An Education Manifesto

Teachers are being taken out of the classroom by technologies, bureaucrats,and statism. The teachers may remain on site–although many are disappearing into cyberspace. But the teacher qua living, interacting, breathing, seeing, hearing presence, is vanishing from the scene. How could this happen?

First, technologies are not interpreted for their strengths and weaknesses. Then some technologies–such as PowerPoint–become avalanches to the unaware, who use them (and spend vast amounts of time on them that could be spent in study) often at the expense of embodied presence. Attention goes to the screen and away from teacher and students. Books are left behind, to everyone’s loss.

A particularly egregious and heart-breaking example is that of a proven virtuoso, a master teacher of reading known for taking the worst readers and making them the best readers. That was before the required technology, which forces her to record on a keypad who is saying what and when. We must have the sacred statistics to that the Control Room can know it all. The result, of course, is to take the teacher out of the classroom. Yes, she is there, but she is removed (by the technological mediation and distraction) from the learning dynamic which she had developed over fruitful decades of instruction.

There is a word for this: sin.

Second, because of undue federal pressure regarding accreditation, schools must attempt to quantify education through “assessment.” This means setting up burdensome and unneeded measures such as “metrics,” “rubrics,” and all manner of outcome measuring. Therefore, administrator are politically horsewhipped into becoming bureaucratic enforcers. Besides being pedagogically pointless (teachers should evaluate students by grades and personal counseling), it forces teachers to use a top-down imposed mold. Thus, the teacher, as a responsible thinker, is robbed of her individuality and adaptability. No, she is not to be trusted; rather, faceless and soulless Conditioners (yes, CS Lewis’s term from The Abolition of Man) shape what they do not know in order to know what which matters not: statistics out of context. But that is what the computer wants

What, then, can traditional and unreconstructed teachers do about it all, beside lament? And lamenting is called for.

First, teachers can become interpreters of technology, not its slaves and sycophants. Every communication technology has its trade-offs; it gives and takes away. To begin to identify this reality, start with Neil Postman, The End of Education. Administrators should give their teachers a wide birth in the classroom and not require any particular technology.

Second, what can be done about the statism that drives the impersonal standardization of education? I doubt I will see the political changes necessary to reverse this in my lifetime. (I am 57.) However, only a return to small civil government and a robust sense of the free and responsible citizen can push back the tidal wave of leftism. Before then, teachers can be principled subversives by not letting the official regime and its regimen hijack the classroom.

Most learning–and the deepest learning–is undetectable by objective measures, because it is a matter of skill and character, which only develop through a mentor-mentee relationship and strong peer friendships among students. As teachers reluctantly abide by new rules, however mindless, they may still inspire students to intellectual virtue by their example and through serendipity, something the number crunchers cannot completely destroy through their statistical imperatives. Have class parties outside of the classroom. Allow time in office hours to sustained conversation. (The Conditioners have not yet demanded matrices and rubrics for these.) Interact with students on Facebook and other social media.

In other words, Never give up. There is too much at stake.

4 thoughts on “An Education Manifesto

  1. I like the idea of interacting on social media. It’s kind of taboo for teachers of high school or lower to interact with students on social media however. I think it could be done as long as the teacher keeps the interaction on a more teacherly level instead of merely a kind of buddy buddyism which is what may be feared.

  2. “Second, because of undue federal pressure regarding accreditation, schools must attempt to quantify education through “assessment.” This means setting up burdensome and unneeded measures such as “metrics,” “rubrics,” …”

    This paragraph addresses an important point. As a university philosophy instructor, I’m required to use rubrics to grade student assignments. I don’t design the rubrics. Intentionally or not, the rubrics are structured so that a student can pass an assignment (say, in logic or ethics) without demonstrating a sufficient understanding of the subject. Thus, a student can receive a passing grade in a college logic course without learning the basics of logic.

    As such, the following is possible: a student enters professional life with a “B” in college-level logic. However, he doesn’t understand how entailment works, can’t distinguish between inductive and deductive reasoning, doesn’t grasp the difference between an assertion and an argument, doesn’t know the rules of deductive logic (such as modus ponens), and can’t apply what he should be able to apply if he had learned the basics. Or, the student completes a course in ethics with a “B” and enters post-college life not knowing the difference between deontology and utilitarianism, between subjective morality and objective morality, or between descriptive facts of behavior and normative principles of morality.

    Meanwhile, the American college system claims another statistic: a college graduate who did not learn that which his degree signifies he should have learned. In such cases, the graduate misses significant learning opportunities, the teacher misses significant teaching opportunities, and the world misses the benefits of a properly educated college graduate.

    “Conditioners (yes, CS Lewis’s term from The Abolition of Man) shape what they do not know in order to know what which matters not: statistics out of context.”

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