Academic journal article American Economist

An Essay on the Art and Science of Teaching

Academic journal article American Economist

An Essay on the Art and Science of Teaching

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

This essay is the culmination of three decades of experience in teaching ("methods for effectively imparting information") various groups, including university students, executives in Fortune 500 corporations, legislators and government regulators. (1) This experience provides a unique vantage point from which to make a number of observations about effective teaching at the university level and possibly beyond. I also trust this essay can help those in the teaching profession avoid the many obstacles they are likely to encounter along the way.

The primary purpose of this essay is to develop a set of principles for effective teaching. In organizing the essay in this manner, my objective is to delineate various practices and techniques that may be employed to enhance overall teaching effectiveness, even among those individuals who may not be "natural teachers." A secondary purpose of this essay is to provide an assessment of the teaching profession at the university level; and while this assessment is at times critical, I hope that it is also constructive.

I should begin with a word or two about my interest in the topic of this essay and how it came to be. In my first year of graduate school, I enrolled in a course on the Philosophy of Science taught by Professor David Hawkins. Professor Hawkins was no ordinary philosophy professor. He had earned his Ph.D. at Berkeley in probability theory where he became acquainted with Robert Oppenheimer, the renowned physicist who headed the Manhattan Project. Hawkins subsequently became an aide to Oppenheimer and the official government historian for that project (Lehmann-Haupt 2002). He published widely in an astonishing number of fields, including biology, mathematics, philosophy, political and social theory, economics and education and seemingly left a major mark in whatever field he happened to wander into on that particular day. He reserved his greatest passion for education and he devoted a significant part of his life to understanding how children think and learn (Hawkins 2002). He was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation ("genius") Grant in the very first year of the awards for work in philosophy and childhood science education. I can make no claim that this essay rivals any of Professor Hawkins' writings, but he is the inspiration for it. He challenged his students to think seriously about teaching and how we can do it better.

Throughout this essay, I integrate selected lessons from Charles Franklin Kettering--one of America's most prolific inventors and commentators on education and industrial progress. My purpose for highlighting Kettering's teachings is four-fold. First, he struggled early on with his own formal education and managed to overcome handicaps that would have thwarted lesser men. Second, while he recognized the importance of formal education, he also understood its limitations in frustrating the process of learning and discovery. Third, Kettering fervently believed in the importance of intelligent failure as a learning tool, something we may have lost sight of in our educational system today (Boyd 1961). (2) For him, there was no disgrace in failure--there was only disgrace in not learning from failure. Finally, Kettering began his storybook career as a schoolteacher and developed a reputation as a gifted and innovative teacher, one that paid close "attention to the individual needs of his students ..." (Leslie 1983:6). He believed that teachers should endeavor to develop three qualities in their students: vision, imagination and courage.

Through vision they will see things as they really are. Through imagination they will dream greatly of things that may be. Through courage they will act boldly to make their dreams come true (Boyd 1961:30).

Charles Kettering (1876-1958) was born in the year the telephone was invented and died in the heart of this country's industrial supremacy. His nearly 200 patents ranks second only to Thomas Edison. …

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