We have a great blog over at Teaching Thursday today, and I am not in the mood to compete with it. Richard Kahn, explores Howard Zinn's attitudes toward teaching in a provocative blog post that should generate some conversation regarding our responsibilities as university educators.
Some of the main points of the argument reflect Zinn and Kahn's commitment to ideologically aware teaching. That is, to teaching from a particular perspective (and being explicit and open about it) rather than attempting to impart a fixed body of knowledge (Kahn refers here to Paulo Freire's idea of "pedagogical banking") to our students. The former involves being honest and open with our students and in an effort to both model and promote the same kind of honest and open discourse that exists at the heart of the humanities and, perhaps, our experiences as individuals. The latter, however, has roots in foundational notions of the university's disciplinary structure where each discipline contributes a fixed quantity of content toward the production of a "well-round" citizen.
Both perspectives on teaching have powerful advocates both within and outside of the academy. For example, few faculty members would regard teaching content -- whether we identify content as "methodology", "method", or "facts" -- as a value-free position. Nevertheless, this willful deception has strategic advantages; namely, it creates rhetorical space that preserves the disciplinary integrity that many scholars value as an institutional counterweight to the potential abuses of the university. Kahn's (and others') view of the ecology of teaching:
For students, like all people, are actively constructing their reality and placing new experience in the contexts of how they have come to understand and identify with their world. Thus, to teach in this way is to deny the human agency that students bring to the pedagogical encounter. Further, the zone of university teaching does not take place in a void, but is the complex ecological space constructed out of the myriad histories of the people inhabiting the campus, the institution’s own policy and disciplinary histories, the regional history in which a college is situated, the political history of the nation, and the social history of the planet (i.e., globalization). Thus, there is no value-free perspective from which to impart objective knowledge, but only the dynamic landscape that is the actively evolving history of ideas as articulated by various groups occupying a highly diverse array of social locations.
While this can be liberating and, frankly, appealing, admitting it explicitly has consequences.