Several weeks ago at a history professional development I attended something happened that I have started to see as a trend. It isn't the first time and I'm not sure if I should be troubled by it. Since this is my place to put my thoughts, here they are.
The facilitator for the session was a historian who has been published in this area and I have no problem calling him an expert. His session was fine-content was good and he seemed like the kind of historian I would want my kids to meet. And then another historian took the stage.
The second historian agreed with the historian one on 90% of their content and offered some interesting ways to look at the subject. They finished and historian one proceeded to dissect the argument at a level well beyond what we needed as teachers. It was awkward to watch a Phd talk to another Phd in a way that felt dismmissive and rude. It struck me as odd but the other historian took it in stride and made his case, which was again dismissed.
I wouldn't have thought much about it except, at the next session, it happened again. And then again at the next session. Even during an Q and A with teachers, this historian dismissed any idea that wasn't in line with his premise in a way that felt combative. A teacher started to ask a question and was waved off and even growled at before he could finish his thought.
By the end of the seminar, there was a running joke about historian one as the 'Sumo Historian'. There was talk at the beginning of the seminar of the honor of differing ideas and questions, but in the end, anyone who differed or questioned figuratively found 400 pounds of angry historian coming their way. His demeanor stopped the flow of conversation on the topic, which hurt the seminar. His need to be the only expert made him less of one.
Now, there are historians who are jerks. I've been to enough professional developments to know that. However, I think it has implications for me as a teacher. There is an old saw about economists which fits historians and teachers as well: ask five historians a question and you will get five answers (six if one went to Harvard). There are going to be different ways of interpreting facts, but how I do it as important as the facts themselves.
What I'm taking away is this:
- Listening doesn't mean you agree, it means you're listening.
- Just because you've heard the question before doesn't mean the asker is wasting your time.
- A thesis almost aways has another viewpoint that can be explored.
- The focus in education is not on the teacher but the learner--is what I'm doing getting in the way of that?
- Passion for a subject is not an excuse for mean-spiritedness.