My university has an adult education program
and I have just finished teaching a course for it, an abbreviated version of my seminar on legal systems very different from ours done as four lectures, each two and a half hours long. Interested readers can find recordings of part of the third lecture and all of the fourth on the class web page
. It was great fun.
There were two important differences between that class and most classes I have taught. The first was that nobody was there who was not interested in what I was teaching, since the class did not meet any requirement for getting a degree. The second was that I did not have to grade the students. It thus eliminated the two least attractive features of conventional teaching. My ideal class might have some sort of exam at the end to provide me feedback on how good or bad a job I was doing, how much of what I had taught the students had learned—but I would not be the one grading it.
Each year I teach about ten shorter classes of the same sort, under rather different circumstances. The setting is the Pennsic War
, an annual two week long historical recreation event held in a private campground in Pennsylvania. Attendance at the event is upwards of ten thousand people. My classes, mostly an hour long, deal with medieval historical recreation—how to cook from a period recipe, make hardened leather armor, tell a period story
in a way that creates the illusion of a medieval story teller entertaining a medieval audience. My classes are part of a Pennsic University that offers about a thousand classes each year, all taught by volunteer teachers to volunteer students. Nobody is there to get a degree and nobody has to give any grades.
All of which suggests that perhaps there is something wrong with the more conventional model employed for most teaching from kindergarten through college.