An educator cannot be viewed as a technician, a functionary carrying out the instructions of others. Educators are learned scholars, community researchers, moral agents, philosophers, cultural workers and political insurgents. - Paulo Freire from Pedagogy of the Oppressed
In describing his experience teaching at West Point, Dr. Stapell started by describing the first rule that West Point teachers are given—you’re not allowed to lecture—at all! …What? Isn’t that what college teaching IS? And wouldn’t you expect a place with such a military history and an authoritarian approach to underscore this traditional teaching method—of having one expert individual lecture and provide information to a bunch of young, dutiful students? They don’t lecture at West Point? At all?
So this seemed surprising to the folks in the audience. And, of course, the next question is begged—what DO they do at this esteemed, larger-than-life institution? How do they educate—how do they create such great leaders?
Apparently, according to Dr. Stapell, this educational method is 100 percent activity-based. The classrooms have boards on all four sides of the room—and all cadets are charged with engaging in activities related to the material throughout the class. Get in a group, discuss the material, write notes on the board—come up with a set of implications for modern life—tell the class about it. You’ve all read about this famous historical figure—discuss as a group his positive and negative attributes—and controversies regarding his life—and give a presentation to the rest of us—teach US about what his life and work implies about how the world operates now. Etc.
In this context, students are constantly engaged and empowered—they own their education. They own how much they learn and how much others learn. How much education will happen within the confines of a given class? This is up to each and every individual cadet—with the professor who is tasked not with teaching them, per se, but, rather, with getting them to teach one another.
We can never dispense with language and the other symbol systems; for it is by means of them, and only by their means, that we have raised ourselves above the brutes, to the level of human beings. But we can easily become the victims as well as the beneficiaries of these systems. We must learn how to handle words effectively; but at the same time we must preserve and, if necessary, intensify our ability to look at the world directly and not through that half opaque medium of concepts, which distorts every given fact into the all too familiar likeness of some generic label or explanatory abstraction.
Literary or scientific, liberal or specialist, all our education is predominantly verbal and therefore fails to accomplish what it is supposed to do. Instead of transforming children into fully developed adults, it turns out students of the natural sciences who are completely unaware of Nature as the primary fact of experience, it inflicts upon the world students of the humanities who know nothing of humanity, their own or anyone else’s.
Positive feedback on successful actions can encourage the pursuit of goal-congruent actions when it signals an increase in commitment to the goal but decrease motivation when it signals sufficient progress was made. For example, a math student who receives a high test score and infers that she likes math will work harder as a result, whereas a classmate who receives similar positive feedback and infers sufficient progress will relax his efforts and focus on spending time with her friends.
Negative feedback on unsuccessful actions can encourage the pursuit of goal congruent actions if it signals insufficient progress has been made but decrease motivation when it signals a decrease in commitment to the goal. For example, a math student who receives a bad test score and infers lack of commitment will subsequently reduce her efforts, whereas her classmate, who infers insufficient progress from the negative feedback, will subsequently work harder.
Fishbach, Ayal, & Finkelstein, 2010. How positive and negative feedback motivate goal pursuit.
Poverty still persists today because we have lost the moral perspective as the polestar of public policy. Instead we follow the law of the jungle, content to abandon the poor to their own devices, demanding that they marshal resources they simply do not possess. And the reason we have moved in this direction, drifting away from the high ideals of the Great Society era, is because the vision and values of corporate capitalism have gained ascendency over those of human solidarity and mutual responsibility. To eliminate poverty, this trend must be reversed. The individualistic vision must give way to one that stresses our essential unity; competition must be balanced by mutual assistance and respect.
I’ve been teaching in higher ed for over a decade now and every single day of my life someone sends me something to read, shares an idea, helps me find information, or performs some invaluable act of help. The idea that we’re not all doing so is horrifying. Given the siege under which we in higher ed operate, it’s these innumerable gestures that make everything worthwhile.
If you haven’t yet discovered the Academic Kindness Tumblr, it’s the best thing of the new year.
Pippert and his researchers looked at more than 10,000 images from college brochures, comparing the racial breakdown of students in the pictures to the colleges’ actual demographics. They found that, overall, the whiter the school, the more diversity depicted in the brochures, especially for certain groups.
