Teaching May Be an Art, But Learning is a Science

‘Always remember,’ the rector of the College of Education told us solemnly – his tone that of one who, after arduous years of research, has discovered the Elixir of Life – ‘While teaching may be an art, learning is a science’.

Unfortunately, nobody warned us rookie teachers about the ‘learners’ who were averse to learning. However, we soon discovered that teachers do encounter many, many ‘learning-hesitants’. Perhaps ‘learner-hesitants’ fear the ‘needle’ of education will alter brain-cell DNA, and turn them into robots doing the bidding of some malicious world leader who controls their lives via a planted computer chip.

More likely, it is part of a reaction against the ‘establishment’. It’s quite possibly part of the strong adolescent anti-feeling about being told what to do. Many adolescents prefer to find their own identity by rebelling against rules like those forbidding you to ‘grow your hair over the eyes, over the ears and over the collar’. After all, they may think, this is the same establishment that has fed them ‘fake news’ for years and years.

The phenomenon of fake news is in fact old news. It’s been around for ever. A friend once told me, his voice choking at the memory, ‘I was the only kid in South Africa, possibly in the whole world, who went to high school still believing in Father Christmas. How embarrassing is that? Nobody had told me it was fake news.’ He went on with the tragic tale:

I blame my family. My much older sisters were told, ‘If you tell him about Father Christmas, or the Easter Bunny, there will be no presents for you. Or Easter eggs. Ever again.’

So it was I was pumped full of ‘porky pies’ about a North Pole distribution depot that must have made Amazon look like a broom cupboard. It was manned by little elves scurrying around mountains of gift-wrapped parcels while feeding carrots to reindeers with glowing proboscises. All overseen by a fat bearded fella with a once-a-year obsession for vertical chute-sliding to consume a beer and Christmas mince pie strategically positioned at the fireplace.

My friend, of course, held it against his parents. And sisters. Was this fair? Perhaps they were simply preparing him for the future world. A world full of fake news that makes the charming little deception about bunnies with baskets of Easter eggs, or storks on a flying mission to populate the world with baby brothers or sisters look like true life documentaries.

Consider the avalanche of conspiracy theories we are faced with: Aliens and UFOs; Roswell; Big Foot; the Loch Ness monster; Elvis is still alive; Who killed JFK; the Bermuda Triangle, the ‘69 Apollo moon landings were faked in a Universal studio; carrots enable you to see in the dark; eat your crusts to grow hairs on your chest; or bad luck caused by black cats, walking under ladders, and breaking mirrors.

As with any successfully spread fake news, a child becomes a believer because he wants to believe. So the anti-learning ‘jocks’ at school want to believe they can get by very well thank you very much with minimal academic education. And they cherry-pick reasons, sometimes wonderfully imaginative, to support their anti-learning bias.

I heard one young future-springbok-wannabe employ a philosophical argument to justify why he hadn’t done his maths homework: ‘The subject mathematics has no moral value in and of itself. Why should I engage with it?’

Mr Mullins, his maths teacher, had a comeback: ‘Because it is character building. It takes more courage to wrestle with a maths problem than it does to tackle head-on in rugby. Are you a coward?’

Or perhaps it’s the common human laziness gene at work. As with teachers like me who leave the dreaded examination marking until the very last minute.