Who Leads the Dance…Pedagogy or Particulars?
PART III So which is ‘easier’? Content-driven or teaching priority?
First, a related and necessary question: which is flashier? Human nature (especially those belonging to Americans) will be drawn naturally to the easiest and the flashiest means to get the job done. That’s just the way we are. Strange as it may sound, even given the cost and complexity of high power content materials, I will maintain that content-driven programs are overall easier than making pedagogy the priority. Content just takes money and you can buy the best “stuff”. In fact, that stuff is getting easier to find since so many of us are using it and the market has therefore been created. Given time, just like the government school text book publishers, we will likely see teacher editions, helps, keys, maps, and clever workbooks for The Odyssey. Maybe they’re already out there. That may not be all bad; the it is a wonderful story. But remember: human nature thrives on seeking the easier path. It is also very heady to flout the hefty classes and materials our students use: Anyone who knows anything about education knows that Homer trumps Home-Ec when it comes to sounding academic. While students in government high schools are studying famous lesbian artists in American Cultural Studies, our kids are reading the Code of Hammurabi in the original languages and developing cold fusion as homework; no wonder that it can be rather tempting to be puffed up a bit.
Another reason I say it’s easier to rely on content instead of quality instruction is that it’s easier on the teacher. Yes, it’s a lot of work to read and prep to teach the content we likely never learned. But that can mean just filling our own heads with more “stuff.” Of itself, it doesn’t require us to change our day-to-day teaching practices. I have taken the liberty of constructing an eighth law of teaching. It’s this: Unless a teacher is taught otherwise, a teacher will teach the way he was taught. We can’t help it. Most of us were taught the same way in our formative years – that is, teachers essentially telling us stuff and then testing us to see if we found a way to remember it, at least until the test time. That’s it. So, it’s like a law of physics – we will teach in one teaching direction, i.e. the way our teachers taught, unless some forceful object gets in our path and brings us to an abrupt halt and/or turns us in a new direction.