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101 The new style for better education

Note use of gender neutral pronouns:
ze (s/he); zem (her/him); zir (his/her); zirself


Starting at home

Do you control your children? Do you feel manipulated by them? Do you learn from them, as suggested in Article 28? Often, I think children learn to manipulate in self-defense as parents learn how to lead without threatening.

So, the learning relationship is bidirectional: each party teaches; each party learns. Today we study the layers of that process. At first blush, what is learned is what is being taught. When a parent explains or demonstrates (teaches) how to paint a window frame, we hope the child learns how to paint a window frame. However, that is only one level of teaching and learning. Let us identify a few more.

Learning from the other

My favorite form of teaching takes place without being overtly recognized. I make a game out of a mental exercise. I ask people to explain things to me. I invite a friend to join in something enjoyable. The behavior style is contagious: the most common phrase people use to describe me is “gentle person.” They always say it in a positive sense, which means the kindly influence is rubbing off on them. Hopefully, my friends learn to love themselves from the love I show them. As they think well of themselves, their self-confidence increases. They are learning from me.

Learning how to learn from the other

Some teachers are gifted at explaining. However, even they are limited by the skill of the student. In one program, a college chemistry teacher used a ten-minute exercise (including moving around the room) that gave students a practical hands-on sense of chemical bonding. My experience was a class where the professor devoted about five sentences to the topic. Neither teacher was wrong. The students were differently prepared.

This observation extends beyond student preparation to include teaching style. Sometimes I adjust my learning style to fit the mannerisms of the teacher. For example, belittling and sarcasm divert my energy away from learning as I defend myself. On the other hand, a gentle reassuring tone that encourages confidence might give a different student the impression that ze already knows everything and does not need to study. Especially in graduate school, faculty are not hired because of the popularity of their explanations. They are hired because they are advancing the field, and it is up to the students to figure out how to benefit from joining them in the project. The student is left to learn how to absorb the content while the school provides real-life involvement in the method.

Learning how the other teaches

While an obvious teaching event is covering subject matter, there is more subtle learning in progress. I have attended classes about running webinars. I am not planning to run a webinar. Therefore, I was not there to learn how the teacher runs webinars. I was learning how the teacher teaches running webinars. I did not need the specific topical content; I needed to learn the teaching method.

This section applies poignantly to adverse psychology, pretending to block progress and thereby producing the adrenalin rush that achieves a breakthrough. “You know you can’t do that” is typically meant as a challenge to kick the other party into action, even if that is in anger. It is an extremely dangerous device when the student acquiesces to the judgment. The challenge then becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy of doom instead of the spurs that goad someone to growth. Because this method is sometimes used, it is important for the student to learn, in self-defense, how that teacher teaches.

Learning how to teach the other

While the student is learning the subject, the teacher is studying how the student learns the subject. Over several years in a graduate program, this reciprocal sensitivity is a huge factor in the relationship.

At the same time, the student is learning how to teach the teacher what provides the clearest impression. Over the years I have been clumsy at this kind of “teaching back.” To the teacher it was not clear that I was trying to facilitate the learning results that we both desired.

Years ago, a radio program gave me helpful insight into teaching the teacher. For example, that speaker suggested an approach like “I am a visual learner. Can you suggest more graphics-oriented material that will augment this training?” In an apprenticeship setting the student can request homework drills to provide enlightening practice. A teacher who does not feel under attack is glad to receive a useful suggestion that boosts the success rate.


In addition to being bidirectional, effective teaching is enduring. Teacher and student carry their attention forward while the teaching process matures. I note several reasons that learning goes on over time:
Endurance enables the student to absorb, and it enables the teacher to regenerate. My piano tuning apprenticeship lasted for decades. At the end, when my mentor was retired on health grounds, I had absorbed his clientele and a significant part, but not all, of his knowledge. For my entire fifty years in the field, I have learned impressive material without interruption. We all know the effects of education are enduring. Here I point out that the process itself never ends.


Finally, I come to the point of this article. Education is the change that takes place in life. The value of facts and datapoints is the application to better life, which I usually call the new world we are creating. We probably cannot bring into existence something that is not related to precedents. That sentence means we don’t create something out of nothing. Education is our process of using what exists to make something that was not there before. That kind of creating is my definition of life, which is eternal.

Every day I ask whether I am making the world better. As explained above, that effort is what I teach. The value of everything is its contribution to that better world. My meaning lies in what I help you become, in continuing to lift while you stand above me. Go for it!

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