"When we looked at African-Americans in those schools that were predominantly white, the actual percentage in those campuses was only about 5 percent of the student body," he says. "They were photographed at 14.5 percent."
Q: As an academic and a political figure, you stand in an interesting position to observe shifting trends in the academy. How, in your view, have spiking tuition fees, sky-rocketing student debt and a corporatization of academic institution affected higher education? What’s your outlook on shifts in the education system in general in this country?
Well for me personally, it hasn’t been a change, but there are changes and developments in the higher education system and also K-12 which I think are extremely threatening and harmful. To keep it at the higher education: Over the past generation — roughly speaking the neoliberal period — there has been a substantial shift towards corporatization of the universities, towards imposing of the business model on higher education. Part of that is what you’ve mentioned, tuition rises. There has been an enormous increase in tuition. I don’t think you can give an economic argument for that. Take a look at the comparative evidence. Right to our south, Mexico, which is a relatively poor country, has a quite respectable higher education system, and it’s free. The country to that consistently ranks among the highest in educational achievement is Finland. A rich country, but education is free. Germany, education is free. France, education is free.
Take a look at the United States: Go back fifty years to the early post-war decades. It was a much poorer country than it is now, but for a large portion of the population, education was free. The GI Bill provided education for a great number of people who never would have been able to go to college otherwise. It was highly beneficial for them, and highly beneficial to the country in terms of the contributions they were able to make in terms of the economy and culture and so on. And it was essentially free. Even private universities costs were very slight by today’s standards. And that was a much poorer country than it is now. So in general I think that the economic arguments for the sharp rise in tuitions in the United States and to a lesser extent in England and a few other places, one can’t offer a persuasive economic argument for that, these are policy decisions. They are related to other changes that have taken place, so for example over the same period there has been an enormous expansion of administration in universities. The proportion of the University budget that goes to administration has skyrocketed…. This is all part of the imposition of a business model which has an effect also on curricular choices and decisions.
Similar things are happening at K-12 level with, first of all, the underfunding of schools, which is very serious as is the demeaning of teachers, the undermining of teacher’s respect and independence. The pressure to teach to tests, which is the worst possible form of education. In fact most of us have been through the school system have plenty of experience with courses we weren’t very much interested in, we had to study for an exam, you study for the exam and a couple weeks later you forget what the course was about. This is a critique that goes way back to the enlightenment, where they condemned the model of teaching as analogous as pouring water into a vessel — and a very leaky vessel, as we all know. This undermines creativity, independence, the joy of discovery, the capacity to work together with others creatively — all of the things that a decent educational system should foster. It’s going in the opposite direction, which is quite harmful. So there is a lot to reverse if we want to get back to a much healthier system of education and preservation and growth of cultural achievement.
Noam Chomsky, the Salon interview: Governments are power systems, trying to sustain power
Among the most important kinds of research needed in the field are studies of teaching and learning. By studies of teaching and learning I mean studies that try carefully to answer the question “What do teachers of the arts do when they teach and what are its consequences?” By what teachers do, I mean questions like the following: What kind of curriculum activities do teachers ask students to engage in? To what content are those activities related?
What forms of thinking do they evoke? How do they introduce what they want their students to learn? What kinds of comments do they make to their students as they view their work? What kind of scaffolding do they provide? What kind of emotional support do they provide so that their students can take risks? How do they go about developing their students’ technical skills? Do they promote the use of imagination through their teaching? If so, how?
Civilization is a very complex system in which we use symbols - words, numbers, figures, and concepts - to represent the real world of nature. We use money to represent wealth. We use the clock to represent time. We use yards and inches to represent space. These are very useful measures. But you can always have too much of a good thing. You can easily confuse the measurement with what you are measuring, such as confusing money with wealth. It is like confusing the menu with dinner. You can become so enchanted with the symbols that you entirely confuse them with reality. This is the disease from which almost all civilized people are suffering. We are, therefore, in the position of eating the menu instead of the dinner, of living in a world of words and symbols. This causes us to relate badly to our material surroundings.