It is not easy to figure out how to learn deeply. In the early stages of developing your identity as a deep learner, one of the smoothest ways to engage in deep learning is to seek out skilled coaches who understand the principles behind deep learning. If the mentors you find are good coaches and have many years of practice in the art of teaching, they will likely have collected effective techniques to guide you in deep learning and effective repetition. Assuming these teachers are willing and able to act as your mentor, you can leverage their guidance simply by following their directions. In this scenario, all you have to do is give your best effort on pre-designed activities that specifically engage you in deep learning. Sadly, this “simple” solution of finding master coaches who are also content experts is out of reach for most novice learners. This is especially true in the context of the US higher education system. In this post, we explore some substantial barriers to seeking out expert coaching while earning your college degree.
|PROBLEM 1: THE NO-TEACHER-TRAINING-FOR-COLLEGE-PROFESSORS PROBLEM|
The US higher-education system maintains policies to ensure that content experts who get hired as full-time professors likely know relatively little (compared to their content expertise) about the science of learning and art of teaching.
This first problem highlights the fact that it is possible to become a tenured-track professor at almost any accredited college in the United States with very little knowledge about the science of learning, training in the art of teaching, or understanding of the political forces that shape the nature of their job as a professor.
The minimum job qualifications for a professorship at most US colleges is simply to be a content expert in a specific field. Members of search committees tasked to hire a full-time professor look for recently graduated students who earned multiple degrees in a certain subject area and also amassed impressive accolades while achieving their education. This expertise looks great on paper and does indeed represent a monumental achievement in our society.
However, if we look more closely, the coursework and degree requirements needed to earn most undergraduate, graduate, or professional degrees include almost no formal training on how learning works or in the art of teaching. This leads to a reality in which the vast majority of professors at US Colleges start their careers in the classroom without knowing much about how to teach effectively for diverse student populations. And yet, the moment these young professors start their work as teachers, they assume responsibility for guiding the learning of the next generation of college students.
I like to say that such policies and hiring practices result in a system that is run by the andragogy of introspection. I define this to be practice of designing classroom policies by reflecting internally on your own lived experiences. The central questions asked by professors who uses the andragogy of inspection as a guiding philosophical framework in their teaching include:
- What teaching policies did my own college professors use in the classes I took?
- How did those policies work for me?
- How can I recreate the policies my college teachers used on me as I teach in my own classes?
This type of myopic decision making is completely logical in a system that puts young professors in an impossible work environment. When newly-hired professors are dumped into a classroom and find themselves responsible for inspiring tens or even hundreds of students to learn deeply, what other choice do they have but to rely on introspection to guide their teaching decisions. However, andragogy by introspection is not an effective way to inspire deep learning for a diverse group of students.
Any person who is hired in a full-time position as a college professor was most likely one of the highest-performing students while they earned their own undergraduate, graduate, or technical degrees. Because of inequitable structures in so many aspects of modern-day societies, this high performance is likely tied to socioeconomic, racial, family, and geographic factors that serve to bolster such achievement. In other words, statistically speaking, people who get hired as full-time college professors probably enjoyed an upbringing filled with privileges and support that made deep learning a much easier task. Those factors bolster high performance independent of the learning environment. I should say explicitly, there are professors who come from diverse backgrounds and overcome significant barriers to ascend to the upper echelons of our education system. However, if we look at the ratio of the number of these type of professors divided by the total number of tenured college professors in the US, that ratio is far smaller than it ought to be.
This leads to some large error in thinking about how to meet the needs of diverse students. If the guiding framework for constructing policies in college classes is to reflect on one’s own lived experience, then the decisions that result will center dominant social constructions that have little to do with the lived-experiences and learning needs of diverse students sitting inside the classroom.
|PROBLEM 2: THE PUBLISH-OR-PARISH PROBLEM|
College professors at most R1 Doctoral Institutions feel substantial pressure to publish academic work as part of their goal to earn tenure. This pressure is known as the publish or perish phenomena. Such professional pressures disincentivize meaningful focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning.
