Practicality and Prudence

I do a lot of teacher training and one thing I have to do is meet the request by teachers for practical help. People want practical instruction from me.

They tend to show great confidence in me, as though nothing could be easier than giving sound practical counsel. They don’t realize how frightful a thing it is to attempt to give practical advice from a distance.

  • The danger of applying a general principle without regard for circumstances scares me, but that is precisely what curricular programs and formulaic counsel do.
  • The farther removed you are from a specific situation, the more you need to abstract your applications. The teacher might think, “Oh, now I can solve that problem, he has given me a technique.” If you can solve a problem with a technique, it wasn’t a pedagogical problem.
  • By drawing all these abstractions, you have already made a high level of education impossible. For example, if I say, “This is how you use this program,” anything I say will be so abstract and statistical and general that it will undercut the possibility of achieving a truly great education for the students in your class.

Thus, practical instruction is needed, but it is always much less practical than the teacher’s wisdom. We need to know principles and causes, not abstracted techniques.

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