Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hamlet the Danish

Why is it that, when searching for a decent cheese danish recipe, the first line in all of them is "8oz can of premade crescent rolls"? If I wanted premade, I'd get it at the grocery store, which is about my opinion of every recipe that calls for some brand name end-product.

Anyone got a from-scratch recipe they care to share?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

You Don't Need A Teacher

It wasn't that long ago that the majority of people were not college-educated, or even high-school educated. However, now I hear more and more from students, friends, and even my own inner monologue, that "a Master's Degree is needed for a good job" or, the more cynical and depressing, "you need a Doctorate to get anywhere." The first questions, of course, are where "anywhere" is or what a "good job" is: the answer to these will reveal your biases and inner dualisms. The next, even more important, question is why we are letting this be the case. Why should a Bachelor's degree even be necessary for all but the most specialized tasks (engineering, laboratory science, etc.)? Why should our educational system be under this antiquated system of credits and hours, when that doesn't work for skill mastery such as music or cooking? We have, in fact, so inflated the status and importance of teachers so that earning equivalent degrees to them becomes more important than mastering the subjects and skills that they are purportedly offering. In the end, as I've said before, our educational system is not about education, it is about certification. Only by grasping this will any positive change be possible to the system.

It is not lie that many (if not most, if not all) students are not prepared for college (or for what college is supposed to do). Many come in not knowing why they are there, or what they are trying to get certified for, or (worse) what they are called to do for their neighbors, themselves, or their God. If 12 years of guided teaching hasn't shown them, we should wonder whether four (to six, to eight, to twelve...) more years of the same is really going to clarify things. By the time a person is eighteen, having another teacher isn't the answer, it's part of the problem--and I say that as a teacher of eighteen and nineteen year olds.

I can say this out of experience. In many ways, I can be compared to J.D. on the show Scrubs: I'm always looking for that mentor, that teacher, to come along and make it all better, all easy, and to form me professionally and as a person. While I believe that mentors are indispensable, the dependence on them, so much that I went to grad school to "be back in the classroom" is not only unhealthy, it is idolatrous. The need to be graded (a success indicator, but not the same as success) still drives many to this day. However, as graduation used to indicate, at some point a student goes from 'student' to 'graduate', that is, an independent actor able to take what they have learned and apply it towards their lives and callings. With education as certification, however, we have tons and tons of students who have no idea how to take their education to their lives, callings, or even careers--hence the need for further certification to show that you cannot produce and independent thought, but must rely on teachers to "show you the ropes (again)."

This isn't to say that teachers are to be blamed for it all; many teachers are caught in the same trap, but war against it. I've thankfully had many such teachers who instilled in me (whether intentionally or not) a desire to see things differently. If you are a student who wants to master your subject, the best things you can do to learn are to learn outside the classroom for the majority of your learning. Get in the library and read the history of your discipline, read your Bible, and analyze the foundations of your field. Start compiling areas where you see indiscrepancies, where former teachers seem to have fumbled or fallen into idolatry, and bring them up to your teachers. Many teachers, especially at State institutions, view their job as producing "new research": bring holes and problems with "old research" and challenge them (humbly and gracefully) to bring harmony. This will be hard--it is something I've avoided with all my teachers for fear of reprisal. But without problems, no paradigm can be changed.

It is true, education starts with parents (who aren't certified) to bring children into self-education, and sometimes teachers take the role of parents in guiding and certifying (which isn't a bad thing in itself), but education of anyone over the age of thirteen relies (and has always relied on) the individual themselves. The only way that you (or I) are going to get educated is if we take the initiative to actually do the work, try things out, and even fail...a lot. You cannot learn to cook from watching TV or reading cookbooks, even if they provide invaluable information and technique, nor can a cook do the work of food prep for you; you've got to make the muffins, the steaks, and the wontons if even you can call yourself free.