Thursday, January 08, 2009


#6 teach

As a youngster, I once recall being most impressed when a close relative uttered a few words in French to some tourists on Brighton beach. What amazing talent and ability! Similarly, the day I first turned up at a new dance class to see couples showing off their incredibly fancy free-flowing sylph-like moves. How elegant! However, not long after, when I myself had acquired some of these skills and was able to judge with the benefit of a little experience, it dawned on me, horribly, that these 'sylphs' were in fact clumsy clodhopping oafs each cursed with two left feet - and that also my relative's spoken French was in fact a living desecration to the tongue of Voltaire.

I've made this kind of mistake many times. One of the reasons that the human animal is so irredeemably stupid, beyond even the ingrained recidivism, is that so much of what constitutes our decision-making, our belief systems, and our world knowledge, comes not from any innate cognitive abilities, but from our utter fucking ignorance. I firmly believed those dancers were amazing, not because I knew things about dancing - on the contrary - because I knew absolutely nothing!

The teaching model is one based on this same model, i.e. one based on presumed ignorance. If ever there were an activity that required one's healthy disprespect, it's this one. Universities, schools, colleges, polytechnics, both private and public, one and all.

The basic model consists of having a room full of empty vessels ('students') and one large vessel (the omniscient one, the 'teacher') replete with 'information'. The latter pours tiny egotistically-laced drops of their precious liquid into each of the empty vessels for which much gratitude and respect is expected to be shown.

Of course, students are not empty vessels and the teacher's 'information' may well not be true, relevant, or useful - but success within the model tolerates only your submission to it and an implied acceptance of your ignorance. And, by and large, students do accept it, and submit; troublemakers and dissenters are quickly retired from the entreprise, either voluntarily or mandatorily.

To teach is to promote ignorance.
Teaching cannot stop people from learning.
What people learn is despite teachers not because of them.


J.-P. Caron said...

Usually we rely on our experience to make such judgments as to the competence of so and so. If our experience is null it is likely that we find the object either more or less what we would if we had the proper knowledge.

Actually. it is fairly common to happen the other way around. Ignorance making us unable to see the technique or expertise required to do something.

We just place a bet that what we are seeing is valuable or not. And it is the same with teaching. I can´t really see the difference between knowledge by being tutored, or simply knowledge by random experience.

It´s all there for the taking, really, isn´t it?
Ideas, encounters.... ;)

Richo said...

Wholly agree with you on this one, William, rather paradoxically given my own vocation (although this is one exercised mostly by other, far more selfish, objectives than to actually help people develop their English skills). Detested school and always mistrusted it, and almost everything taught there. I chose to opt out of the whole education system when I could and firmly believe I have learnt far more outside of it ever since. It's a question of discovery and making the effort to pursue that if so desired, ultimately. The 'encounters' and 'ideas' J.-P. Caron refers to are not just going to throw themselves at you, after all...

I've always felt the vast majority of people are lazy, though. And laziness certainly feeds ignorance.

J.-P. Caron said...

"The 'encounters' and 'ideas' J.-P. Caron refers to are not just going to throw themselves at you, after all..."

I really think they do.... Once you get the machine going, one just pulls the next. Effort is necessary in order to build on it, though...

Of course there´s unuseful and really bad teaching. That was not my point. My point was: being tutored isn´t a suitable criterion for determining if what is being teached is of any value, either positive or negative.
We are still placing bets whenever there´s a huge amount of ignorance on our part.

LJP said...

I actually taught myself how to read at first grade, not being interested in the way they taught me to in school...

Richo said...

J.-P. Caron, I feel it is entirely down to making that effort we're referring to, whether initially or beyond. Yes, "the machine" can just roll along accordingly after but, like all machines, it needs to be maintained if one wants it to function properly. I've known so many people to just give up over the years, too. The alternatives are always the easiest and safest, after all...

Ideas, encounters and experiences are something one MUST want in the first instance.

Agree with you on teaching and tuition, though. I think I spent most of my school years completely and utterly bored, which is why I couldn't wait to get away from it all (tho' I stayed on for a sixth year as I simply didn't know where to go!).