Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Part of "Lockhart's Lament" That Gets Quoted Less Often

Teaching is not about information. It’s about having an honest intellectual relationship with your students. It requires no method, no tools, and no training. Just the ability to be real. And if you can’t be real, then you have no right to inflict yourself upon innocent children.
In particular, you can’t teach teaching. Schools of education are a complete crock. Oh, you can take classes in early childhood development and whatnot, and you can be trained to use a blackboard “effectively” and to prepare an organized “lesson plan” (which, by the way, insures that your lesson will be planned, and therefore false), but you will never be a real teacher if you are unwilling to be a real person. Teaching means openness and honesty, an ability to share excitement, and a love of learning. Without these, all the education degrees in the world won’t help you, and with them they are completely unnecessary.
It’s perfectly simple. Students are not aliens. They respond to beauty and pattern, and are naturally curious like anyone else. Just talk to them! And more importantly, listen to them!
I'm sure that Lockhart would agree that teachers get better over time. So where does that improvement come from for Lockhart? An increased ability to be real?

[Lockhart's Lament]


  1. His perception of the differences between school math and the math of the discipline are sharp and helpful. But this stuff lost me. I think it's from the same thing he bemoans about non-mathematicians: they don't know what is important in math. I think it's the same thing for those who don't know enough about teaching to be able to see what's important.

  2. Michael, doesn't Paul Lockhart work down the hall from you? Can you go ask him and get back to us? :)

    1. True story! We've only chatted a few times, though. Hopefully I'll be around Saint Ann's for a long time and he and I will become buds.

  3. I think it's our increased ability to ask even better questions and to keep the mathematical conversations going -- with healthy diversions in other conversations as well. We, new and experienced teachers, may already know the great questions to ask, but how do we sustain the conversation brought forth by the question because a great question shouldn't end with just the correct answer.

  4. Following up on Fawn's comment - I think that another advantage gained by experience is the ability to better anticipate student misunderstandings. Better questions asked, better ability to sustain conversations (and lead the students toward their own questions), and better ability to anticipate where misunderstandings may develop.