Yan Tan Tethera
Here we are! A quarter of the way into the TTC and we read the opening line, “Give up learning and put an end to your troubles.” If I could translate that into Latin (volunteers welcome) and draw Lions Rampant and Dogs Couchant, I would reinvent the heraldic shield of the Clann Ó Fóghartaigh and do away with the old family motto of Fleadh agus Fáilte (“PARTY! ALL WELCOME!”). When I win the lottery and can build my own Academy for the Furthering of Pedagogical Debate, I will hire the best stonemason in the world and ask that she carve out this great truth over the imposing entrance to my walled utopia. If I was David Beckham, I would have these words translated into Gujerati and then tattoo them around my neck.When I die and am laid out to rest, these words will be inscribed upon my headstone. Oh, Lao. You are my one and only true love.
Lao asks in this chapter if there is any difference between yes and no. Which, when you think about it, is a difficult question to answer. You can either say “yes” or “no” – although what use these words are to somebody who is asking you the difference between them…
He then goes on to describe how everybody else seems to have sorted themselves out. They’re all off at parties, being clever, enjoying the excesses of life, having a top time. Lao, on the other hand, is sat at home with no real direction, skint, depressed, stupid and alone. That pretty much sums up my time at university. Hmmm. That actually pretty much sums up my time since university.
But all is good with our jedi master. He’s quite happy to be on his own without any friends, money or whathaveyou. He is “different”. He gets all he needs from the loving mother’s milk (or Liebfraumilch, as it is also known). Anybody who gets all that they need from Liebfraumilch is most definitely different. Perhaps Lao meant something else. Let us explore.
Lao essentially sets up a dichotomy: there are those who have it all and feel quite happy. They run about, display their great learning, only do things that have a clear purpose. And yet that opening line seems to suggest that they are troubled. It also suggests that their troubles come from the need to pursue learning.
Then there are those like Lao who are more like babies, just sitting there without any of this Learnt Knowledge and who are neither content nor frustrated by the lack of direction. They go where they are taken. Lao describes them in his concluding lines as being “nourished by the great mother”. Nourished – that is, they get what they need in order to grow.
The others are off pursuing happiness, wealth, knowledge, purpose. The wise just sit there and make the most of what comes along. This gives them all that they need.
This, mes amis, is at the heart of it. When we deal with our needs –not our desires- this is not learning. Learning tends to be when you have to accommodate other people’s needs and desires. We don’t lean how to eat, how to breathe, how to perform more earthly functions. They happen and because of that, we happen too. When we start complicating matters by introducing Set Rules and Correct Procedures, we are going to cause troubles.Note too that this view of humanity as perfectible was being put forward in China about 2500 years ago. In Europe, the concept seems to have passed us by and we are now under the impression that where once we were all damned and could only be redeemed by Christ the Lord, these days it only takes a few kind words from the celebrity judges on some “Talent” show to give our life meaning.
Lao is not saying wallow in ignorance. Lao would reject ignorance as well as intelligence. Lao would accept people as they were. Again, if we are pondering what is meant by inclusion in the classroom, surely it doesn’t mean just accepting “different” people as if they were just like us. It means being able to offer an education that meets everybody’s individual needs. If we are looking to assess students, giving up learning means providing an assessment of what they can do rather than reflecting what they can’t. Now, it is true that it would be hard to expect all of this from a school. After all, when you’ve got thirty kids packed into a classroom and following a curriculum that the government has decreed as being the only one worth following, then I would argue that whilst you may not have given up learning just yet, you most certainly have given up teaching. It is only the educational culture which we have been drowning in for years that says that education must take place within the confines of The School. Prior to that, a lot of learning was done by living. These days, the only “learning” that can take place is one that has pre-stated outcomes and which can be certified. If you don’t have a certificate, you didn’t learn anything. It is this learning that Lao thinks needs to be given up if one is to lead a trouble-free life.
It is also important to point out that neither is Lao advising the downtrodden to abandon any hope of redemption through education. There are those who feel, for example, that illiterate people need to be taught to read and write. This, they say, will improve their lives and allow them to participate equally in society. So, rather than change a society that discriminates against people who cannot wield a pen, the solution is to change these less-than-complete humans and make them conform to what is expected of them. Of course, newly-literate people tend to be found around the bottom rungs of the career ladder until they die. It was never illiteracy alone that kept them down there. Similarly, if one looks at revolutionary forces around the world, one sees that whilst the leaders may have been bushily-moustachioed intellectuals, the ones who broke into the palaces or strung up the rich landowners tended to be the illiterate peasants and untermenschen. To repeat, Lao is not saying “Stay stupid and conform”; he knew only too well that learning (whether it be by the school, the church, nationalism or whatever) was what caused stupidity and conformity. The mind without reins is free to run wherever it wants.
Now a clip from what should be essential viewing on any teacher training course. I thank you!