Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dr. Faulkner: From Weeder to Leader


Perhaps you have had a classroom experience similar to one of mine.  Do you remember sitting in a class room where on the first day of class the teacher instructed you to look at the person on your left and then the person on your right and then proclaimed, “One of you three will not pass this class.”  I remember in my undergraduate days at U.T. Knoxville, English Composition was the “weed out” course.  They bragged about a 40% failure rate.  It was a common attitude that there was a need to eliminate early the less fit that could not succeed in college.

This all came back to me when I read a Chronicle of Higher Education blog from which I borrowed this title. Mika Nash, the author refers to this as “pedagogy of elimination.” Nash challenges the idea that we must set our criteria so high that only a select few can succeed.  He offers the alternative that, “If the creed of the doctor is to “first, do no harm,” then the central tenet of the educator must be to create a learning environment that cultivates the potential of all students. . . “

Let’s be clear.  I’m not suggesting that we reduce the rigor of our courses.  Nor am I claiming that every student should pass.  Some students will fail because of a variety of reasons including life circumstances or a lack of motivation.  What I am suggesting is what Nash offers – that we construct courses and experiences that “lead” students into an exploration of the discipline and gives them an opportunity to succeed.  The article says, “we stopped thinking about the course as an exercise in the process of elimination and instead designed one that would open up a new world to an interested student.”

And the idea extends beyond the classroom.  What if we see that our goal is not to impose a strict set of policies and guidelines but instead our focus is helping students navigate the labyrinth to reach their goals?

I’m so glad that our faculty and staff are not operating in a “weeder” mindset.  But all of us have room for improvement and so as we function in our respective roles within the Vol State community, let’s evaluate what we do to see if we are weeders or leaders.

Student Success Is Job One!

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner

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