The educationist Patricia Cross makes a profound statement (in her essay “In Search of Zippers” published in the June 1988 edition of the American Association for Higher Education Bulletin) — “learning has many ends, teaching has only one: to enable or cause learning.” In its truest essence, teaching is about igniting a spirit of learning — about getting Learners to acquire the skill of learning to learn.
Sarah Lewis (Professor of art history, architecture and African-American studies at Harvard) makes an observation on mastery in “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery” — and it gives us a clue to what the skill of learning is really about.
“Mastery”, Sarah writes, “requires endurance….Mastery is not the same as success — an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a….constant pursuit.” This “pursuit” needs an unending devotion to curiosity, practice, self-improvement, and a willingness to “accept” the lows of failure, uncertainty, and forces over which one has no control.
The “acceptance of the low[s]”, and not getting bogged down, dejected, or distracted, are important. She quotes this immortal line from Joseph Campbell (from his conversations with Bill Moyers published as “The Power of Myth”): “The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”
One of Sarah’s ideas, that learning (indeed, mastery) is not about achieving an end-point, is also emphasised by Barbara Oakley, engineering Professor at Oakland University in “A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)” — “The biggest lie ever is that practice makes perfect. Not true — practice makes you better.”
There is no “perfect” end in learning and mastery — it is simply about continuously striving to get better — and becoming better.
If we grasp what Patricia, Sarah and Barbara are teaching us, our classrooms would become places the young happily rush to….