Teacher in America

Reading Jacques Barzun’s meditation on teaching and learning at the behest of Jerry Pournelle.  A brilliant paragraph presented itself:

“Teaching is possible only because there is a dialogue and one part of the mind can be used to rearrange the other. The whole secret of teaching–and it is no secret–consists  in splitting the opposition, downing the conservatives by making an alliance with the radicals.  It goes without saying that I am not using these words here in their workaday sense. My meaning applies to the multiplication table as well as to anything else. The conservative part of the pupil’s mind is passive, stubborn, mute, but his radical minority, that is, his curiosity and his desire to grow up, may be aroused to action.   The move forward is generally short; then the conservatives return to power; they preserve, they feel pride of ownership in the new acquisition and begin to think they had it as a birthright.  This rhythmical action is one reason why teaching and learning must not go on all the time, nor at an accelerated pace: time and rest are needed for absorption. Psychologists confirm the fact when they tell us that it is really in summer that our muscles learn how to skate, and in winter how to swim.”

One could unpack this paragraph endlessly, especially if you refuse to either take umbrage or pat oneself on the back regarding the political implications.  It implies a wholeness, a relation between the aspects of our individual minds, inter-personal communication, and our society, that lends perspective and can trigger “ah hah” moments.   Really, really good thinking there.


Steven Barnes






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s