5.9 The role of teachers

Van Rossum and Hamer describe a potential trap that occurs when educators below the watershed, who favor reproduction over the construction of meaning, become the teachers of a new generation of teachers. They conclude that:

teachers are indeed nothing other than students grown-up, meaning that they view learning and teaching in essentially the same ways as students. It is true that teachers — in part because of their participation in higher education and their greater life experience — on average are further along the epistemological development we have sketched above, but still there are many teachers who view learning and teaching from a profoundly reproductive perspective (mainly learning-teaching conception 3). When not addressed in teacher training this reproductive view may perpetuate itself through generations of teachers who have failed to experience epistemological growth towards constructivism in higher education.
Each generation of these fundamentally reproduction oriented teachers in turn instilling the same reproductive way of knowing in their students and thereby undermining the purpose of education: teaching people to think for themselves, to evaluate evidence and to be capable of formulating an informed opinion. This means that in particular in teacher education it is important to address the more philosophical issues regarding the nature of disciplinary knowledge and theory-laden observation, as well as addressing beliefs about truth, learning, motivation, effort, talent, etcetera. We would suggest to pay particular attention to this in teacher education for the natural and applied sciences (e.g. physics, mathematics, law, accounting, business administration) as it may, at least initially, go against the grain of existing and future teachers. Not only will this make a start towards breaking the chain of perpetuation of reproductive epistemology, it will help teachers implement future more constructivist educational innovations more successfully. (van Rossum & Hamer, 2010) (p 576)

Universities run this risk as well. However universities, more than other educational institutes, harbor a wide range of educators and researchers. At one end exists typical domain specialists who might not have developed beyond level 3 (Snedden was professor at Stanford, and very much an authoritarian), but who are still great sources of expertise and the can help to learn students how to think albeit within a fairly narrow domain or to their own intellectual development. But university staff comprises also of many members who are progressed far in intellectual development and who are now only an informal resource for students who want to make the most of their intellectual development. Ensuring that these educators are more explicitly and more effectively involved in the intellectual development of students may result in students that progress much quicker and therefore farther along the path of intellectual development. This untapped resource may lead not only to students that enrich society with independence, autonomy, stability, and wisdom but they will also spawn researchers who are able to connect and unify fields of science and who easily transfer research outcomes to society. These will be the scientific and societal leaders of the future, and they will elevate the reputation of the university that educated them. In addition they will form the educators of future students. This explains why top-universities take educational quality as serious as they do.