Connections: One Benefit of an Integrated Curriculum

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There is a lot of conversation about the Liberal Arts these days.  This is a good thing.  In the midst of many reevaluating the Progressive model of men like Dewey, while still holding that the traditional L.A. model does not fit the 21st Century, many seem to be calling for something altogether new.  This article about Connecticut College is just one of many I have come by recently.  One great result of these discussions in a renewed interest in integrating the curriculum.

If all truth is one, and it is, then anything taught is connected to any other thing taught.  The Ancients had that much down pat.  As a faculty seeks to cultivate its graduate, it should carefully consider how each part of its program forms that graduate.  What unique and necessary aspects of the desired graduate come only or mostly by the study of language?  Or math?  Or the arts?  Given the full range of development best epitomized in the Liberal Arts degree, each course should its piece to the assembling puzzle.

I am not a big fan of the term efficiency.  All too often it only succeeds in sucking the humanity out of whatever endeavor it is applied to.  But in this case I can argue for the efficiency of a whole faculty working together for one end: its desired graduate.  I would accept the knock on this view that it removes diversity and individuality if I did not see that such an education best prepares each graduate to realize their own humanity, their own goals and dreams, by giving them as broad and human an education as is possible.  The most efficient education, in the end, does not seem to one of specialization, but one that prepares each student as fully as possible for as much as is possible.

May each faculty of each school enjoy the conversation about integration and the role each course plays in forming a complete person.  God bless the Liberal Arts and its efficient manner.

More on the Modes of Teaching: Mimesis

It has been awhile since I wrote directly on the two modes of teaching.  I still hold to what I said in my previous writing, but I wish to add to it.  I believe that of the two modes, dialectic and mimetic, one allows itself to be “planned” and the other must (to be effective) be extemporaneous (out of the moment).

The mimetic mode of teaching is a closer approximation to what most would call “teaching” in our modern day of knowledge transfer.  The Bible seems to favor the process of knowledge (the basic facts) leading us to understanding (a connecting of facts into a meaningful idea) and finally arriving through that understanding at what is called wisdom (not just knowing how things are, but living in a manner that reflects that understanding) [see Exodus 31:3; 35:31; Prov. 2:6; 9:10; and even Daniel 1:17].  Mimetic teaching focuses on being a bridge between knowledge and wisdom by helping bring the student to a place of  “understanding.”

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There are three movements in the mode of mimesis.  The first movement depends heavily on the teacher.  This is where the student is led to the necessary knowledge they must “have on the table” in order to pursue understanding.  Let us say for illustration’s sake that the course is a U.S. History course and the current period of study is World War 2.  In this first movement the student would hear the teacher lecture on important names, dates, places, and events of that war, as well as being assigned reading in the time period, and perhaps even sent to research other avenues of such information (eyewitnesses, video, artifacts, maps, etc.).  The teacher is very active in this movement, steering and assigning the student the most engaging manner of gaining this needed information.

But then the teacher takes a step back and begins engaging the student in the second movement of mimesis.  Here the teacher begins asking questions of comparison, contrast, and conflict.  “How is WW2 related to WW1?”  “What caused the war?”  “What causes war to occur?”  “What are the classic positions on war-making and which do I hold to?”  This necessarily brings out much class discussion and debate, with students pulling from their knowledge and intelligence to bring the facts into a more organized form that takes on properly the label of “understanding.” Note as well that in this movement the point is not to simply “learn about WW2” but also to learn how such past events inform the life of the student here and now.  In this movement teacher and student share an almost equal amount of the activity or work of the movement.

The third movement is almost entirely the work of the student.  In it the ideas or understanding gained is restated by the student as clearly as he can so as to demonstrate to his teacher that he truly understands it, and to clarify yet more in his own mind the understanding achieved.  It is also the mode in which the student, by the aid of the teacher, will think through the necessary changes in his future life that such understanding should and will bring about.

I have used history as an example, but this mode applies to every subject in the curriculum in which the student is seeking to learn content or ideas.  We can never cease to draw the proper distinction between arts and sciences, as they must be learned differently.  But any science can be taught in this mode with these three movements.  This chart may be of help to you in considering any science being considered.

This mode can be to some extent planned and considered in advance of the classroom moment.  The first movement will probably fail miserably if there is not some advanced thought on the part of both the teacher and the student (at least thinking about what was assigned to him to read or do).  The beauty of where we are in educational theory at the moment is that because many define this first movement as the entirety of education, there are a ton of engaging, useful, and ready-to-go materials available to the teacher.  With a modicum of knowledge about your students, you should be able to quickly find a great way to bring them this knowledge.  The second and third movements can at the least be considered in advance as to the proper questions to be asked, and the most fitting way for the student re-express the ideas: oral, written, or some third alternative.

Much of this theory is derived from others to be sure, especially the work of the Circe Institute, but it has come as well through especially the writings of Plato.  His work in refuting the Sophists seems especially pertinent in our day.  In this post I have developed a skeleton for mimesis.  Next I will work on dialectic teaching, or what might be called controlled chaos.

