Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hell's Classroom: teaching in the Gordon Ramsay style

Thomas H. Benton writes in the Chronicle for Higher Education:

The essence of his teaching method seems to be placing the quality of the food and service above all other considerations, including the feelings of the contestants, some of whom are humiliated on a weekly basis before an audience of millions. He is a figure of indisputable authority, and he doesn't wrap criticism in a warm fuzzy blanket of reassurance. If someone serves a sloppy meal, he'll call that person "a dirty pig" in a way that everyone will hear, remember, and, most important, learn from.

That is completely different from the way most faculty members in the last couple of generations have been trained to respond to students' work. We fear hurting their feelings, alienating them, or provoking them into complaining to some higher authority. So instead of calling a student out, we respond with something like this:

"The absence of conventional spelling and punctuation in your paper — while something we shall want to address at some point — certainly shows an abundance of creativity. Self-reliance is a good thing to have, but you may want to use some sources next time, too. Overall, your essay demonstrates considerable promise for even greater success in the future. Good job! I'm so glad I had the chance to read your work. B+"

Love the part about addressing snowflakes...missing however is a recognition that this kind of application presumes expertise in pursuit of a common goal. In other words, it would apply to an elective not an introductory course.


Jim said...

aint it the truth. fact is, this coddling of students is quite new. my greek teacher's greek teacher (that's how far back we go!) was taught by AT Robertson. When Robertson called on a student and said student didn't have the right answer, Robertson derided them to the point of tears.

ah for the good old days.

Bill said...

I'm convinced the difference is practical - not personal. If your goal is to produce a small number of irreproachable, top-level performers, the drill sgt. method is the way to go. In the best and worst sense at once, criticism culls.

In stark contrast, the public schools (including, evidently, U's) have learned that such culling methods produce smaller numbers of graduates. Breadth of competition is probably the newest factor in the mix, here. Far from kindler, gentler ideologies being to blame, systems are being ruthlessly pragmatic, encouraging coddling as a means of survival.

Personally, I'd pick quality over quantity. But then I'd probably go out of business, too. Ah, well.