On Teaching and LearningI
12th Jul 2011Posted in: Blog 0
On Teaching and LearningI
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For a number of years i have been paying attention to a special kind of relationship. As you may know, relationships in general are a focal point of my attention as an art therapist. This particular interaction occurs between a teacher and a student. I have been intimately sensing in myself and in others what it can mean to be a teacher and what it can mean to be a learner. I have asked myself :"how these two things are different and how are they similar?"  And: "Is it possible to be both a teacher and a student at once?" As one who has spent roughly 25 years of my 37 being educated in various institutions i can say i have spent my share of time doing what students do: sitting, listening, reading, writing, asking, exploring, pondering, integrating, re-organizing, rationalizing, intellectualizing and hypothesizing. Actually, when i write this down, this sounds like what i am doing most of my conscious life. But let's look at teaching for a second. I have been in the stance of a teacher sometimes as well. As an art educator in a school for children with mild intellectual challenges i have been in a position to teach art process and materials for about 7 years. As an art psychotherapist, i am occasionally in a position to teach clients something about creative process.  In my daily life, sometimes i will speak to a learner and the chemistry will be just right so, that i am able to teach them something.  When we are at the acute moment of learning, there is often a moment of silence as we begin to digest something novel. When we are at the acute moment of learning, we are not exactly passive and not exactly active either but we are not expressing. Expressing is reserved for the process of teaching it seems.

While teaching i am: standing, speaking, dictating, demonstrating, offering food for thought, answering questions, organizing, expressing rationally, intellectualizing and theorizing. As you can see from the characteristics of learning mentioned above, the features of teaching appear to be quite different if not opposite. It becomes hard to conceive of how learning and teaching might exist simultaneously within the same place. At first glance, it appears that teaching and learning would be at opposite ends of the spectrum. Can they co-exist? I suggest here that they may not be in perfect simultaneous co-existence. I present here that they may be mutually exclusive to some degree. It is true that there is a saying which goes: "you know you have fully learned something when you are able to teach it to others".  when you enter: "learn something teach something" into google you have About 15,800,000 results and the first many pages are about the notion that you fully understand something once you have taught it to others. So i would conclude that there is obviously a relationship between teaching and learning but that they do in fact exist at chronologically distinct ends of a spectrum to the extent that when you are doing one, you are most likely not doing the other.

When it comes to teachers, parents are expected to be the best. In fact, whether or not they are any good is besides the point because they are the best any child learner has got. Circumstance plays a role here but i am trying to stay on topic. So my interest in teaching in learning has manifest itself through many years of asking people close to me: "which one are you, a teacher or a student?" I have asked my own parents, my best friends this question and both groups usually look at me with bewilderment. Yet, i find myself preoccupied with the sources of knowledge by finding those who disperse it and those who seek it.  To my own father i have asked: "have you learned anything from me?" to my best friends i have asked: "where have you learned what you have taught me?" My hope has always been to learn what the origin of origin is. Ironically, my friend has suggested that if you seek your source, you are circular. Still, i can not help to look for the meaning of meaning. It is in my nature.

I have sometimes accused those who are in a position to teach as being false prophets. At other times, i have accused them of being presumptuous, over zealous, egotistical and defensive. The learner is not defensive for he has no defense. He can assume a defense of course as any of us can but he will only appear as ignorant to the teacher. For a true learner to be recognized as such, he must be ignorant of  what he is learning and must therefore assume a position of subservience to the knowledge before him. Only in doing this can the learner learn. If the student assumes greater knowledge then he is either a teacher or an ignorant fool but nothing in between. In the words of one of my favourite hip hop groups Le 3ieme Oeil: "the one who says he knows is not wrong. The one who says he does not know is not wrong either. Wrong is he who says he knows while he does not".

The questions which i raise in this post are not benign. They attend to the very processes through which knowledge is communicated in our society. My questions address the very nature of academic education and the role of authority in the transference of information. The role of mass media in the communication of knowledge is being seriously questioned at present and it is therefore timely that my focus on epistemology should surface. I ask you: "who has knowledge? who does not?who shares it?" put another way: "who's got it, who wants it and who needs it?" As i tire, i realize i must come to the tip of my point. I can no longer indulge in this hypothesizing about the nature of the relationship between teacher and student. I must come to develop operational definitions and a theory of the dynamic between the teacher and the student. So i shall come out with it now. The teacher and the student are forever inseparable. Yet, focusing on one deletes any attention to the other. While one is engaged in a process of learning, one can not teach. Whilst one is teaching, one can not learn. Teaching and learning in fact must occur in the space between the two. I have heard that a conversation is an event in which people take turns being silent. Perhaps that is what teaching and learning is all about?


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