Unorthodox Teaching Methods

If my father had a chance, he’d be one of those unschooling people. He thought that school was a waste of time and drove my mother – a schoolteacher – nuts with long, passionate speeches on the evils of schooling.

Once I got an F in math and another in behavior. The teacher said I needed a parent to sign my gradebook to demonstrate awareness of the problem. I showed the gradebook to my Dad.

“Good!” he said. “I’m very glad. Why did you get these Fs?”

I explained that I was reading a novel during my math class.

“That’s excellent!” my father said. “I’m so happy you aren’t wasting your time in these stupid classes.”

He taught in college, and his teaching methods were as unorthodox as his parenting. On the first day of class, he’d tell the group of 100+ students, “Everybody gets an A. Give me your gradebooks, and I’ll sign them. Now, if you are here for the grade, please clear out. Only stay if you want to learn.”

All but 4 students happily cleared out. My father taught the course to the remaining four and then hired them all to work for his company. They worked for him for the next 20 years, making outlandishly good salaries because he had contracts with US clients.

He was like this. Completely oblivious to how things were supposed to be done.

2 thoughts on “Unorthodox Teaching Methods

  1. Maybe there’s a way to work more of the spirit of Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich into what you’re doing …

    The problem is there’s too much ancillary politics in the way of the pedagogy, and so Freire and Illich come off as misguided Marxist revolutionaries.

    When you strip it bare, Freire had one worthwhile contribution and so did Illich.

    Freire’s contribution was that all you need is a meaningful project to focus effort on studies so that they are self-organising.

    Illich’s contribution was that you can do all of the systems theory of schooling without the heavy infrastructure for it as long as you stay focused on what it’s for.

    Together they point to what your father did, which was to encourage people who were there to learn because they knew they would have a use for the knowledge, which is in and of itself a kind of liberation.

    And so of course he hired the students, because they understood what it was to make themselves useful and to do useful work, which is what has gone missing with all of the rhetoric about ideologies and utopias.

    So now let’s imagine a potentially emergent utopia, then imagine how far we are from it, and then incessantly complain about how haaaaaaarrrrrrd it is that we’re nowhere close to it …

    But apparently that’s now how it’s supposed to be done as well.


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