True teachers from Socrates to Dennis is that they really are midwives to their students’ thinking. Since thinking is imaginative, unpredictable, innovative, critical, and iconoclastic, it is a danger to the status quo. We live in a world where “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Nevertheless, I share Dennis’ dream of a world in which teaching was properly honored so that the best and the brightest longed to take it on. But, alas, we only dream. -jpoverseas
Seventy-year-old professor Dennis Dalton - his bald head, trademark sneakers, baggy jeans, and button-up denim shirt barely discernible at the front of the room - announces with glee, "Ahhh! There it is! The School of Athens!"
Professor Dalton has taught for 38 years in the political science department of Barnard, the all-women's school of Columbia University in Harlem. How did a professor at one of the nation's most exclusive colleges manage to become the people's professor? As with many grand social experiments, it began with an unlikely friendship.
Administrators have not always looked favorably on Professor Dalton's theory of education. After they discovered that he was allowing a group of undocumented students to slip into his lectures semester after semester, he was asked to reconsider his open classroom policy, gently reminded that Columbia University has a formal auditing program and that students pay upwards of $50,000 a year.
The professor smiled and replied without pause, "These are my friends. You wouldn't tell any other professor that he couldn't invite his friends to sit in on his class."
The administration compromised, inviting the professor to hold a weekly evening seminar for the public in the fall of 2004. Though Dalton already had a full course load and a few nagging health issues, he eagerly agreed, inviting his "friends" to a community forum on nonviolence.
This is an abstract of one of the several articles on fixing education. For more, read Putting the Public Back in Public Education, America 101, and the online exclusive Educational Success: Stories of Innovation from the Utne Library.
(Photo: The Teaching Company)
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