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Be Practical

Co-Authors: Teresa Elsenbrock and Andrew Kern

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A hypothesis: Specific concrete teaching tips and hints can be helpful and yet not practical.

If that is true, then we may need to rethink our working definition of the word practical.

Sunday, a thought came to mind: We can’t practice what we don’t know. Knowledge that is useful – practicable – is rooted in underlying principle. Therefore, what we know and understand in principle can be applied practically in many situations.

However, if we are given snippets of instructions/commands without knowing the reason/principle behind them, the benefit is very limited. We won’t have anything on which to base our judgment in future situations.

Actions can be exhibitions of principles, or they can simply be concrete (but non-transferable) solutions to specific problems, which amounts to little more than behavioral responses to certain stimuli.

In post-human models of thought, the eternal principles don’t matter, and in fact are purposefully trained out of minds. All the “student” is left with is his response to stimuli. He can no longer be a free agent able to discern right and wrong, because he is given no principles on which to base his actions.

Schools can be blamed for stealing the ‘chests’ from our children, but it is even more of a disservice when parents fail to equip their children with the moral principles that will serve as their main guide in their future acceptance or rejection of ideas. “Train up a child in the way he should go…”

I suppose this is partly why some of the contrived teaching of the “grammar stage” without the logical underpinnings of truth is stultifying and demoralizing to children. They deserve to know the foundational whys, and to be able to apply that knowledge in proportion to the dictates of their age-appropriate ability and experience.

So sometimes our request for hints and practical solutions will solve our immediate need, but it won’t serve in the long-term. I can think of at least one situation where it is helpful and necessary, but, in general, we should not be asking for solutions to problems but for principles and truths so that we can think our way to our own solutions.

The one exception is when we are new to something and are not yet able to understand the principles. When I am about to teach in a classroom for the first time and have not yet been in that situation, the principles can help, but I really need to be taken by the hand. I have not yet seen the principles embodied, so I probably won’t be able to figure out how to embody them myself.

That is why we all need mentors. But the mentor who gives me nothing but techniques and measures – or a textbook – has done me a disservice. He should have revealed the principles behind them so I would be free of him as soon as possible.

So if we are going to be truly practical, we need principles, not only specific practices. The truth always applies, regardless of circumstances; tips and hints only sometimes.


This post is the product of a dialogue between the co-authors, Teresa Elsenbrock and Andrew Kern.

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