Thursday, November 19, 2009
STUDENTS AS TEACHERS
For thousands of years, human beings believed the earth was in charge of the universe and the sun merely one its satellites, and for thousands of years we have believed that the adult is the only teacher in the classroom and the children the only students -- but what if the second belief is as flawed as the first? I actually ponder this occasionally. What if, someday in the future, it becomes indisputably clear that we were wrong in our assessment of how education works? What if it turns out that the young students were actually the best teachers all along, and the certified adult educator was actually as much a pupil as a teacher? Strange is it sounds, is it any stranger than thinking, back in the Middle Ages, that the sun might actually be the center of the universe and the earth merely a minor satellite? Surely that would have been considered a crazy notion, but perhaps not much crazier than the idea that the students might be the finest teachers in the classroom. I’ve seen hints of this countless times. My students regularly teach me (and each other) new truths about the literature we read. I recall, for instance, being in class discussions about poems I thought I thoroughly understood –poems I had loved for decades – and listening quietly as the 8th grade scholars turned the light of their young thoughts on the lines and showed me unsuspected doors into the poem. I recall listening with a strange kind of respect and astonishment as 13-year-olds explained a sentence in To Kill a Mockingbird that had always perplexed me -- listening to teenagers unveil for me the meaning of a metaphor in The Tempest -- listening to young scholars explain to their senior-citizen teacher Pip’s adolescent sadness in Dickens' Great Expectations. Of course, I am the professional educator in my classroom, so I hope I do a considerable amount of teaching, but I wonder who is really the center of the teaching. Is it me with all my years of pedagogic experience and degrees and weighty how-to-teach books and cumbersome theories, or is it the spirited and almost-brand-new people sitting before me in class? Am I the central source of light in my classes, or does the brightest light perhaps come from the youngest people in the room – my teenage students, who have nothing but new ideas rising like suns inside them. I recall a famous person saying something about the kingdom of God being found where children are. I sometimes think the kingdom is in Room 2.