Teaching is more difficult than learning…

January 15, 2007

“TEACHING is even more difficult than learning … and why is teaching more difficult than learning? Not because the teacher must have a larger store of information, and have it always ready. Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than- learning. His conduct, therefore, often produces the impression that we properly learn nothing from him, if by ‘learning’ we now suddenly understand merely the procurement of useful information. The teacher is ahead of his students in this alone, that he still has far more to learn than they- he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices. The teacher is far less assured of his ground than those who learn are of theirs. If the relation between the teacher and the taught is genuine, therefore, there is never a place in it for the authority of the know-it-all or the authoritative sway of the official. It is still an exalted matter then, to become a teacher- that is something else entirely than becoming a famous professor.”
Martin Heidegger: ‘What is called thinking?’

Teaching by learning

January 13, 2007

I want to teach, not what I know, but what I don’t know; not that I can do, but that to which I aspire.

The fundamental thing in teaching is to be involved in doing and learning the subject that one tackles in a classroom. If one genuinely wishes to know oneself, if one is ready to listen and to learn: of one can communicate one’s energy and enthusiasm, the classroom changes; all the issues of power, control and grades disappear.

What actually happens has to be put within a structure that is clearly articulated; the rules of the game that must be respected – what is a foul and what will get you sent of. These structures can change depending the age and context of the class, but they must exist. My classes start at 8.30; my older students are always there long in advance and begin without me. The younger ones tended to trickle in at 8.35 and had to be chivvied into action. I had to be militant and insistent to change the habit.

I have students that won’t play the game and twice I have been through the situation where I have said: “Ok, this doesn’t motivate you – show me what does. Write your own brief, fix your aims and the deadlines and do something that proves that I should take you seriously”. But I have the ultimate sanction that I can ask them to leave if they don’t work (always with the proviso that they can come back when they can prove that they want to learn). I have someone in my class this year who left and came back – its like having a totally different person.

Should we even try to teach where there is no motivation? Is it possible?
If I was stuck with students I could not send away and who didn’t want to learn, I don’t know what I would do. Caught in a game of will and power, I don’t have the magnetic personality to carry them forward.

Perhaps the school experience for many is about the developing the emotional and psychological tools to deal with a boring job, limited expectations and a system of power over which they have no control.

You cannot learn if you have no sense of self-worth and belief in your capacity to achieve. Perhaps everything begins here?

Thought from a Swiss mountain…

January 10, 2007

The essence of being is separation: the minute space of tension between the fingers of God and Adam as his consciousness is cast into being in Michelangelo’s famous depiction of the creation.
So we find ourselves existing, as Heinrich Kleist put it, caught between the innocence of animals and the perfect knowledge of angels, caught in the necessity of being and dialectic of this separation.

Life is caught in this relation between the infinite and the circumscribed, the individual consciousness that arises and experiences itself as separate and unique before giving itself back to eternity.

I can only see the world from where I am standing; from this particular vista of time and place. From this point I look through the lenses of culture and education, of the nature I inherited and the experience life has given.
I make meaning from what I have and from what I am.

What would it be like to be another?

We can forge the world and bend it to our will with the Absolute of our certainty, the Will to Power. To open ourselves to doubt, to put others before ourselves, takes courage and strength. Galileo’s leap of imagination to move the earth from the centre of the cosmos was met with fear and aggression; he was threatened with torture if he did not withdraw his claims. Power structures do not like to be questioned.

The mystery woven into human life is here; in the impulse of self towards other: in the part’s awareness of the whole. The desire for transcendence of our human nature; to go beyond ourselves, beyond the limits of time, of space and of death. A shift of perspective that will change the world, a willingness to give up the security of the known for the unknown.

We need other forms of perception to move outside ourselves and comprehend the patterns of the whole. Ironically, it is only through the giving up of self that the other can be comprehended. We move into a realm where we can only proceed through mystery and metaphor.

The Romantics sought to touch this mystery through the Sublime: a man on a mountaintop at the height of a storm, or in a graveyard at the full moon, is brought face to face with the smallness of his preoccupations and his limitations.

The Buddhist monk approaches the same point from within; waiting until the chattering mind becomes still and existence becomes aware of essence at “the still point of the turning world”.

Love and imagination are the ingredients that allow the alchemy of transcendence; that permit us to pass the boundaries of our own circumscription. Human life is a journey away from our egocentric vision of the self as the centre of the universe. This journey can begin with love of another: from detachment and desire towards detachment and love.

Our first stirrings towards the mystery of another come through feelings that we do not understand; the overwhelming of our senses in the presence of another and a sense of abject emptiness when the object is absent. Desire and attachment draw us to the heights of a longing that consumes us. Yet, this state has no awareness of other: we are love-addicts that desire not another, but the state they engender. Only if, in passing through this state of attachment and desire, our being becomes entwined with the other can we hope to begin to learn the detachment from self that allows the seeds of Love to be sown. Not “I love you the image that I have of you”, but “I will stand aside and allow you to be yourself”.

The moment of death is the ultimate giving up of self; life is a study for this moment of release that should the inevitable final step of our journey.
What has all this to do with education? The problem that remains with me is the finding the balance between understanding and imposition. To what point is my role as an educator is socialisation, the imposition of an existing set of values and world picture and to what point the cultivation and nurturing of an individual spirit? where do I understand and where do I impose?