually talk to those horses in a way those horses can understand to convince them that the water is worth drinking -- but the cowboy still cannot make that horse drink.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Alberich--

I agree completely. I've had classes that were alight with interest: responsive, inquisitive, alert.

And classes that were a pile of damp leaves. A blow torch wouldn't light them.

And yet I'm the same teacher.....

7:04 PM  
Blogger alberich said...

And yet I'm the same teacher.....

Reminds me of our lunch monitors (usually older ladies who were also teacher's assistants) in elementary school. One of the lunch monitors who happened to be a teacher's aid for a 4th & 5th grade class was, when we were in 2nd and 3rd grades the most uptight martinet you could imagine. However, in 4th grade, she was the coolest lunch monitor around. Amazing how much she changed over the summer between 3rd and 4th grades ;)

10:28 AM  

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