Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Academics trying to come to terms with and understand the function of social/physical experience, of interaction in proximity to others, of direct observation of the world, having to interpret and recognize categories independent of what they've been told or taught.

John Quiggin
I’d also like to question the idea that an undergraduate text should give students more than what’s in the textbook. Taking Econ 101 as an example, the dominant textbooks have been by people like Samuelson, Nordhaus, Mankiw and so on. I assume they have put at least as much thought and effort into their books as a highly-motivated lecturer in Econ 101 puts into their lectures. So, a student who absorbed and understood everything in the textbook would surely be at least as well off as one who absorbed and understood everything in the lectures.

The point is, of course, that you can’t teach the average 18yo economics, or anything else, by giving them a textbook and telling them to read it. How exactly attending a lecture adds value is rather mysterious, but it does seem to work, and not because there is extra factual content.
Harry Brighouse
The idea is simple. If teachers were engaged in mutual observation and had resources to discuss what they were seeing and doing, they could begin to learn from one another, thus improving their practice. To use an analogy that Wagner doesn’t use, it’s like learning a musical instrument. You learn by watching and listening to others, noting what they do, mimicking it, practicing endlessly, subjecting your practice to your own critique and that of others, in the light of continued observations of others who are better than you are (or who are better in some particular way that you can improve).
A repeat for the third time: Thinking to the rule is both the founding principle and mirror image of teaching to the test. The weaknesses commonly acknowledged in the latter are all there in the former, unacknowledged.

A commenter on Brighouse's post links to an article in the NY Times. The article is tragic in what it says about this country, not the subject alone but everyone involved including the author: trying to teach American teachers to be observant communicative human beings, to teach them the social skills they never learned in childhood.
I’m reminded reading this of the philosophy grad student who comes back to school in the fall after teaching undergrads in summer school and when asked how it went says: "It was strange. My students were all obsessed with sex. Not the idea of sex or the meaning of sex but sex!"
Now that she's gone I can say the woman who told me that story was Callie Angell, who between her stints at the Whitney was on the staff of the Journal of Philosophy. The grad student had been teaching summer courses at Princeton.

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