Are Education Academics Clueless Snobs?

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Yes, Virginia, There Is Knowledge Transfer « iterating toward openness. From David Wiley‘s iterating toward openness blog.

The fact that academics are incapable of recognizing that 99-some-percent of all the learning that happens in the world is pure and simple knowledge transfer is what leads people to believe that we live in ivory towers disconnected from reality. It can represent only one of two states: (1) we completely fail to see that this is the nature of most learning, even though we claim to recognize the value of “informal learning” (i.e., we’re clueless), or (2) our floccinaucinihilipilification of such mundane, everyday occurrences places them beneath our concern (i.e., we’re snobs). Either way, our critics would have a valid point.

For the most part, I agree. Now I would hasten to add that only SOME educators are clueless snobs, but I’ve met more than a few, that’s for sure. They aren’t rare. They may even be in the majority. I would further add that the majority of those kinds of educators reside in University Faculties of Education – as opposed to teachers, who actually have to teach stuff.

I can usually see some utility to almost any new answer-to-all-the-world’s-problems kind of proposal, and the MOOCs that are being talked about in the post are no different. But that’s not really the focus of this post. The focus is that I agree with Dave Wiley that many educators – the academics at least – seem to have lost track of the fact that a great deal of learning that happens is still the (in their eyes) uninteresting, get some answers or get something to remember kind. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we are doing such a lousy job of teaching these things – it does not constitute an ‘interesting line of research’. Academics can’t easily publish on this, so it can’t further their academic careers and thus, they aren’t really interested in figuring out how to do it better.

The sexy research lies in fuzzy ‘learning to learn’ research. Personally, while I completely get how vital this is, I have little faith that we are  actually making much progress in figuring out good ways to do it. It’s like trying to figure out how to write a best-selling novel, or make a block-buster movie or videogame. You’re not going to find a recipe, but it’s still worth studying the masters. Some people are good at it, and others, just aren’t. It’s a little sad how many professors of education fall into the latter category – i.e. the category of people who are not good at teaching stuff to people. You’d think that they – of all people – would be better at it than many of them are.

Anyhow, this also gives me another opportunity to harp on one of my favorite personal beefs: I think part of the reason educator-academics seem not to get that a huge amount of the learning that happens is what you could say lies at the low end of Bloom’s taxonomy is that they don’t actually do any of this. I know, lots of people claim that Blooms’ is passe – but hey, I don’t care. It remains a useful device for talking about learning. But back to my beef: a great many of the educator-academics I have met have degrees ONLY in education. Sure, they may have taught in a ‘real’ school for a little while (often not long though), but I can tell you from personal experience that one or two, or maybe even five years of actually doing it will not give you the experience you need to really understand how hard it can be to teach something. The perspective I gained after teaching CS for 25 years is light-years away from what I knew after I’d been teaching for 5 years.

Teaching about teaching is a whole different game. It’s meta-teaching. I have to hand it to them though; they’re good at that. They often fool countless students into believing they know what they are talking about (some call it pseudoteaching). You know what though? They really don’t. They actually don’t know what they’re taking about – mostly, they’re just good salespeople. Sure, they may understand it, academically – in other words, they understand it like I can understand what it’s like to be a brain surgeon by reading about it and watching movies about it. Truth is, until I’ve had my hand (or whatever) inside somebody’s head, I can’t understand. Not really.

Until you’ve actually had to teach something, You don’t really understand what’s tricky about it. Talk to any ‘pure educator’ about teaching recursion. Mostly, they have no clue.

I think all academic educators ought to know something besides education. They should not only know how to teach,  they should know how to teach SOMETHING – and they should have had to do it. If nothing else, it might give them an appreciation for the difficulties specific to teaching some thing, as opposed to teaching in the general sense.

If we want to raise the respect of the field of education (and I think we should), it should be HARDER to get a degree in that than in many other disciplines. It should NOT be the consolation prize.

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Are Education Academics Clueless Snobs? — 1 Comment

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