I went to meet a student of mine, yesterday. It was a hot day, but quite pleasurable, sitting at an outside table at the café, in the shade of a wide umbrella. A gentle breeze wafted through the space. As is my habit, I came about a half an hour before the meeting, so as not to be late… and the time was well spent. With my little laptop at hand, I was able to continue my studies. And from time to time, I would lift my head, and watch the other patrons who’d chosen to sit outside.
Those in groups, chatted freely, and those who came by themselves enjoyed all kinds of private pleasures as they drank their ice coffees, beers, or ate ice cream. There were telephone conversations, and people who listened to music through ear phones, as well as a number of people who had computers with them, or phones that hooked up to the internet. Wifi was available free of charge.
I was reading theories on education in the west. A strange read for someone like myself, who’s been a student all his life and a teacher as well. The emphasis seemed to be on the sympathy of the teacher towards the student; on the necessity to make the student feel loved and respected. It seems to me that this might be necessary for an incapacitated student… one who suffered from despair, or extreme psychological problems. But the students I have known did not search out teachers who would pet them, hug them, and make them feel good.
I believe, that in study, the student does the most of the work. At the very first stage, of course, he has to learn the basic tools; reading, writing, and arithmetic; the proper use of language, and the ability to research in the library. After that, the teacher provides direction, criticism, and checks to see that the student understands well that which he has learned. The teacher may also answer the occasional question. But since ancient times, it is well known that the question is more important than the answer. Learning is the work of the student, and a good student doesn’t wait for the entire class to move on, as do the sheep grazing in the field. Nor does he wait to be spoon fed. Enthusiastically, he devours the text, and checks out the bibliography at the back to find other points of view regarding that which he has now learned. He welcomes the exercises, because they challenge his ability to think, and to express himself in a clear crisp manner. And in his discussions with other students, he widens his understanding of the subject matter, and learns of other ways by which to reach similar results.
In our culture, teachers are revered. But every student has a study partner, with whom he studies constantly… getting feedback as they compare notes and exercises. The business of study is not an emotional experience, but an intellectual accomplishment. I wonder, if athletics and sports are taught in the west according to the same ideals held as an example for intellectual studies. Are the football and baseball players given sympathy and compassion, as their teachers worry to insure the students’ confidence and emotional stability?
After enjoying a coffee together, and discussing the advantages of modern digital compact cameras, we took a walk through a nearby park. The children, free of the demands and obligations of school, were having a fine time on the grass. Young mothers with babies in their arms were enjoying the calm of the late afternoon. It was a beautiful summer day.