Friday, March 27, 2015

Disrespect Your Teachers

I'm hell on teachers, and always have been. I question relentlessly and pointedly; I refuse to accept assumptions without ample explanation and persuasion. I bluntly point out faulty reasoning, and can't endure even a touch of facile skating. I want to learn what I want to learn the way I want to learn it, so that I can discard the teacher like a worn-out shell and go about my business. I'm anything but deferential - but I am, after all, the one buying the service.

I've done a good bit of teaching, myself. And this is how I wish students would treat me, because it's the best way to learn. Alas, my students have all been deferential. AND they've paid me. The combination strikes me as daft***.

All learning is self-learning. Your doctor can cure you without your participation, and your stylist can make you look sharp while you chat on the phone, but no teacher has ever taught anyone anything. Teachers are mere aids in a learning process that's student-owned. Students who truly wish to learn should wrestle teachers into giving them what they need, in the way they need it. They ought to treat their teachers like wrenches or bits of tape.

Teachers, of course, are ill-accustomed to such treatment. They're usually spoiled with deference. They imagine, strangely, that teaching magically happens while they drone on. All the messy stuff taking place - as the student scrambles to translate words into useful mental nutrients and rearrange neurons to facilitate a miraculous transformation in comprehension - is beyond their concern. They drone, we learn.

And we do so obediently, though we're the ones churning idle words into actual education. If it's our role to defer as well as make education happen, then, once again the question arises: who's buying this service??

I also beat teachers up by peppering them with my own conclusions, analyses, and insights, however half-baked. You may be a famous chef teaching me to cook, but, really, wouldn't lime work much better here than lemon?

All teachers respond the same: learn it my way first, then do it your way. But that's just another ploy for transferring responsibility for education to the student. It's sheer laziness. Shitty teachers don't bother aiming their teaching, they simply present their patter like anchormen or toastmasters. But that's not educating, that's talking. Good teachers figure out what the student needs and custom-target their patter. They apply flexibility and empathy. They make themselves useful tools.

The dull roteness of most teachers explains why so many creative people do poorly in school (I was a perennial B student). There are two types of people: those with an instinct to imitate and those with an instinct to follow their fancy. One does not magically transfer into the other. Fancy-free types do not - can not - diligently, rotely, follow; it's not in their nature. Yes, Picasso showed he could produce old-master-ish paintings as a teenager, but I'd bet he drove his teacher to murderous rages.

Creative people are constitutionally loathe to do things the usual way, the easy way, the instructed way. Their scheming caprice is like a whirring car starter, desperate to ignite regardless of fuel availability. A good teacher feeds the engine what it needs, and lets the student roar away, free, into the distance, rather than seeking to impose order on the process.

Good teachers teach; bad teachers drone and impose order. Alas, nearly all teachers are bad teachers. And I should know, because I'm the world's worst student...yet also, perversely, an awfully good learner.

An old Zen saying goes "If you see the Buddha walking down the street, kill him" (my old college professor, Buddhist scholar Neil McMullin, insisted the correct translation is actually "shit on his head"). Learning is next to impossible once teacher or material has been enshrined. A student must make the material freshly his own, and this requires a posture of defiance, irreverence, and even disrespect...if not out-and-out murderousness.

*** - it reminds me of the way spiritual gurus are treated by their followers. Having supposedly gone beyond suffering, they're nonetheless coddled with great delicacy. Really, they ought to be complained to, railed against, and generally acted out upon, given that they, more than anyone, can handle it.

Deference should flow toward the party facing the daunting task of learning - whether enlightenment or trigonometry. Droning's easy; learning's hard, so it's the learners who need to be coddled.


Muscle_Burst said...

Good points about deference. Being a student fairly recently though I remember having high and low energy days. Also, if you spend all your energy on an earlier class you won't have time for a later class. Most of the arguments I lost due to lack of energy, not being convinced.

I have a lot of teachers not know what to do when I argue. I had two college professors basically tell me to drop the class, which I obliged twice now. If they can't handle me arguing with them, I don't' want them. Those professors saw me arguing as an usurp on their leadership, or at least that's my opinion.

Your also right about grades. I would argue and argue with the teacher and get a B. While usually a young girl would quietly get an A. I would be like "what the hey she never participated yet got an A."

On the other hand I have professors who wanted me to argue more, and were disappointed in me. The problem was I was baffled when the professor argued back. Embarrassingly I also got my feelings hurt, mostly because I rarely experienced this.

In short, I got three professors:

A. The ones who were dumbfounded when I argued back. The professor blinked a few times and moved swiftly on.

B. The ones who loved to argue and were disappointed in me for being thrown off guard so easily.

C. Professors who basically told me to leave and I was being disrespectful/sent me to the principals office.

Btw, I passed grade school k-12 with D and F's and spent a lot of time in the principals office.

Muscle_Burst said...

Sorry about the two comments in a row. Its just the first one jogged my memory. I often had my grade point average suffer due to arguing or finding a different way then the professor. Of all things this came up a lot in computer science. I almost lost my scholarship because I found an easier way to program in the one class that the professor disagreed with. My argument was "it works and I find this way easier." His argument was "that's bad programming." I continued to program my way and I had to struggle to get a C in that class.

In an earlier computer science class a question was about phishing scams. I disagreed with the textbook and wrote so on the graded assignment and this quote "nothing's fool proof to a sufficiently talented fool." I Can't find the author of the quote. I also gave anecdotal evidence about my real friend who always fell for phishing scams. I nearly failed that class despite intense effort. Finally, I refused to dissect animals in biology.

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