Friday, April 4, 2008

Pedagogical direction in the sciences...a novel approach

Can one discern a bifurcated methodology of imparting knowledge. This reminiscence was somewhat spurred by a casual rereading of a 65 year old text [A Mathematician's Apology] . The contents of the book are interesting in itself [pure vs applied mathematics and the sad life of the author] but that is not the focal point here--only a statement made by the author: G. H. Hardy stated "I hate 'teaching'....I love lecturing, and have lectured a great deal to extremely able classes." For him "lecturing" was imparting mathematical knowledge to those able to understand it with little or no difficulty while "teaching" was devoting time and effort to make it accessible. I doubt that one would find the former anywhere else than in graduate school, established professors emeritus or visiting professors on the lucrative lecture circuit--a Brian Greene or a Josef Campbell. I do remember just one such individual in graduate school. The course was on Plato's Republic and wonderfully presented as a lecture for three months by Dr. Harold Bushman--not a single note was taken in the class of six. Maybe such practices should trickle down to the undergraduate level or even high school.

Now, the gist of this topic was to note that some teachers could and would impart knowledge and wisdom via a different methodology--the "lecture" rather than "teaching/instruction". But one has to start somewhere to gain the "base" knowledge and I suppose that high school and undergraduate venues provide that data base, but I think that such a "lecture" program could and should filter to lower levels.

It has been said: "Pedagogical direction at any level should be at what is needed for social and economic success of the student. After all the real job of education is to raise the net worth of the students in the milieu, is it not?" I don't entirely agree with that. Sure it is a lofty goal to obtain skills to better the self and family and I suppose society as a whole. Technological skills of that variety can be obtained at vocational schools a whole lot cheaper. But there is a lot more to university life for they touch on the humanity of educational endeavors--sort of put things together and offer a deeper perspective. Thus, I see a difference between the "lecture" mode as compared to the "teaching" mode. It is correct that the fundamentals of reading, writing, and logical thinking have run amuck. I see it every day and it is extremely frustrating. Society is getting more and more sophisticated and it will take more than just technological skills to effectively communicate.

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