Two of my students’ comments from my most recent class:

Bill, you scare me.  Okay not really.  Well maybe a little.


No shoes, no set agendas, no… problems

I do relational education.  That might have some kind of definition in academe; I don’t know it.  I know that I teach by relating with my students, with its give and take.  That extends to how we relate to the materials we cover.  I’ve had the luxury to improvise with relative freedom– I haven’t taught a graded class in years.  Thank God.

So a class (or workshop) looks like me lecturing, presenting ideas and then watching the students deal with them.  Lots of discussion, though guided.  Creative work.  Hopefully more than a few ruptures to the habitual states of a classroom.  My father used to teach his physics class for a week without speaking; I’m trying to figure out how to do it without showing up.

Some of this I learned from my co-workers in Japanese schools; some from the odd foment of the Governor’s Scholars Program.  Some from failures and disenchantment.  I deeply believe that no curriculum can ignore the people in the seats; and that the people in the seats and the one behind the podium owe the curriculum a lot.

This kind of teaching is humanist.  I regret the drift to “scientific” approaches to education.  And I love science, the “glorious entertainment,” to slant the meaning of Jacques Barzun’s phrase.  It’s still a lousy framework for dealing with people.  I’m reminded of Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian,” where he gets annoyed with faith for not being science.  Or the ego bubbling up into the science as dream researchers Hobson & Solms feud their feud.  Not to deny the behavioral economists as they account for my having typed that sentence, of course.

The hardest part in this kind of teaching?  Speaking with authority while creating safety.  And maintaining my own convictions without overpowering students’ objections.  I’m getting better at this, and the give-and-take can be as valuable as anything covered.  Learning is, after all, learning about yourself as you move through the wide & ranging world.  Healthy boundaries, healthy boundaries.

I also do lectures.  That’s more of me just saying stuff.  I’ll need a podium and a projector, though.  Speakers, too.  Put me in a room with a 100 people leading a talk and we’re golden.