Monday, August 18, 2008

Right-brained epiphanies, V: more breathless praise for nonacademic teaching

From yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer Op-Ed page:

'I touch the future. I teach.'

Those are the words of Christa McAuliffe, educator and astronaut. The weight of these words, and the weight of their truth, are self-evident to teachers across the educational spectrum, from grammar school to grad school. Whether we are still docile students or seasoned adults in the "real" world, we can all recall a teacher who has left an indelible impression on our lives, be it good or bad, and who has shaped who we are today.

Ironically, what we remember about that teacher may have nothing to do with the subject he or she actually teaches...
Included among the teachers our writer best remembers are a couple of math teachers. One of them taught her that:

the courage to ask for help is not a weakness but a strength.

The other one taught her to:

welcome those whose political leanings differ from my own.

Moving on to computer science, she cites Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch for his "Last Lecture," entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams":

Pausch centered his speech on the gift of life and the opportunities it presents to live out your dreams and to help others do the same... His last and most important lesson as a teacher had nothing to do with any lesson plans... leaving behind an influence that continues to transcend classroom walls.

Our writer concludes:

Teachers who teach outside the textbook are doing more than they get credit for - they are changing the world... [and] should be recognized for their bravery in breaking from the norm.

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Personally, I preferred math and computer science teachers who stuck to the book. And what I remember about the teachers I liked best is how clearly they conveyed tricky concepts about--yes!--math and computer science: Turing Machines; Rank-Nullity; Incompleteness; Decidability.

As for political tolerance and living out life's dreams, it strikes me that Life, rather than the classroom, might be a better arena.

The many Op-Eds like this one, written by people who appear to hail from outside the Education School Establishment, make me wonder whether our ed schools, in dishing out today's watered down, feel-good curricula, are merely giving us what we want--or deserve?

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