“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Socrates
I, put rather simply, am woeful at maths. My mind refuses to connect number bonds, to divide fractions, and often, to multiply the simplest of sums. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It got to the point at school that Shuggie (the maths teacher) actually refused to teach me at Intermediate 2 level. Refused.
I, now a teacher, was unteachable. My previous maths teacher made the entire class stand up and give me a round of applause when I scored 100% on a scale test. I went on to fail the following three. Apart from desperately trying to figure out if I have enough money for the next round, I really don’t see the point in it. I know it is important. I know the entire universe revolves around it. I know it must be taught in schools. Yet, for me, one of the best things that ever happened was the day maths and I, finally, with absolute mutual consent, parted ways. Maths went on to continue ruling the universe without my help (and I am humble enough to say it is doing a damn fine job), and I, walked back to my dorm room and enjoyed a year of seven free periods a week. It was the deal of the century.
A year later, I found myself in need of a new subject to study. Everyone else was still scratching their heads over, well, things I will never be able to comprehend let alone write about. I needed a subject to get into University. I went to the Deputy Head to ask if I could do the teach-it-yourself Psychology course the school offered.
“I don’t trust you to do the work on your own.” he said.
“Well, what am I supposed to do then?!” I retorted.
“Go and see Mr Silcox in the Philosophy hut.”
And thus, my life changed forever. I discovered the very essence of life itself. I found a way to understand the universe in words, not numbers. I even discovered that I had a startling ability to solve complex logical equations that proved if an argument could be, necessarily, true or not. Yes I, the divorcee of maths, could solve philosophical equations like a ten year old could solve two plus two. (It’s three, right?)
Seriously, though. Something had changed. Something had been kindled in my heart and mind. I was opened. I honestly felt as though I had awakened my entire being, something once so heavy with impossible tasks and burdens and pressure, was finally released into a realm of enjoyment, of interest and of love. It wasn’t easy. It was really difficult to understand, but I loved delving into its deepness and discovering something about myself, the world and existence itself. After many, many years, I had finally found my way.
Mr Silcox did that for me. He kindled that flame and it still burns today. He never bombarded me with information, never made me memorise texts, never gave me hours and hours and hours of homework. He never got annoyed when I didn’t understand something and he never got annoyed when I came back a week later still nowhere near closer to understanding it. He never looked at me and saw a vessel that needed to be filled. He never looked at me and saw an opportunity to make himself look good. He simply lit a flame inside me and let the rest fall into place. And that, is true teaching. The kindling of a flame. Awakening the soul to something beautiful. He gave me something that no one can ever take away and I am, forever, grateful for that.
Well, here I am. Many years later, a teacher myself. A joint Master of Arts Honours in English and, you guessed it, Philosophy. All because my inability to understand Pi almost gave ole Shuggie a heart attack. Life certainly is funny. Every moment of our existence is so important. Everything links together on a complex web of interactions, each affecting the very steps you take today.
Imagine a world, where there were no teachers, no schools, no learning. We would be stuck in the Stone Age. Education is just so damn important. Imagine a world where nobody thought? And that is what education should always be about – thinking. Inspiring a child to think about the subject, to question everything. My mum once told me she was not surprised I loved philosophy so much, as my entire childhood was spent asking “why?”. As annoying as it was for her, it was the foundations of my entire career. It just took a long time until I was in an environment where my curiosity could flourish. Again, Mr Silcox gave me that. All teachers should give their students this. We aren’t here to make a school look good because the students achieve good grades. I, certainly, am not. I am here to inspire my students to open themselves up, to discover their talents, to love to learn. To Think! Once a child discovers that flame inside them, they are set for life whatever they do and that’s the most important thing a teacher can ever give.
Descartes managed to come up with one simple, pure truth. Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. I may not ever find out the meaning of life, why we are here or even what Pi is! But, one thing I do know is that I exist as a thinking thing, simply because I think. The Cogito has its problems, of course. Philosophers think a lot! But it has become a basis for my own, personal existence. I remember asking Mr Silcox about this. I asked him, “Does that mean you exist as a teacher, simply because you teach?”
“I cannot teach anybody anything.” he said.
“I can only make them think.”
Now, that’s what I call teaching.