Friday, February 20, 2009

To Teach by Not Teaching

This is one of my goal in teaching, to teach by not teaching.  It sounds fascinating although I'm not sure what it is about but I think it is a way of learning.  A number of years ago I was asked to teach a course that I was least familiar with because the main instructor was on research leave.  I was not the most competent person but as I stepped in with lots of emptiness and curiosity about the lives of my students and their struggle with grief, that class became one of the most enjoyable courses for me.  I have not had a chance to teach that since because the main professor for the course is back but it is a reminder that emptiness has a way of soliciting ideas, or emptiness has a way of inviting the flow of concepts and perspectives.  It is ironical how I go to class empty and come out with ideas and fresh perspectives.  By emptiness I do not mean going in without any preparation but pretty much learning for myself and preparing to learn from students as a method of instruction.  I wonder if people learn best when they are able to put things together for themselves and perhaps this is the most meaningful way to learn.  With this in mind, my role seems to be to just evoke and permit.  

Monday, February 9, 2009

An Ugly Tree

Here is one of my favorite stories from Chuang Tzu:

Hui Tzu told Chuang Tzu that there was a big tree in his back yard.  It is such an ugly and useless tree that no carpenter in his/her right mind will ever want to cut down this tree.  Then referencing Chuang Tzu's teaching, Hui Tzu commented, "Your teaching is like this tree.  It is totally useless."  

Chuang Tzu replied "why be so disturbed by this ugly tree. Because of its uselessness no one will ever cut it down and so why not place it in no-man's land and lie down under it.  Its life will not be shorted because if it is useless, it can't get hurt."

This reminds me of a quote by Chuang Tzu when he said "we all know the use of the useful, but nobody knows the use of the useless."  What do I know about the use of the useless?  I think when we are useless we will probably not be used and when we are not used, we are free to use or not to use; to be or not to be.  Perhaps there's more to this statement of Chuang Tzu for us all to ponder.