This continues a thread on the topic of academic freedom. A summary of my posts on this topic are given in “Notes On Academic Freedom”. I have edited this piece (31 January 2016) to include an additional link related to this topic.
There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning attacks on our freedom. But it seems to me that these discussions are incomplete and miss the point.
It seems to me that those who complain about attacks on their freedom want to fight those attacks by limiting the amount of information available. This, to me anyway, is a far greater threat to our freedoms than anything that anyone else can imagine. For if you can control the flow of information, you control what people think, say and do and that, in turn, controls all of our freedoms.
The control of information begins when you determine how people are taught or what they are taught.
Let me start by first defining teaching and learning.
Teaching is the process of transferring information from one place, say my mind or textbook, to another location, say your mind or notebook. Success comes when the receiver of the information is able to repeat what was transferred. There is no interaction between the teacher and the student in this process; the transfer is, in effect, a one-way process.
I think this is, and has been for some time, the dominant process in our educational system. And based on various metrics, something we have become quite good at doing.
But there is relatively no new information being created and the means for doing so are not present. There is no analysis of the information presented so that the receiver can determine if it is good or bad information or even appropriate information. And without the ability to create or analyze the information, there is no way the receiver can determine the validity of the information. If you cannot analyze the data or, for that matter, create new data, then your ability to solve problems is limited.
It is possible to solve problems provided they are similar in nature to problems that you have solved in the past. But this does not provide the basis for solving completely new problems. And the ability to do so only comes when you learn something, not when someone else teaches you.
Learning is an interactive process between the pupil and the teacher, the instructor and the learner. It goes beyond what is already known by including the skills one needs to learn on one’s own. In one sense, true learning ultimately eliminates the need for the teacher because the learner gains the skills and abilities needed for future learning.
We are fast approaching a point, if we are not there already, where will not be able to respond to any sort of crisis because there will be no individuals who have the skills to think through a problem, analyze the available information, determine what additional information is needed, and then offer a new solution. At best, we only have people who can offer the same old solutions that haven’t worked in the past because they don’t have the ability to create an alternative.
I have no doubt that we know lots and lots of information but as I noted in my earlier piece, “Notes On The Common Core”, acquiring information does not automatically mean you know what to do with it. We can neither continue to maintain the status quo or, as others suggest, limit the ability of learners to question and analyze.
Consider the case of Dr. Alexander Coward, a mathematics instructor at the University of California – Berkeley (http://alexandercoward.com/). It would appear from the public information that the mathematics faculty at Berkeley is 1) opposed to the methods that Dr. Coward uses in teaching mathematics and 2) embarrassed that his results are better than the majority of the other faculty members. They would offer the notion that the results that show his students learn more and at a higher rate than other faculty members is faulty or the results are flawed and somehow incorrect.
A new web page, which may be related to the same issues that Dr. Coward is facing is “PrairieU”; like the person who pointed me to the link, there is evidence to suggest that this is a real situation but it is not clear what took place and what the resolution of the problem is. One has to think that how we determine the effectiveness of learning is clearly a subset of the issue of academic freedom.
This would not be the first time a faculty has argued against a change in methodology or information. When Galileo first presented his ideas on the relatively new Copernican model of the universe, it was the academic establishment that raised the first objections because acceptance of this new idea would mean that they had to change or retool everything they were doing. The church became a participant when the academic establishment convinced church authorities that Galileo was a threat to their security as well (see “Changing Of The Seasons”).
In the end, we are faced with one undeniable piece of information – each person has their own unique style of learning and one fixed process does not always work. Each subject requires its own approach and each instructor needs to adapt and adjust according to the situation they are in and the students they are teaching. Limiting how we teach or limiting and/or controlling the information flow can only lead to failure and ultimately the loss of freedom.