I attended a local (the 5 Toronto-area colleges) one-day conference last Wednesday called "Connecting the Dots ..." which I described, shortly after, here. But I've been thinking about why I was so surprised and delighted by the messages of both the keynote speakers, Dr. Marcel Danesi and Dr. Sandy Shugart. In talking to a friend, I discovered what my expectations for this conference had been, and why I'd had these expectations.
I believe that in the search for funding, efficiency, and fairness, educational institutions have largely eliminated personal connections. Students are lured with the best marketing schools can buy to apply to become "funding units". Efficiency requires a standardized approach, and high school marks seem to answer that need. Even though it is clear both in common sense and through long-term research, that there are multiple intelligences, and that high school only uses a limited number of them, personal interviews are inefficient and expensive, as are portfolios. The teachers have less and less say in who is accepted, but it is the teachers' responsibility to "retain" students no matter how they are "recruited".
Courses are often created independently of those who will teach them, on the assumption that curriculum can be disengaged from both teachers and students. Students apply for courses, not teachers, and often teachers teach courses they are required to, not ones they personally continue to study and develop. The institution is the source of authority not the teacher. Which is why a high proportion of part-time teachers is acceptable - "experts" create the curricula, and (insecure) instructors teach what they're told to, how they're told to.
In this kind of environment, the purpose of pedegogy is to instruct teachers in methods that will retain students (i.e. funding units). And i had expected a utilitarian approach in this conference. But what I got instead was meaning, and I drank it in!
A meaningful pedagogical approach (not method) focuses on the interpersonal relationship, the teacher as mentor, (Danesi) and as lead researcher in an area of mutual interest (Danesi). The purpose of pedagogy is to help the teacher engage the students in exploring and understanding, and then in producing objects or performances valued in our culture (Gardner). The teacher must be engaged with the subject, and with the students' learning. The students must be engaged, with the subject and what they can learn by accepting the teacher's leadership.
Learning results from engagement, from the heart!
The purpose of pedagogy is to help teachers figure out how they can best engage the students in what is alive and rich-in-meaning in their subject. The purpose of pedagogy is to help teachers to understand how to develop their own personal approach and to keep alive their interest in their students' learning. The purpose of pedagogy is not instructions in utilitarian efficient structures for classes andcourses, but an understanding that teaching and learning are human activies, where meaning and engaged hearts are essential, (Shugart) and ultimately, the most truly efficient and effective approach in education.