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Some reasons to stop teaching

March 31, 2022

by David Baume

As I’ve said before, I’m writing a book, tentatively called “Please Stop Teaching”.

And, yes, I am serious.

Here are some of the reasons why I think we should stop teaching

Let me know what you think.

PST Section 4 – Reasons to stop teaching

  1. Teaching doesn’t work very well. Most of what is taught isn’t learned.
  2. Teaching doesn’t work partly because it answers questions that the learners haven’t (yet) asked. “Let me tell you about quadratic equations!” “Er – why?”
  3. Teaching and its predecessor activity, course design, identify what is important, what is valuable, what is true, what people should learn, what is the right way to do things … irrespective of the questions and interests of the learners.
  4. Teaching leads inexorably to assessment, to judging the learners. I know that, officially, assessment judges what learners know, or can do. But, when your work is being assessed, it can also feel as if you, not (just) your work, is being judged.
  5. Teaching is inherently authoritarian, an imposition, even in post- compulsory education. If you want to pass, and you probably do, then you are subject to the authority of the teacher, the institution, the profession or discipline that you seek to join.
  6. Teaching often disempowers.
  7. Some of what is taught is inevitably wrong, or irrelevant, or both.
  8. Much more of what is taught will inevitably become wrong, or irrelevant, or both.
  9. Teaching rarely talks about the status of what is being taught.
  10. Teaching rarely talks about why the curriculum contains and omits what it does. 
  11. The power dynamics of teaching and assessment make it difficult for students to develop vital critical and independent capabilities.
  12. The act of teaching tells us, implicitly but powerfully, that teacher knows best, irrespective of what is taught or of how well it is taught.
  13. Teaching usually somehow ends up as teaching stuff.
  14. Teaching usually somehow ends up as telling.
  15. Teaching is often an inauthentic act. It often involves asking questions, the answers to which the questioner already know. This pulls us into the “guess what teacher thinks the right answer is” game. Authority yet again.
  16. Teaching does not help us to learn, does not help us to get good at learning; just at taughting, at being taught.  This is not the same thing at all.
  17. Teaching often interferes with learning, slows it down, especially in a class, where each learner needs to undertake their own process of making sense of what they were just taught / told, not to attend to whatever the teacher decides to teach next, however sensible the teaching sequence seems to the teacher
  18. Teaching underestimates learners’ ability to learn.
  19. Teaching hinders learners’ exercise and further development of their own individual ability to learn.
  20. Teaching usually ignores what we bring to learning, especially our questions and our current knowledge and expertise. 
  21. Teaching somehow often manages to make learning boring, which is a very real and very damaging achievement.
  22. Alternatively, and in an attempt to prevent boredom, teaching becomes about fun, a branch of show business. Edutainment is a thing.
  23. Teaching pretends that the world is made up of subjects. Which it mostly isn’t.
  24. Teachers often want to teach all that they know, which is usually far more than, as well as different from, what learners currently want and need to learn.
  25. Teaching is about answers rather than questions.
  26. Teaching is Insufficiently about answering and about questioning.
  27. Teaching is too much about stuff and insufficiently about passion, enthusiasm, making sense.
  28. Teaching may be doomed at the point at which you decide what they need to learn, to know. Unless you can persuade them that they really need to know, to do, right now.
  29. Teaching rarely asks “What do you want to know?”
  30. Teaching rarely asks “What do you already know, think, feel, care about this?” Which, as well as making education less effective, is also impolite.
  31. A teacher told me, in a workshop about teaching, I think with pride; “You can’t make my subject easy or interesting! It is hard, hard work, boring! It just is!” My response – “There are no boring subjects, only poor teaching” – produced a stunned silence. But I believe this to be true. Insofar as good teaching is possible at all. 
  32. In the age of print, let alone the world wide web, teaching as telling is ridiculous, at least to learners who can read or hear, and think.
  33. Setting teaching up as a profession implicitly delegitimises anybody else from helping anybody else to learn anything. Such as parents, friends, colleagues …
  34. Setting school or college or university up as the place where learning happens delegitimises anywhere else as a place where valid learning can happen. Such as home. Or work. Or indeed the entire world outside the educational institution.  
  35. Teaching makes learning competitive, alas. Comparative, collegial, fine. Competitive, probably less so.
  36. Teaching implicitly says “You can only learn through being taught”.
  37. Teaching separates learning from the rest of life, a disastrous message. Learning is an integral part of life. Essential, invigorating, empowering.
  38. Teaching is bad because it is easy for teaching, even with good intentions, to be bad . There are many pressures to teach badly, as listed of the reasons listed above.
  39. Even good teaching has to be bad, for some of the reasons listed above
  40. None of this means that we shouldn’t share what we know and can do with those who truly want to know and do it. But that still doesn’t make it okay for us to teach them it. With their permission, and employing all we know about learning, we can help them to know it, or become able to do it. And that’s it. Oh, and maybe we can share the odd thing that they didn’t know they didn’t know. Once in a while,  

  1. Sharon Chauhan permalink

    I love this and I can’t wait to read your book. I agree with your list, numbers 27-30 resonated with me in particular. There are moves in education to change ‘teaching’ and I think the Extended Project Qualification available to many post 16 students goes some way to addressing many of the points on your list. I teach in HE. By the time students get to us they are so used to being ‘taught’ they have little confidence in their ability to really learn. To change HE we must change teaching in schools, producing inquisitive enthusiastic students with a thirst to learn.

    • Sharon
      Thank you
      Glad it resonates with you. Well, glad, sad – you know what I mean
      The Extended Project Qualification sounds like a great step forward – I shall look out for that
      Thanks again

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