Controversial Monday Ideas

…that I heard over the weekend. For your consideration:

1. “Student centered classrooms” and “task based learning” have been invented to cover and compensate for having teachers trained in classroom management but not knowledgeable about the subject matter.

2. “Communicative” and “proficiency” oriented language teaching is part of vocational education, not part of a liberal arts education. It is like English as a foreign language, taught in Asia, for instance, so that businessmen from different places have a lingua franca and can read software instructions written in English.

3. If students are majoring in a foreign language, starting with a beginning course on how to speak it, they should also start with other courses in their native language, about the target language and its cultures.


23 thoughts on “Controversial Monday Ideas

  1. I find myself agreeing with #1. Sometimes it seems as if my school almost disdains people who have too much proficiency in their subject. The language of the “teaching and learning” centers has very little to do with knowing a subject but everything to do with the belief that anyone can teach anything, even if they don’t know the subject well. In fact, one person told me that you should always teach a subject that you know nothing about.

  2. Very interesting indeed — especially number 1.

    “Teach thyself student, and I will flatter your innate genius, although I doubt that you will learn anything.”

  3. Jesus wept.

    Since the Ed.D.s have ruined public schools, they are now ruining higher education.

    Keep the faith. Perhaps you could do a “word of the week” jargon watch?

  4. Thanks to all and especially to jaye since ze is new. Watchword of the week is a good idea. I’ll try to institute this. Is “excellence” too obvious / has it been done too much already?

    Jesus wept, yes. But the response here to #1 is quite heartening. I’ll take it to heart, I think — it feels good.

  5. ““Communicative” and “proficiency” oriented language teaching is part of vocational education, not part of a liberal arts education.”

    What? What do they think liberal-arts language courses are for?

    …I just realized the basis of all those stories about people who’ve passed foreign-language courses by learning archaic, unrecognizably warped pronunciation and vocabulary.

  6. Is “excellence” too obvious / has it been done too much already?

    Really, student centred teaching could actually be a way that educators are compelled to respond to the way that market forces have been allowed to erode teaching on a psychological level.

    What better rhetorical response to the parents who keep insisting that little Johnny is a born genius and can produce the highest marks if only he were educated better, for the teacher to throw his/her hands up in the air and say, “but Johnny is already progressing perfectly at his own pace, with Freedom and Nature Itself already TOTALLY in control of Johnny’s education. So, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

    After all, why should an individual teacher try to fight overwhelming social forces?

    1. There are too many, far too many students already enrolled in college, who have absolutely no business being there. I would encourage college/university administrators to initiate a new “tough love” policy toward the little slugs by adopting stiffer requirements for actually getting into college, and once in, staying there. Additionally, I see the great wisdom of universities cutting back on catch-up education which so litters the first year, sometimes the second, with a bevy of educational specialists hovering around the pack of little Johnnies and Jane Q students who claim to have some “learning disability” which is preventing them from performing their best. Thirdly, it is time to restore control of the classroom to the instructor; he or she is a specialist in the course he or she happens to teach, and therefore, he or she certainly knows more about what is important and what not in teaching their courses.

      1. And most marginally professional instructors will agree on what is important.

        I feel so lucky to have gotten the education I got, which was so much more truly democratic and educational than what seems to be offered now.

  7. “Student-centered learning” sounds like a version of “the customer is always right.”

    Jennifer, I might use that quote about “teach thyself student” at the next CTL workshop I am forced to take.

  8. Kathmandu — what a liberal arts language course would be for would be to create someone who could speak, read, and write like an educated person, not just gesticulate and shout like a tourist, or like an immigrant who has learned a little English on the job. To speak some form of standard, literate English may be “warped pronunciation and antiquated vocabulary” from their point of view, but in college courses from the sophomore level and up I’d rather have people who can understand an NPR story, not just a slasher movie.

    There are EFL courses which teach, in writing, people to say “You gonna turn left” rather than “Please turn left” or “Turn left.” It is *really* disorienting to try to understand someone who, with a heavy foreign accent, is also trying to imitate colloquial / illiterate / non standard / regional forms of English. I mean, between all the “you gonna’s” it is hard to pick out the kernel of their message (“turn left”).

    Clio — Yes, we should take *all* of Jennifer’s advice on this matter, I really think.

    1. You mistake my meaning. To ‘speak, read, and write like an educated person’ is to exercise proficient communication. I was describing courses passing off the archaic/classical form of a language as the current version, or wherein the teacher had decided to teach their own idea of how that language’s pronunciation and syntax ought to work rather than the real rules. In other words, where the student wound up learning a language that existed only in theory.

      1. Kathmandu, I’m not aware of any “courses passing off the archaic/classical form of a language as the current version, or wherein the teacher had decided to teach their own idea of how that language’s pronunciation and syntax ought to work rather than the real rules” at a university. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but it is hard to see how that would happen.

        Those students must really have misunderstood. Certainly you can take courses in Old French, Old Spanish, Old Norse and so on, but those aren’t taught like modern foreign languages and are not represented to be modern. You can also take courses in, say, nineteenth century literature where you will be exposed to the language as it was written then, and to some old fashioned vocabulary.

  9. It’s the logic of “democracy” that Nietzsche warned us about. He wasn’t talking about the kind of aspects that fascists fear about democracy — ie. that it is not authoritarian enough. He was talking about the rule of life by know-nothings.

  10. As to Jennifer’s thoughts on “democracy”, they are all too true/(as Nietzsche would say) “all too human”. Nowadays when so many vocations are standardized and regimented under managerial hierarchies, the congeries of cavers, cowards and yes-men/women seem to have the last laugh. “Ownlife”, that supreme crime in Orwell’s distopia, is consigned to feckless hobbies, or arrogant selfishness. In the world of academe, at least, scholars become reduced to (lower)middle managers in the soulless depths of academia, where endless and pointless department meetings use up one’s valuable professional time going over nothing, where one can be held responsible for any and every complaint by some disaffected, lazy, angry student in end-of-term evals, and either sacked or demoted, where even accomplished academicians have to cave to the frothy blather of admin and secretarial/receptionist staffers.

  11. where one can be held responsible for any and every complaint by some disaffected, lazy, angry student in end-of-term evals

    I really am disgusted. I had the opportunity to have a small talk with a self-proclaimed leftist, last night. His point of conversation was how much against consumerism he was. So I told him exactly how the public schooling system is being eroded by consumerism and “child centred educational practices”, which lead, precisely to the giving over of power to the ignorant, who hold teachers to ransom in the way you have described.

    At first, he didn’t understand a word I said, but latched onto the notion of “child-centred”, and asked me if I meant that the brighter students were being held back by the less talented.

    Well that had nothing to do with the contents of what I’d said, so I explained it again. This time, he got it, momentarily, but not for long.

    Eventually the suggestion that teachers just needed to be more entertaining, and more relevant to students’ needs, flew from his lips.

    “That,” I said, “is the consumerist orientation to teaching that I am criticising.”

  12. You go, Jennifer and Mark! Although — I’d like there to be faculty meetings in which I actually helped to make policy, as opposed to meetings with consultants where they come up with vague policies which we then, as individuals and as experts in the field, have to figure out how to implement in a way that makes some kind of sense.

  13. There is something else you could try, although I realise that conventional role expectations (ie. that the teacher has to feed the students in the manner of a mother bird) might make it difficult.

    When Stevie pipes up in class, to say something about the topic, you could reply: “I’m not sure I’m buying that idea, Stevie. You need to work harder to sell it to me. But I am inclined to buy Melissa’s idea a bit, althougth there are some rough aspects to it that still make it rather unsaleable.”

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