Facilitating Futility

As a freshman in college, during one of my early education courses, we began discussing philosophies of education.  All of us in the room–elementary ed majors, secondary ed majors, don’t-know-what-I’m-doing majors–thought we knew so much then.  We were in college.  We were excited to be teachers and change the world.  One of the assignments for that course was to write our philosophy of education.  Turns out we would later edit it when we were seniors.  I remember sitting in the airport on my way back from Taiwan after spring break, pecking out words on my shiny, then-new MacBook with greasy fingers covered in french fry oil.  I thought carefully about what I wanted to say, fully intending to blow away my professors expectations with a paper that represented what I thought would be profound and earth-shattering.

When I looked back at the paper senior year, I realized how delusional I had been about my writing skills as a freshman.  [I ended up completely re-writing the paper instead of just revising it as we had been instructed.]  But the one thing that I do remember from those four pages of freshman garble was the impression of a teacher as a facilitator.

With the development of new curriculum standards across the United States, it appears that the idea of a teacher as facilitator is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  The whole idea of the teacher not being at the front of the classroom the whole time, students taking ownership, emerging as leaders, blah blah blah.  I used to completely agree, and I still do agree that this is ideal to some extent.  But my question is this: is facilitating becoming an excuse for not actually taking leadership and responsibility and ownership over something?  Yes, a leader may want the group of people they are leading to take ownership of the process, but that doesn’t mean the leader just sits back and watches the people, who may or may not have the tools they need to take ownership, sit awkwardly around the table and stare at each other, not sure where to start.  It’s still the leader’s job to inspire the group with the vision they are working toward, and even more importantly to give the group points of access in order to be able to provide ownership.

So while the idea of a facilitating teacher is a good one, I’m afraid that it’s becoming more of an excuse for people rather than an exemplary model.  “Oh, well, the students are just going to discover these facts and if they don’t, then that’s not my fault because I’m just there for crowd control.”  Okay, that’s a little bit exaggerated for what could happen, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility.

My point?  Not much besides this: whether it’s facilitating or directing, make sure that it’s done actively and not passively.


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