Sunday, December 31, 2017

Those Who Can't Do, Teach

You should learn from teachers, but not revere them as Gods.
My Dad used to repeat the old saying, "Those who can't do, teach" which was odd, as his Mother was a teacher. But there is a nugget of truth to the saying - people who spend their lives in school or academia, often are out-of-touch with reality. Moreover, while they are quite adept at teaching subjects, they might not be as adept at practicing them. Of course, this is not always the case - sometimes great jurists are also classroom professors in law school. My experience, however, was that the law school professors with the most "real world" experience were the worst teachers, and vice-versa. Teaching is an art - and a separate skill from the subject being taught, in many instances. 
I could say the same for my Engineering professors - the best "teachers" were the Teaching Assistants (TA's) who recently learned the subject themselves. The brainiest professors - the ones who published numerous research articles and were revered in the field - were often the worst professors. My electomagnetics professor, for example, was a bloody genius - but couldn't get his point across to the students. And that is the difference between teaching and doing. 
As I noted in a recent posting:

Even the best of ideas and inventions go nowhere, if you can't communicate them to others.  
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein 
I don't know if the above quote is real or not, but it reminds me of a similar quote, something along the lines of "If you can't explain a complicated concept to a simple person, then you don't really understand it yourself".
This is not to say that you should ignore your teachers or run them down as a bunch of has-beens or wanna-bes.   They have a lot of knowledge to impart to you.   But you realize, 10, 20, 30 years down the road that your career will likely eclipse theirs, if you have any sort of gumption at all.

There is another quote - or a series of them (again, perhaps specious) along the same lines:
"Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master." - Leonardo da Vinci 
"The student that does not exceed the master, fails his master" - Sun Tsu 
"The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master." - Luke 6:40
Only the last is an actual citation that I can find.  The point is, a good teacher wants you to go out into the world and be successful - usually more successful than he is.   No teacher wants you to remain a subservient student forever.   You must learn to think and act for yourself.  Teachers are not Gods - they are fallible.   And often they are imperfect and thus teach instead of do.

What got me thinking about this was a video I linked to in an earlier posting.  The video is of a psychologist, "Dr." Jordan Peterson (if you are bleeding, don't go to see him - go to a real doctor).   He has a number of videos on YouTube that are popular with a lot of people who are libertarian or conservative or just plain fed up with political correctness.  He makes a lot of good points, but he sort of takes a good thing too far.

I lost him when he started doing lectures on economic theory.   Wait a minute - a psychologist telling us all about economic theory?   Someone is playing outside their sandbox!   It also got me thinking that every single psychologist I've ever met is a little crazy.  And maybe you have to be, in order to be a psychologist.   I don't give what they have to say a lot of weight as a result.

Apparently, he is also an Egyptologist - claiming that the Egyptians put their Pharaohs in pyramids because of this "hierarchy of authority" (which he says, always making a triangle with his hands).  The guy is Ben Bernanke and Indiana Jones, all rolled into one.   Like much of the stuff he says, he provides no authority for such statements - they just fit his world-view, ergo, they must be true.  That particular video made me sad, as I thought there might be some "there" there with this guy, but the more I watch, well, the less impressed I am.

And a guy is a university professor who has spent his entire life in academia.   I am not sure he can tell me about economics, working, and so forth.  Experience is the best teacher, and I am sure he could tell me a lot about what it is like to work at a university and the politics of those institutions.  And he has a lot of other insights as well.  But most of us have more life experience that he has had, doing "research" on psychology.  This guy makes me wonder if the Scientologists aren't right.

But it seems to me that some are ascribing guru status to him, because he has done all this "research" about psychology and religion at university, so he is the one qualified to tell us about social justice warriors, or transgender this and that - or to set down "12 rules for life."   Hmmmm... that last seems a little narcissistic.   He doesn't seem to truck any disagreement with his philosophies - there is his way, or the highway.   This is not a sign of open-mindedness.  But then again, it is a sign of a religious person.

Now granted, some of his views are refreshing, coming from academia.   I can appreciate his zingers about political correctness - which is taking a good thing too far.   But when he ventures into other territories, well, I think he is out of his league.   And his religious bent shows through the thin veneer of professionalism on more than one occasion.   Some might argue that he is dressing up extreme right-wing thought in the cap-and-gown of academic respectability.

And they might be right.   But that is not the point of this posting.  The point is, it is important to listen to all points of view, and not to think that one person has all the answers.  Because all of us are wrong some of the time, and to paraphrase another quote, "no great idea exists in the mind of a single man" or something along those lines.   The give-and-take of the exchange of ideas is what makes us, as humans, function at the highest efficiency.   When we discard opposing views out of hand, we usually end up in trouble.

There is a nugget of truth in what everyone has to say.  Yes, even this Jordan fellow - and even President Trump on occasion (rare occasion, but when someone is right, just opposing them on general principal is idiotic, but tell that to the Washington Post.)

Mr. (not "Dr." - and remember what I said about people who put "esquire" after their names!) Jordan has some interesting ideas, but is hardly the end-all and know-all.   He's just a college professor, and I find it somewhat ironic that the far-right, who routinely discards the notions of academics in their "ivory towers" now embraces an academic who has spent his whole life in such a tower.

But then again, the far-right seems more than capable of holding two opposing ideas in their heads at the same time... quite easily, in fact.   There is a lot of empty space in there.