What is Teaching? What is Learning?

What is teaching, and what is learning? Is teaching the conveyance of information, the banking of knowledge (both knowing how and knowing that) into additional human minds and lives? Is it mere replication of stored knowledge and skills, authoritatively passed on to the next generation? Are we uploaders?

Is learning all about downloading the correct information, the replication of outside knowledge and skills inside one’s own life and mind? Is it the receipt of that which is passed down? (If so, couldn’t we say that computers learn in some sense?)

Socrates thought that maybe knowledge was recognition of the truth, and that teaching was the asking of questions that drove a person to seek the truth. Teachers are midwifes who help learners to give birth to the truth in their own lives (and who help them to recognize it when what is being birthed is not truth). Do questions and conversations count as teaching and learning?

Jesus’ teaching seems to show the use of questions, as well as story-telling. Perhaps we might ask if Jesus’ pedagogy was a mix of:

  • Example (he healed, and had his disciples heal; he taught, and had his disciples teach; he loved and served, and had his disciples love and serve),
  • Enigma (Jesus was always saying crazy things—why?), and
  • Embodied simulation (a.k.a., storytelling, which brings the hearer to embody themselves in the midst of the story world and “live” the story in order to understand the point—note that his stories were not mere anecdotes from his own life, but were diverse in their settings and characters, often centered on people other than himself, and usually included surprising twists in common life).

Jesus’ teaching was often about full buy-in: to learn was to love and give one’s life, just as to teach was to love and give one’s life. In this light, are teachers and learners fellow slaves in God’s kingdom?

Paul seemed to like to teach using rhetoric (purposely persuasive speech patterns) from the truths of previous writings and accepted thoughts, through the lens of Jesus, and toward good works. Did he see learning as a kind of basking in the truth, and teaching as a kind of pouring out of the teacher? To learn is to be dipped like bread into wine, and to teach is to provide the wine? What is your wine, and how can you help learners to soak in it? (And do you have a good cheese to pair with it?)

Paulo Friere, a modern theorist of pedagogy, speaks of learning as transformational and communal concept-making. Learners are participants in creating their world, and teachers act as liberators from oppression (liberators through assisting learners to discover their world in order to transform it). Learning is never to be a mere acceptance of the way things are, but is instead to be always a challenge to make things the way they ought to be. Should we be so bold as to question our world with students?

What is the ultimate result of teaching or learning? Students who can pass tests, write papers and take notes? Replicates who think and act like professionals in a particular field? Answers to life’s great questions? Transformation of persons and societies? Death and cross carrying? Glory and immortality? All of the above?

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