Teaching, Professional, and some thoughts inspired by Richard Dreyfus on NPR

For those of you who know me know that I often struggle with the idea that academia sets a notion of standards for education. And not that I come down against the idea of having standards for education. Far from it, I feel like there must be specific criteria to make any notion of education a successful endeavour. My questions typically revolve around the idea that the type of ivory towerism that revolves around pedagogical thought would seem to privilege a specific school of thought. A school of thought that would find itself more mired in its own sense of correctness and a paralysis of doing something that might be perceived as incorrect or just plain wrong that the thought itself becomes much much more important than the action. I know it sounds vague at this point, this post but bare with me.

In terms of standards, I’m referring to the very idea of how we sort of “gatekeep” the instructor positions in our society. We value schooling over experience and thinking over action. Our institutions of higher learning are plagued by instructors that find the weight of their worth in terms of knowledge coming from the time they spend studying the fairly conservative manner of communication and education. (i.e. reading, lecture, essay) This is the case to a lesser extent with secondary and elementary school levels, but still it can be seen as an issue.

And what I’m clearly not calling for here is the desire for politicians to make these kind of choices. We should all be more than well aware of the general ineptitude that most elected (and occasionally appointed) individuals have in terms of deciding what type of standards individuals should be educated to. While we would like to think that politicians act entirely in the interest of the people they purportedly serve it should have become clear to most everyone by this point in political landscape that interest and service focus of elected officials extents well into corporate issues (they do employ a good number of us), personal moral issues (we all have these, so why wouldn’t they), and most clearly political party lines. We must also be concerned that politicians see the world in at worse 2 year election cycles and at best 4 year election cycles. In short, we should be turning to a set of standards that would take into account a more community drive account of what education should be where instructors should gain their credentials.

Educators are there to provide a service for their communities and their societies. And we’ve learned anything from Reganomics is that top-down approaches are generally set-up beautifully for failure. We’ve heard from places like the environmental movement and the civil rights movement, but grassroots based decision-making is perhaps the best case scenario for addressing the needs of a community and the education of themselves and their children.

This is all about being stakeholders. Right now the big machines of either political institutions or academic institutions are setting agendas for communities about which they have at best limited knowledge and experience of and with. Often parents and community members feel as though their say over what is taught in schools or who teaches in their schools is orchestrated from afar and without real input from their community. School becomes a place where parents send their kids (be it grade school, high school, or elementary school) and hope for the best. These are not the actions of stakeholders these are the subconscious motions of cattle. Education should be a process of empowerment, a means by which power can be spread out to the largest group of people possible. A community-generated list of criteria for education of its members affords a type of stakeholder relationship amongst its various members.

Does this mean, I have a directed way of saying what type of process we can set-up? No, I don’t. But like any successful community-based plan a conversation needs to start. Often this conversations start with an idea. So here is one. Something different from the top-down passive-user education system we’ve acquired.
Education, regardless of whatever the exact system we hope to enforce, is built upon experiences. And these experiences must be reflective of the communities they serve, mirror the aspects that people in those communities determine to be their preferred paths.

All of this comes from an interview on the Diane Rehm show this morning with actor Richard Dreyfus. He has wanted to be history and civics teacher and talked about this drive despite his lack of education. Yet, he had experience in the field, has read about it, talked about, and engaged with these subjects his whole life. The interview made me start thinking about education and the criteria and standards that are currently set. Basically, I had to wonder who would want to be taught by Richard Dreyfus (or would see a value in his lessons) as opposed to a Ph.D holder or licensed teacher. I, at least, thought that it warranted some consideration.

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