Remembering is not creating

a great comment on the tension between learning and teaching can be found in this patricia meyerowitz’ introduction to the splendid “how to write” by gertrude stein:

“If only we didn’t teach children art. Ever. If there could be only learning and no teaching except for how to do it. What to do in art is a personal affair between the artist and the thing done and directly there are teachers who teach you what to do there is no possibility of a masterpiece. How to do it is another matter. Anybody can and should learn how to do anything they want to do but what to do is a personal decision and has nothing to do with anyone. At school the two things get all mixed up and the child is taught what to do and how to do it at the same time so that when he is old enough to choose what to do he can’t he mostly can’t because most often he was already taught all the answers.”

it follows that we must not teach the answers and not what to do but only how to do it.

meyerowitz quotes stein in her preface in a passage which might appear obscure at first – a friend offers her to do some teaching since she seems to be able to unlock students into talking – because like them: she does not have the answers. she expands: “the things that not that can be learnt but that can be taught are not interesting.”

Hutchins said to me as he and I were walking, you did make them all talk more than we can make them and a number of them talked who never talked before and it was very nice of him to say it and he added and if you will come back I will be glad to have you do some teaching and I said I would and he said he would let me know and then I said you see why they talk to me is that I am like them I do not know the answer, you you say you do not know but you do know if you did not know the answer you could not spend your life in teaching but I I really do not even know whether there is a question. To me when a thing is really interesting it is when there is no question and no answer, if there is then already the subject is not interesting and it is so, that is the reason that anything for which there is a solution is not interesting that is the trouble with governments and utopias and teaching, the things not that can be learnt but that can be taught are not interesting.”

to me, these are trailblazing thoughts about learning, written down in the 1930s. i have often felt that i learn the most where neither question nor answer are known. only then is there really space to expand into with own ideas. too bad that such moments are few in between long stretches of regurgitating learning, of jamming well-known answers down the throats of the unsuspecting student.

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