ONE TEACHER’S ALPHABET
P is for Passive
It might seem strange to suggest that a teacher should foster a passive atmosphere in class, but over the years I’ve increasingly seen the wisdom of this approach to teaching and learning. It’s instructive to realize that the word “passive” comes from the same Latin root that gives us “compassion” and “patience”, suggesting that passivity might have significant positive qualities. A passive student, for instance, might be one who can wait quietly for the truth to unfold during a discussion, and a passive teacher might be the one who sits back and observes the discussion with a compassionate understanding. Activity can certainly be an admirable feature of a high school English class, but there is ample room, too, for the kind of benevolent passivity that allows teachers to slow down, loosen up, and fully experience the scholarly gifts their students bring to class each day. When teachers employ a “wise passivity” (to quote the poet William Wordsworth), they are willing and able to receive the ideas and actions of the students without necessarily responding. Passive teachers, we might say, are not so much reactive and immediate as deliberate and purposeful. Of course, this kind of mild, wholehearted tolerance is not always possible in the classroom, but it’s an attitude I strive to cultivate in my teaching. Instead of always “doing something” during my classes, I often like to stand back and simply observe -- just allow the learning to happen without my constant and bustling interference. As Wordsworth knew, learning doesn’t always have to be sought after, chased down, and captured. It often comes most easily to those teachers and students who turn away from never-ending activity and experience the quiet pleasures of intelligent passivity.