^ the teacher overseeing “learning in community”

—- —- —–

In Part I of my look at how Boston should reform its Public Schools mission I focused on curriculum. I asserted that employers and citizenship must be accorded primary status in curriculum, and also must be the decider about competition among teachers and between schools.

Now for Part II, in which I discuss pedagogy — the means and methods by which teaching is done — because pedagogy is the province of teachers and only teachers. It is they who must use them. It is teachers who innovate teaching method. Teachers lead by example. They are the souls in which passion for knowledge lives.


mathematics pedagogy : Building the Habits (Love) of Learning

As in so much of the world of thought and in the practice and theory education, Augustine (354-430 AD) was the first to write comprehensively about pedagogy. I cannot think of any writer then or since who has contributed more — even as much — to our understanding of what a teacher does, how, and why. It is well worth your time to read the following long passage from Wikipedia’s extensive biography of Augustine, who was a teacher all his adult life, a brilliant thinker, and (if anything) an even more brilliant writer :

“Historian Gary N. McCloskey ( says a passage in Augustine’s Wikipedia biography) finds four “encounters of learning” in Augustine’s approach to education:

1.Through Transforming Experiences; a Journey in Search of Understanding/Meaning/Truth;
3.Learning with Others in Community; and
4.Building the Habits (Love) of Learning.

“His emphasis on the importance of community as a means of learning distinguishes his pedagogy from some others. Augustine believed that dialogue/dialectic/discussion is the best means for learning, and this method should serve as a model for learning encounters between teachers and students. Saint Augustine’s dialogue writings model the need for lively interactive dialogue among learners.

“He introduced the theory of three different categories of students, and instructed teachers to adapt their teaching styles to each student’s individual learning style.

“The three different kinds of students are:
1. the student who has been well-educated by knowledgeable teachers
2.the student who has had no education; and
3.the student who has had a poor education, but believes himself to be well-educated.

“If a student has been well educated in a wide variety of subjects, the teacher must be careful not to repeat what they have already learned, but to challenge the student with material which they do not yet know thoroughly. With the student who has had no education, the teacher must be patient, willing to repeat things until the student understands, and sympathetic. Perhaps the most difficult student, however, is the one with an inferior education who believes he understands something when he does not. Augustine stressed the importance of showing this type of student the difference between “having words and having understanding,” and of helping the student to remain humble with his acquisition of knowledge.

“Augustine introduced the idea of teachers responding positively to the questions they may receive from their students, no matter if the student interrupted his teacher.

“Augustine also founded the restrained style of teaching. This teaching style ensures the students’ full understanding of a concept because the teacher does not bombard the student with too much material; focuses on one topic at a time; helps them discover what they don’t understand, rather than moving on too quickly; anticipates questions; and helps them learn to solve difficulties and find solutions to problems.

“Yet another of Augustine’s major contributions to education is his study on the styles of teaching. He claimed there are two basic styles a teacher uses when speaking to the students. The mixed style includes complex and sometimes showy language to help students see the beautiful artistry of the subject they are studying. The grand style is not quite as elegant as the mixed style, but is exciting and heartfelt, with the purpose of igniting the same passion in the students’ hearts.”

Augustine knew well what teachers today know and apply every day in the classroom : that different students require different means and methods. Augustine’s insight can thus be extended to Special Education as well. There are only two ways to apply Augustine’s individualized teaching. either you can separate the three categories of students and teach them apart, or you can bring them into the same classroom and work each group as they are. As Augustine counted highly the community setting, he would seem to favor the integrated classroom.

Can this work ? Augustine was the first education theorist to suggest a variety of teaching styles, each geared to a category of student. It must have been an exciting classroom, with Augustine teaching one way to one group of students and another way to another group, and all the students observing — even participating — in the diverse program. But Augustine did not confine his teaching to classrooms. He loved company at meals, and it is not unlikely that he had many of his students to dinner, thereat to instruct them, probably by improvisation upon the various pedagogic styles he wrote about (and certainly used).

