Throw out the sages?

I have been listening to a lot of conversations about the role of the teacher in the 21st Century classroom. Certainly, I constantly examine my own practice in order to create conditions where students can construct their own understanding. The language that is often used is that we need to change from being the ‘sage on the stage’ to being the ‘guide on the side’.

I had a professor of Russian history at the University of Victoria. I enjoyed his first course so much that I took at least one more. My intention had been to study as much Canadian history and politics as I could, but I learned so much that I couldn’t resist signing up for more. His courses consisted of three hours of lecture a week. We came in, and he would start talking, and a better hour was never spent. There were two assessments during the semester. We could choose between two essays, or two tests. He picked the books we read; he wrote the questions we considered.

By any standard found on any education blog, or in the twitterverse, this would not be an acceptable learning situation. I, however, was enthralled, and I learned a great deal. He fed my passion for understanding the stream of history. He showed me the story in history.

When we speak of reforming universities, or education in general, we have to be careful about throwing out the sages. They are experts in their field. Sometimes, there is no better education than to park ourselves in front of them and soak it up.

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