Sunday, February 1, 2009

Defending the classroom: thinking and passion

A friend and former student Derek Bitter posted a comment to my previous thoughts on the classroom. He is a serious reader, and a grad student at St. John's College, one of the few places in America whose curriculum focuses on close reading and discussion of the Canon. In response to my question about defending the classroom he wrote:

Many of these educational reforms, or additions is really what they are, will teach students to do certain things. And so I think what needs to be defended about the classroom is that it is a place, but not the only one or the main one, where students are taught to think. Not about anything specific, but just to think. Whether or not this happens is another topic, but classrooms should be seen as a place where students learn to think and find that it is a worthwhile thing to do.

I love this defense of the value of thinking in the classroom. I'm particularly taken with its unadorned praise of thinking--not "critical thinking" or "integrative thinking," just thinking. (This is not to say that all education ought to be about thinking, just that there ought to be a place whose purpose is to do that.)

Another part of the classroom that deserves defense is the way that it can be home to what Westminster calls in its Core Values "Impassioned Teaching." In my experience, teaching that includes passion (or learning provoked by it) can flourish in the classroom, where the power of ideas and personality get focused. I've done a lot of "supporting learning" in my day--service-learning, problem-based learning, student-led discussions, etc. But the place where passion joins them is in the classroom, where eloquence can join wisdom and result in something inspired. (Which is something that, for all their virtues, most educational reforms can't produce.)

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