Good college teaching is the kind that promises to make the teacher finally superfluous, the kind that leads students to want to continue work in the given subject and to be able to, because they have the necessary intellectual equipment to continue work at a more advanced level. A crass way of putting this goal is to say that the good teacher is out to make converts to his or her field--not necessarily to turn students into majors or professionals in the field, but to turn them into adults who will continue learning in that field, either as professionals or as amateurs. William James once said that you could tell an educated person by his or her way of reading the daily newspaper. (Of course James said "his", not "his or her"). That may seem like a fairly low-level goal. But what kind of success could a teacher claim if a student, ten years later, meeting the subject in some journal, popular or learned, turned away from it in disgust or with the conviction that only boredom lay ahead?
What follows for teaching when the teacher tries to ensure that students will want to continue and will be able to continue after the end of ten weeks or a year or four years? Note that our goal is not that the student should want to continue with this teacher; that kind of loving attachment is relatively easy to obtain--and often dangerous when it comes. Love of the teacher is not a goal of teaching but a dispensable and often dangerous byproduct of the goal, which, to repeat, is freedom from the teacher and critical attachment to the subject.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Learning in the present moment
From Wayne Booth, "What Little I Think I Know about Teaching", in the version given in The Vocation of a Teacher: Rhetorical Occasions, 1967-1988: