Sunday, November 25, 2012

Teaching, Learning and all That Stuff

A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted the following:

"There is no teaching, only learning."

Today, at an idle moment, I did a quick search on it. My very own tweet came up fifth on the list. Exciting.

The real reason I had searched it out today was that gnawing feeling that I'd stolen the line. Well, I discovered that it, rather unsurprisingly, had certainly been said before, though I could not find any direct attribution. What surprised me a little bit, though, was that it in its other contexts it was apparently understood in a very, very different way than I had meant it.

In one citation it was attributed to someone's "old law professor", referring specifically to the idea that it is the student who must do the work to actually learn the material, particularly in an environment where there was a whole method of thought to adopt, combined with so much material to absorb. In another, it was a religious thing. Coupled with a New Testament quote it referred to the need for learning to be experiential, that the blind could not be made to see, etc. etc.

All of this was quite different from my own take.

Years ago, there was a quote floating about, almost surely apocryphal, from Serge Lang, a well-known mathematician: "When I don't feel I adequately understand a subject, I teach a course in it. When I feel I still don't understand it well enough, I write a book about it." The punchline was that he wrote lot of books. (Some are better than others, as is necessarily the case. Some were clearly rushed, others verifiably classics.)

For me, the point is that the act of teaching is, by its very nature, an act of learning. It is indistinguishable from learning. It is one and the same. As such, the teacher is benefited as much as the student. Mentoring is not an act of altruism, it is a further honing of whatever skill or discipline is involved.

And learning...what's better than that?