One assumption that is too often missing from educational policy and practice is that learning and growing depend on relationships with people. I was just perusing the latest Chronicle of Higher Education, and my attention lighted on three different -- but, it turns out, related -- articles:
* one on high school AP courses vs. new college courses that are beginning to emphasize what AP courses do not, namely, cross-disciplinary thinking;
* one on dual-credit courses in which high school students tap in to college courses (usually by watching videos of professors teaching) and get credit in both institutions; and
* one on competence-based learning, where credit is given to life experience.
This brief journey got me thinking about the myriad (or perhaps much too convergent) set of assumptions that seem to underlie education these days. Some of these assumptions seem to be that
* successful learning can be replicated on a standardized test
* successful learning can be done via video
* successful learning is evidenced exclusively by behavioral outcomes
My purpose here is not to disagree with these assumptions. Rather, it is to remark on what is for me a distressing absence: the absence of any sense of learning as fundamentally relational.
Actually, the assumptions I've listed above are relational in that they imply that successful learning depends on forging some sort of relationship with content, either through focused practice in an AP course or exposure to lecturing professors or actual experience in the field. And I agree that learning pretty much by definition must include a relationship with content.
But I also think learning is more than just content- or cognition-based. I've come to think of learning as synonymous with development, with emotional and cognitive and social and identity development. And my understanding of these types of development points to the undeniable fact that they happen through human relationships.
For me, teachers are developmental partners to students. They play incredibly valuable and difficult roles in students' lives -- as ideals, as mentors, as mirrors, as opponents, as attachment figures, as test objects. Teachers' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are structures within which students grow (or not) regardless of the subject matter. While few teachers consciously embrace these roles or know how to use them to their own and their students' advantage, the roles, the relationships, are nonetheless at the heart of learning.
(Shameless Plug here: My book, The Feeling of Teaching, shows how teachers can use these roles and others to improve their teaching and their students' learning.)
I just wonder what conversations about MOOCs or flipped classrooms or standardized testing or scripted curricula would sound like if this assumption -- that learning means emotional and relational development -- were included. After all, we don't just want competent historians or architects or cabinet-makers or computer programmers to emerge from our schools. We want -- at least, I want -- mature, healthy, competent people to emerge.
What assumptions drive your teaching?