When students begin a program of study in computer science, they naturally focus on the programming: what lines to write, what language to write them in, and other such concerns. However, as they become more skilled they learn to focus on the data structures – they realize that a seeming detail that actually is actually the most critical factor. Teaching is similar. My first-hand experience in instruction, as well as a seminar on college teaching, shifted my focus towards grading and social setting, and away from the many small details I first worried about.
The benefits of social cognition are intertwined with motivation. Too many teachers believe that students are slackers who put in the least amount of effort possible, when really they are cooperative when put in a healthy environment. Students need to know that fairness has a place, and that they won’t have their work exploited by low-preforming peers without consequence. Students will contribute and try to help until they believe they are being cheated. The ability for even a small amount of students — holding just one-third of the assembly — to prevent the re-election of an Administration they dislike — means that student who who care about fair play will have the power to act on the behalf of the group. Further, the deliberative, inclusive manner of the elections are likely to correlate with student happiness. Students want to do well, want to be treated fairly, and want to treat each other fairly. My philosophy will succeed because it recognizes all these primal drives, and doesn’t simplify students into listening-reading-regurgitating machines.
Students are social animals. The sort of classroom deliberations I advocate succeeds because they are founded on social interaction, social discourse, and social consent. The use students’ pre-existing orientation towards fairness and achievement to build critical thinking skills. The innovative nature of classroom democracy makes this doubly true, as its unusual methods force students to be aware of how they learn and how they want to learn. Socialization encourages self-regulation, self-monitoring, and self-control among students. Whatever we would wish, many college students do not develop study skills because they are never given any control of their learning in a classroom environment. Classroom democracy allows students to develop self-regulation in a Vygostkian, zones-of-proximal-development, style by working with more established learners in deciding how to learn.
The processes I outline above fit the various learning styles of students better than a series of lectures. Classroom democracy allows both dynamic and static matching for personalities. Different groups will experiment with different styles, not only presenting information in new was but modeling new ways of lecturing. Students will gain experience in the complicated mental work of translating learning into educating, which improves, rather than sacrifices, comprehension.
Students are too important to be left to the status quo. Let’s do better.