Monday, August 2, 2010

Ancient history, scholarship, and deja vu

I find myself in the oddest--and most unexpected--places, of late, at least as far as my reading material.  A student sent me an article from The Journal of Higher Education (and how cool is it that a student reads the Journal?) on the use of technology in teaching; I wound up reading the referenced essay by David Pace on the history and scholarship of teaching and learning history.  And that essay from The American Historical Review is absolutely worth the effort to read and evaluate critically.

The essay begins and ends with the contrast in colleges and universities, "between the amateurism that we accept in our knowledge about teaching and the professionalism we demand in other aspects of our work."  It's not a secret that the rigor demanded of researchers is not expected of teachers, for reasons we love to debate ad nauseum, including the ubiquitous recognition and reward structure biased toward publication (regardless of value, whether to the classroom or to the community).  But lost in academic posturing and debate is the informed discussion of what makes good teaching:  
  • How do we measure good teaching?  
  • How do we teach the art and science of good teaching?  
  • Shouldn't those questions--and their answers--inform not only how we teach but also what we teach?

The academic equivalent of throwing money at a problem is developing and teaching courses designed to address specific needs.  We create courses and assignments to teach collaboration, teamwork, ethics, diversity, and a host of other Real World Problems so that we can
teach students to evaluate claims critically, to see complex questions from more than one perspective, to understand how different groups can view the same situation in different ways, to recognize the long-term consequences of actions, and to master dozens of other subtle mental operations that are absolutely necessary for their success as individuals and for the very survival of our society.
And the method Pace proposes to teach those things?  It's history. But history taught well, informed by rigor, based upon proven methods, and shared in forums traditionally reserved for scholarly research.  Just imagine...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You might find these of interest.

    Building a Better Teacher

    Uncommon Schools

  3. Okay, here goes. Just as we create courses in a college of business to teach content which is usually relevant to a particular time and circumstance, i.e. current, and then test the ability to retain that information, so we seem to do in the college of education. In both instances, we focus more on creating a cache of immediate knowledge than a treasure trove of wisdom to be drawn on in perpetuity. In both instances, especially within academia, it seems that we hold as more highly valued the relatively narrow field of knowledge in which facts and figures, theory and research form the cache and far less so the broader field of wisdom in which perspective and context, critical thinking and debate, and persuasive writing or discussion contribute to an ever expanding treasure chest. It would seem that the former is relatively easy to capture and share; the latter not so much so especially since much of the latter appears to come only through experience, ones own or shared. History, literature, music, art, the classics; all of these areas of knowledge can with good teaching provide so much more to a learner than just facts and figures, so much more than just the content in front of us. They can and often do provide a learner with what I think has been called a butterfly effect, knowledge cocooned in one environment (college, work, the lab) from which eventually a wise butterfly will emerge to navigate a world.

    Okay, so the analogy and the imagery isn't perfect. Your discussion however is timely and important.

    Our ability to retain knowledge is sometimes unrelated to our aptitude for recognizing wisdom. If most of us can't teach (well) a subject matter, then we likely haven't truly learned it. Whether in the office or the classroom or even in a cave, we all teach and we all learn regardless of our roles and sometimes despite them.

  4. I could not say this any better...bravo! And I appreciate that you chose history, literature, music, art, and the classics, all of which have requisite knowledge (facts) that must be learned first, as the solid foundation for later wisdom.


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