The community college dean is thinking about what it takes to get students to retain what we teach them. It’s not a trivial or simple question. Clearly covering all the material in the world is a colossal waste of time if no students retain it. Maybe still if only a few do.
Classes in the major at least enjoy a certain minimal buy-in from most students. Gen Ed courses, as the dean reflects, may be the only time those students ever get a whiff of our discipline.
Given that not everybody will become an expert in your subject, what do you want them to take away from it?
I’ll admit that it took a couple years of teaching for me to start thinking in those terms. Early on, I made the rookie mistake of trying to ‘cover’ everything. When I got back bizarrely disjointed versions of the material in papers, I gradually realized the error and started trying to focus more on the big picture. After a while, I decided that what I really wanted the students to develop was a combination of aggressive curiosity and some sense of how to frame questions. If they got that, I figured they were capable of following up on their own. Less ‘covering,’ more ‘uncovering.’
Same here. However, it’s worth noting that actually teaching and learning is only a small fraction of what education is for. There’s reproduction of elites to take care of, legitimating the ‘open’ society, creating habits of resentful deference to one’s educational ‘betters’, sorting people into occupational hierarchies, managing child care and surplus labor, producing disciplined, docile bodies for the workaday grind, and so on, none of which are incompatible with failing to teach the students the least thing they’ll remember later.