This blogpost represents my personal views. While I do not wish to cause offence, I do genuinely wish to hear your thoughts about my wondering. I invite your comments.
This week on The Mind Lab Postgraduate course (Certificate in Applied Practice – Digital and Collaborative Learning) we were talking about epistemology. In other words, we were discussing knowledge. What it means to know, the changing ideas about knowledge, the implications of what it might mean to be a teacher in the Knowledge Age when basically the sum total of all human knowledge is now available in your pocket. Rich, interesting, thoughtful, provocative stuff.
In the past, schools have positioned their students as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. Students would retain this knowledge in their heads for a time in the future when it would be needed. For a teacher under this paradigm, content is king.
Now knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate. Google and Wikipedia know far more about any given topic than I could ever possibly be expected to know. And even about topics I have studied in considerable depth, like Shakespeare. Students can access this information any where, any time, via their smartphones. As a teacher, I cannot possibly present myself as an expert receptacle of knowledge. We have moved from ‘just in case’ knowledge to ‘just in time’ knowledge. When students need to know something, they can simply google it. Content as king is dead. Long live the… what?
Today, this article from The Atlantic was shared with me via Twitter: “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher“. In part, the writer mourns the loss of the role of the teacher as “content expert”.
I don’t remember the last time I’ve attended, or even heard of, any professional-development training focused on my specific subject matter. Instead, these experiences concentrate on incorporating technology in the classroom, utilizing assessment data, or new ways of becoming a school facilitator.
In many respects, I understand where this teacher is coming from. When I would become disillusioned with high school English teaching, I would take genuine comfort from the fact that I was being paid ‘to talk books’.
And yet, the world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. The siloed approach to content knowledge, to the very subject-specific matter this teacher is mourning the loss of, needs to change with it. Skills and dispositions are critical. Exploring, discovering, creating knowledge is where the emphasis needs to fall.
This reminds me of a conversation I was involved in during our last eFellows hui, whereby we secondary teachers were explaining to a primary school teacher that high school teachers don’t see themselves as teachers of students first, but rather subject specialists.
And this is my big wondering today. Is this one of the biggest problems in traditional secondary school education? That I identify as a teacher of English [or insert subject here] and not as a teacher of learners?
What do you think? How might we encourage secondary school teachers to put students and not their subject first?