Posts Tagged ‘structure’

The ether is recently re-focusing on teachers and teaching, what with George Seimen’s Teaching in Social and Technological Networks and Will Richardson’s Teachers as Master Learners.

The conversations are nuanced and respectful and full of expertise.

Still, I wonder if we’re missing a piece. Because while it makes sense to talk about how teachers need to learn to do things differently, and need to teach differently, and need to use different tools, this all seems to revolve around a focus on function.

Whereas I tend to see any potential changes in education – in our conception of learning– as first requiring a focus on belief.

There is a poetic and sincere symmetry in seeing the solution to education and learning as more and/or different education and learning. And I do not refute the potential for education to create change, and for people to change through their learning.

But I worry that asking  or requiring teachers to be learners, or to be shapers of networks, can be superficially interpreted as a basic shifting of job tasks—a mechanistic replacement of “doing x” with “doing y.” I know most folks engaged in the conversations understand it isn’t this simple. But to put a more pointed spin on this, I wonder how much this conversation is about as effective as telling Catholic priests that they will need to conduct Wiccan services from now on because, after all, it’s all religion in the end.

I wonder to what degree the acknowledged resistance to educational change has to do with a tension in which those asking for change are essentially, inadvertently, and tacitly perceived as being disrespectful of the beliefs of those invested in traditional conceptions of teaching.

Understanding the job of education as transmission or socialization or whatever other roles we wish to attribute it with is one level of analysis. But how and why we do this says something about what we believe about people, about “learners,” about children, and about ourselves.

All of the potential of the “new” world of learning really forces an age-old question. Do we believe that people are innately capable of personal development, of choosing learning, of goodness, of acting in the best interests of themselves and society? Or do we believe that people inherently need to be watched, guided from above (or from the side) and kept within structures and parameters with ideals set by “wiser” others because it’s “helpful”? (Nel Noddings writes of the difficulties of insisting on providing care not desired by the cared-for, perhaps out of a desire to feel significant.)

I suspect the vision of what a “teacher” is gets set very early in life. And folks who want to be “teachers” by title and job definition do so with that early image of a teacher in mind, with all the cultural and social accoutrements and assumptions that vision holds. Teaching as a named profession in our current environment requires a set beliefs that are subsequently expressed in structures and rituals. Folks who are less willing to engage with these structures and rituals, who find them, perhaps, hypocritical to their beliefs, are, I would suggest, not seeking to be “teachers.” (OK, maybe a few Lutherans have wandered into the sunrise rites, hoping for an interesting post-service potluck….)

So what is all this talk of change really asking of current teachers? Is it to change their work? Or is it something that’s really more fundamental… requiring a conversion, if you will? It’s an uncomfortable notion. Lots of questions here– about the effectiveness and rightness of evangelism. And about the lines between evangelism and education.

Maybe there is some common ground in all of this educational, cultural and societal change. But I think it will take some teasing out, because, quite frankly, when it comes to bedrock beliefs about people, skepticism and distrust are deeply embedded in the structures and rituals of teaching in its current form. And that belief is running smack up against the potential for more, shall we say, heretical forms of learning in a changing environment.

So how can this tension be addressed?

For those who might be inclined to take the “human potential” view of learning, I’d start by offering the early (1970’s) observations of humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, who wrote [quotes condensed from various essays]:

“…there is no doubt that… insistence upon a known and certain universe has been part of the cement that holds culture together….Today we face a different situation…

… It appears to me that the way of the future must be to base our lives and our education on the assumption that there are as many realities as there are persons, and that our highest priority is to accept that hypothesis and proceed from there … Here lies the challenge to educators–probably the most insecure and frightened among any of the professions–battered by public pressures, limited by legislative restrictions, essentially conservative in their reactions. Can they possibly espouse… a view of multiple realities…? Can they begin to bring into being the changes in attitudes, behaviors, and values that such a world view would demand?…

… It seems obvious to me that we need a change, amounting almost to a revolution, in the training of our teachers. …Suppose only a very small percentage volunteered? That would not concern me.… I happen to believe that such turbulence would be constructive. Traditionalists would be angry at these new innovators, and vice versa. Sacred cows would be questioned….”

Rogers goes on the envision a “free university,” where learners set their own curricula, facilitate their own learning and evaluate with tools other than grades.

“The persons who emerged from such a training program could be channeled into one of a limited number of schools that would welcome them….”

I think the potential of learning today goes well beyond the assumptions of structures and programs Rogers envisioned. But in terms of choice and change and rationale and “learner-centeredness,” Rogers seems quite prescient.

Believe it… or not.

Noddings, Nel. Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy. University of California Press (2002),

Rogers, Carl. R.  A Way of Being. Houghton Mifflin (1980).


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