Those who can teach, should teach

One of my friends is a mathematician and physicist. No, he’s not a professor, or even a school teacher: he’s spent his working life (now starting to wind down) in technology, in management, and in consulting.

The other day he was bemoaning the fact that he could teach, and perhaps help many young people who turn off his subjects because they’re poorly taught, using fashionable but unhelpful textbooks, by teachers who bring their own fear of the subject into the classroom with them.

One of the things that is emerging slowly is the destruction of the school system as we’ve known it. The opportunity to teach is at hand.

Our schools are a creation of the twentieth century: mass “factories” turning out experts in Zitsfleisch (“sitting-flesh”), as the Germans call it. Every single step is regimented: teachers seldom have latitude in what is brought into the classroom any longer. Ministries of Education have laid out what can be used, how it is to be taught, on what day of the academic year you should be doing it, and what must be tested for to “prove competence”.

For the student with different needs of timing, of depth, of repetition, or who doesn’t test well, or who needs experiential learning, or learning by analogy, or any number of other methods than the approved ones, there is no hope on offer. The system is geared to a certain style, and that is that.

Parents for quite a while now have engaged tutors (whether in group sessions like Oxford or Kumon, or individually) to help their children deal with the deficiencies of a “Ministry-approved education”. My friend could certainly become a tutor in this sense, if he (and I know the itch personally!) wants to scratch his itch to teach.

But we are also coming to a cross-roads, where schools themselves will multiply.

Consider a community-sponsored school. It’s small, because it serves only local needs. It would probably use multi-age classes out of necessity (but these provide for one of the most essential forms of learning, mentoring and teaching others, as Montessori noted). It could change the mix: classes in how to repair things instead of the traditional shop and home economics classes, classes in how to handle home food production (drainage, soil preparation, etc.), alongside the academic preparation — and subjects far beyond the official curriculum.

In turn, the dreck — the Self & Society, Career & Personal Planning, etc. courses — would be dropped from view. These are parental responsibilities — and organized solely for a society that is on its last legs, being, as they are, about fitting into a drone status in an office, a factory, etc.

In some jurisdictions, the new school must “follow the rules”. Those places need to work outside the system with “remedial” schooling after regular hours or on weekends, much as is done for Chinese culture and language, or Jewish studies, today.

Other jurisdictions have an escape valve: if the school takes no government funding, it may teach what it likes. A community school educating for a community that’s being built for the future then could thrive.

The point of today’s post is that we are not as helpless as we think.

Educating our next generations for the world they will probably face would also be a good thing. Not losing all that we know in the process of trying to do so without having planted seeds in advance also matters.

If you think you should teach, you should teach.

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