Learning and Teaching

An excerpt from Justine Johnson’s piece ‘Learning and Teaching’ in the Hard Crackers edition A Tribute to Noel Ignatiev.

“It didn’t take long for the discussion to crumble. I don’t recall the exact details, but at some point, Noel (and Beth) declared Steve and I unprepared to talk about it and he wasn’t going to discuss it with us until we were. Indignantly and reflexively, I put up a defense — of course I had read the whole thing! — but he wasn’t having it. He and Beth departed.

At first I was annoyed. Who did this guy think he was? Although I knew Noel had a strong influence on many of my comrades, I’m never one for hero worship. I didn’t know Noel’s personal and political story, nor his reputation for sometimes acting like a jerk. (“He’s a nice guy,” Geert had said. Ha!) But the more I thought about his criticism – “just reading the text isn’t enough; you need to look up the references if you don’t understand them” (I’m paraphrasing) — the more I realized the truth in his words. As a parent who frequently told my children, “Whenever you come across a word or a concept you don’t know, look it up,” I hadn’t followed my own advice. I had finished reading the text — barely — but I was counting on Noel and Beth to help explain it to us. And I hadn’t done the background research. Damn, he was right.”

The piece beings with a great quote, as well:

“Part of the art of learning any difficult act, like music, is knowing both how to teach yourself and how best to use the teaching of others, how to gain from the greater experience and skill of other people without becoming dependent on them. For few people are likely to become good at music, or anything else, who do not learn how to teach themselves. What we can best learn from good teachers is how to teach ourselves better.” – John Holt, Never Too Late

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