Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Some more thoughts on teaching and learning

Wow, there's been a whole conversation going on over several blogs about the subject of what exactly the words *teaching* and *learning* mean; is teaching a good, bad, or neutral word (or can a word be good or bad?); how language is used, etc. etc.  It started (and I'm doing this in chronological order) with Cassi's The Role of Parental Instruction, I responded with some thoughts in my post Teaching vs. Learning, Cassi wrote a post entitled Teaching and Learning, and finally today there's a post over at Lenz on Learning called The Unschooling Thought Police.  Be sure to read the comments if you want to get a picture of the whole discussion, because those are at least as important as the original post!  I wanted to post excerpts from some comments I made on a couple of the posts, to kind of expand on why I don't generally use the word teach.

“Don’t let words master you” is one way of looking at things. Another way is realizing that words have incredible power. They do. And what word you choose to use can make a huge difference in how what you’re saying is interpreted by those around you. Jumping on other people because of their word choices? Maybe not such a great idea. However, I make a point of paying attention to the language I use, since as both an unschooler and an anarchist, I have very strong opinions about things, and I want the language I use to reflect my values, not just perpetuate all of the stale ideas of this culture. So that means that sometimes I decide to use certain words carefully in context, so they mean only what *I* want them to. And it means that sometimes I decide to stop using a word entirely, or almost entirely, if I feel that its commonly held meaning, that I strongly disagree with, is too entrenched in most peoples minds… 
What you describe as *teaching* sounds a lot like what I'd just call fascinating conversations with interesting and intelligent people! 

I didn't respond before to a mini discussion on whether someone can only learn if they *want* to learn, but I'm going to throw out a few thoughts on that now.

I think this depends a lot on what exactly your definition of learning is.  Schools generally consider learning to be synonymous with memorization, and I'd say you can definitely be *taught* a list of facts...  But even then, memorization only occurs if the student decides they're going to memorize stuff!  Students who really don't give a crap don't, and fail tests, because they just don't care.  So I'd say that it really is all up to the individual and whether or not they want to learn this specific thing, and if they don't want to *learn*, they're not going to!  As for true, deep, learning, well it seems obvious to me that that type of learning can only ever happen when the student truly wants to learn about whatever it is they're learning... 

That felt a bit scattered, so my apologies!  Not enough sleep lately...



  1. If I could just chime in to say....there are those of us who caught on to the "game" and figured out how to jump through the educational hoops....oh, you can teach me anything, and for a while, I'll remember it --even spew it back to you quite effectively for testing purposes -- only to have it evaporate the moment it's no longer needed...

    ...so YES...I believe that one only truly retains information when they are interested in a subject, or to the extent that it is useful somehow....

    sorry, the comment fell out without having read the links so hopefully I'm not terribly off-track! :)

  2. I think the coolest thing about this ongoing, spread-out conversation is the fact that we're all thinking and considering and learning from each other; we're opening new avenues and challenging our own beliefs. And yet we all still respect and honor each other, even if we disagree. Doesn't unschooling rock like that? A conversation like this in school would've been shut down with the word defined the "correct" way a long time ago. Instead we each get our own definitions and learn a few more along the way. The awesome connections of life... :)

  3. @Mel: Hey, I always love it when people decide to chime in! :-) So thanks, and no, you're not totally off track! :-)

    @Tara: Yes!! I agree, it is very wonderful that unschooling can allow such open dialogue, without either having it be "properly defined" as if in school, or degenerating into arguments! Instead it's simply a fascinating discussion. :-)

  4. http://www.naturalattachment.com/wordpress/2009/11/25/say-what-you-mean-mean-what-you-say/

    I decided to blog about this in response...