Teaching as a Subversive Activity
@22 April 2000


We all dwell in an unstable buzz of molecules. Some of these atomic tides have become stable enough for a while, and recursive enough in their relationships, to somehow generate that sense of "I", the identity which allows us to view other assemblies as entities of greater or lesser relevance to the preservation of "I".

We classify these other entities, and their relationship with self, on a scale from solids to photons, and from embedded conviction to diaphanous hope. At some hard to pin down, but robust perimeter of certainty, we declare all within to be our system of knowledge and being. Within all elements must harmonize, or at least develop protective shells of mutual ignorance, like pearls cohabiting blindly within our living oyster. And having settled upon this system of knowledge, for better or for worse, we become immensely protective of it. It is, after all, US, and all which threatens it threatens US.

Enter the teacher. A teacher's role is to induce new knowledge into the knowledge systems of other beings. A desperate task, universally unwelcome to the owners of those working systems, no matter that they willfully put themselves in harms way by enrolling for a "course" in this or that. Until the moment of having to learn new knowledge, it doesn't occur to them that a threat to old knowledge is being posed. They bite, swallow a mouthful of the new stuff, and gag. It's foreign matter.

So what makes for a great teacher? Subversion. There's no doubt about it. Qualifications, references, classroom years ... none of it matters in the end, not in the business of real teaching. The poseurs are legion. They instruct others in curriculums, they dole out mouthfuls of information with threats and gold stars, they get people to pass exams. But mostly they don't succeed in teaching new knowledge systems.

A teacher is that rare individual who coaxes the existing knowledge systems of his students out of hiding, drags every last tentacle of the monster from the depths into broad daylight, hoses off the slime, wrestles it to the ground when it puts up a fight, and finally gives it a heart transplant. That's subversion. That's teaching.


All opinions expressed in Thor's Unwise Ideas and The Passionate Skeptic are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence, proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the sentiment of the argument.

"Teaching as a Subversive Activity" copyrighted to Thor May; all rights reserved 2000

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