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E.M. "Mac" Swengel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Education
School of Education
United States International University
San Diego, California

  “Under One Roof”
THE BENIGN SCHOOL
by Edwin M. Swengel, Ph.D

11

When I then decided to return to graduate school and earn the degrees needed to get a respectful hearing from the professionals, my Master’s advisor was irritated at my tutoring proposal. He turned it off by curtly saying, “You haven’t seen what some of these classroom teachers can do with the right materials.” He was a textbook editor, author, and consultant. My concept even then carried a muted suggestion that classroom teachers need the help tutors can give. Not muted enough, it seemed.

When I broached it to the small staff of the village school where I taught music, one teacher—beloved and successful in her way—reproached me, almost in tears: “You’re telling us we don’t know how to teach!” The principal turned down the offer of a foundation grant to fund a proposal I’d prepared for an experiment in having upper grade students help younger ones in reading. “Too hard to administer,” he judged, with no discussion with me on how it could be managed.

When I finally got my doctorate and joined a progressive staff of a private university School of Education, I expected my professional colleagues would open-mindedly hear me out. This was in the reform-rich 1970s. But no. They had their own ideas of necessary and do-able reform, based on their own doctoral research, or because they had climbed aboard the bandwagon of the moment. (During my tenure,” sensitivity training” and “values clarification” were rolling happily along.)

My fellow profs didn’t try to shut me up or shoot down my Big Idea. They mostly just left me to do my own thing—e.g., make presentations at conferences, and try to influence my own students. But we professors were ethically and professionally responsible to prepare our novice teachers-to-be to succeed in the traditional system, based on age-graded classroom teaching and group control. Although free to speak our minds, we professors had no responsibility to challenge the system nor to offer heretical opinions about fundamentally changing it.

I have finally concluded the professionals, especially in education but also in other fields, have a special kind of ego involvement that they may feel is professionally defensible. They are the equals, more or less, of colleagues with the same or similar professional degrees and experience. So when one of their peers puts forth a proposal—especially if it has some breadth and depth and challenge to The System—unless that colleague has some clout or exalted standing in her/his field that merits a respectful hearing and is not “just one of us garden-variety profs,” the put-off (rather than outright put-down) seems to run thus (internally thought but of course unspoken): “Since I’m equal to my Friend the Great Reformer—equally smart and experienced and well-regarded and as deeply dedicated to improving education—if this is such a Great Idea, I myself would have thought of it. But since I didn’t think of it, it really can’t be such a great idea—certainly not worth my delving into arguments about.”

I have no supporting data for this, but I suspect that more brain-stretching is done through reading than by personal contacts with reformers. This is partly because written material is usually better organized than oral explanation, especially in informal conversation. And also because the personality and mannerisms and style of delivery of the Passionate Reformer may interfere with their conversants’ ability to concentrate on the content—to focus on the Message, not the Messenger. This isn’t as likely to be a critical factor when listening to a group lecture, especially if one voluntarily attends it. Although authors may wish to appeal personally to their readers, that is incidental to getting the written message across, which depends primarily on its cognitive clarity and logically reasoned argument.

Written material that potential supporters of a Cause may read and ponder, without having to relate personally to the Proposer, is essential to successful grassroots campaigns. Well-written pamphlets and books have a long and impressive history of offering Ideas that Change the World.
 

 
  (Continued)

Treatise - Parts:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12 
 
 

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Copyright © 2010 by E.M Swengel