Show, don’t teach


The word teach makes me cringe. It suggests an asymmetric power relationship in which the teacher’s  pronouncements are by definition true. The students’ opinions are not relevant. There’s also an idea that the students may be tested later to show that they can echo what has been taught. Disagreement with the curriculum is not acceptable.

You have to teach infants. A 3-year year old isn’t really in a position to argue if her parent tells her that eggs come from chickens, or chickens come from eggs. But even here, too much certainty can lead to difficulties. If you teach your child that Jesus is the only way, he may have problems if later he has a partner who is not christian. He’s going to have to reject something. Most probably you.

In later life I found that I needed to re-evaluate much of what I thought I knew, to see if I really believed it. This involved matters of fact, rules for living, political beliefs, attitudes to people who are different from me, social customs, techniques for creativity. The list is endless. Things that I am certain about continually turn to be wrong. Much of that certainty comes from uncritical acceptance of teaching.

This is not to say that I don’t want to learn from other people. It works better when I pull the information from the expert/coach/tutor than when a teacher pushes it at me. I learn when the time is right, when I’m receptive to the information that’s being imparted. That’s probably when I’ve been looking at something and have failed to grasp a key point. And that’s the moment when you can show me the door in the wall. It’s such a positive feeling when that happens.

And when I’m tutoring (on jazz courses or in guitar lessons) I’ve learned to say that this thing I’m showing you is an idea. It may be right for you or it may not. That’s your decision. And the only thing I teach is that you shouldn’t listen to teachers.

If you say I’m going to teach you something, I’m immediately in a mood to be alienated. If you show me something, or share it with me, I’m much more likely to learn something. And it leaves me with the option to disagree.