[iDC] A Modest Proposal: Let's get rid of the teachers

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Thu Feb 19 09:29:35 UTC 2009

I don¹t want to defend the educational system as a whole ­ but I think
teachers deserve to be defended. They get a hard enough time already and few
rewards compared to others in similarly stressful roles.

I would have the thought the argument for having teachers would engage the
other half of what they do. Teachers don¹t just transfer knowledge ­ they
also create it. The best people to teach something are those who make what
is taught. Art colleges are full of artists, physics departments with
physicists, film departments with film-makers, philosophy departments with
philosophers ­ and so on. Many subject areas are primarily pursued within
academic environments, whether in the physical sciences, medicine,
humanities or social sciences. Without the educational Osafe-areas¹ to
undertake this work we would see far less work undertaken in the general
public interest.

Of course this isn¹t true throughout the sector. In Higher Education some
departments in some institutions have few if any active researchers. They
are teaching led. No problem there ­ but I think it is no accident that such
departments are not in those institutions which most people would regard as
their first choice. People want to be taught by those at the cutting edge,
especially when they start to approach the outer-limits of whatever domain
they are working within.

Teachers also have other important functions. I have a 9 year old. When he
was little we seriously considered home-schooling him. We recognised that he
was likely to get a better education via that route. However, having thought
long and hard about it, knowing other home schooled kids and their carers
and having some experience of education, we decided he would go to school.
An important consideration was that he wanted to go to school. He didn¹t
want to be stuck at home with mum and dad. He wanted to be out there, making
friends, developing and negotiating his world. This last element is the most
important part ­ schools are far from perfect. In this they reflect the
societies in which they exist. Kids in these environments are learning how
to be social beings, how to handle the conflicts, passions, confusions and
opportunities that arise when being with other people. They learn this best
when left as much as possible to their own devices. Nevertheless, we need to
know they are in a basically safe environment, not a Lord of the Flies
scenario. In part that¹s what the teachers are for. They have been through
this process of socialisation themselves and have acquired skills, through
life and training, that equip then to handle this potentially incendiary
situation. I am happy that my son is at school learning loads of stuff,
encountering regular dangers but safe and cared for.

It is also important to remember that teaching doesn¹t just happen in
educational institutions and that it doesn¹t stop at a particular point in
your life. I am still a student. I am still learning from others. These
people are my teachers. They might not be my teachers for much of their
time, but I am learning from their experience and capability in order that
my own is enhanced. Teachers are always needed.

I agree that the formal educational models we employ do not work very well.
They could be a lot better. Cooperative teaching, open learning
environments, non-heirarchical staffing structures can all play their part
and many hope these ideas will become default in education, just as a
previous generation of what were then radical practices are now common
place. However, I would not preach revolution in this respect. Things are
far from perfect but they are sort of working. I fear any sudden radical
change would bring the whole thing to a crashing halt, with severe
consequences for a lot of good work that is going on at every level of the
education machine. The question is how to make the necessary changes? To
begin you have to get people to agree to the change agenda ­ and that debate
has not even started.



On 19/2/09 03:55, "Sean Cubitt" <scubitt at unimelb.edu.au> wrote:

> The reason universities still have teachers is because when everything else
> breaks down, people can always stand up and talk. This is worth remembering:
> the age of unlimited bandwidth, unlimited servers, unlimited personal
> computers/mobiles is pegged to finite resources. If we network everything,
> what happens when the net goes down?
> The other reason is because it is expensive to make distance learning
> materials work. The Open University in the UK has committees of up to 40
> people working on courses with an expected shelf-life of six years:
> academics, educationalpsychologists, audiovisual producers . . . And that's
> just the design phase. Unless you like multiple choice, assessment is always
> going to need people.
> The question then remains whether a teacher is better employed in a
> clasroom, or will be more sevicable when efficiently redeployed in a
> neoliberal economy as a " most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food,
> whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will
> equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout"

Simon Biggs
Research Professor
edinburgh college of art
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk

simon at littlepig.org.uk
AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk

Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC009201

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