[This is the second segment of my draft of a learning philosphy. This first part is here: 5 Senses.]
I have learned the most about teaching in the judo dojo. Most good judo organizations fit each of my themes for learning, but they are an especially good reflection of how important teaching is to learning, and learning is to teaching. Like most martial arts, judo has a set of “forms” (kata) that act as a kind of catalog of perfect techniques for the student to emulate. However, far less time is spent learning and observing the forms than is dedicated to what might be translated as “open engagement” (randori). Unlike the rigid grades for classes that are found in more structured learning environments, those practicing judo often work in pairs. Sometimes these pairs have similar experience, but other times they do not. While teaching does not occur in an explicit way, practitioners gradually widen their knowledge through physical discourse with those in their own club and, ideally, other clubs.
My syllabi often list a set of objectives that allow them to fit the genre and the expectations of the university, but I am quick to tell my students that what I expect is for them to teach me something I do not already know. It is fairly common to expect this of graduate students, who are quickly expected to learn through teaching, but undergraduates are less accustomed to such an approach. Creating a seminar structure in smaller classes is not too difficult, but even my large courses now include elements that are explicitly designed to go beyond the material in the class and ask students to create documents for teaching.
In an undergraduate theory course, for example, the final assignment, pursued through much of the course, was to create a communication theory textbook. Small groups worked on individual chapters, and in a couple cases, they actually sought out and interviewed scholars most directly involved in the theory. Several of the assignments were far better than existing textbooks on the subject, and while many were worse, the students had, in the process, become experts on the topics they were writing about. More recently, I have had students create entries for the Wikipedia, or write tutorials for technical topics.
After finishing my undergraduate degree in 1993, I spent two years in Odawara, Japan teaching in junior high schools, working with the board of education, and redesigning a curriculum in “international understanding.” In many schools in Japan, foreign instructors were used as human tape recorders, to provide better models for students to learn English conversation (a different sort of English, in many ways, from the formal study needed for high school entrance exams). Instead, we focused on what English conversation might be useful for, and created opportunities for its use. Students from different grades mixed and taught one-another what they knew and had discovered on their own. Initially, much of what they discovered was through pop culture, though in 1994 we instituted an e-pen-pal system so that students could learn about others living in Hawaii, Oklahoma, and New Zealand, and teach about themselves and their own culture.
In the years leading up to my first full-time university experiences, I was largely self-taught. I remain a strong believer in autodidactism, but I also recognize that knowledge only exists usefully when it can be communicated and shared with others. The ability to teach oneself is closely related, I think, to the ability to teach one another.