Towards an Orderly Mis-Education

[Rejecting Perfection

Alright, well that ‘s done.  That is, until I have to undergo another teacher observation or experience one of those awkward moments where I really feel I ought to be able to show exactly how my teaching is best.

Honestly (can you ever be sure in this blog?) I learned how to grow without a set ideal long ago — perhaps many still need them, but I hope not for long.  Of course improving is about setting goals, getting close enough to see how close you came and whether it was worth the effort… and resetting new goals.  The ‘perfect teacher’ is a way to keep the confidence deficient below ground and, more often, a self-justificating mechanism for the teacher-centred teacher.

[Shifting the Core

“We need to be provoked….It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women. It is time that villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities, with leisure — if they are indeed so well off — to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives. Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever?”

— H.D. Thoreau, Walden “Reading”

I hope not.

I see the primary goal of the teacher to be un-educating the students (and they often need this).  This is no less true in my English skills classes than in maths courses.  Why?  Simply, knowledge is a moving target.  To mis-purpose a borrowed metaphor from Peter Elbow, writing (which is a means of communicating and re-purposing knowledge anyway) is like trying to hold onto Proteus in the midst of his shifting.

Having cleared, or actually perpetually clearing and finally teaching the students to clear away for themselves, the teacher ought to present opportunities for students to reach out and learn.  Creating experiences which are as near as possible to those truly encountered is my primary teaching goal (although I reserve the right to change this later).

[Who’s responsible?

Oh right, and if student-centred learning is to be the way, students have to be made responsible for their learning.  Thoreau let loose an image which still breathes in my mind: students do n’t care about school because it was already built for them.  Instead they need to take part in the building of the school.

In fact, a school should be perpetually built (one could argue that this is the case due to entropy and narcissism anyway, or in many cases elitism).  If knowledge is ever changing, should n’t its pursuers shift with it?  As such, it certainly can’t invest in merely a few teachers, but learners ought to congregate.  Hence we may have our villages at last — but we may be fewer than hoped.

Not Till We Are Lost

Not till we are lost, in other words, till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

~~H.D. Thoreau, Walden ‘the Village’, p. 115 (Norton ed.)

All ways it surprises me how one reading leads to another.  I am reduced, though it is my gain, to admit that in being lost one becomes more intimately aware of relations, if not relatedness itself (how such should ascend the stage would be quite the imponderable — how to raise the curtain which by nature connects all to itself?).

The best Wiki could offer

Is n’t being lost amidst a sea of pages similar to being lost amidst the calm of wintering trees?

But I am reduced in conveying the value of ‘lostness’.  How can an example be helpful if the experience itself is paramount?  Let it be understood I mean less to point at than to indicate; it is merely ironic that I should at last find an acquaintance with S. Cavell only after being dis-covered 9for all reading is being read — an idea I believe I am borrowing from Cavell here9 to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.

In reading one can hardly help multiplying ‘relations’ as I believe Thoreau would have them.


For Thoreau ‘reading’ in such manner is seeing everything in the light of being darkened to the world which sets its watch by the locomotive and is employed not in living but in holding onto what scraps of life are allowed — turning away from that enslaving which is ownership so that the ‘read’er may find life in its sport rather than be made sport of as life runs past:

[L]et not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport.  Enjoy the land, but own it not.

~~ibidem “Baker Farm” p. 139

The path to such reading can only be seen if one has ‘been turned round once in this world’ (p. 115).  To find oneself can only come by means of being lost.  Till then, till one is lost and finds that she is everywhere at home — till then sight must be sought.  And that is reading in its truest form.

My reading of Wittgenstein has led through Cavell and into Walden all too naturally, but it is only because I am growing used to the lost element in reading that I find them such near relations.