The last few days I have been pondering what constitutes a good teacher? How do I know if students are learning? How can I encourage students to learn how to learn? Or, how do I convince my students that learning is a life long process? I have been working with freshman in college and seniors, and it is amazing the cognitive difference that four years makes. Freshmen are less evaluative than seniors, but it is evident that students develop a cognitive maturity over their four years at a institution.
Yesterday I met with a student and told her that I was happy she is in my class. Her reasoning skills are excellent, and she is articulate as evidenced by her mature comments within the class discussions. She is a little older than the traditional college student, which makes a difference, and she has had a bit more experience. It seems obvious that her cognitive performance would be a little higher. This is a huge generalization, but it demonstrates my desire to convince my students that they can and do learn.
I believe that students go to college to learn. I believe they want to learn, and it is the system that undermines their creative and cognitive motivation. When we as faculty stand up front and push knowledge at them without allowing time to evaluate and formulate, then we are frustrating them. When we give them fields to fill in, we are not helping them develop the critical thinking skills needed to cognitively evolve. As Ken Bain states in his book on what college educators do, educators start with the end in view. What do I want my students to learn from my class, and how do I design an event that gets them there?
Arthur Levine in today’s WSJ discussed the Suburban Education Gap. Another writer discussing the education gap associated with zip code, but he does not stop there. He identifies the international education gap. “Of the 70 countries tested by the widely used Program For International Student Assessment, the United States falls in the middle of the pack. This is the case even for the relatively well-off American students.” The article then continues to compare US performance with Canada and Shanghai.
I know I am comparing apples with oranges. When I talk about the ability of my students, I am referring to college students. The Levine article is discussing middle and high school students. However, we need to view the educational experience as a system. These elements within the system are interrelated and must be attacked in a systematic manner. The ability of our country to maintain global leadership is at risk.
Levine states, “ The domestic gap means that too many poor, urban and rural youngsters of color lack the education necessary to obtain jobs that can support a family in an information economy.” This comment is supported with today’s report that over 49 million people in the US are now living at a sub-poverty level. Thus, we have an increasing gap between the haves and have-not. Even Michael Moore, Capitalism: A Love Story, and his liberal pals must admit they are on the have side of the equation.
The international gap, between our educational ability and the international community, “hurts the ability of American children to obtain the best jobs in a global economy requiring higher levels of skill and knowledge.” What do we do?
I have not met a teacher (elementary, secondary, or college level) that does not care about whether their students are learning or not. Therefore, the obstruction is not in the area of desire; the problem lies somewhere else. Is it a financial problem? College education is getting very expensive, so that is problematic, but with elementary and secondary education our country spends an incredible amount of money for in-the-middle-of-the-pack performance. I hate to say it, but much of the solution lies with the parents.
Levine says, “This isn’t a game for amateurs. Parents need to use every resource at their disposal – demanding change in schools and in district offices; using existing tools such as parent-trigger laws and charter schools; organizing their communities; cultivating the media and staging newsworthy events; telling politicians and officeholders that their votes will go to the candidates who support improvement.” Parent also must foster a learning environment in their homes. Turn off TV’s and read.
As a college teacher who cares about his students learning, I will do my job. I will create a learning event that challenges the students that come to me. As a parent, I will do whatever I need to do whatever I can to support a system that eliminates the domestic and international gap. We can’t take our standard of living for granted. We need to fight for it.
And that is my thought for the day!