Educators As “Personal Trainers In Intellectual Fitness”
Brilliant article by UCLA philosopher Pam Hieronymi in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
“As we think about the future of education, we need to sharpen our understanding of what education is and what educators do. Education is often compared to two other industries upended b
y the Internet: journalism and publishing. This is a serious error.
Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.
Educators are coaches, personal trainers in intellectual fitness. The value we add to the media extravaganza is like the value the trainer adds to the gym or the coach adds to the equipment. We provide individualized instruction in how to evaluate and make use of information and ideas, teaching people how to think for themselves.
Just as coaching requires individual attention, education, at its core, requires one mind engaging with another, in real time: listening, understanding, correcting, modeling, suggesting, prodding, denying, affirming, and critiquing thoughts and their expression.
A set of podcasts is the 21st-century equivalent of a textbook, not the 21st-century equivalent of a teacher. Every age has its autodidacts, gifted people able to teach themselves with only their books. Woe unto us if we require all citizens to manifest that ability.
Of course, computers do much more than deliver podcasts. They enable new forms of communicating. They present information in incredibly understandable and previously unimaginable ways. They even interact with students, correcting assignments for which there are clearly delineated standards of error and success. They can greatly expand the power of the multiple-choice quiz; they can learn which drills remedy which errors. Computers are getting ever better at correcting grammar and expressions in natural language.
These capacities should be celebrated. But they should not be confused with the training provided by one mind interacting with another—when, for example, a teacher discerns what is on a student’s mind (even though the thought may be novel and half-formed); sees how it relates to the material; and knows how to question, encourage, challenge, or otherwise prompt the student to find his or her own way out of confusion, to a clearer expression of thought or a more powerful argument or analysis.” Read more here.
What do you think of the idea of educators as “coaches, personal trainers in intellectual fitness”? Some teachers and professors would chafe at that description, but it brings home the idea that education is not just a set of facts and ideas to be transmitted; it’s the process of shaping the way someone thinks.