Commentaries - February 2012

Learning, not teaching

This space could be retrofitted into sixteen seminar rooms, or two or three small houses.

A brilliant former student, now pondering a career as a teacher, asks a few questions. I hope he will forgive me the pithy responses.

What do you think is the purpose of education?

Not to teach but to enable learning. That will sometimes entail teaching, but mostly will entail other modes. These other modes are best effected in small groups (either in person or virtual, but ideally small in number). These other modes should probably not be put into practice in a classroom. Maybe, to take one possible example, in an old house.

Why do you think it is important to teach?

Not “important to teach,” but important to be part of organizations dedicated to enabling learning. The reasons for that are obvious, I hope. Learners often (although not always) benefit from guidance when they deal with materials and with problems new to them. They also benefit from guidance when the environment (outside schools — e.g. stressed or nonfunctioning families, war-torn or poverty-stricken communities, etc.) is not otherwise conducive to thought.

What strategies or methods do you think are effective?

Leading discussions of problems and materials enables learning and application of lessons to other contexts and situations. Lecturing enables consumption, reinforcement of subject discipline, belief in the authority of the lecturer, and silos of intellection.