Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Einstein: Not What's Taught, but the Teacher

(reflections on a quotation from Einstein in an article by Thomas Martin, "Einstein on Independent Thought" in the St. Croix Review, April 2009, p. 38 ff.)

Philosophy teacher Thomas Martin writes of picking up an old volume of Einstein's Ideas and Opinions, and running across the following text:
It is not enough to teach a man a specialty. ...He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and the morally good. ...He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings, in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow men and to community. . .
All of this seemed unexceptionable. However, the next part was a surprise:

These precious things are conveyed to the younger generation through personal contact with those who teach, not -- or at least not in the main -- through textbooks.

My first mentors in school teaching said essentially the same thing. "More is caught than taught," said Dr. Berkley Latimer, the principal who hired me. "Let the children know your story," advised Dorothy Kitchings, the woman who created the middle school where I was assigned my first classes. Einstein continues:

It is this [contact of teacher to student] that primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the "humanities" as important, not just dry specialized knowledge in the fields of history and philosophy.

How reassuring, especially at a time of year when I'm afraid that I'm not going to finish the textbook, and when I sometimes indulge myself in side stories about things I've read or seen that may be only tangents to what's in our text.

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