Home > Commentaries on TTC > 27: the ideal number of participants for an orgy (Wikipedia)

27: the ideal number of participants for an orgy (Wikipedia)

A good Walker leaves no tracks.

A good walker leaves no tracks;

A good speaker makes no slips;

A good reckoner needs no tally;

The Tao talks to us today about teaching.  Which, as you can imagine, is a bit of a bonus for me…

OK. There’s nothing partcularly complicated about Lao’s assumptions that we should make our way through life without leaving steaming great calling cards that say “WE WOZ ERE” – and the irony of me writing this in a blog is not lost on me.

I think it becomes slightly less obvious (but only slightly) when we consider it from the teacher’s perspective. If we are good teachers, we will leave no tracks. Does that mean that it is as if we have never existed? If we leave no tracks at all, does that include within the learner’s consciousness? Are we like some sort of linguistic Doctor Who? I hope not.

I like to look at it as if LT was telling us, “Your presence as a Teacher (TM) will cease to exist. You will not be the wielder of power and authority; you will be Another. If you do your job well, the learners will feel that they have learnt by themselves, although the guidance may have come from you. You are less of a teacher and more of a guide.”

LT also goes on to include some impressive wordplay:

A good door needs no lock,

Yet no one can open it.

How come? Because it is already open, Grasshopper. Learning should be accessible to everyone. That isn’t a revindicative should by the way. It’s a should as in “With the nice weather, we should be able to start complaining about how hot it is before too long.” Learning is available to everyone – not necessarily the learning that our esteemed leaders may have in mind, but learning all the same. And the beauty about an open door is that you don’t need to push at it.

Lao goes on to say that the clever people in life look after everyone and everything. They never walk away from anything or anyone. They are saints. But there are those among us who will remember Lao’s admonition that we shouldn’t try to be like the saints, because we will be setting ourselves up for failure. The good old advice about never trying and never failing as a consequence.

Which means I can be very flexible in my next interpretation:

What is a good man? [sic]

A teacher of a bad man.

What is a bad man?

A good man’s charge.

Here, then, is a definition of a teacher: a person (really, Lao!) whose job it is to help people who are less good/well-formed/complete than them. Who are these people who are less good/well-formed/complete than the teachers? They are the ones being taught. Lao is, as ever, delightfully playful in his tautology. We can boil it down to, “I am a teacher because I know things that other people don’t. My students will be those who want to know more about things that I know.” In other words, we all have the potential to be teachers, but we only become so because of the presence of students. This sort of solving of the dichotomy is best understood by looking at a pint of Guinness. It has a black body, but a white head. But the only way you can tell where the head starts is because of the absence of black body. And the only way you can tell where the body starts is because of the absence of white head. Lao understood this and

Pure bloody Genius!

used a bird’s eye picture of a pint of Guinness which had been sipped from to get across his idea, in much the same way that St Patrick used the shamrock to get across to the pagan Irish why they needed to lay waste to their future. You only know who the teacher is when they are teaching; you only know who the learner is when they are learning. This is the only activity that defines them as either teacher or learner and it is not fixed for ever. At some point, someone is either going to drink or spill their pint and a new one will have to be sought from the Big Yin behind the bar. Or if he’s busy, we’ll go to yon bar and have a swifty there. Yin and Yon…now there’s a thought.

Much is made of the next quotation from our TTC by teachers with smug looks on their faces: as if they were saying to their school administrators: “See! I told you so! And you with your no-payrises-this, no-investment-in-resources that! Even this Lao bloke knew what I was saying! Which means that for close to 4000 years, it’s not been a secret!”

If the teacher is not respected,

And the student not cared for,

Confusion will arise, however clever one is.

This is the crux of mystery.

Now, as you can imagine, teachers like to think that this means that they should be respected and that students should be cared for. But having read Lao’s writings many, many times, I am not all that convinced that the old sod was so against confusion. So I began to think…

If the teacher is not respected (but the learners want to learn…the quality that makes them learners), then the learners will learn for themselves. If the teacher abandons the more typical paternalistic/maternalistic approach to their work and, in place, everyone cares for everyone (which is what wise people do), then confusion will arise. What sort of confusion? Well, perhaps not dissimilar to Freire’s vision of studentteachers and teacherstudents. Defining barriers are swept away. It’s like stirring your pint of Guinness with a big bloody spoon (bloody serving as an intensifier there; not as an adjective). And it won’t matter how clever you are – it will be impossible to poitn and say, “She is the teacher and he is the student,” because everyone will be teaching and everyone will be the students. It doesn’t take too much to figure out what would happen if such changes spilled outside the classroom. Truly great confusion! Confusion is not, however, a bad thing. It is very often the catalyst for learning and is to be embraced.

So, I disagree with about every other interpretation of the TTC which seems to take Lao at his word: students, respect your teachers! Teachers, protect your learners! But it doesn’t square well with what Lao seems to be saying in the rest of his writing and it sounds more like the kind of thing that his arch-enemy (dumbing down, moi?!?!), Professor Kung-Fu Tse (aka Confucius) would have said. And I think Lao was highlighting it for us when he wrote, “This is the crux of mystery.” There’s no mystery at all if we take him at his word: we are told all of the time that we must respect and maintain the roles that are assigned in society. Men must do manly things; women must do girly things; teachers must care for their charges; their charges must do what they are told; police officers are to be obeyed; politicians are to be above the law and soldiers must never be criticised when they are fighting a war. If we break any of these injunctions the world will descend into chaos. And wouldn’t that be just terrible…?

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Categories: Commentaries on TTC
  1. eslteachertimmusgrave
    May 6, 2010 at 12:01

    “If you do your job well, the learners will feel that they have learnt by themselves, although the guidance may have come from you”

    So true master, so true… but we have to delight in that lack of gratitude :0$
    Junior Grasshopper

    • dfogarty
      May 6, 2010 at 13:50

      Absolutely. But then again, we don’t do it for the sense of gratitude, do we? We do it for the high wages and the exemplary terms and conditions…

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