Who Over What

I have read over the years quite a bit of theory on organizational leadership.  Two general shrifts of thought seem to coalesce around the ideas of either Who or What.  Let me explain.

The “What” paradigm is often displayed in charts and outlines in order to show to what needs to be done.  There are lots of discussions about roles, responsibilities, oversight, and generally how things get “done.”  Efficiency is high on the list of desirable traits for this paradigm.  Having a “plan” is key.  And I believe this is quite necessary, but secondary to the other possible paradigm.

The “Who” paradigm emphasizes having the right people.  It focuses on who is around the table and how the synergy of their combined talents and skills can passionately move the organization in a missional direction.  Rather than specifically speaking to action, its focus tends to be more on appetite and passion.

The general notion is something like this:  if you get the right kind of people around the table, the right things will happen.

For a school, this seems intuitive and key, though somewhat uncommon.  Rather than finding the right “degrees” to implement specific “curriculum” I favor finding people who will self-replicate.  Of course, again, the first paradigm is not forgotten – there ought to be roles, responsibilities, curriculum, etc., but all that seems quite secondary to who it is that is implementing those “whats.”

So bringing this down to the here and now, a new leader of a school in particular is seeking to first get to know the passions and appetites of his faculty:

  • How do they integrate their lives?  or What is the relationship in their lives between Faith and Reason?
  • What are they reading?
  • Are they currently active as learners?
  • Can they and do they have a writing/thinking life, outside the requirements of their assigned teaching?
  • Do they teach “for free” i.e., Sunday School, civic involvement, Boy Scouts, etc.?

This will all begin placing your faculty on a continuum scale of say 1-10, with a “1” being someone who does none of the above and a “10” blowing the charts off everything above.  Once you know what you have, you then can begin working with each of them in turn to see if there can be movement upward on the scale.

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Your “10” if you are blessed to have one, should simply be made into a discipler.  If they love to teach, then they will love to teach others to teach.  But you must work to build a place where “10” is the goal and enough resources of time, rest, love, peace, safety, etc. are in place to encourage all toward that goal.  But of course the tougher assignment for you is to see if the “1-4’s” are willing to move.  Some will just not have the appetite, especially if they are a 1-2.  With no interest, movement is tough.  Perhaps they would be happier somewhere else.  But remember, students become what they behold – your students are becoming that 1 or 2 level teacher.  Sure, the next year they might get an 8, and be blessed, but what if several of your students themselves become 1’s and 2’s while beholding that one poor teacher of yours?  Just a little bit of cancer is life threatening.  And don’t ever underestimate the power a “1” can have on your 4-6’s.

Place the Who over the What, always.

 

What is Education, part 236?

I just can’t get past this basic question.  I don’t want to get past it.  Coming back to center and “base” is fundamental to maintaining a sane position in a world whirling out of control.  It is my attempt to overturn the notion that “the center cannot hold.”  And as I am back in the classroom at least part time, it is necessary to keep asking this one question over and over.  The “236” of the title is not literal, and both literally and figuratively is way too low a number.  I have asked the question perhaps thousands of times by now.

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In my own thinking, here is the outline in short form:

Education is…

  1. Toward the objectives of wisdom and virtue (not to be distinguished so much as intertwined as really one objective = wisdom being shown by virtue, virtue informed by wisdom).
  2. As such then, it is the forming of proper appetites, or affections, or loves.
  3. The proper object of this love is God, found in all that is True, Good, and Beautiful.
  4. As love demands action (what the student does) as well as orientation (what his appetites lead to) I must distinguish and address what the student loves, knows, and is able to do.
  5. What a student is able to do is developed through the human “arts” (of which the Medieval educators were able to distinguish seven arts that lead to liberty, the seven liberal arts).  What the student knows is circumlocuted in the four sciences.
  6. Therefore, while I must and am always concerned about the content of what my students are learning (that is important, accurate, clear, memorable, etc.) I must also be equally (?) or even more concerned about what abilities are being enacted in their lives (are they becoming better at thinking, reading, listening, speaking, writing, etc.?).  And behind all this is the question of affection.  While they are becoming wiser and more virtuous, how is the ethos of my instruction bringing them to the right affections and then helping them order those affections rightly?
  7. And finally, how does one assess all this in any way even approaching wisdom and virtue itself?  At times it seems like all is going well until this last question is raised.  How can one human benchmark wisdom and virtue in another, or even more importantly, as I am standing in at the request of a parent who is ultimately responsible for assessing the wisdom and virtue of their child, how can I the teacher approximately assess the attainment of wisdom and virtue in my student and then communicate that to the parent in any manner that is loving, humane, and clear?  It is easier if we don’t insist upon it being “objective” or communicated through a “number.”

Whatever education is, it is not easy, quick, generalized, or for the faint of heart.