Idealism & Reality

In reflecting on my observations and interactions in my PLN over the last (almost) year, one common vein seems most apparent. There are two divergent belief systems.

1: “If you build it, they will come” – In this mentality, educators believe that we don’t need to have an authority or control model or grades any longer because the future will be more egalitarian and about individuals working at their own pace in their own fields of interest.

To some extent, I really like the idea of letting go of some of these traits of the old model in favor of encouraging students to pursue passions at their own rates. Fundamentally, however, I fear that subscribing wholly to such an idealogy will leave students unprepared for their real futures.

2: Human nature is a relatively fixed reality, hierarchies and competition are inevitable. – This more conservative and traditional belief may not be set in some kind of conspiracy to damage the proletariat, but instead to keep our world functioning and facilitate progress.

In fact, even in a *more* egalitarian and individual led future world, I can hardly think that anyone would believe that competition and hierarchies of authority and control will dissipate.

I have been plagued with the debate between “learning and compliance” as @irasocol so perfectly sums it up. I have felt ripped apart between these but I suppose at the end of the day, I have to prepare my students for BOTH. And yeah, that’s tough. I can only assume that in the future, as throughout all of history, most of my students will have bosses, colleagues to compete with, and deadlines to endure.

I must seek ways to let students find their own path in their learning while setting deadlines. I must create an environment where students can both feel comfortable talking to me and not be afraid, but yet must understand that what I say ultimately has to happen or we have consequences.

This has been the most difficult balance for me to negotiate and I’m still not feeling very solid about it. Do you ever worry that you are really preparing students for an idealistic and, likely, utopian future?


6 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for your articulate discussion of this vexing dichotomy. It’s a complexity that I think must remain complex. It cannot be resolved because not every student has the same future, and we certainly cannot know those futures. So, we must prepare each individual student–some of them instinctively creative, others who are in dire need of a certain amount of hierarchically-based authority–for futures that may be more like the idealism you describe or may tend toward a more rigid framework.

    The most likely scenario is that different students will find themselves in different situations throughout their lives, and they need to be prepare to navigate whatever life throws at them. So the educational experiences that we design for them, regardless of their location on this continuum, are all potentially valuable.


    • Posted by mrsfollis2 on January 8, 2010 at 8:03 pm

      That makes a lot of sense, and as frustrating as it is to accept that it is an issue that cannot be resolved I think you are completely right. But I think that I see a lot of educators who are making a distinct choice of one path or another. Maybe that’s all ok though, since students will likely experience both kinds of teaching in their educational careers?

      Thought it deeply convolutes the frequent call I see to define “effective” or “ineffective” teaching and the notion of best practices – which is a little scary.

      Thanks so much for contributing to my understanding, Gary! 🙂


  2. Great post, Candace.

    “I have felt ripped apart between these but I suppose at the end of the day, I have to prepare my students for BOTH.”

    I find myself on the “learning” side of Ira’s equation. That’s why I don’t give homework and work toward giving my students opportunities to learn and practice responsibility as opposed to compliance. I’m one grade out of 12 for these kids. So if I work all year in the first of the two belief system, I can’t imagine I’ll break them of any the structures from the second system.


  3. I stumbled across your blog…. very interesting. I work at a Jr. High and my blog is more about decorating my room… while I can see points on both sides, sometimes the subject matter sways me, learning to do division is so hard if you have not learned times tables by rote, and of course that is boring.. It sounds as if they will be receiving a well rounded education with you. Good luck. Lezlee


  4. My photography classes are a nice encapsulation of this dichotomy. It is an art class so the students are given a lot of room for interpreting the assignments and making them relevant to their own interests and lives. But there are very specific technical skills that they need to master as well and the assignment still need to demonstrate competency in those skills. Also, since we need to have the work done by a specific date so we can all look at it discuss it, deadlines become very important.

    I feel like I need to have the structure, but emphasize the self exploration and discovery to counter balance the more rigid classes that they take in some of their core areas.

    I think that teachers teaching in the way they are strongest is best. Kids will then get exposed to good methods in both ways of working and end up with a better understanding of how they work best and what strategies they can use to compensate in the other areas.

    Great post. Definitely has me thinking.


  5. Hello Candice,
    My name is Brittany Heiss and I am a student at University of South Alabama. I am currently on the path of receiving my degree in Elementary Education. I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class which is a micro-computing class allowing us to become familiar with technology in the classroom. Now done with the introduction part. I would like to start off by saying thank you for sharing your words with the world wide web.

    This post really made me think about how educators are. Especially the educators I have had in the past. Most of the educators seemed to have the first mentality. I personally believe that we need to have both, not pick one or the other. These paths should be made known to students. That way the students can be the ones to make the decision.


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