Do we still need teachers?

I watched Mona Lisa Smile on DVD for the first time last week. On her first day of college teaching, the Julia Roberts character discovers her class has already read the entire textbook. She is instantly derailed as someone there to deliver content. She realizes her highly self-motivated students do not need a teacher. She changes strategies and creates an unforgettable learning experience for everyone, including herself. She learned from the unexpected and lead her students by example into further unknowns.

I'm convinced that K-12 teachers, college instructors and corporate trainers are in this same position. The students can find information when they need it online. They are becoming increasingly self-motivated from their experiences with handheld technologies, social networking, file sharing, gaming and shopping. They don't need a teacher to tell them what a book says.

In Mona Lisa Smile, Julia Roberts switches from covering the academic syllabus to exploring the subjective realm of perception and attribution. She challenges her students to see beyond the obvious and create meaning with their new ways of perceiving. She takes them on a journey into unknowns that she had traveled previously. She leads this adventure with uncertain outcomes, surprising turns of events and confounding mysteries.

As this exploration unfolds, her students are framed as capable of more than their stereotyped self-concepts. They are challenged to extend their range of possibilities like gamers changing avatars, venturing into new levels and exploring different strategies. Watching this movie clarified in my mind how there is still a role for human catalysts in the lives of learners.

Instead of teachers who deliver content, here's what I think we still need:

  1. Humans who are still learning, showing how it's fun and sharing their personal adventures into unknowns
  2. Humans who lead by example, demonstrate how to formulate better questions, revive their curiosity, and explore new areas of interest
  3. Humans who create common ground, share interests with other learners, help others succeed by lending a hand, insight or bit of encouragement
  4. Humans who frame other learners as capable, talented, resourceful and creative and watch these self fulfilling prophesies come to fruition
  5. Humans who get inspired while conducting assessments and avoid the pitfalls of judgmental thinking which creates losers, damage and inhibitions.
  6. Humans who take others' struggles and add a vertical dimension of freedom to their striving by exploring the overview and depth of possibilities, subjective perceptions and attributions, or intrinsic and idiosyncratic insights that redirect their overly persistent efforts.
  7. Humans who weave suspense, mysteries and unknowns into what they reveal, share and offer to other learners.

I wonder how enough humans will find their sense to act like this and touch the world in these ways?

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