Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Methodological mismatch

It just occurred to me that the strongest criticisms of "sages on stages" tend to come from people focused on questions of content mastery, and these same people generally also subscribe to egalitarian critiques of higher ed.  However, to whatever extent higher education can promote or does promote economic advancement, it does so more via socialization, acculturation, and indoctrination (in the more benign sense of teaching people about the doctrines of the educated class, not necessarily in the harmful sense of promoting single-minded and uncritical adherence to a doctrine).  To the extent that skill acquisition plays into economic advancement via education, it is often in the form of more general intellectual skills (e.g. sophistication in writing, "critical thinking", numeracy, comfort with reading complicated texts, etc.) rather than specific content mastery.  A lecturer is a key player in the indoctrination and acculturation aspects of undergraduate education.

Of course, a lecturer is probably a poor contributor to the skill acquisition aspects of higher education, which argues for a balanced pedagogical strategy rather than an ethos of ever-diminishing the role of the instructor.  Balancing socratic lecture with discussion and activity = good.  Regarding the expert voice as The Problem = bad.

Interestingly, I pieced together the contrast examined in this post while visiting an old mentor in poor health, and talking about my reading with her.  It was admittedly a discussion rather than a lecture, but my reverence for her as a sage was definitely a factor in my psychology as I interacted with her.  She probably doesn't have much time left, and I did more talking than her (she has very little energy left) but the mode of the discussion was very much me approaching my older, wiser teacher and telling her that I have been reading more history and philosophy lately because I am gaining an appreciation for her insistence on their pivotal role in the life of the mind.  I have come to understand that problems of teaching and learning are not really technical problems, though they are so often approached that way in research, but rather they are timeless issues in human activity, and the lenses of history and philosophy are indispensable.  I told her that I finally get this, even if it took me so long to get it, and that I now only appreciate it when she is near her end.  Her role as sage was critical to this interaction and the thought processes that got me to this.

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