This is an interesting list and it especially interests me in terms of a common thread through the questions, namely: the intersection of identity and purpose.
- How do we support the changing role of teacher?
- What is the role of the teacher?
- How do we help students discover their passions?
- What is the essential learning that schools impart to students?
- What is the purpose of school?
- How do we adapt our curriculum to the technologies that kids are already using?
- What does and educated person look like today?
- How do we change policy to support more flexible time and place learning?
- What are the essential practices of teachers in a system where students are learning outside of school?
- How do we ensure those without privilege have equal access to quality education and opportunity?
The first two questions clearly have to do with the identity of a teacher. What is it that a teacher "does"? And how has what a teacher "does" changed/is-changing? Historically, we might say that teachers generally "do" three things. They impart wisdom and offer systems of understanding -- I'm thinking Plato and Aristotle as well as the Classical Raga gurus. They also serve society by preparing citizens for the demands that work and service will put on them -- here we have the teacher of "skills" whether we talk about the Medieval Guild system or elements of contemporary public education. Third, we have teachers as the generational constituents of the transmission of ideas, arguments, and concepts -- and here I see the Rabbinical tradition as a rich example.
As for the question of how to support the change that teachers are going through, I'd first suggest we define the change itself. More often then not, education finds itself in the position of responding to rather than initiating cultural change. This makes sense, given that so much of what we do in education is in using historical precedent to help students develop ways of knowing. All the more important then that in this era of rapid change, we should not forget that our educational predecessors have long grappled with societal paradigm shifts.
In fact, I would make the argument that a rather good way to consider the questions raised by the Weblogg-ed readers is through the lens of historical analysis. For these are important questions; they are questions dealing with the fundamentals of identity within an era of dramatic shift. And for that reason, we should look back into dramatic shifts in history and examine how -- or whether -- education itself rode out those storms.
Over the next few months, I will be examining the historical nature of shift and the way in which education has responded to it (or how it has occasionally shaped it). I started generating a list of ideas this morning, and have already found some interesting parallels. For instance, at the same time that the experiment in democracy is occurring in 5th century Athens, the leading ethical philosophers of the age are making arguments against what had become a tradition of hawking educational ideas and rhetorical constructs for cash in the Stoa. Later during the Roman Empire, education becomes a commodity somewhat reflecting imperial values as well as turning certain locales into what we might call the first "college towns". In the wake of the decentralization of Roman governmental authority in the early Middle Ages, education becomes (literally) cloistered in the abbeys; five hundred or so years later, the universities arise with Latin as the lingua franca and a new class of intellectual elites that even later, with the rise of dialectical theory, will begin the movement towards educational celebrity as professors become seemingly as important as their disciplines and education again becomes peripatetic. In the Renaissance, we will see the further societal split in the intellectual tradition with the Guilds taking the arts and the private tutors of rich aristocrats taking the humanities. All this leads into the greatest pre-Industrial shift since the Agricultural Revolution -- the development of the printing press and the rise of the literate masses.
In short, the history of education is a history of responses to cultural shift.
Which means that the history of teachers is a history of responses to shifting demands upon identity.
How did the identity of teachers change through each of these shifts? Is it too much to think that our own era of digital shift is not something new, but rather the next phase in an ongoing process of historical dialectic? Is it even worth it to think in these terms? Or should we be focusing on the day-to-day work of "changing" schools?
Well, in my thinking, the questions raised by the readers hit on big themes: identity, passion, essentiality, purpose, adaptation, environment, and exclusivity. If I can play one small role in this conversation, I'd like to be the historian. I'd like to help give context to each of those big issues from an historical perspective, not in that the history itself will necessarily change what's going on in the day-to-day, but in that closer examination of the history might help us think about how we are answering the questions.
Many of us in education -- myself included -- tend to be pragmatists; we work with what we've got, and for the most part theory and history are often a diversion rather than a primary function within our practice. We talk about practice and policy in the story of "now" and we work scrappily to make things happen in the "now". And that's fine. But it leaves me personally feeling that the work of education all too often is forced to exist within the confines of politics and finances rather than in the sphere of the re-enchantment of the spirit where it belongs.
And for that reason, I'm very excited to be one small part of this broader conversation on the "important" questions -- as well as the importance of having questions -- that the sphere of educators revolving around the new digital paradigm brings to the debate. And I'm happy to put on my historian hat and I invite anyone interested in looking at the historical currents arisen by these themes to get in touch; let's think together and write together. Do our small part to help create a substantial context for the discussion.