I make the following additional observations to this examination of the greatest educational theorist’s pedagogy ;

1.None but a teacher could have conceived the pedagogic challenge as creatively as Augustine did, or as insightfully
2.certainly the employer of that time, the Roman imperial bureaucracy, could not have done it. Nor did it care to try. That was why it hired teachers. It was the teachers’ job to figure out how to educate students to the needs of Imperial administration.
3.assumed in all of Augustine’s education manual is that all teaching must met a standard of effectiveness. In his time, that was determined by the employer. The ineffective teacher lost Imperial favor, or students, or both. It was a self-evaluating system.

What we teach today has changed — though not as hugely as we sometimes assume — and schools now answer to a million employers, not only one. But Augustine’s pedagogic rule remains : that it is teachers, and only teachers, who must devise the means and methods by which will be taught the curriculum that the society and employers pay to have taught.

Teachers in Augustine’s day had no choice but to excel. They were not paid by the state. Their pay came from students’ fees. If a teacher had imperial favor, the fact was known, and he drew students; and these students paid. If he lost favor, the students’ parents saw that and sent their children elsewhere. Tenure ? There was no such thing. Every day, a teacher risked all. While it worked, it was the finest education system our civilization knew until modern times. Of course I do not suggest that we abolish tenure. far from it. That’s too much to ask of teachers who practice under the current system and have career time invested in it. But I do want to assert that tenure comes at a cost. A non-tenure system such as Roman education is self-evaluating. Evaluations in our tenure system depend upon who is doing the evaluating and answering for them to whom. Most of the evaluators are middlemen, not the society — and not the employers. But I suppose that, as in so much, inefficiency is the precious price that democratic government pays to a complex society of human fallibility.

Today we educate every child, not just the next generation of imperial administrators. We teach for a hundred different careers; we teach dozens of subjects. Scientific method was unknown. All students, of whatever  origin, learned in Latin. A unified administration was the rule then; diversity is ours now. Then, the stylus and tablet ruled; today, the digital device. Yet for all the differences between Augustine’s late imperial state and our always changing polity, teaching remains what Augustine knew it to be : teacher and student, teacher and students, learning for a purpose, a career, a better life and — perhaps — the love of learning for its own sake.

For Augustine, teachers ruled. So too for most of the educational theorists whose impact has been paramount since. Some theorists emphasize the school administrator — the principal. Some, the grading system and promotion from grade to grades. All these Augustine’s school took into account as well. The teacher yet ruled.

If the members of teachers unions could only accept their mission, embrace it as their unique contribution, risk all, and apply it within the larger context of society, competition, and employer curriculum, we would move a long way toward deploying education’s variety of means, methods, subjects, and standards in a context of challenge, innovation, and struggle as opposed to job security, curriculum debates, and one size fits all. It doesn’t. If Augustine knew that, why not us ?

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NOTE : You should read Augustine’s Retractiones as well as Peter Brown’s almost on-the-scene biography of Western Civilization’s most insightful social and psychological thinker — not to mention brilliant punster, superb speaker, and dramatic lecturer.



^ curriculum revolutionary : Irnerius of Bologna (1050-1125), who introduced new studies of law and so won the competition to draw students to his lectures

—- —- —-

“Today’s lesson, boys and girls, is ‘school reform : its history, its heroes, and its opponents.”

Thus sayeth the teacher. This shall be Part One of a Two-part course. Let the lecture begin :

No societal institution is harder to reform than schools. it has always been so. To take one huge example, when Greek began to be studied by European scholars in the 13th Century, its introduction, as a taught course, into the universities of that day — which taught all in Latin only — occasioned actual riots. Another example : teachers in medieval Europe were independent contractors, competing with each other (often viciously) for students (and student fees) — not collegial at all. Witness the revolutionary curriculum innovations — and career — of Irnerius of Bologna. Only when the advantages of coming together as a faculty showed themselves fatal to independent teachers seeking students did the faculty, collegial system become the standard. It took almost 300 years to make the point. One thing did NOT change : teachers worked on the margins, never far from wipe-out. If students did not sign up for their lectures, their teaching career ended. Something like that is still the case. Courses that attract too few students to pay the teacher’s salary get dropped from the curriculum.

