Thursday, June 04, 2015


[§6 here.]

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.

(192 words)

[§8 here.]
[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.]


Presskorn said...

References? Who thinks that books are merely "passive" learning? Who are "embarrased"? It is not that I have grounds for *disputing* that there are such academics, who think this and/or are embarrassed in the relevant way. The point is rather that a scholarly article is supposed to a "conversation" with your "peers", right? The craft of such conversation that is often quite hard, so maybe your experiment here could give some pointers. I.e. like this paper have done until now, I find it easy to "talk" with figures such as Foucault, Kuhn and Mallarme. But talking with and through such figures is not really conversing with your peers; it's lecturing to your peers. And if you lecture to them, they're extremely likely to say (not always truthfully) that they've heard the lecture before - that it is "old news" etc. etc.

Thomas said...

I agree with you in this critique. I'm inclined to think of it as a kind of "flatness" in the piece and it will be changed in the rewrite. The way I'm writing this now I seem to be establishing a foundation that I should just presume is there. The relevant conversation is about how the embarrassment arose. Hopefully, when I'm writing about the theory next week, I'll already have moved away from this somewhat trivial (and therefore lecturing) tone.

Thomas said...

To answer the question of "who", I have a feeling that the final version of this paper is going to be an engagement the "post-process" crowd in composition studies.

sheeshany said...

Can I ask this please: when you say passive do you refer -partially at least- that in classrooms it is merely a one-way communication? Hence the critique for it by some scholars?

Thomas said...

Yes, I think there's a view out there that there is something undignified about learning something from a lecturer, whose teaching you are just "passively" receiving. I think that view seriously underestimates what actually happens in the mind of the listener.