Home > Commentaries on TTC > One, two, buckle my shoe

One, two, buckle my shoe

This part of the TTC tells us that we need the bad moments to help us define the good moments. You need a bad class to fully appreciate the good ones. Bad and good go together to make the whole.

But it works at all levels too. A class will have moments that are both good and bad. Even a “bad student” will have some good things to be said about them (hard though it may be to find them).

This part of the TTC also tells us that a good teacher doesn’t do much: they just teach. Teaching, despite what some would have you believe, doesn’t need you to be fully prepared with lesson plans to cover each and every contingency. The TTC would have you believe that good teaching can take place when you just let things happen. In fact, Lao Tse would have the teacher just be there, without talking…that is, without interfering. It’s not that Old Lao was an early advocate of the Silent Way, well, not that Silent Way. Lao just realised that the world continues on its merry way without teachers sticking their oars in too much and things seem to happen without too many problems.

For all of those teachers who agonise about their failure to recycle vocabulary effectively every day, Lao has these words of advice: don’t sweat it. Look, just let the language happen and let it go. The less effort that people put into agonising over lists of words, says our sage, the better. And this sage certainly knows his onions.

Think about it. If you’ve been teaching for a while, you’ll know the students who have a wide range of vocabulary but who mangle it whenever they try to put it into practice. The taoist teacher will let the language emerge as and when it happens and support that emergence. Then they’ll wipe the board and wait for a new lot of language. If Lao had heard of Henry Ford’s “Just in time” factory, he probably would have approved.

Hard to believe? Well, let’s look at it from a few different angles: if you’re involved in a conversation with any one, how much of it do you remember later? Would it be fair to say that you remember the parts of it that were of most interest or relevance to you? Might not the same principle be applied to language learning? If you agree, you can rest assured that the theorists are with you. The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky was under the impression that a teacher who scaffolded a student’s learning could sleep easily, safe in the knowledge that something had been learnt. Similarly, research into motivation shows that happy bunnies learn more and get to star in advertisements about long running batteries. The ones that are forcefed usually end up in some manky tasting casserole with overcooked carrots and undercooked spuds.

Naturally, this has implications for the teacher’s role in the classroom. No longer the possessor of knowledge, the teacher is there to help the learners share their knowledge. As Lao puts it, the teacher creates [without] possessing”. This means that we let go. We’re under no obligation to force people to learn. It wouldn’t matter if we did, they’d still only remember whatever they chose to.

Of course, they cynical reader might recognise more in Lao’s pithy, “Work is done, then forgotten.” Nevertheless, the next line gives the context within which to interpret this: “Therefore it lasts forever.”

  1. kalinagoenglish
    October 5, 2009 at 12:57

    Just read all three of your wonderful and brilliantly written articles… and after leaving here, I will do two things

    1. replace my copy of the Tao de ching which I lost on my Camino – finally have a reason to buy it again… I’m going to have to come back you see, to argue 🙂

    2. tell my network to come visit your blog because

    Diarmuid, it’s witty, engaging and full of empirical truths.

    LOL: welcome to the blogosphere and I hope you have fun here!


    • dfogarty
      October 5, 2009 at 13:18

      That’s very kind of you. And I’m looking forward to the arguments. I am a great believer in looking for discord wherever it might be found. To paraphrase So-crates, the life full of agreements is not worth living. Here’s to heated and passionate disputes!

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