Saturday, February 05, 2011


"When I left him, I reasoned thus with myself: I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know."
-- Plato, Apology

I sometimes go back to this passage when I'm feeling like a masterly and polished teacher, because it's a rude reminder that, actually, I probably don't "know anything great and good" about teaching. Rather than helping people increase their knowledge, Socrates tried to show them how little they knew, and how little they would ever know -- and I've been learning that disquieting lesson over my many years in the classroom. In a sense, I've grown dumber and dumber over the years, and I suppose Socrates would congratulate me for knowing it. I've worked hard over the years, and ironically, it has only caused me to feel more inexperienced and misinformed than ever. When I'm teaching, I guess I play a little fantasy game with myself, masquerading as an all-knowing Superteacher, but what I now know for sure is that I am the opposite of all-knowing -- more like a disoriented novice than an accomplished professional. What's really strange is that knowing that fact makes me feel that I'm finally beginning to learn something. Socrates might say, "Good work, Ham! Now you can start being a good teacher."

1 comment:

Jane said...

When I finally became experienced enough in teaching to see how little I knew, it was an enormous relief--I could start asking questions. It's so much more fun when you don't have to protect that posture of knowing and can just relax and learn! I like to write about young children for parents and teachers and I always get myself in trouble when I think I have to sound like an expert. When I get back to talking about what I don't know and what I've noticed as I start to learn, it works much better.