The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

What Makes Teaching Memorable?

on January 16, 2016

Today’s post, first published a couple of weeks ago in the “Deseret News,” was written by Lynn Stoddard, a longtime educator and author of the book, “Educating for Human Greatness.”  As I read it, I could not help recalling my own experiences throughout my education years.  My system for getting good grades was to memorize the information provided in teachers’ lessons and textbooks and then to clear it out of my mind after any test or written paper, so I could prepare for the next onslaught of facts that did not have any usefulness or appeal for me.  Only when I read a piece of fiction or a poem that moved me did I find it worthwhile and easy to remember.  I’d be very pleased to hear from readers who strongly agree or disagree with Stoddard or me.


Memorable teaching, in its purest form, may be the act of stimulating and enlarging something we were all born with — curiosity.

“People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains. Knowledge has to be pulled into the brain, not pushed in. First, one must create a state of mind that craves knowledge, interest and wonder. You can teach only by creating an urge to know.”

The author of these words, Victor Weisskopf, was a world-renowned Jewish scientist who escaped from Nazi Germany and helped develop the atomic bomb. He was known as a “memorable teacher.” He encouraged his physics students to ask questions by saying, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” Weisskopf taught that it is by the use of questions that students pull information into their brains. He taught by creating an “urge to know.”

What is the difference between information that is pressed into a student’s brain and information that is pulled in? Is there a difference between required learning and self-chosen learning? Plato said, “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”

This is reinforced by Christ’s words in the Bible, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” We can interpret “ask,” “seek” and “knock” as ascending levels of the “urge to know.”

What happens if students are taught math and reading before they have a desire to know? It should be called “child abuse” for the damage it does. According to research done by Peter Gray of Boston College and others, too-early academic training results in long-term intellectual and psychological damage.

Early failure experiences result in young children hating school and losing confidence in their ability to learn, a precursor for many to later drop out and become burdens to society — in and out of prison. Schools that are based on pressing a standardized curriculum into students’ minds may also be the cause of bullying.

In later school years, required, assigned learning becomes shallow and temporary as students learn information to pass tests and discard it soon thereafter. It is becoming more and more evident that self-chosen knowledge, the kind that is “pulled in,” is the only kind that is deep and enduring.

Ever since the federal government started to take over public education and impose a curriculum, like Common Core, to be pressed into students’ heads, it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to cultivate an “urge to know” and encourage students to ask questions. Memorable teaching, the kind that makes a positive difference in people’s lives, has been getting less and less. (How many of your teachers do you fondly remember?)

If you are a concerned parent, legislator, school board member, teacher, administrator or student, ask for your freedom, as specified by the 10th Amendment, to develop a local school system that encourages and supports teachers to be the great, memorable people they want to be. With the recent abolishment of No Child Left Behind and removal of many tight government controls you can now innovate more openly. You can also work at transforming yourself into a great teacher, holding up examples like Weisskopf, Albert Einstein or Christ, the most memorable of them all. In so doing, you will make a difference in the lives of others and become memorable to them.

 

 

 

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