Jonathan Zimmerman

Sep 28, 2021

The Amateur Hour

A History of College Teaching in America

Johns Hopkins University Press 2020

purchase at bookshop.org

Listen to this interview of Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of History of Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and author of The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America (Johns Hopkins UP, 2020). We talk about yesterday today.

Jonathan Zimmerman : "Look, I don't think anyone questions that some of the best teaching they do is in their responses to student drafts and student papers. And, I think this restates the obvious, but: That is highly individuated, right? I mean, unlike a collective exercise, this is targeted directly at the student, and at what she or he has to say, and at different strengths or weaknesses in the way they're presenting what they have to say. But look, here's the important context, teaching through writing takes a great deal of time and effort. There's no way to do it on the cheap. And the bigger the university gets, the more costly everything becomes and the less likely it is that we're going to engage in the practices I'm describing—they're too expensive—they're too labor-intensive. You've probably heard the name Richard Arum. Well, he wrote, together with Josipa Roksa, the book Academically Adrift, the first sociological study of how much people are learning at college, and what they found, unsurprisingly, is that a lot of people are not learning very much. Now, there are many reasons for that, but one of them actually has to do exactly with this point of teaching through writing. One of the reasons is how little writing is actually assigned or evaluated. So again, what does this tell you? I think it tells you how little we value a process such as learning through writing. Would it cost more to teach like this? Of course it would! Things of value exert costs. And if you're not willing to pay the costs, you don't value it."

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