The Student-Centered Classroom

“Of course Harvard and Stanford graduates do exceptionally well in life. After all, they were good enough to be admitted by Harvard and Stanford.”—Aaron Haspel

123qhbMargaret Wente says that the “student-centered” classroom is a faith-based fad that’s going to lead to the decline and fall of Western Civilization. Truth be told, I’m not sure what to make of this because (a) Wente is a wanker; and (b) I’ve seen the “student-centered” classroom work, and work very well. Then again, it always seems to work well in “alternative” schools with affluent, highly-educated, and highly-motivated parents. Which begs the question: Is it really working? After all, when kids show up on Day One with tons of skills and boatloads of cultural capital, pretty much anything works. When they’re 95% of the way there on Day One, it’s not that hard to get them to the finish line before the end of the semester.

I saw this first-hand when I taught at Queen’s. It was my first teaching gig and I sucked so royally that it’s painful to recollect. Even so, those amazing Queen’s students managed to learn, and learn well. What’s more, they managed to make sense out of my poorly designed assignments, deal with my woefully inadequate instructions, and (against all odds) produce outstanding work. When you’ve got amazing students with amazing parents, you can suck as a teacher in a thousand ways and still succeed. So the real test is this: Can your pedagogical method work in less than ideal circumstances?

My uncle Calvin Luther Martin is one of the best teachers I have ever known. He mentored me when I was but a novice, and I remain grateful for all of his wise counsel. He taught me pretty much everything I know about the art of teaching. Anyhow, my uncle went from teaching at Rutgers to teaching in an Alaskan prison. And he was, by all accounts, equally awesome at both institutions. I seriously doubt that any of the “progressive” profs I know could do that. Most of them seem like hothouse flowers to me. They require compliant students, ideal circumstances, and safe spaces to thrive. Seems like all it takes is one mouthy young man to throw them off of their game!

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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