“The best pedagogical practices in the humanities draw attention to the fact that the knowledge being conveyed is questionable. This is not an invitation to rampant revisionism or postmodernism, but a simple recognition that historical, literary, political, and anthropological knowledge is not made up of equations or organic structures, but of perceptions, arguments, aesthetic effects, philosophical concepts, and other representations whose signification is subject to change. The words of Hamlet or of the Declaration of Independence may not vary, but their meaning can.”
–Dan Edelstein, “How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy”
Perhaps especially because I realize now that the meaning of so many things can change, it great comfort to know that, as educators, we’re never re-inventing the wheel. It’s more like we’re improving the wheel, from the material used to make it (e.g. pedagogy) to the laborers needed to produce it (e.g. teachers). (Wait… does this mean knowledge is like a car in this metaphor? Okay, well that makes students drivers. And maybe I’m the driver’s ed instructor. This is both exciting and terrifying.)
Going home and realizing you’re never done re-doing your assignments
When I think of what it means to be professional, though, I do agree with Parker Palmer’s overview of the “new professional” which is as follows:
(1) We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.
(2) We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects.
(3) We must start taking seriously the “intelligence” in emotional intelligence. We must do more than affirm and harness the power of emotions to animate learning
(4) We must offer our students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support.
(5) We must help our students understand what it means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them.
It’s hard to question the state of things, and harder still to question a discipline. I think Palmer’s emphasis on emotional intelligence is essential… seriously. When I think of this course as a whole, I know that emotion is essential to teaching. A syllabus? Your personality as a teacher (which has emotion). A teaching philosophy? Your view of teaching as a person (which has emotion). A problem-based learning assignment? Your ability to let go and let students guide you as they demonstrate what they learned (which has emotion, y’all).
Thus, I think it might be best to end my final blog post for a course in contemporary pedagogy with this observation by Dan Edelstein: “To innovate is thus less to abandon the past than it is to tinker, transform, and revise what came before.”