What It Means To Teach

There is a portraiture involving the child’s style – strengths, weaknesses, skills fears, and the like.  I single out one aspect of this complex, the way a child comes to grips with some subject matter, matter originally provided because it matches the general level of interest and ability of a still individually unknown group – building blocks, clay, paint, batteries and bulbs.  If this subject matter represents something which the teacher has valued and learned from, and seen others learn from, then the teacher has a background for reading the behavior of that child.

In a film from Cornell University, a series of kindergarteners come spontaneously to a table to play with an equal-arm balance and a large number of washers and other weights.  In watching the film, the observer begins to recognize in himself – if he is personally familiar with the large variety of balance situations which are possible here, and with some of the underlying ideas – the ability to read the levels and the specializations of interest represented in these children, no two alike.

What he finds himself doing (but only if he is acquainted with this kind of balance phenomenon and others related to it) is beginning to build what I would call a map of each child’s mind and of the trajectory of his life.  It is fragmentary, fallible, but it is subject always to correction. and next the observer thinks to himself, what could I do to steady, extend and deepen this engagement I have glimpsed?

The important thing is that, as in all self-instruction, the participant DOES something.

What It Means To Teach
David Hawkins
Mountain View Center For Environmental Education
12: Summer: 1974