You will of course notice that I am talking about “higher’ education. The situation with primary education was different and still is. Students in primary school learn the basics. These have hardly changed at all since Roman days — because the basics of civilization scarcely change. What does cahnge is the WAY in which the basics are taught, and, again, changes in method have come about only with much controversy and almost always far too late. Thus it is no great surprise to see that, today, in Boston, school reform movements meet big resistance, even counter-reformation.


^ Cassiodorus (ca 485-585), the Arne Duncan of his day, as chief aide to Theodoric the Great and later, educational reformer. When he retired, his library of over 2200 books stocked a monastic school that he founded on his estate at Vivarium, near Catanzaro in the “boot” of Italy.

There have always been four major constituencies on the battlefield of school reform : parents; students; teachers; employers. it was so in Roman times — but the Roman system was a ducal, bureaucratic one in which schools prepared for only one career : oratory in the senate, oratory as a proctor (litigating lawyer), oratory in imperial administration. Parents fought to get their brightest children into a school well connected to imperial circles; teachers fought to get the imperial approval without which they could not teach in an imperially sanctioned school; students were force-fed and even beaten, learning by rote, marine-drill-sergeanted into a mindset sufficiently bureaucratic to win them a coveted post in the imperial or Senatorial circle. (if you want to taste something of the flavor of late Roman schools, read chapters 3 through 6 of Augustine’s CONFESSIONS.) To sum up ; in the Roman world, the employer entirely dictated what the school would teach, to whom, and how.

Is it thus so odd that today, in Boston, employers want a major say in how the City’s schools teach future employees ? Is it not a huge concern of theirs, that graduating students be able to meet the entry-level prerequisites, at least, of their hiring ? Kids do not graduate from twelve years of primary and secondary schooling just for graduating’s sake. They graduate to employment. Some may, it is true, go into the military — where they will be trained as forcefully as the Roman world trained its legions. A few may move directly to entrepreneurship. but for 80 to 90 percent of graduating students, employment awaits, just as it awaited the graduates of Roman academies.


^ John Dewey : “learn by doing” — implanting the culture of apprenticeship learning into school methodology

As for employers dominating, even owning our schools, keep in mind that imperial or Senatorial patronage funded and staffed all the Roman world’s schools. Today we would not accord employers such dominance of our schools, partly because we have thousands of varying employers where Rome had only one. But we cannot, and should not, decry substantial employer involvement in the content and method of what our schools teach. We should invite it.

Our schools also teach one other major ethical learning : citizenship. In Rome, citizenship belonged to all, and it bestowed important rights. But citizenship imposes duties as well, and so long as the Roman world held together its schools taught what they taught not just as skills necessary to imperial employment but also as a responsibility of citizenship. The two obligations were not separate. In our world and our schools, citizenship is not so obviously an integral part of employment knowledge. It involves knowing history, the law, cultural diversity, tolerance, inquiry, participation in politics. Yet are employers not concerned that their employees be good citizens ? Young people who cannot accept diversity, or display good manners, or lack social graces, often make poor employees.


^ Horace Mann : Massachusetts Congressman and education reformer — citizenship / civics as part of a core curriculum

I present this lengthy background as a platform upon which I now offer the education reform plan posted by incoming mayor Marty Walsh. Here it is as posted on his website :

“Marty’s plan is to immediately build on current strengths within Boston Public Schools, and simultaneously develop and implement a long-term strategy based on equity, access, accountability, transparency and collaboration to provide a top-notch education for all of Boston’s children. Success will require taking a hard look at current practice, the political will to make tough, necessary changes, and the collaboration of families, educators, and partners across the city to realize a shared vision.”

