Academia’s Big Tent

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

You can get a pretty good idea of where academics are coming from politically and where they expect their junior colleagues to fall on the political spectrum by what they tell each other, particularly when they put it down on paper. “The numerous ways of teaching suggest that there are varying philosophical or personal visions put forth about college teaching,” Michael W. Galbraith writes in College Teaching: Developing Perspective Through Dialogu. “There is no one ‘correct’ philosophical orientation when it comes to college teaching.”

“Once you discover what beliefs, values, and attitudes you hold, you will have the basis for a focused and action-oriented vision or philosophy for your teaching.” Inclusive as this sounds, Galbraith goes on to show that he does not envision an exceptionally huge tent philosophically that feeds into the faculty lounge.

Galbraith is a professor of leadership studies at Marshall University Graduate College in South Charleston, West Virginia. “Several approaches can help you gain insight,” he explains. “One approach is to complete the inventory developed by Zinn (2004).”

“This self-administered, self-scoring, and self-interpreted inventory will place you in one of five philosophical orientations:

• “Liberal;

• “Behaviorist;

• “Progressive:

• “Humanistic: or

• “Radical.”

Notice what is missing:

• Conservative;

• Libertarian;

• Objectivist;

• Traditionalist; or even

• Moderate.

“The social Reform Perspective is the final perspective on teaching I will briefly examine,” writes Galbraith. “This perspective is based upon an explicitly stated ideal or set of principles that are linked to a vision of a better social order (Nesbit, 1998).”

“If you, as a college teacher, conform to this perspective then you would make three assumptions:

• “That the ideals held are necessary for a better society;

• “They are appropriate for all; and

• “That the ultimate goal of teaching is to bring about social change, not simply individual learning.”

Galbraith, it should be noted, neither endorses nor condemns this practice although, as we shall see, he does not appear to stray far from it. By the way, he has also taught at Florida Atlantic University, Temple, the University of Missouri at Columbia and Oklahoma State.

“You utilize powerful metaphors that ‘help learners bridge between prior knowledge and new concepts, and work hard to respect and promote the dignity and self-efficacy…’of your learners,” states Galbraith. “As Pratt (2002) suggests, those who hold a social reform perspective are few and far between.”

“But he does say that ‘those who do are very likely to have a lasting impression on their learners.’”

In one of his own course objectives, Galbraith writes, “The learner will enhance the awareness of the key theories about learning—behaviorism, cognitivism, humanism, social learning theory, and constructivism—and their implications for adult learning.”

Guidelines for this course indicate that it will be politically correct, if not terribly demanding. “For example, the student will be able to describe social and psychological factors that prevent individuals from attending college and discuss, in an oral presentation to the class, four factors they believe are most salient to this issue of non-particiapation,” Galbraith writes of his education course. “Some objectives will be more measurable such as being able to name 80 % of the state capitals out of a possible 50 on a written examination.”

Back in the day, students were expected to know 100 % of all 50 state capitals. Nor did they have the benefit, if there is one, of educational innovations favored by education professors such as Galbraith.

“Each participant is expected to assume responsibility for his or her own development of proficiency in the learning objectives of this course as well as to assist others in the group in the learning endeavor,” Galbraith promises in his lesson plan. “Learning process devices such as the development of a learning plan, construction of self and peer evaluations of the learning constitute central components of the course.”

“It is my wish, therefore, to be a facilitator of the learning experience rather than a primary dispenser of knowledge or information.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.