I can remember all of my primary school teachers (but I’ll keep their names private here). My second grade teacher, frustrated that I completed work quickly and promptly got bored and fussy, found a speed reading machine and set me to that task. In third grade, again acting out, I was sent to kindergarten twice a week to help tutor the itty-bitties. My fifth grade teacher told us about seeing Jimmy Carter on the campaign trail and how his eyes seem to meet the eyes of each person in the audience so you felt he was really talking to you. These adults were crucial contributors to my small, northern Indiana community.
I love the work of Sugata Mitra and the experiments he conducts with “hole in the wall” computers in rural areas of India not served by traditional education—children create self-organizing systems in which they learn from each other (turned around, they teach each other) with no adult telling them they’re wrong or right. I don’t think children should be simply the passive recipients of adult knowledge until they magically (where? college?) start to contribute back to the network/community. I believe we get in their way sometimes, and the systems we create can sometimes stifle creativity. Schools can be, like all institutions, vile and oppressive and political and undemocratic.
And still…they can also be profoundly important. In all the schools in my life there were teachers who mattered a great deal. They provided the diversity of opinions and pragmatic resources that my family could not. They helped me negotiate relationships with children I hadn’t known until I sat beside them in class. They showed me the number system and the fluid squirminess of water drops under a microscope. They told me what college was and why I might like to go. Not to mention, they helped me learn to read and write! The greatest gifts ever!
The theory of connectivism as it explains what knowledge is and what qualities of networks support learning makes sense to me. But I would like to see more room for teachers in these networks we’re positing. Teachers—even in schools dripping with technology resources—still matter. I think they matter especially to new learners of any age. On one hand, their experience and knowledge puts them in a curator role, where they can gather and create materials for their learners. On the other hand, they can also, as Stephen says, “model and demonstrate” active ways of knowing and learning.
And on the third hand, they can be trusted touchpoints. Ideally, if No Child Left Untested were revoked, national testing standards went away, and formal schooling was optional, I’d still want caring adults in positions where they could help children who aren’t their own grow and develop. I’d want those adults to be familiar with all the tools and theories many other adults don’t have the time or inclination to think about. I’d want these identified teachers to have the time to find all the greatest resources, so they’re ready when kids ask and want to know about anything.
Even without formal/physical institutions that they are legally required to attend, people seek out good teachers (Buddha is a good example) that help them learn and discover what they want to know. I know that public education in the U.S. (maybe elsewhere; can’t speak to that) will—must—look very different in 20 years. I’m excited about those possibilities. And I still think there’s room for that teacherly role in networks of learning.