Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Schooling for young and older

My friend said to reflect more on teaching college and graduate school over the years.  He wanted to know about how it matured.  I'm not sure it matured, that is, got better, sweeter, riper.  When a rather young man arrives at a school of education, he may be seen as a suspicious character.  What makes a youngster think he knows how to teach or how to teach teachers?  Many education faculty have taught in American public schools for a decade or so before teaching in college or graduate school.  

Incidentally, many college professors in other subjects than education don't get a chance to teach older people, only students about 18-22 years old.  That is one reason the post-WWII wave of armed services veterans who took advantage of the GI bill were a surprise to many college teachers.  I tend to use the word "professor" for any college teacher but "lecturer", "senior lecturer", "assistant professor", "associate professor", and "professor" (a.k.a. "full professor") all have specific meanings and matter to college and graduate school teachers.  The difference of working with veterans is nicely explored in what is probably my favorite book on teaching: "Uptaught" by Ken Macrorie, a professor of English at Michigan State.

An older picture of teaching takes the general stance that the only important component of the skill of teaching is the teacher's knowledge of the subject.  This theme and its cousins is nicely explored in "Fighting for Life" by Walter Ong, a Jesuit scholar, well-known as an expert on the effect of the development of writing, of any kind, on a society.  The history of higher education is the history of the wisdom of the past while the American settlers explicitly asked for the new and daring activity of "research", not on how to bear the vicissitudes of life but on the prevention of disease of their crops and animals.

The protestant movement, from Luther and others, emphasized the need to be able to read the Bible for oneself in a language that the reader could understand.  This force lead to the famous 3 R's of basic education of reading, 'rithmetic and writing.  Many busy American pioneers saw no reason to sit at a desk or stick a nose in a book once one could read, write and calculate basic operations involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  The history of support for the use of public taxes for what is now high school in just the US is interesting.  Just for perspective, about 20% of all humans alive today are illiterate.  The general question of what we ought to learn is unanswered by some, answered "everything" by others and answered "how to make money" by still others.  It is a recent development for schools and authorities and even parents to recognize how some people have special difficulties reading, speaking, recognizing emotions in those around them.  

An older approach to formal learning was to have a competent teacher SAY things while students LISTENED.  In some times and places, they were equipped by maturity, previous learning and physical equipment, to make notes about what they heard.  It was assumed by many teachers that some of the students would remember the important remarks and explanations that the learned teacher made, while the mass would remember smaller portions and a few would remember very little.  More citizens and educators today want to achieve high levels of learning among all students.  

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