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A Global Pedagogical Meltdown?

Nathan D. Brubaker

With the rise of digital technologies, the rapid expansion of globalization, and the growing reliance on distance learning in teaching today, it seems important we be increasingly mindful of the pedagogical implications of such trends. What are the recipients of today’s instructional practices perceiving about the underlying processes and purposes of teaching? On the one hand, it can be argued that our contemporary context represents a period of unprecedented pedagogical transformation—with a proliferation of electronic platforms providing fundamentally new means of interacting, communicating, and participating in global networks considered unimaginable just a few years ago. On the other hand, it can be argued that we are not only experiencing a lamentable simplification of teaching in light of neo-liberal policy and discourse, but that the resulting practices are doing more to widen gulfs in achievement than attain equity. Contrary to both perspectives, I contend that we are in fact experiencing a global pedagogical meltdown, where the medium of instruction is constantly changing, but the essential act of teaching has remained fundamentally the same. With the intensification of such circumstances, our pedagogical reality has in fact gone backwards. The consequences could be dire.

The more distant our delivery becomes, however, the more impoverished our pedagogical outlook seems to be

As a teacher educator, I find myself increasingly being asked to pass off on students I have never met, credential students I have no confirmation have actually done the work, certify as capable of working with children people with whom I have never interacted nor had little opportunity to influence their interpersonal attributes. I find myself having less insight into the capabilities of such candidates in collaborating with colleagues, communicating with families, and cultivating meaningful learning experiences. I am nevertheless helping to send them out to the world to be embraced as teachers—to work in classrooms in the presence of actual children—at a time where colleagues claim such teachers have been prepared to teach using increasingly sophisticated methods. The more distant our delivery becomes, however, the more impoverished our pedagogical outlook seems to be. Even the most innovative approaches seem fundamentally didactic, with an increasing focus, implicitly, on reproducing that which is already known. Our jobs, it seems, have become more concerned with simplifying complicated concepts to trivial soundbites and dotpoints which students can consume (or not) on their own than actually expanding minds, challenging thinking, and cultivating alternative possibilities. Some argue that such circumstances are no worse than what has long transpired in large lecture halls—in many ways actually better. Such arguments do more to affirm my point than oppose it: in the twenty-first century, we continue to cling to lecture as a standard of effective teaching. Why? Is this really the best we’ve got? Have we become so narrow in our pedagogical outlook we have failed to advance our conceptions of pedagogy beyond transmission-based assumptions and approaches?

Let there be no question this is a daunting time to be teachers and teacher educators. Cultivating conditions in which teaching candidates learn to critically examine the complexity of teaching in ways that challenge them to be increasingly aware of their own and others’ assumptions and actions is no simple matter. Instead of moving us closer to sophisticated enactments of democratic ideals in which curriculum and assessment are collectively constructed, I am increasingly afraid our era of technological progress has in fact precipitated a backwards slide in how we conceptualize and construct our craft. Merely solidifying our reliance on transmission-based models of instruction at a time when our pedagogical reasoning and decision-making should be gaining in power, practicality, and purpose seems to be setting us up for wreaking widespread havoc on our intellectual and social reality. At a time when the dangers of standardized education increasingly require the informed input of those with sound pedagogical expertise, we desperately need a different compass guiding our efforts. Instead of intensifying current trends in ways that contribute to our own demise, we should consider enacting more robust commitments to dialogue, negotiation, critical exchanges of perspective, and pedagogical diversity in our own actions as teachers and teacher educators. Perhaps then we will be better positioned to help diminish the radioactive glow engulfing our pedagogical climate and counter the increasingly authoritarian attributes undermining our globally connected community.