Teach To Teach
Everyone knows the proverb, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for life.” It’s been repeated so many times, it pains me to rewrite it here, but for thoroughness (and since the moral is to go the extra mile), there it is in all its glory.
Giving a man a fish when he is hungry is a kind deed, but teaching a man to fish empowers him to feed himself for the rest of his life, and is an even greater deed. It’s the imparting of knowledge, the great deed of teaching, that is glorified here.
But, consider the man who learned to fish in this situation. Why didn’t he know how to fish? A common answer to this will be, because no one had ever taught him how to fish. That may be, but my real question is, if he had at least known what ‘fishing’ was before he was taught, perhaps heard of the concept or maybe even seen it before, why couldn’t he teach himself, assuming he could gather the means (fishing pole, hook, bait, etc.)?
What was stopping him from teaching himself?
He couldn’t teach himself how to fish, because no one had ever taught him how to teach himself. I venture and may be so bold as to say that this poor and hungry man was probably in the dire-straights because of the education system that was supposed to teach him the necessary skills to survive in the very real world of professionals.
This is where the back-story meets the argument. Take our proverb, but instead of a poor, hungry man, tell it with several generations of Americans being taught how to fish by the American Education System – a well meaning, but somewhat naive teacher – but missing the crucial lesson that would decide their futures as intellectuals or ignorants.
Our grade-school education system taught us, and is teaching many like us, in only the most cold and impersonal way. Grade-school was filled with dates, names, and events throughout history; mathematical concepts and odd equations that didn’t seem practical or applicable to adult life; and bits of strange trades that young people may enjoy, but could never wrap their heads around, like Home Economics and Wood-Shop, the importance of which were never rightly explained.
While some of these classes were entertainment as a younger person, most of this information was forced upon us, only to be lost as we looked forward to Summer vacation and eventual graduation. Our hearts were never in it, mostly because there was no real effort put towards motivating students to want an education, but also because we came to resent out education because of its cold and impersonal delivery.
It’s not that the teachers weren’t wonderful people, just levitating, shining spheres of knowledge ready to be imparted through benevolence (except for, you know, some exceptions) – I blame the system. I blame the fact that it is a system – orderly to the point of strict, planned to the point of autonomous. A certain percentage of students must pass, a certain percentage of students will surely fail. Arranged seats, randomly selected partners for group projects, unquestioned obedience, or consequence. Humiliation, intimidation, then discrimination – marked as a ‘trouble-maker for the rest of your days.
Brutal? I’d say so, and all of this for what results? To be some of the dumbest sentient animals in the human world? We are poor and hungry old men being taught to fish, but what about the other lessons in life? Perhaps our education system taught us some useful skills, but why didn’t they teach us the most useful skill of all? Why didn’t our education system teach us how to teach ourselves?
Where was the inspiration? Shouldn’t their job have been to motivate us? To move us to tears at the thought of learning, becoming an intellectual? I would expect there to be motivational speakers, or at least an explanation when the teacher is asked, “Why do we have to learn this? What does this have to do with me?”
What was the common answer when that one kid always asked that question? I remember something along the lines of, “Because I said so.” That, in one sentence, is what is wrong with our education system.
Because I said so.