Friday, January 6, 2012

Revisiting ‘The Case Against Teaching’: A Confession

I really hate teaching, and I hate baby talk. Until I wrote yesterday’s post I never realized how much I hate teaching. I’ve suspected it, mind you, but I’ve never confronted it like I am now.

But I do love learning. I love it a lot. I love sharing my learning with others, and I love sharing in the learning of others.

I’m fascinated by the contexts Spence used for learning Chemistry. What were they?
~       the relationships with his friend Billy, his teacher, and ???
~       physical contexts including the basement, the library, the furnace room, the classroom, and ???
~       time and freedom to experiment, though still within a safe range
~       and ???—Are there other contexts in Spence’s article that caught your attention?

Another reason I’m currently confronting how much I hate teaching has been a growing frustration with the English classes our family teaches here in our home in China. We’re almost to the end of our first 8 week, bi-weekly group class for 6 - 9 year olds. I love these kids, but I’m still trying to decide, or rather, gear myself up for another 8 weeks. The question foremost in my mind is, “How can I optimize a context that facilitates learning and loving English?” Included in that context is fulfilling the expectations of Chinese parents who, first of all pay for the classes, and secondly, know mostly “that teaching is telling, learning is absorbing, and knowledge is subject-matter content.” There are no easy answers to this one, but it’s an example of the type of shift that needs to be made in Education.

Another example of this shift away from the dreaded ‘teaching’ can be found in a recent article by Oliver and Rachel DeMille entitled, “5 Things Effective TJEd Families Never Say”. I’ve read enough from the DeMille naysayers to feel vindicated as well as inspired by their no-nonsense answer to “the 5 things we’ve learned that…

Effective TJEders don’t say:
  • “The TJEd system is strong on educational philosophy, but it doesn’t really help with application.”
  • “TJEd is good for literature and history, but not math or science.”
  • “TJEd seems great, but how do you actually do it?”
  • “If I don’t force and require my child to study, won’t he just do nothing?”
  • “I read classics in high school and college, so right now I want to just focus on the kids’ education.””
The history of ethics teaches that the most determined hostility against the best is the good, not the bad. Henry Ketcham, The Life of Abraham Lincoln

While I’m perfectly aware that all of us are human and no model, system, philosophy, or otherwise is going to meet everyone’s needs, I honestly believe that the reason so many struggle with the Thomas Jefferson Education philosophy and educational applications can be found in our struggle as a society to learn, "It's not the teaching, it's the learning, stupid."

The answer is simple and yet so profound: Become a Prime Learner by reading classics. “Those who have read 10 classics in the last year, 5 great math and science classics, 4 classics aloud with the kids, and 7 classics with a specific mentee in mind, etc., rarely ask such questions—because they don’t typically have these problems or concerns. . . . TJEd works when we do TJEd. TJEd works when we—as parents and teachers—read classics and share what we learn. TJEd works when we are studying the classics, and then passionately passing on what we’ve studied. If we don’t actually do TJEd, it doesn’t really work that well. . . . Fortunately, the great classics are on the shelves! We only have to pick them up and go to work… That feeling of “secure, not stressed,” that makes us feel like our education is flourishing—because it is—is just 20 minutes away. And it is so fun. So grab a classic, find a couch, and get that feeling of success flowing!”

The concept of a Classic needs another blog post, but I’m excited to let go of my need to be a Teacher and just be an inspired-by-classics Prime Learner. Does anyone have any suggestions of classics that would assist us in teaching English here in China? (BTW, sharing religious texts here in China is against the law, so those classics will only be able to inspire me.)

And I’ll second this from the DeMilles: You have permission to read a book.

I really do believe that’s the very best cure for teaching.



  1. English Classics- Can you read stories to the children? Maybe something with AMAZING pictures too? Like Van Allsberg? or Maybe just something simple like Harold and the Purple Crayon.

  2. Right!

    I think I'm seeing that an English classic for them isn't really about English at all. It's about the great pictures that help them bridge the gap from Chinese to English. They really enjoy Sandra Boynton's board books, the Purple Crayon, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

  3. I hate teaching too...LOL! Not good for a substitute teacher to say is it? I find that teaching now-a-days is believed to be based on what the students knows when you're done, rather than on the effort the student put into learning. This is why classics are so important. If the student engages in classics, they will learn. Nobody blames the book for not teaching them.

  4. I think that's part of why I hate 'teaching' so much. Society's definition of teaching is so limited and sometimes so downright upside down, that I hate to even call what I do 'teaching.' Take us back to a more enlightened definition of teaching, and I'll love 'teaching' again.