Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer College for Teachers Kicks Off with Discussion of Educational Goals in Democracy

Educators consider a passage written by philosopher Jacques Ranciere.

June 27 marked the first day of the annual Summer College for Teachers, hosted by the Rutgers Writing Program. Kurt Spellmeyer, chair of the Rutgers Writing Program, Regina Masiello, director of Expository Writing, and Brendon Votipka, the Plangere Coordinator and an Assistant Director in the Writing Program, welcomed New Jersey Educators with the first session of the day.

Kurt kicked off the discussion by reminding educators that our current educational system was developed in the nineteenth century and arguably has not moved forward since then. In fact, until as late as the conclusion of World War II, the average American had a ninth grade education. High school and college were distinctly separate institutions, and thinking that high school and college “populations and concerns” are separate remains a hindrance to education today.

“If we want education to survivereal educationwe need to band together,” Kurt said of the collaboration between high school and college educators, which happens at Summer College for Teachers and should happen on a broader scale too.

The group also discussed the lack of stability in high schools as a problem in education today. It’s hard work for a high school departmental supervisor to spearhead a program and get that program off the ground. There is a relatively quick turnover of departmental supervisors, which means that each time a supervisor is replaced, the process of spearheading initiatives starts all over again.

Of course, a discussion of education in America would be incomplete without mention of the Common Core. Many in the room agreed that the idea behind the Common Corean equal, free public education for all Americansmay be admirable, but the way that the standards were created and the way they are enforced don’t always add up with their goals. Educators wondered, where do the goals of Common Core and educators diverge?

“For me [as a student], literature was a door into a bigger world. I have to wonder about these students for whom standardized testing starts in the second grade,” Kurt said.

Kurt went on to share that, although Rutgers has one of the top ten history departments in the country, the department has experienced a 25% drop in enrollment in the last two years. The English department at Rutgers has not experienced quite the same drastic decline, but English departments across the country reveal a trend in universities: the humanities are losing popularity as a vocational mentality increases in students.

Educators discussed how we live in a climate of fear, where students enter career-focused majors such as engineering or business in the hopes of ensuring future security. This mentality ignores the fact that the humanities majors grow into the most cognitively flexible adults. In other words, humanities majors learn how to think critically and outside the box. Business majors consistently score the lowest in cognitive flexibility, Kurt said, and also report low worker satisfaction.

Session one wrapped up with a discussion of where education’s place in politics isspecifically in today’s democracy.

“What we do is inherently political because we change the way people look at the world,” Kurt said.

The group said that one important goal of humanities teachers in both high schools and colleges is to give students permission and a place to present their own ideas.

The session ended on an inspiring note, when one educator commented that sometimes, her students make her rethink her own opinions: “When they make me uncomfortable in my views, that’s when I know I’m in the perfect job for me.”

The second session of the day, Close Reading/Non-Fiction Prose Pedagogy, expanded on the notion that educators need to give their students permission to share their ideas. Regina spoke about her experience as the director of Expository Writing and explained that students in writing courses at Rutgers are exposed to conceptually rich non-fiction. Permission is given for students to share their ideas through the way the prompts are written; students are encouraged to enter into conversation with the texts they read, rather than regurgitate experts’ ideas.

Through an active pedagogy, educators teach students how to digest ideas or recognize that they do not necessarily agree with everything they may be taught.

The second session stressed the importance of revision in academic writing and thinking. Revision may make students uncomfortable because it forces them to have “flexibility of mind and tolerance of ambiguity,” Regina said.

For the remainder of day one, Regina and Brendon spoke to participants about other aspects of non-fiction prose pedagogy, including teaching grammar to students in the context of their own writing and using shared assessment criteria across a department, as Expos uses a shared assessment criteria across its hundreds of class sections. In the afternoon, Brendon led educators in free writing exercises and discussions so that they could put pedagogy into practice.

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