Teaching is Like Love

The ongoing debate on whether memorization is a good learning strategy misses one crucial point: everybody’s learning style is different. I can’t memorize worth a damn. It takes me years to remember my own address and phone number. I need to understand how things work in order to process them. Other people, however, are brilliant at memorizing and find it very useful. For some, memorization is an effective tool that unlocks their creativity.

This is why I always give my students two options when we study grammar. If they find it easier, they can memorize all of the cases where the subjunctive (to give one example) is used. If, however, they are like me and are incapable of retaining a list of rules in their heads, I explain to them the basic principles that govern the use of the subjunctive and they never have to remember a single rule. There is usually an equal number of people who choose each method.

The temptation to look for a single teaching method that will work for every student and transform the education system is huge. But we have got to realize that we are wasting our time looking for a single solution or a single recipe. The complexity of teaching is due precisely to the uniqueness of individual learning strategies and individual teaching methods. The only recipe here is to let each student and each teacher explore what will work for them.

Teaching is like love. There is no algorithm governing it.

Post Hoc

Even very bright people often succumb to the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy. Here is an example:

I was talking to a friend a while ago about how life in academia leads one to think that one is constantly below average. It doesn’t matter what post docs one gets, or how many publications, or how one’s talks are received at conferences. Too many successful academics, like competitive runners, get where they are by keeping an eye on the person just ahead.

No situation – no matter how horrible or traumatic – can bring out in a person what wasn’t there to begin with. If you have a deep inner conviction that you are constantly below average, you will feel this way in academia, in sales, at home, or on your own island in the middle of an ocean.

If you think about it, this is really good news. You can’t single-handedly change academia or sales (although it’s a very good idea to get together with others and try) but you can do a lot to stop feeling incompetent, worthless, or below average. Such feelings are never situational. They exist at the core of your being. Others cannot access that core but you can.

The Wrong Thing

People are afraid of saying the wrong thing and hurting my feelings. They really don’t need to worry, though. There is no wrong thing to say. Even if they make an awkward comment, it will be OK because the pain I’m experiencing lies very far from what words can access.

I don’t want people to begin to feel a holy terror of causing hurt and shroud me in silence as a result.