Expertise is a slippery business. We teach a course, from the presumed position of, well, knowing it all. However, when you have command of your syllabus, your reading list, your schedule, your requirements, and your testing apparatus, you leave yourself, as a prof, very little room for revealing all the things you may not know. Face it, you may even be able to trick yourself into believing that you are the teacher because you have nothing left to learn.
That, of course, is a parody and reduction of teaching to the most static model of hierarchical learning. All the great teachers I know are quick to note that they learn every bit as much from their students as they teach. But something I find often is that the students themselves often do not see that part of the process. They see what they themselves do not know, they see what they master or fail to master, but may not immediately recognize what they contribute to the class, to their peers, and to their teachers too.
At the Futures Initiative, one model we plan to actively pursue is peer-learning. This is partly about helping students to have the confidence to know what they know and what they contribute. That requires also having teachers confident enough to admit what they do not know. The method goes back to Plato, at least, the questing, questioning learner who is also the mentor-teacher, and who understands that posing questions is as crucial to the process of learning how to think as is giving or having all the answers. The philosopher Ranciere calls this position of continual questioning, including self-questioning, "the ignorant school master."
We are just at the very beginnings of thinking how this model might work--but I must admit it is quite thrilling. In the Spring of 2015, we will teach the first course in our new Futures Initiative here at The Graduate Center, at The City University of New York, "Mapping the Futures of Higher Education." . I am honored, delighted, and thrilled to be teaching with my friend, Bill Kelly, otherwise known to The Graduate Center as beloved President Kelly. After serving for a year as the Interim Chancellor for all of CUNY, Bill is returning to teaching and, when I asked him if he might team teach an entirely experimental, future-oriented class with me, he jumped at the chance. We will be part of a complex of courses, a hub or node or center of learning, from which our graduate students, in turn, contribute to their undergraduates, and the whole process, is about constant collaborative peer learning and research.
Can you imagine? How precious and priceless is this? First, is the willingness of someone of President Kelly's stature to take a risk like this. How often does this happen? A university president returning to the classroom, being surrounded by an array of new tools and new concepts, modeling what it means to be an expert excited to learn. And, of course, I'm in a more modest version of the same situation: here I am, moving to New York for the first time, brand new to the CUNY system, building a brand new program and teaching my first graduate class here. If we don't fit the bill of the Ranciere paradigm of learning while teaching, teaching while learning, no one does.
And our students? Teaching learners and learning teachers too. They will be graduate students, mostly teaching as adjuncts at the colleges and community colleges throughout the CUNY system. We hope there will be about fifteen of them, in many different fields, teaching at several different colleges. And, as we explore new pedagogies together, new ways of teaching and learning and doing research, we very much hope that, in their own classes, where they are the teachers, they too will follow Ranciere (and Plato's) model. So far, our only requirement of these students who are also teachers as that they have their students work together, in project teams, to turn whatever content they are learning in the classroom, into some kind of public, outward facing project. For some it will be applying their learning to a real-world solution and then using our website to talk about what they have learned and how their learning is already benefiting their community. For others, it might be more theoretical--explaining a concept or theory to, let's say, eager high school students; or maybe putting on a program in a local school.
And then, whatever they do, we all work to communicate it as widely as possible--that's what this group on hastac.org is for. We all need models. We all need success stories. For anyone who changes a policy, who opens a possibility, who explores something new, who achieves a victory (larger or small), we want to pay tribute, to recognize, and to make an alliance. That is how change happens. It is far too often that we critique and complain and blame. We very much to hope, in this Futures Initiative model, we stake new territory and then, when we inhabit it, we celebrate the contribution together.
The possibilities are endless, because that is what learning is. And that's why this is the Futures Initiative: you reinvest in public educaiton because of what that investment gives back to you, and to all of society. The structure of this first course is all about students--whether beginning undergraduates, returning students, or graduate students learning a specialized research field--feeling confident to be teachers, teachers being confident to be learners, and all realizing that, no matter at what stage we are in our own lives, we are all learning how to make the future together. Let's make it a better one.
Special thanks to Kaysi Holman for this illustration of "Mapping the Futures of Higher Education"