After reading about Problem 1 above, you might see one possible solution: let college professors train themselves to be better teachers. Anyone who earns a tenure-track position in the academy is very likely an expert learner. Such scholars can no doubt teach themselves anything they have an interest in learning. It stands to reason that if there are huge gaps in their knowledge about teaching and learning, then these professors could decide to do deep research into these topics. Anyone that is well-qualified to earn a job as a college professor has the ability train themselves to become master educators by engaging in years of intense study.
However, the question of how to get college teachers to take pride in the scholarship of teaching is not about capacity. This is a question about incentives.
Most college professors do their best to build and take pride in their career. By the time they land their tenure-track job, they have probably spent between 18 – 21 years in the education system. During this journey, they likely invested significant intellectual and emotional energy to develop their identity within the context of the existing system. They likely want to earn the type of job security afforded by tenure and they probably also seek validation for the work they do.
It is within these desires that a whole other set of policies practically guarantee that most college professors continually neglect a scholarly study of teaching and learning in favor of content-centered research. Take a look at the following two articles describing how to get tenure at top Universities and also about the purpose of research universities:
How to Get Tenure at a Major Research University by Sean Carroll
The Purpose of Harvard is Not to Educator People by Sean Carroll
|PROBLEM 3: THE LEGACY PROBLEM|
In the US, college professors train the vast majority of undergraduate and graduate students in our society. This includes teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and anyone with higher-education credentials. What results is a system of social hierarchy in which college educators have huge influence over the entire structure of society.
This article is mainly concerned with analyzing major policy barriers that prevent college professors at R1 Doctoral Institutions in the United States from centering the scholarship of teaching and learning as the heart of their professional practice. To identify an institution as an R1 Doctoral Institution, I use the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
I choose to focus on R1 institutions because these spaces take up so much oxygen in our popular culture. Tenure-year track jobs at these institutions are the most coveted positions in the academy. These spaces enjoy the best research funding. R1 Doctoral Institutions routinely secure much larger revenue streams from governments, industry, and the larger public compared with their smaller counterparts. Moreover, R1 institutions do a great job of marketing their brand to create intense competition for entrance to their undergraduate programs and are integral in the degree-to-career pipeline. In other words, when it comes to influencing the experiences of an average college student and cultural expectations for what it means to be a college professor, the R1 Doctoral Institutions enjoy a monopoly on main stream attention. Much of what I write in this post does not exactly apply to college professors working at non-research-based intuitions. These might include liberal arts colleges, small private colleges, two-year colleges, and state schools. It tends to be the case that college professors at those types of schools take much more pride in their teaching prowess and thus create more student-friendly learning environments in their classrooms. Even while this is true, many of the people that earn full-time jobs at these smaller institutions were trained at R1 institutions. The fabric of their intellectual identities was cut with the cultures of these schools in mind and they bring parts of the culture anywhere they land.
I end this post with the statement of some other problems that effect your ability to learn deeply. I do not expand on these in this post, leaving that task for future discussions.
|PROBLEM 4: THE NEO-LIBERALISM PROBLEM|
Starting in the late 1960’s and continuing until present day, state and national governments have been captured by a neo-liberal philosophy to government. This approach centers on turning to private industry to solve public problems. In academia, this approach to government has lead to a massive divestment from education which has caused rising tuition costs and placed substantial pressure on colleges to provide much more support to students with substantially less funding.
|PROBLEM 5: IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY|
In the United State, we have a long history of political systems that center and privilege specific socially constructed identities. These include colonialism, racism, classism, and sexism. These forms of oppression tangle together to create a society in which many policies are designed to benefit rich white men at the expense of the rest of society. While this problem exists in all corners of society, it is particularly pernicious in shaping the experiences, hopes, dreams, and fears of college students trying to navigate the US college education system.
- Click on all the hyperlinks in the article above and read all articles in these links.
- Come up with your own descriptions for each of the problems listed above. Write these out in your own words using abuelita language: language that your abuelita (grandmother) can understand.
- Think about your own experience in college classes. How have these problems effected your learning?
- Where and how do these problems show up in your daily life in college? Do your best to identify specific policies your teacher implements that you feel inhibit your ability to learn deeply. Then, try to map these policies back to the problems listed in this post.