Monday, January 17, 2011
When I was in school I used to hate classroom discussions. The subject always devolved into who's more intelligent, boys or girls, or whose innocuous comment was actually indicative of closet racism. I could get that kind of stuff on the street. I thought the purpose of school was to be taught by people who know more than I do.
A while back I put this opinion into a blog post, and to my surprise, it provoked some pretty interesting replies. One commenter was obviously a teacher. He said that he could tell that I never had any first rate teachers in school, because if I had I would never have questioned the value of discussion. He said a good teacher guides the discussion. The idea is to take a cultured, articulate, and well organized mind (the teacher's), and show the students in detail how that mind handles the topic at hand. It can only be properly done in groups small enough to allow some personal attention, and only with motivated students. Amazing!
Well, the guy called it right. I had some teachers who were okay, but none who were really first rate. There just aren't enough first rate teachers to go around. The mind boggles to think how fast you could learn something, if you had the personal attention of someone who was really skilled in that subject. And that brings me to the point of this post: teachers aren't able to give you individual attention...but tutors can.
I'm a huge believer in tutoring. It's not something that's only for slow students, it's something for the the brightest kid in class. There's no faster way to learn than to have someone personally talk you through a problem and digress if need be to teach you something you failed to pick up earlier. In the case where you already know the material, a good tutor can put you on a whole different level by exploring interesting tangents or by putting the material to practical use. A motivated student combined with a motivated tutor is a powerful combination.
Schools like Oxford used to teach almost exclusively by tutoring. There were regular lectures by professors, but the real education took place in the student's own quarters, arguing with, and being prodded and interrogated by the tutor (the don). In Japan after school tutoring is common, even for gifted students. I wish it were more common here.
There's another good reason for tutoring. If tutoring were widespread, if it transcended the remedial and got into some meaty subjects, if it was handled, not by the school bureaucracy, but by free agents and by private industry, then we'd have a chance to re-introduce imagination and competition into the schooling process. Who knows? You could even have tutors like the ones in the illustrations for this post!
Posted by Eddie Fitzgerald at 9:37 PM