I am starting small - the two shows on NPR that I like the most are Radiolab and On Being by Krista Tippett. So I decided on Friday to download podcasts to listen to from both shows' archives, and found many that sounded interesting. As it happened, I had a lot of errands and things to run this weekend, so I had plenty of time to listen to some of them.
The two interviews I want to discuss in this post both come from On Being:
- "What We Nurture", an interview with the Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Sylvia Boorstein, and
- "The Meaning of Intelligence", an interview with Professor Mike Rose of UCLA's Graduate School of Education.
What I heard, ultimately, were things that I was not ready for, exactly, but were things that crystallized a lot of what had been going through my head lately.
As a teacher, I took 2 things from this:
Ms. Tippett: That's good. I think it's a good analogy.
- Kindness means everything, everything to what we do. We lose the opportunity to connect if we are unkind. We can be firm, we can be honest with the learners in our classroom, but we must be kind.
- Teachers should be experts at this concept of "recalculating". If we are kind, and if we maintain equanimity in the face of repeated mistakes (or misconceptions, or misinterpretations) by our learners, then we are acting as Dr. Boorstein's GPS - and we are giving our students opportunities to correct things themselves.
Again, my two takeaways:
- Our job is to connect with our students somehow. Or at least to try. We have to be willing to meet them halfway - to try to understand where they are coming from and get to that place where we can have a conversation. To create meaning.
- The sentences: "...a humane humanities education...was rich cognitively, but it was that interplay of the cognitive and the social, the personal and the cognitive." This is the heart of what we as teachers should be doing. Experiences gain meaning not just from the content of the experience, but also - perhaps being the greater part - from the affective elements of the experience. How they made one feel; the look that two people share when something goes really really well; the things that are read on each others' faces and in their body language when something happens.
This brings me, finally, to something I thought I'd never intended to write about, but in listening to both of these podcasts, I feel compelled to: Khan Academy. I have tried to be open-minded about KA, but I can finally put my finger on what has bothered me about it all along. And I'm not going to say anything that hasn't been said before, but it is important for me to get it out there:
KA can never, never, never provide the thing that seekers of knowledge - of any type - truly need, which is an empathetic guide. It cannot because that relationship does not scale. It is by definition 1:1. And it saddens me to think that those who believe that teachers can be replaced or supplanted by KA, or Rocketship, or whatever "content delivery" mechanism they are pushing, have had such a shallow experience of seeking knowledge that they are willing to throw those relationships aside to appease the twin gods of efficiency and standardization. KA and its ilk can never offer true succor to the student who figures out a complex idea, guided by someone who has struggled with that idea themselves; they can never offer genuine sympathy to the learner who thought they knew something, but didn't understand it as well as they liked; they can never be present to a seeker needing a guide.
To be totally honest, I confess, I have not been a guide as often as I've needed to be, and that will require work on my part. It is an aspiration. May we all be fortunate enough to be guides when we can, and to find guides for our own searches.