I often joke that my education took off when I discovered the unimportance of teachers. I am a teacher, so I must not take that statement too literally. Oddly enough, I really do take the statement literally (while continuing to believe that teachers play a very important role in education). I continue to believe that teachers have a valuable role in guiding and mentoring learners at different stages of their life and learning journeys. These people sometimes hold an official title of teacher or professor, or they might be a neighbor, friend, family member…even a stranger. In one sense, a teacher is anyone or anything that contributes to our learning. With that definition, even your dog or pet rock can be a teacher.
However, when I think about the role of what we traditionally call a teacher, one of the most important goals of good teachers is to work hard at making themselves as unimportant as possible, not unimportant in the sense of lacking value, but unimportant in the sense that they are eventually no longer needed. In other words, the goal of the teacher is to aid the learners in becoming self-directed learners. Few disagree with this. Where some of us differ is with regard to how soon we think the teacher should begin to step back and let the learner take control. Whatever the case, as I continue to reflect upon the critical need to help students of all ages grow as self-determined and self-directed learners, I’m reminded of what Jon Taylor Gatto wrote as ten important “outcomes” for students today. It is an interesting list to compare with the many other lists of skills for learners in the 21st century (Tony Wagner’s survival skills, Gardner’s minds for the future, etc.).
In Jon Taylor Gatto’s Weapons of Mass Instruction, he suggests ten abilities that are important for students to develop.
People today need to be able to…
- define problems without a guide,
- ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions,
- work in teams without guidance,
- work absolutely alone,
- persuade others that your course is the right one,
- discuss issues and techniques in public with an eye to reaching decisions about policy,
- conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns,
- pull what you need quickly from masses of irrelevant data,
- think inductively, deductively, and dialectically, and
- attack problems heuristically.