I started this blog quite awhile back now, and post irregularly like I promised when I started it. But I am getting a lot of push to try something that I don’t think anyone can do: to write practical pieces on the means of teaching. The title of the blog does imply that the question (How do you teach?) has answers. So…with caveats falling all over the place, let me try the impossible. And let me start by stating why it’s impossible.

You can not write out practicality, because true practicality is an “art.” Let me cite an analogy that many will have experienced. There are literally thousands of books on parenting, and not a one of them can teach anyone how to parent, for parenting (like teaching) is an art, a skill. You can be given advice, tips that have worked for others and you can be sold formulas which are other folk’s attempts to write down their art, but in the end, you have to learn parenting by doing.

I believe teaching is very much the same. So what you are likely to find in the following little blogs on various disciplines are more my own tips and tricks, not anything approaching a formula. But there is one more consideration before I just jump in. To render it plain, I will quote someone else:

“In considering how to conduct the schooling of our young, adults have two problems to solve. One is an engineering problem; the other a metaphysical one. The engineering problem, as all such problems are, is essentially technical. It is the problem of the means by which the young will become learned. It addresses the issues of where and when things will be done, and, of course, how learning is supposed to occur. The problem is not a simple one, and any self-respecting book on schooling must offer some solutions to it.

“But it is important to keep in mind that the engineering of learning is very often puffed up, assigned an importance it does not deserve. As an old saying goes, There are one and twenty ways to sing tribal lays, and all of them are correct. So it is with learning. There is no one who can say that this or that is the best way to know things, to feel things, to see things, to remember things, to apply things, to connect things and that no other will do as well. In fact, to make such a claim is to trivialize learning, to reduce it to a mechanical skill.

“Of course, there are many learnings that are little else but a mechanical skill, and in such cases, there well may be a best way. But to become a different person because of something you have learned – to appropriate an insight, a concept, a vision, so that your world is altered – that is a different matter. For that to happen you need a reason. And this is the metaphysical problem I speak of.”
Fr. The End of Education, by Neil Postman, pp. 3-4.

What Postman is saying is directly applied to this blog – ends (reasons/purpose/vision) trump means in art. So as I work through various aspects of “how to teach” in the coming months, you will see me starting with the ends and then simply suggesting the means, because teaching is an art.


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