A friend of mine who taught philosophy years ago, recently recounted a conversation he had with a student and it brought to my mind the nature of learning. There are two facets to the teacher student relationship that must be in good working order for learning to occur in a meaningful way. The teacher must want to impart information and the eager students must want to learn. I think this is fairly self-evident but I asked myself, after reading the dialog, how can we improve the current status?
How many of you had instructors who weren’t much interested in teaching? I know I did. The worst teacher I ever encountered likely changed the course of my life. She was a history teacher in high school and her lessons consisted of putting transparencies on the overhead projector and changing them every ten minutes or so while we wrote down their content. She had the entire semester laid out on those transparencies and, from beginning to end, we barely had a discussion in class.
Tests consisted of her writing the questions on the chalkboard and sitting at her desk while we took the test. From this teacher, I learned to hate history.
In college, I was friends with a history major and he convinced me to take a high-level class in European history that had no prerequisites. The professor was engaging, interesting, and taught with enthusiasm. I learned, contrary to what I believed, I love history. I’ve been a history buff ever since. If I had that teacher in high school, I am all but certain I would have followed a very different course in my professional life.
Therefore, we see the importance of a teacher who wishes to teach. If the teacher is willing to engage and challenge the student; the chances of learning increase dramatically.
Now I must also face a harsh reality. I was an indifferent student. I didn’t pay much attention in class and I shirked doing homework or any sort of schoolwork at all. I wanted to play sports and, later, Dungeons and Dragons. That was about it. I had an incredibly engaging chemistry teacher in high school. Perhaps one of the best teachers I’ve had in my life. I learned more about chemistry in that class than any other but I also, most likely, learned a lot less than other students who were eager for the lessons.
I think it was most frequently said about my academic career that I was intelligent but didn’t put forth the effort required. That is more than fair, generous even. I was lazy or perhaps just completely uninterested.
In my later life, I’ve developed a strong desire to learn although, as in my youth, only in topics that interest me. I suspect if I were to go back to what we call traditional school, teachers might well give the same evaluation report.
To me it’s fairly clear that a desire to learn by the student and an eagerness to impart information as a teacher are an indispensable couple in the quest for education.
What is different in this information age is students have a much broader pool of instructors. With YouTube and colleges offering Video on Demand courses, there is an ever-increasing amount of fantastic knowledge out there. I’m certain this is going to grow larger and larger. There will be a time in the not too far distant future when anyone can learn anything while sitting at her or his computer.
Perhaps if I was born fifteen years ago instead of fifty-two, I would have learned my love of history when a lad. Perhaps my life would be very different today, at least professionally. That’s an astonishing thought. Today I spend hours learning about history through various sources, including college courses available to watch on YouTube.
It’s quite possible that any number of young, eager students, might someday watch videos created by my friend and go on to distinguished careers in philosophy. That some young girl or boy might watch one of his lessons on YouTube and eventually come up with a revolutionary idea in the field. In the past, my friend was limited to students in the classroom. That limitation no longer exists.
To sum it all up I say to my friend, get cracking.