Saturday, December 26, 2015
Can a good teacher be bad for you?
In asking the above question, I am suggesting a paradox. And I think the answer is mostly No. But I want to give a small story about when good teachers were bad for someone I know.
He went to a private school and private schools usually have the best teachers. Why? Because private schools are more orderly and have brighter students, two things which are not unconnected. Why are the students brighter? Because you need a fair bit of money to send a kid there and people with more money generally have more brains too -- as the much execrated Charles Murray pointed out two decades ago. And brainy parents tend to have brainy kids
No teacher however likes to spend most of his/her time getting the students to sit down and shut up, so most would prefer to teach in a private school, where students have the willingness to listen and the ability to learn. So private schools have the pick of the teachers and mostly manage to hire good ones.
And part of that is that private High Schools are often able to put before their students that rare breed, a MALE teacher. And that does help male students, who tend to get put down and disrespected by female teachers.
So the lad I have in mind went to a private school where the mathematics teachers were male (funnily enough!) and who were very enthusiastic about their subject. And they enthused the boy. Which was something of a pity. Because he became a mathematician. He spent 8 years at distinguished universities studying it.
But he wasn't in fact very good at it. He could do it all but he was not good enough for it to lead to his heart's desire: A good job. And that showed up in his performance on ability tests. He was brilliant at verbal tasks but only in the top third for mathematics. Any guidance counsellor would have steered him away from mathematics and into something more verbal.
So were the 8 years he spent on mathematics wasted? Not really. Most people remember their time at university as a good time in their lives and he had 8 years of that, which he did enjoy. And coming from an affluent family he did not have fees or loans to worry about.
But it all worked out in the end. After he gave up on mathematics, he studied computer programming for a year. And he found his niche there. He did use his verbal ability, but in a non-obvious way. He was soon hired as a computer programmer. And he loves doing it. He gets paid a lot of money to do what is for him fun. And why is it fun? Partly because it is easy for him but also because it is like a puzzle that you always manage to solve. As a former FORTRAN programmer myself, I can vouch for how rewarding it is.
Programming is basically an exercise in being relentlessly precise and logical so it seems a bit odd that it should be associated with verbal ability but it seems to be. My strengths too are mostly verbal rather than mathematical and I almost got to the stage where I could write FORTRAN in my sleep. FORTRAN dreams? They can happen, though they don't lead to usable code
But the point is that a computer language is a language, if I can be tautological. A language like FORTRAN or C is a way of talking to a computer and telling it to do things -- so that is how it seems to work. The commands in a computer language are in fact mostly in English: DO, IF, SWITCH, WRITE etc. It's a reminder that computers are another great gift to the world from the English-speaking people -- people whom the Left scornfully refer to as "Dead white males".
So the lad was derailed for 8 years by good teachers. He spent 8 years doing something that was hard for him and which led nowhere -- but needed only one year of studies to reach his Elysium. He could have reached it much earlier.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).