Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Crisis of the American Intellectual (part 1)

Recently, I came across an interesting blog post by Walter Russell Mead,  titled The Crisis of the American Intellectual.   He blames the demise of the American intellectual on three factors.  The first cause is the devotion to the “redistributionist and administrative state” which permeates corporate, university and intellectual thought. This struck me as relatively unoriginal, but the two causes arrested my attention-- A) our intellectual guild economy and B) the detrimental effects of “galloping credentialism.  
I found these topics so relevant to the plight of educational reform that I have divided my reflections into two posts-- this one and the next. 
First, take a look at what Mead says about modern guilds:
Too many of the very people who should be leading the country into a process of renewal that would allow us to harness the full power of the technological revolution . . . are devoting their considerable talent and energy to fighting the future.
 Most intellectuals today still live in a guild economy.  The learned professions – lawyers, doctors, university professors, the clergy of most mainline denominations, and (aspirationally anyway) school teachers and journalists – are organized in modern day versions of the medieval guilds.  . . . The culture and structure of the learned professions shape the world view of most American intellectuals today, but high on the list of necessary changes our society must make is the restructuring and in many cases the destruction of the guilds.  Just as the industrial revolution broke up the manufacturing guilds, the information revolution today is breaking up the knowledge guilds.  
From my little viewpoint as one who has been straining to pull educators toward a new learning design, the guild metaphor is quite valid.  Among many educators there is an attitude of “if it’s not broken why fix it” about the system they went thrived in as students and then entered as apprentices who would then move into tenured positions.  This creates a terrific amount of certainty among teachers that not only are their methods tried and true, but new ones should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.

To make matters worse, we teachers tend to suffer anxiety about our professional status.  At times we feel treated like clerks and baby-sitters.  It's not uncommon for administrators or parents to talk down to us.  Feeling disrespected and unappreciated makes us even less receptive to new ideas, particularly if we feel that we're being told to get with the times and move away from our professional comfort zones.  On more than one occasion in my professional development sessions, I have stepped on these tender toes, and the "guild" has let me know their feelings about it!.
In my next post, we’ll take a look at what Mead calls, “credentialism”.

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