Teacher Education

A Modestly Immodest Proposal for Teacher Education and/or a Fantastic Proposal for Teacher Education?

January 06, 2020

By Samuel Chen

A block-wide power outage did not stop an eager audience gathering for the Possible’s Slow Fuse with Dr. Michael Ling on Sept 25th, 2019.  The topic:  A Modestly Immodest Proposal for Teacher Education.

It was great to see such a great turn-out with a mix of faculty and grad-students.

Dr. Ling opened with a quote from Alfred North Whitehead “There is only one subject matter for education, and that is life in all its manifestations.” He explained that the session would be a synthesis of ideas about teacher education from his time in PDP instruction and working with Faculty Associates. His proposal would be drawing from 3 domains including Evolutionary Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology and Personal Experience.

He then proceeded to the whiteboard drawing some patterns horizontally and asked the audience what they meant.  We readily identified that it was a sequence of numbers.  He then drew some more symbols intersecting the sequence vertically and asked us what the middle symbol meant, which now could be read as a ‘B’. 

Dr. Ling explained that a big part of cognitive learning is how we model the world.  Context means everything and part of our evolution and survival as a species has been built on our ability to adapt through different contexts. How we ascribe meaning to our experiences is critical to our learning.

“Imagination is the ability to envision the possible in all things.” Dr. Ling began quoting Dr. Kieran Egan’s definition on the Imaginative Education website. He also presented Wenger’s concepts of situated learning and Community of Practice where imagination is the process of expanding oneself by transcending time and place and creating new images of ourselves in the world.

Linking his thoughts on contextual modelling and imagination, Dr. Ling explained that he had been thinking a lot about how teacher education could help teachers dream new version of themselves and shared his “fantastic” proposal (the modestly immodest proposal).  Fantastic because it was fantasy in the sense of imagining new realities. 

Dr. Ling’s proposal was that before people enter into PDP, student-teacher candidates would be sent into the world for one year with modest but sufficient funding to explore ways to animate three questions:

  1. What is it to be in the world? / What does it mean to be a being in the world?
  2. What is it and what does it mean to be in the world with others?
  3. What is the dynamic between teaching & learning and the relationship between teaching & learning OR put in another way, what does learning and so teaching look and feel like?

Before instructing the audience to begin small-group discussions, Dr. Ling encouraged us to consider the aesthetics of experience.  Drawing from both John Dewey and Maxine Greene’s work, he reminded the audience that experiences alone are insufficient and that not all experiences are educative.  Some experience can arrest or distort learning while other experiences, when connecting to aesthetics allow us to be fully present.  So it is with this in mind that we were urged to consider how prospective student-teachers would gain an educative experience through finding personal answers to the questions he had proposed.

A dynamic discussion ensued in small groups.  There were groups that discussed how in their experiences, these kinds of educational experiences were often unplanned and occurred when we least expected or desired it.  Others discussed how it was not necessary to be “sent into the world” but only to be willing to allow oneself to be placed into the unfamiliar and be educated by these unfamiliar circumstances.  A type of, in the words of Dewey, allowing the world to confront us while we also confronted the world.

Still other groups discussed that prospective student-teachers that had gone through such a journey would be more self-aware and resilient.  They would be able to bring themselves more fully into their teaching practice and approach both learning and teaching with greater humility. However, there was also a perspective that this type of teacher would also be disheartened with the existing education system that stresses conformity and externally imposed learning objectives and standards.

It became clear that Dr. Ling’s proposal was not nearly as modestly immodest as he suggested at the outset of his presentation, but rather a fantastic proposal for further consideration in teacher education.