is special assistant to the vice president of institutional advancement at Queens College, City University of New York, and executive director of the University of Venus blog and nonprofit. She is currently writing her first book: Fantastic Reading: Comic Books and Popular Culture.Read Mary's entries
March 15, 2011, 3:49 pm
The principles of John Dewey’s “pedagogical vision,” applied to postsecondary education, should not be evaluated according to the techniques of teaching with which they are often identified. Many of these techniques are undeniably positive, and should be evaluated according to the vision of life that lies behind them and the way in which Dewey connects his idea of life to teaching and learning.
He considers life as intensively social in all respects, as ongoing, and as reflexive in the sense of being partly about its own continuation as a course of activity that has value in its own right.
This is how he can say that education is continuous with other life processes. But this means that the “formal” aspects of education are incapable on their own of educating. “Informal” aspects, which are self- and peer-determined, are just as important.
Once we admit that, we…
March 11, 2011, 4:32 pm
Written with Michael Brown
Mary: Focusing on the dialogue of teaching and learning rather than the monologue of training requires a fundamental shift in our current “outcomes-based” approach to education, in which the teacher is viewed as solely responsible for a student’s learning. This approach attempts to measure the input of teaching through the outcomes of learning. However, we all know that what a student learns depends on much more than his teacher. He is situated in a series of networks that includes parents, friends, roommates, media, and the rest of the sociocultural elements in his daily life.
How do we hold the rest of these inputs accountable? How do we evaluate his parents, friends, media, society, and roommates? What does the report card for his parents include? For a child, is it a checklist that includes providing a healthy breakfast, daily reading, and…
March 10, 2011, 2:30 pm
Critics of the “blame the teachers” mentality seem to agree with several educational principles that we have promoted in our blog, and that continues a tradition initiated in the United States by John Dewey. The most important principle on which they agree is that education is not only not separate from life; it is an instance of the process of living. Therefore, there is more to it for the student than what goes on in classes and in time spent studying. They also agree that the outcome of education is not merely a collection of memorized facts, but a way of learning that involves learning how to learn.
The idea that students ought to learn how to think for themselves is intelligible only if we agree that “thinking by myself” is also and inevitably “thinking with others.” That goes along with respecting dialogue over debate and questions over answers. It also means being a…
March 8, 2011, 2:16 pm
I was pleasantly surprised to see Richard Levin open the American Council on Education’s annual conference with a reference to the “light in our students’ eyes” in our classrooms. Like the President of Yale, when I think of our classrooms and our students, I think of our teachers.
My first rule of management and leadership is to treat people with respect. I try to facilitate a culture where people can do their best work. That applies to faculty members. I view faculty as the creative talent on campus. They are writers, thinkers, teachers, and performers. Part of my role as an administrator is to defend them, an increasingly difficult role in our culture of blame.
Over the weekend, The New York Times Room for Debate forum asked the question, “Why Blame the Teachers?” I think it is important to stop for a moment to consider the impact that a culture of teacher-blaming has…
March 5, 2011, 4:55 pm
Written with Mary Churchill
Mike: I agree with your criticism of the corporate model, but it is worth talking a bit about alternatives to it, as far as faculty is concerned. From the point of view of faculty, there two key provisions of a viable alternative. The first involves maintaining the principle of collegiality. This entails accepting limits on administration that allow for a re-establishment of faculty authority over teaching personnel, curriculum, methodologies, and especially standards. The second involves translating faculty authority in relation to administration into more than mere consultation and input. This might involve, at the very least, representation and actual participation in all administrative decisions that have to do with the educational process itself.
Mary: I think one of the main difficulties lies in getting concrete about what we mean by “the…
March 3, 2011, 3:47 pm
I live in a house filled with magic. Our six-year-old son is obsessed with Harry Potter and although he knows that magic isn’t real, he still secretly hopes that it might be. We look for the sparkle in his eyes when he gets excited about being able to read, when he figures out how things work, when he learns and discovers. The most inspiring faculty members I know have the ability to create that kind of magic in their classrooms.
This basic humanity is missing in discussions of the corporatization of higher education. On a personal level, I find it difficult to connect with the corporate analogy. It is alienating, sterile, and ultimately…masculine.
I view teaching and learning as a series of human interactions that, at their best, become a series of magical moments of discovery shared between students and professors. When I think of a magic show, on the other hand, I visualize a …
February 28, 2011, 2:18 pm
There is an enormous difference between a discussion about the activity of educating and a discussion about educational institutions. A failure to appreciate this difference can lead to confusion on the part of faculty who want to understand current changes in the university and what they should try to do about those changes. Faculty members are often drawn into discussions of matters over which they have no power, and which have nothing to do with the activity of educating. Sometimes those discussions are held at the expense of matters in which faculty’s legitimate authority is threatened.
For example, Andrew Ross, in his article “The Corporate Analogy Unravels” (The Chronicle Review, October 17, 2010), criticizes faculty who emphasize the corporate model as corrupting the idea and practices of education. He accuses them of relying on an analogy between corporations and…
February 23, 2011, 3:44 pm
With Michael Brown
Mary: Mike, while I agree that we need to prepare students for a “fluctuating job market,” I do not believe that universities should be wholly responsible for this preparation. Although students may approach higher education as a form of career preparation, are professors really the ones who are best equipped to prepare them for their next jobs? Obtaining a position requires much more than coursework or the credential of the degree. Most often, it requires on-the-job experience, the ability to interview well, the strategic use of well-made connections, etc. These skills are not typically the purview of college professors, and I think it is a mistake to expect faculty to prepare students for jobs in this manner.
The primary role of a university is in providing education through teaching and learning. If our teaching is determined by what employers want today…
February 17, 2011, 3:21 pm
Postsecondary education occurs across a variety of different settings, and obviously some of those settings are designed to train people for specific skills, possibly for jobs or credentials. In a way, these settings substitute for an older system of apprenticeship. But there is an important difference.
The older system provided predictable rewards for those who were able to pass their apprenticeship. A plumber’s apprentice would eventually enter the field as a licensed plumber, with a reasonable expectation of a stable working life. Now I fear that people are now being taught specific technical skills that are bound to become obsolete. It may become more and more difficult for individuals who undergo a series of job changes to get the training they would need to continue in the work force at a level that is consistent with their expectations.
For those of us in the human…
February 15, 2011, 3:06 pm
Earlier today, I attended a forum on implementing the common core elementary and secondary education standards in the state of Massachusetts. These English language arts and literacy and mathematics standards are in the process of being adopted by at least 43 other states and territories in the United States. I was pleased to hear that the focus of the new standards is on college and career readiness, rather than college or career readiness. There was the obligatory talk of teaching students to think strategically and of preparing them for a 21st-century, knowledge-based economy, but the big takeaway for me was that the goal of these new common core standards is college readiness for all students.
This differs dramatically from my own high-school experience. In the early 80s, I was a proud member of the college-prep track in my small, public high school in Michigan. When I graduated…