Academic knowledge can be imparted to students through their reading and tested in their writing. While “learning by doing” and “showing not telling” are excellent pedagogical principles, it must be kept in mind that students learn much of the curriculum through the struggle to understand what they’re being told in a book or lecture. And they demonstrate what they have learned in the main by telling their examiners what they think is true. Unfortunately, even scholars sometimes disparage book learning and classroom instruction as merely “passive” modes of learning. We forget that both reading and listening can, and should, be highly engaged activities, and that when they are taken seriously they constitute the most efficient way of communicating well-understood facts to well-prepared minds. Students are given the opportunity to read carefully written texts and listen to people who know what they are talking about. Whatever passivity there is, is really better understood as a space for the student to reflect freely on the ideas being presented. It is strange, in any case, that university teachers have become embarrassed about the “authority” that lecturing presumes and the “bookishness” of their ideas.
[Note: this post is part of an ongoing project described here. I'll be offering some meta-reflections on this project over at Jonathan Mayhew's blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks.]