Spivak & the struggle between theory and practice

The first question posed this week for discussion addresses perhaps one of the most fundamental issues currently affecting education in our nation.  The diversion between theory and practice whether it is that of composition, teaching k-12 or teaching ESL is enormous.  Spivak expresses her clearly defined thoughts on the importance of being cautious with the idea of “balancing” both theory and practice and rather calls for addressing the tensions that originate between the two.  Unfortunately, that happens very infrequently, and it is easy to allege why.  Spivak states that, “the constitution of our student bodies changes.  It is also true that the nature of departments and their emphasis on service, and so on, quite often change with different hiring practices and philosophies of chairs, and various roles of chairs–as, for example, the chair as first among equals rather than a somewhat imperious director.” (4)  These variable forces that interrelate, collide, and produce so much change so rapidly are almost too dynamic to keep track of.  Add to them education policies often dictated by people that are far removed from a classroom setting and overworked instructors along with over crowded classrooms, and you will have the perfect recipe for “disaster.”  Thus, by the time theories are being developed about a particular setting, for instance, teaching ESL, other practices may be happening in the classroom.  Let me expand on my ESL illustration.  Although we are taught in our TESOL Method class the importance of making teaching an interactive process enhanced by the use of realia, TPR, content based instruction, etc in order to foster an environment of acquisition vs. learning, the reality in the classrooms calls for a more grammar based teaching, which will allow instructors to cover the material that students need to learn in order to pass to the next level, and from there to the next to the next until they can complete all the courses to graduate.  Graduation represents for many the piece of paper that they need to be able to get a job, which they need in order to meet the basic needs of their families.

So to answer the question, I think that the benefits of not  revealing the tensions created by the debate between theory and practice is the fact that policy makers do not have to worry about addressing the real issues that the diversion between theory and practice brings to light.  This tension would be more productive if those issues were indeed looked into and and corrective measures were put in place.  I do not mean to sound cynical, I am sure that there are institutions and programs that do so.  I just don’t think enough is being done.

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