from Jesse Stommel, on student-shaming

A powerful piece from Professor Jesse Stommel on the topic of student-shaming, a practice many of us educators have employed when our frustrations run over. The entire piece is good; here’s an excerpt from the end of “Dear Student”:

The work of educating from a place of care might seem abstract, or might be dismissed as touchy-feely, but if our goal is truly to resist the corporatization and standardization of education, we must recognize the ways that the failure to acknowledge students as full agents in their learning is a process that runs immediately parallel to the failure to acknowledge teachers as full agents in the classroom. The process that makes teachers increasingly adjunct is the same process that has made students into customers. And the gear that makes this system go depends on the pitting of students and teachers against one another.

The gear that makes this system go is obedience — mere compliance at the expense of critical engagement and complex human understanding.

For education to work, there can be no divide between teachers and students. There must be what Paulo Freire calls “teacher-students.” Specifically, he writes, “no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught.” So, “teacher” becomes a role that shifts, and learning depends upon a community of teacher-students. Any authority within the space must be aimed at fostering agency in all the members of the community. And this depends on a recognition of the power dynamics and hierarchies that this kind of learning environment must actively and continuously work against. There is no place for shame in the work of education.

Read the whole post here


Link: The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion – The New York Times

Here’s a provocative essay on the illusion that is the modern university.

Kevin Carey suggests that universities cannot guarantee overall excellence in their academic programs because professors are more like independent contractors than anything else. Academic freedom plays out as “you can’t tell me what to do.” So higher ed pedagogy is much harder to correct than K-12 pedagogy (which I would argue is making greater strides toward excellence, despite the destructive effects of the assessment craze).

An interesting short read.

When college leaders talk about academic standards, they often mean admissions standards, not standards for what happens in classrooms themselves.

via The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion – The New York Times.

“Adjunctification” is a sign of dehumanization

Here’s the post that sparked my thoughts below – a discussion of the precipitous rise of adjuncts in higher ed, from 25% just a few years ago to 75% now in some places.

At Colleges Across the Country, PhDs Join the Ranks of Low-Wage Workers.

The devaluation of the teacher (who is the core of any educational experience) is a serious danger in all education, both K-12 and higher ed. I’m stunned that it’s so hard for politicians and consumers within the system to see that and/or care.

Faculty quality matters. Teacher experience matters. Being trained in pedagogy as a higher ed professor matters. Quality of life for faculty matters. Enabling faculty to have the space and time to mentor students and build relationships matters because education is, at the core, a relational endeavor.

What’s really in play here is that we’re seeing a result of dehumanization within the higher ed system — both of students as “education” has become a commodity to be traded, a transfer of information or skills in direct exchange for “immediate employability” (a concept which itself does damage to the ideas of vocation and calling and a well-lived life), and of faculty, who in this kind of system are of little value beyond quantity of information they can spew to the most students in the least amount of time.

And the colleges are not the only guilty ones here. Families make the college decision based greatly on bottom-line cost, without considering that pound for pound not all education is the same. Two years at a community college are NOT the same cognitive or social experience as a baccalaureate college environment. But because as a society we’re willing to let the “bottom” of the economic strata get by on underfunded community college educations, we’re now seeing the diminished value of education creep up into the middle class.

Understand, I’m not blaming families for making economic decisions – college is expensive. I’m also not blaming colleges for responding to the strident demands of current families and students to be presented with top-notch, brand-new dorms and classroom buildings and entertainment complexes as part of the college experience. The market has spoken.

But the market isn’t our god, nor should it determine our ethics.


via At Colleges Across the Country, PhDs Join the Ranks of Low-Wage Workers.

We Need Better Teaching with Tech in Higher Ed

I’ve developed a greater interest in recent years in how pedagogy works at colleges and universities. While student loan debt and the value of a liberal arts degree in a STEM world are topics on everyone’s minds (so the media would suggest), a deafening silence surrounds the question of whether faculty in higher education are effective teachers.

My gut feeling, based on my own experiences with higher ed plus some very limited observation and basic reading, is that higher ed pedagogy is very broken.  Subject specialists with PhD’s in research fields may have little to no aptitude for teaching, while qualified educators who’ve honed their craft (usually in a secondary classroom) are often barred from higher ed because they do not possess a doctoral degree (an expensive and time-consuming credential).

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently released a report on Faculty Trends. There’s much to discuss there, but I want to focus on the question of technology in the classroom.  Inside Higher Ed offers a great piece that sums up the report’s findings and offers some counter conclusions. Take a moment to read:

Take-Away From the Gates Report on Faculty | College Ready Writing @insidehighered.

In brief, the Gates Foundation reports that the rate of tech adoption in colleges is very low, as expected. Faculty are aware of innovative teaching methods, like flipped classrooms or hybrid courses that incorporate online discussions with face to face teaching, but the majority of faculty aren’t using them.

The Inside Higher Ed article highlights two important reasons why higher ed faculty are not as innovative as their peers in K-12:

1. Faculty are far more influenced by their peers in the discipline than anyone else, and some disciplines are less open to technological innovation.

2. Campus infrastructure tends to devalue anything that isn’t STEM or business, so many faculty in other fields are teaching in outdated classrooms.

My own classroom experience was located in a small school with few resources. I didn’t really mind the challenge; I think scarcity can breed creative problem solving. But the technology roadblocks were maddening.  If I had a dollar for every time my attempt to take students into the computer lab to do some research turned into a frustrated pile of kids and teacher clustered around the only working computer, I’d have a retirement account.

Higher ed pedagogy is under-addressed.   While I’m not a fan of the pressure coming from the DOE on universities toward outcome-based assessment, perhaps one upside will be attention on professional development for all college faculty.


Link: How Engaged Are Students and Teachers in American Schools? | MindShift

Unfortunately, most teachers are not in a position to share excitement with students. About 70% are classified as disengaged, which puts them on par with the workforce as a whole. This is surprising in some ways, because teachers score close to the top on measures that indicate that they find meaning in their life and see work as a calling. Unfortunately, the structures that teachers are working in–which may include high-stakes standardized testing and value-added formulas that evaluate their performance based on outside factors–seem to tug against their happiness. “The real bummer is they don’t feel their opinions matter,” Busteed says. K-12 teachers scored dead last among 12 occupational groups in agreeing with the statement that their opinions count at work, and also dead last on “My supervisor creates an open and trusting environment.” via How Engaged Are Students and Teachers in American Schools? | MindShift.

Wish List: Piecing Together an Ideal School From the Ground Up | MindShift

Wish List: Piecing Together an Ideal School From the Ground Up | MindShift.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! This is a great, short piece at Mind/Shift about inquiry learning, interdisciplinary teaching, trusting students as active participants in their learning process, assessing through multiple means, investing in teachers through professional development, and not locking in too quickly on how to use technology in a classroom.


Beyond The Great Teacher Myth | Practical Theory

As long as there is little to no time in the high school schedule for teachers and students to see and celebrate each other’s shared humanity, too many students will feel that school is something that is done to them, that teachers care more about their subjects than they do about the kids. As long as teachers have 120-150 kids on their course roster, and there is little continuity year to year so that relationships cannot be maintained, too many students will be on their own when they struggle. If we build schools where teachers and students have time to relate to one another as people – if we create pathways for students and teachers to know each other over time, so that every child knows they have an adult advocate in their school, we make schools more human — and more humane – for all who inhabit them.

via Beyond The Great Teacher Myth | Practical Theory.