Let's Change How We Think About Teaching - 6

Brace yourself, because this one is long as hell and has way less editing than I wish I could do. I'm honestly not sure if what I say here is coherent but I'm getting my thoughts down and that's what matters to me currently. Once I eventually link this identity back to my main one, I can thoroughly rewrite this and throw it up on my actual, personal site. I apologize in advance if what I write here sounds like the faux-philosophical ramblings of a twelve year old, or if a badly-written description ends up sounding insensitive.

To teach:

intransitive verb - To impart knowledge or skill to.
intransitive verb - To provide knowledge of; instruct in.
-The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language*
*(third definition excluded for brevity and clarity)

There are three ways that teaching generally manifests in life, at least in my experience: learning from peers, learning from teachers (schoolteachers), and learning from online resources. Of course, there are other ways, but these are the ones that I feel are most common and most relevant to the sense of teaching that I'm describing here.

All of these forms of teaching have their downsides - many school environments end up with either huge, impersonal classes or rooms with authoritarian, supposedly 'infallible' teachers, and online teaching (like creating online resources) is impersonal and high-effort - but most noticeably to me is the difficulty I face in learning from and teaching my peers.

This may just be the social environment or stage of life in which I currently am, but teaching my friends about things that I am interested in and vice versa is, to put it lightly, awkward. There's a delicate balance between friend and teacher that needs to be kept; too much friend and not much gets done, too much teacher and the relationship gets damaged. See, there's a strange feeling somewhere between worry and humiliation that we get when someone our age takes on too much of a 'teacher' role, since we're conditioned to believe that teachers are above us. We don't want to look inferior, however foolish that may be, in the eyes of society, worried that whoever's teaching us becomes 'better' than us simply because they know something that we don't so we instead reject the opportunity to learn.

This is just as visible in classrooms. Societal standards dictate that teachers be held up on a pedestal, some sort of infallible being that imparts knowledge upon their unenlightened pupils. Making teachers into the ultimate authority makes meaningful discussions about class material, critical thinking about presented facts, and the normal, healthy, questioning of authority impossible. This sucks for multiple (mostly obvious) reasons, but one I especially want to note is the fact that nearly everyone in this type of school environment is still in early stages of mental development, ensuring that those who experience this are ripe for mental conditioning and in a perfect position to get unrealistic expectations for and wildly incorrect images of the real world. When we are conditioned to believe what we are told by higher authorities, when we are graded on our ability to follow instructions and unable to give any input into what we are taught, what kind of society are we most likely to accept?

I also feel like I should note thatbeing lectured in class all day is boring, making the act of learning seem like a chore. A populace that is unmotivated to learn precedes a society that is stagnant and discontented, and we're heading on that path pretty quickly with the education system in the state that it is. The ability to learn is one of the most important human traits; whether we're conscious of it or not, taking that away is taking away some of our humanity.

The problems with this school environment go beyond the students. Teachers, too, will have more difficult and less fulfilling jobs when all they're doing is telling facts to children, trying to get them to be quiet, gesturing at a whiteboard or screen, and assigning work. Combining this type of labor with a salary that is far lower than it should be, low-quality teacher education programs, and a lack of mental stimuli during the workday makes it a wonder that there are any surviving teachers at all.

Finally, there is online teaching, most notably in the form of resources like how-tos and youtube videos. This is plagued by many of the same issues as in-person teaching; there's little monetary benefit to doing it in most cases, especially when compared with the massive amount of work that must go into creating educational resources. However, this comes with an added difficulty: there's very little interaction between student and teacher. One might leave a comment or send an email and hope it gets answered, but there's nothing like raising a hand during class or having a meeting with the teacher after school. It's harder for students to learn, and it's hard for online teachers to figure out what is most valuable to the people they want to teach, along with what they're missing.

More important is the fact that mimicing a teacher-centric environment gives similar results; only those that are highly self-motivated to learn and explore will get much out of it, leaving all others, in the case of the internet, generally stuck in the empty addiction of mindless consumption, doomscrolling, and wasting time.

There is a theme going through the middle of all of these types of teaching: teaching is viewed as a one-way trade, a gift or service from a teacher more intelligent than the learner. This is what makes learning from my peers so uncomfortable, what makes teaching in a classroom or online so difficult and often so boring for everyone involved.

So why don't we change it? Let's change how we think about (and execute) teaching. Everyone is equally, yet uniquely human, which ensures that everyone has something to contribute: their perspective. Rather than putting those who are better-informed on a subject than others into a position of superiority (thereby making it harder for them to learn from others and for others to learn from them), we could treat the flow of information and ideas between people as what it really is: an exchange that can be made equal, if only it is allowed to be so. Even someone who doesn't understand how to even open the command prompt can contribute to a conversation about bash; for example, they could help figure out how to make it more accessible to people who don't think of themselves as power-users.

Those that we regard as the 'most intelligent' become so because of a willingness to learn from others, not the opposite; why do we act like learning is the activity of the stupid or the childish?

What if we thought about teaching and learning as a constant activity, rather than that one-way trade?

This basic yet impactful change in mentality could potentially improve education in a significant way. Those called 'teachers' in schools would have better relationships with students, and hopefully get more out of their jobs by learning themselves; 'students' would get much more out of the education and practice the skills that they truly will need in real life (like critical thinking and, of course, learning from and by extension teaching others). At the same time, online resources would be made more available and diverse. Though this wouldn't solve the teacher pay issue - that's a mostly separate issue that I'm not sure how to address - or many of the other issues with the merican education system as a whole, it would be, in my view, a massive step forward.

This change would impact not just our educational institutions, but society as a whole. Suddenly, day jobs could become more fulfilling when we're constantly trying to learn and grow. Capitalism itself would be more effective; its principal driver is innovation, and fostering an environment of learning heavily encourages that force. Science, Philosophy, Arts - all of these aspects would benefit.

I'm not trying to eliminate the roles of teacher and student altogether. They're necessary ideas, and will probably exist regardless of our efforts to push them out. However, changing the way that we think about those roles could change the way we learn, even how we live, altogether.

Hey, you know what? If you have something to teach me - or just something to say, really - please feel free to go sign my guestbook. (It'd nice to know that I'm not just yelling into a void, too.)


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