I am apologizing in advance to Dr. Jacqueline Vickery for doing this specifically to her class. Since I “met” her some time ago on Twitter, ever since I had to explain to her that the Rambam was Maimonides (like I should ever expect someone outside the Yeshiva bubble to know that), we’ve had a number of pleasant conversations. We disagree quite a bit, but like she points out in her class Social Media is a unique way to gather information and share ideas in a way never before possible. The catch of course is that inevitably if you put yourself out there enough, an unsolicited and unwelcome opinion will cross your feed. One can only hope that it’s respectful, which I hope mine is.
My current disagreement with Dr. Vickery is over a basic question of pedagogy: whether a video can constitute appropriate learning material for a college classroom.
Basically, there are two concurrent issues under consideration. The first is the concept of a multi-sensory approach to education, that is developing the classroom in such a way that different learners can benefit from and not just auditory learners (reading is actually an auditory activity, not a visual activity). The second is the great debate among educators whether the teacher is the “sage on the stage” or the “guide on the side”. Actually there’s a third that knocks both of these out of the box, but I’ll get there.
Educational researchers have long advocated for a multi-sensory approach to education. Not only should reading by part of the curriculum, but so should videos and hands-on activities be part of it as well. Recently, major pushes towards this have been made and it is heavily pushed in education programs. In principle, this should be a great idea. However, at least at the primary and secondary levels, it puts a lot more work on teachers and the benefits are not uniform. As one of my education professors once said, “If no child is left behind, then no child gets ahead.” A strong argument could be made for this based on current literacy rates and modifications to the SAT.
Another major piece of educational wisdom, which is actually a big part of Jewish learning, is student-driven learning. The study partner (hevruta) system in yeshivot, student led classes, and class presentations are all examples of this. I am a major supporter on this side. However, the disagreement isn’t just methodology but of who gets to determine curriculum. Again, in the educational world this is debated to, and she has what to rely on. Maybe.
The third consideration, which is the driving force behind curriculum, is the intended goal. For primary and secondary school, there are a number of considerations: skill building, knowledge accumulation, encouraging a love of learning, and building self esteem. In college, there’s only one real goal: prep students for work or higher education. This is what parents, and students who pay their own way, are paying for. Therefore, doing anything but pushing students with challenging assignments is the only way to do it. Students must be forced to read academic writings as much as possible because they need to both learn the vocabulary and endure the rigor. I was speaking with a lawyer about why only the top 5% of law school classes are highly desired by employers. It’s not because it means they know more per se as much as that they are able to reproduce their knowledge quickly under high stress. Getting through a doctorate is serious business as well, which requires heavy reading, strict demands from a dissertation comity, and ultimately deadlines. This is something Dr. Vickery knows very well since she is a PhD and knows very well what it takes to get one.
That’s why allowing students to assign themselves a video is a joke, particularly a video of something they’d likely watch on their free time anyway. It doesn’t challenge them, expose them to anything new, or expand their minds. I’ve been reading Coppleston’s A History of Philosophy (veeery slowly) and you would not believe what hoops people had to go through to get their baccalaureate 400 years ago. Besides for knowing the classical languages (Hebrew, Greek, Latin) they had to increase the body of knowledge by producing original works. Thems days is long gone, and definitely to our detriment. We aren’t producing the kind of student we were even 100 years ago, and we totally could if professors took the position that education must increase your knowledge base, take you outside of your comfort zone, and make you sweat a little too.
I’m telling you that in yeshiva they pushed us like this. And you know what? We learned hard and we loved doing it, and I’m a much better student for it. More than that, I learned to embrace my inner nerd, and have pursued knowledge outside of the Torah world with the same zeal. College students are missing out, and flushing money down the toilet, if they aren’t given this.
And I didn’t even hit up on the content of the class, but that’s enough for one day. Besides, I’m not looking to disparage, just to challenge.