Not For Teacher

There’s an unfortunate instructor-y thing where the guy on stage [I’ve found it’s usually a male doing this] asks a question he already knows the answer to, one of the people in the audience … err, classroom … is the target, the answer given is wrong, and the stagehand just goes and gives the answer he wanted in the first place.

This is not about being wrong, or being singled out as such, or about there not being right answers, or anything of the kind.

This is simply about the practice.

It’s a stupid way of doing things.

My guess is the instructor [not teacher, but we’ll get to that] thinks he’s ‘incorporating class discussion’ or getting the students involved or something.

He is not.


It becomes a guessing game, in which the student never really gets the answer, because there is one and only one, starts to feel stupid, then tunes out.


We might agree that it’s not education’s task to prevent this — indeed ignorance is assumed, since why wd you be there otherwise. Not to say, as well, that feeling stupid [not being stupid] can be a goad to doing the work so as not to feel that way, whether that effort be emotional, intellectual or — embracing our failure to be awesome — spiritual.

We wd as readily agree, tho, that disengaged, stupid-feeling students, in the main, will not be especially amenable to whatever the role of a teacher actually is.

Plus which, one of the assumed aims of the teacher doing the querying, and I think the assumption has warrant, is that they sought engagement by asking the question.

They got the opposite.


Teaching includes among its aims, perhaps then its meanings, ‘to lead a person through a process of growth’ [Dallas Willard].

Any of us a certain age or above knows growth does not usually mean, St Paul sacrally unhorsed and other such events excepted, getting a right answer right now, much less being spoonfed it.

Not the way.

The way is pain, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

The phrase ‘salutary suffering’ comes.


The phrase for me is Merton’s, whose talks on humility, working from the Rule of St. Benedict, were the prompt of this post. He uses that phrase as to the pursuit, the life of humility.

Humility and suffering: if that ain’t teaching it ain’t learning.

He asks questions in the [mostly] bad way tho his simplicity, honesty, directness, and pursuit of truth are revealed in his overall responses to what the other Gethsemani brothers say.

He does tell them they’re wrong when he thinks so, tho sometimes this means only, ‘you didn’t say what I wanted you to say’, since they are not wrong in what they actually state, but only in where he was going with the question.

It wasn’t neatly related.

But he’ll also acknowledge points; note that something is interesting; or that it shd receive further study, reflection, examination at some other time; hits on an angle he hadn’t considered; and so on.

All in, it’s kinda close but not so bad.

Certainly it’s not as bad as the Merton Industrial Complex that has mushroom clouded the 53 years since his death — the number of years Merton was alive, which is briefly interesting.

Boy oh boy do these guys sell the dead Trappist Monk.

They say things to hawk his stuff that I hope Merton wd’ve bitch slapped them for had they done it while he was here. A’course he wldn’t have, but it’s an interesting image.*

S’what authors shd do anyway to these marketer pimps.

He’s basically a contemplative CS Lewis as to posthumous cottage industry, tho of course it has something to do with being in a system ‘based on capital, not people,’ as my son notes.

[Hence the name, right? Not for nothing is it not called Peopleism].




Clearly if you query — ‘Where is the capital of the United States?’ — you do not want some yukster in the peanut gallery to reply, ‘Heh. All over the world’. Yet you also want participation.

I’ve known two guys [they were both males; women seem to be better at this stuff automagically] who cd ask a question, get the goofball [or dumbass] answer, roll with it, work with it, and guide the discussion back to the topic at hand.

Both were in the church but this is surely partly due to the amount of time I’ve spent there, rather than a particular predilection towards a proactive pedagogy there. One wasn’t an employee of the organization — just a volunteer, and he was also a professor full-time, so he was the way he was before he stepped under the cross.

Subjects under these two gents included everything from contemporary films to the Gospel of John [one was a paid agent and emissary, see] and left-field questions posed no problem. Indeed, they involved the people, highlighted stuff the guy perhaps wasn’t planning to cover — and the class didn’t get off track.

In fact, you might say … in fact, come to say it I’d think it surely the case … this was [part of] the class. It was by design thus and so. This is what class is, this is what learning is, this is teaching.

I’ve also known a man [not just a guy] who cd do this one-on-one, most often when teaching me some arcanity of electrical systems, his exquisite expertise.

I do not like doing electrical work, mainly because you can instantly die. He was patient, allowed — welcomed — my questions, chuckled oft, and kept moving forward. There was, after all, a light fixture to install.


Now, that thing we were afraid of at the beginning — not the instantly dying, as with crossed wires, but the ‘there is no right answer’ one — does need some attention.

Because in truth there is possibly not … in that moment … an answer to be called right.

Just as essays are attempts [look it up] so are lectures … let us call them an assay. The words are of course similar and likely related [do not know] but the latter is stronger in tone, type, telos.

An essay is a try at something, an exploration.

An assay ups one’s game to testing, evaluation.

The first, we look into something; the second decides what we’ve found and whether it’s any good. We can get more wrong in the first but mode is more fluid; in the second, we’re prolly gonna get close to truths — but we have to go about it in the right way.




[* Shd you use this proprietary image,
please appropriately credit the … ]

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