There is a difference between anarchy and democracy. Ms. Whale advocates some form of classroom structure which does not involve a dictatorial teacher. This idea could take either anarchic (individual choice) or democratic (group choice) form. I'd argue more for a republic model, where there is some student direction, but the teacher has the ultimate say. Following is a longish defense of this position, sprinkled with personal anecdotes.
The epopt has already pulled out this comment, but I'd like to add my thoughts on the matter.
The teacher should treat the student as a peer, not a peon.
I respectfully disagree. In the forum of K5, ObeseWhale deserves all the consideration of someone I consider my peer in this sphere. In the lab or as a student in any biology class I might teach, she may deserve to be treated with respect (not as a peon), but I could not consider her my peer. She has nothing like the training and experience I have. I will in no way back down from this sentiment, not because I am "power hungry" (see below) but because I'm correct. At this point she has not the requisite training, skills, experience, etc. to do what I do.
But I do know one thing for sure from my experiences, that a more open and liberal classroom environment facilitates learning much better than one cramped by a power hungry teacher and a canned curriculum invented by bureaucrats.
She knows this from her experience, but the point can be made that she already writes at a level higher than many college graduates. By no means is Ms. Whale a typical student. For some students, the anarchic or democratic models work. For some students, variations on the models work. For a few students, nothing works. Codemonkey_uk pointed out that current educational models are in use because they are efficient. These methods get the job done for the greatest number of students, but like anything done in bulk, that doesn't mean it fits all students.
And now let me write in defense of teachers. Yes, one finds jerks anywhere, and perhaps some teachers have to reinforce alpha (power) status by being classroom tyrants. Many teachers, however, may simply be overwhelmed and tired. My father taught in (US) public high schools, and my mother taught at a form 6-12 private school. I have taught college level, both basic (no more complicated than high school) and advanced (medical students). The job is not an easy one.
My father taught English and Humanities, and had 6 classes of 25-35 students daily Unlike most of his colleagues, he required his students to write essays and papers. He graded the writing assignments and the rewrites when they needed to happen. Can you imagine the time it takes to grade 300 essays? Many teachers won't do it, and as a consequence, many US students arrive at college unable to write coherent paragraphs, much less construct a cohesive essay. His effort was so unusual that professors at the local university could spot one of my father's former students precisely because they could write. He brooked no bullshit in his classroom, but his students learned well and respected him.
I remember my classroom teaching experience as draining -- very rewarding as well, but at the end of the day I would be exhausted. Biology is so often taught as dry memorization, and I try to make it more engaging, to demonstrate (by doing) that science is a process of asking questions, not simply memorizing facts. Teaching by that style is very hard work. If I had to do it 6 times a day for 30 students, I don't know whether I could maintain it.
From a reply in the thread ObeseWhale stated:
I see no reason why students - especially those in advanced courses - shouldn't have some form of control over the subject matter being taught.
To go back to my point above, the methods Ms. Whale advocates can be implemented most easily with advanced students. Another point goes back to the peer issue -- there are times when an instructor, due to greater experience, knows best what needs included in the curriculum. As a graduate student, which one could call a fairly advanced class of students, I've been on the wrong side of this argument.
Although I could come up with examples from a high school standpoint, let me indulge, please, in two illustrative examples:
Neuroanatomy. I hated learning it, but had to. The idea of that sort of rote memorization in graduate school incensed me on some level. "I know how to learn, and I'll look it up if I need it!" Had the instructors conceded to my viewpoint, they would have done me a disservice. It has been of great value, even for this molecular and cellular neurobiologist, to have the basic maps of the brain and its connections available to me in memory. At the very least, I understand more of what my colleagues talk about and am not limited by my experimental prejudices.
Biochemistry. Many years ago I memorized the structures of all the amino acids in order to pass a graduate physical biochemistry course. This knowledge serves me almost daily. I memorized chemical reactions and chemistry behind certain techniques, which now makes me the answer source for troubleshooting. Anyone (even Ms. Whale, right now, with some training) can learn to follow lab protocols, but not many can troubleshoot the way I can, because I understand how they work.
I cite these examples because I never would have troubled myself to learn such things in an anarchic or democratic classroom. Had my father been democratic about writing -- "Who wants to write an essay?" -- his students would not have the communication skills they carried into the world. One size rarely fits all, yet sometimes the one in charge really does know what's best. In a republic, the leadership should be responsive, but they also bear responsibility. Sometimes the unpopular thing is the right thing.
Lastly, I cannot resist throwing in a neurobiological point. Human brains are still very plastic and continue to develop and refine through the late teens. Much of the final wiring is dependent upon use and experience. Many classes where a student may wonder things like "When the hell will I need to use the Pythagorean theorem?" may really be helping to wire the brain such that the student can understand similarly non-obvious things in the future. Think of it as the mental version of a musician playing scales. Yes, there are people who learn to play by ear, but most of us need the practice in the basics before we move to the complicated. More often than not, standard curricula supply the necessary basics.
You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
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