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Teaching: Nothing to Teach! No Way to Teach It! Together with the Obligation to Teach!

Here is a wonderful essay by David L. Miller, university professor, that I found both insightful and entertaining. The essay carries the lengthy title "Nothing to Teach! No Way to Teach It! Together with the Obligation to Teach!" Dilemmas in the Rhetoric of Assessment and Accountability and within it are a number of pearls about education that I have quoted below...

Quotes from "Nothing to Teach! No Way to Teach It! Together with the Obligation to Teach!" Dilemmas in the Rhetoric of Assessment and Accountability

  1. "School," Deleuze writes, "is being replaced by continuing education and exams by continuous assessment. It's the surest way of turning education into a business."
  2. "You cannot possibly understand the pedagogical perspectives of my colleagues and me if you cannot understand the phrase 'we have nothing to teach, no way to teach it, together with the obligation to teach.'" I meant, of course, that there are certain subject matters in arts and ideas whose nature is that they are not "things," no-things, and therefore the goals of education, at least in these particular instances, cannot be served up in a priori desired learning outcomes nor assessed as products or commodities by student-customers at the end of fourteen weeks.
  3. The play in language can provide wondrous discovery, i.e., learning and unexpected surprise in learning outcomes. There are leaps in learning hiding in words' metonymies, in the very words the people have used to name what they think that they are naming when they name things. As Martin Heidegger says: "It is not we who play with words, but the nature of language plays with us."
  4. There is too much talk about teaching these days. It all leads to self-consciousness. No one knows what teaching is. It always must be thought in terms of something else. Metaphor and metonymy are needed. Imagination and vision. Not counting and assessment.
  5. Teaching is like baseball. Even in the majors it's not baseball very often. Most of the time it's pretty boring. But sometimes it is baseball.
  6. The irony is that attention to desired learning outcomes and to outcomes assessment produces in fact just what it sets out to eradicate: namely, emphasis on the professoriat rather than on the student. Assessment is a narcissistic endeavor. It is not student-centered.
  7. There is nothing in the end to assess, if the teaching is really successful.
  8. There are no quick results in education. If an educator seeks a quick result, the ultimate goal of great teaching is not accomplished. No assessment is worthwhile until many years have passed. And then the need for assessment has passed anyway.
  9. One desirable learning outcome is not to have a desired learning outcome.
  10. Teaching is improv, like good jazz. Does one ask a jazz musician for objectives, goals, outcomes, and ways to achieve outcomes assessment?
  11. Being interesting and enthusiastic are not necessarily marks of a good course or teacher. They may well be marks of educational fraud.
  12. Fools with tools are still fools.
  13. Continual assessment and a demand for accountability are symptoms of a sickness, symptoms of the very sickness that they are meant to cure: namely, they are signs that the intrinsic value of education is not sensed or affirmed, that it must be proved. Even when pedagogy fails--as it did again and again with Socrates, Moses, Jesus, Jeremiah, Mohammed, Lao-Tzu, and the Buddha--the attempt to assess learning outcomes is likely the worst possible indicator of accountability, at least in the case of certain pedagogies in certain subject matters. Socrates got hemlock in the assessment; Jesus, the cross; Moses, no promised lands; and so forth.
  14. Thomas Green-a renowned philosopher of education-once told me that he thought that the only useful question to ask students in course evaluation was the following: What will you now not put up with that you would have put up with before taking this course?
  15. There is no learning outcome in ideas.
  16. Looking for the uses of higher education in identifiable student outcomes is usury.
  17. The archetypal image of the great teacher is that she or he be empty of preachings and preachments, ego's or society's cherished attitudes, standpoints, and beliefs. In this emptying there is a resonance, like the sound box of Wallace Stevens' blue guitar. What resonates are other melodies and harmonies, ideas and values that transcend any particular teacher or teaching.
  18. ...we die to outcomes assessment, to the desired learning objectives of students, administrations, boards of regents or trustees, parents, and especially ourselves.
  19. Die as soon as possible, that is, give up ego's ideology, its desired learning objectives, and give it up as soon as possible so that education can take place.

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