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.



…is officially recognised by the Oxford Dictionary Online (as are ‘truthiness’ and ‘muggle’ if you were quavering on me*).

Recognised: so often we wish our meaning to be given proper attention, often by either institutional authorities or those wielding power over us in the moment, able to largely determine our significance.  This is all too telling of academic performance, but it de-scribes plenty of other situations as well (e.g. the upcoming biathlon which is the NFL Scouting Combine**).  We ‘re searching in such moments to have our work legitimated.

It was in such a spirit that the all too young Nietzsche submitted the work translated as ‘The Birth of Tragedy, a work not well met by scholars of the field of study at the time.  Another young scholar sought to raise his credentials by trashing this work.  I won’t mention his name for I have already forgotten it.  He has only come across my radar because I am rereading through the Nietzschian corpus (or what of it I possess) and stopped to grasp Peter Gay and Walter Kaufmann’s remarks.

Nietzsche’s work was n’t recognised at first.  Kaufmann lists his class sizes during Nietzsche’s years as chair of philology: they were generally between six and ten (the worst being two!) so there was little legitimation to be found amongst Nietzsche’s student followership.  He became something of a gnat to the up-and-coming Germany of his day, an opponent to its narcissisms.  So the opportunity to support his work was missed.

After Hitler’s rise to power (and yes, we ‘ve skipped a World War), many of Nietzsche’s statements were deliberately taken out of context so that he was read as an anti-Semite, when in many cases he was anti-anti-Semitic (though certainly not a Semitophile).  Here I lean on Kaufmann’s expertise and what I can recall of my former readings.  I can at least defend that Nietzsche is n’t the source if you ‘re looking for pro-Aryan material (that is n’t what the Ubermensch is really about, only what it’s too often misunderstood to mean).  So he was n’t recognised at first, and his writings were then assimilated into an agenda he (at least on the whole) would n’t have supported (he criticised Germany as a ‘true European’).  ‘Understanding’ can all too easily be one of the most dangerous forms of misunderstanding.

But let ‘s bring it back around.  I ‘m very much inclined to agree with Peter Gay when he claims that Nietzsche suffered from writing too well.  While the older Nietzsche adequately critiqued the youthful mistakes of his younger self (in An Attempt At Self-Criticism): [‘that voice should have sung and not spoken’ is the gist], he still was searching out the questions which drove Birth of Tragedy.  For example: 

“Is the resolve to be so scientific about everything perhaps a kind of fear of, an escape from, pessimism?”

~Nietzsche, Attempt at Self Criticism, an   trans. Walter Kaufmann in Basic Writings of Nietzsche (2000): Modern Library, NY

These are the sort of questions which ought to have circulated throughout the popular and academic discourse, but instead (as they say in ‘the Wire’) ‘everybody has a career’.  At the time this is all most scholars could think about.  Kaufmann had to do a great deal of work rehabilitating Nietzsche’s image from his greatest mis-readings within academia.  Ironic that now such names are all too forgotten.  Those names which endure are those which pose the questions, even if they do so too eloquently.

By contradistinction, two loquacious but un-academic figures who have significantly shaped Western thought, Socrates and Jesus, left no directly recorded material.  They were not illiterate, but were so decidedly in the moment that they could n’t be bothered.  They also were not recognised in a manner similar to how we legitimate them today.  The fire of their influences is barely captured by their respective followers (perhaps the generally poor manners of their transcribers best reveal how great were their lives).

The short of it is that too often those from whom we would seek affirmation, professional or personal, are either unwilling to give it when warranted or unable to see what should be granted.  I do n’t deny that you may have legitimate reasons for rejecting Nietzsche, or for that matter Jesus or Socrates, but you should fully daemonstrate what you have to say.  You too may have something which ought to be given space in the greater discourse, but who is to say that currently the right minds are those self-appraised ‘academic’?  These too may swiftly be forgotten — what is left to consider is how will you and I chose to be forgotten: as ‘lettered’ or ‘illiterate’?








*quaver is, I ‘m disappointed to mention, actually a word attested by Middle English ‘quaveren’ meaning ‘quiver’…my usage as a variant of ‘waver’ is n’t attested….yet

**’bi’ because many scouts will be tempted to determine the quality of the applicants by (1) how physically impressive the player looks in a track suit and (2) how quickly the potential player sprints 40 yards in said track suit.  Meanwhile, I have yet to see a professional football player sprint out of a track stance whilst protected by naught but a layer of spandex; it seems an un-explored strategy.