“In addition, Marty recognizes the achievement of students with disabilities can be accelerated by participation in inclusion classes with their differently abled peers. The Walsh Administration will continue support for current plans to expand the number of inclusion schools, and will increase support for principals and teachers to learn about co-teaching models, Common Core Standards and differentiating instruction.

“Embrace and Support the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards – The Walsh Administration will ensure each and every school has a plan to integrate the Common Core State Standards into daily instruction, prepare teachers to teach the standards, and help students demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

“Selecting the next superintendent is one of the most important decisions facing the new administration. It is critical that the superintendent fully embraces the Mayor’s vision and is committed to its success.

“Maintain a Mayoral-Appointed School Committee – Marty supports an appointed school committee. This is the best way to ensure a body that fully reflects all the stakeholders in quality public education, including those with direct experience providing education, and those who understand the importance of prioritizing the needs of the whole child in an urban school setting.

“Central office departments will be redesigned into streamlined cross-functional units and held accountable for how well they provide support and service to schools. School supervisors will closely monitor schools in order to know which school leaders to support, which to push, and which to grant autonomy so that each and every Boston Public School is among the very best schools in Massachusetts.

“The Walsh Administration will focus on “deepening the bench” of potential school leaders who know how to work with teachers to improve instructional practices tied to the Common Core State Standards.

“Strong partnerships with local colleges and universities, and support for accelerated programs that prepare teachers for urban schools, such as those offered at the University of Massachusetts Boston, will be developed to supply qualified candidates. Systems and incentive will be implemented to retain strong principal and teacher leaders with appropriate compensation.

“The Walsh Administration will be aggressive in working with federal elected officials and agencies, the Massachusetts State House, and corporate and non-profit partners to increase revenues for targeted programs.”

— so sasys Marty Walsh, officially.

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^B George Perry, Jeri Robinson, and John Barros — Walsh’s Schools team. Is there a Cassiodorus in this triad ? Or just smiling faces ?

The Walsh plan has aroused plenty of opposition from anti-Common Core advocates. (Even though Massachusetts school standards are stronger than Common Core, which is thus irrelevant to Boston schools.) it also disappoints many who want a much more comprehensive overhaul of Boston Public School methods, curriculum, student assignment, and partnering. For me, the plan’s face is its blandness. It is cardboard. It avoids all of the difficult issues. It hardly mentions the most controversial or necessary. you won’t find in it the terms ’employer,’ “charter school,” “teacher evaluation,” “teacher selection,” “school competition.” It really is not a plan for reform at all. What I take from it is a message that we should TALK about reform. This, the City is doing. But then what ?

I find especially unfortunate the plan’s entire avoidance of competition. I know of no dynamic school system in which competition between schools — between teachers within those schools — was not an integral condition. Uncompetitive schools teach uncontroversial knowledge. Competition can be imposed upon schools and teachers only by employers — in the Roman world, the Emperor demanded, and that WAS the competition — or by the students and their parents, who, as in Abelard’s Paris and in the teaching city that was contemporary Bologna — pay their teaching fees to the best teachers. The competition then — years 1080 to about 1270 — was brutal, but knowledge advanced daringly and hugely. (we don’t call it “the Renaissance of the 12th Century” for nothing.) Much of the advance in knowledge was brought into those schools by independent researchers, often working in Muslim lands. The same is true today. Innovation Districts and their collaborative competitors are our era’s version of 12th Century’s wandering researchers. They and their knowledge, gathered from everywhere, should inform, revive, reconstitute our City’s public schools — curriculum, evaluation and pay, responsiveness to a rapidly evolving world of employers.

Or we can choose stagnation, blandness, and loss of the innovative daring that made Boston so different a city for so long.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Tomorrow : the teacher and his or her career in a system committed tyo innovation, citizenship, and employment.