Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Learning by teaching

In a really ironic way, many of the things I have learned to do well, I learned because I had to teach them to other people.
  • I taught courses in "writing as a spiritual discipline" for years, but always felt like a fraud because I didn't have a really solid writing discipline myself. It was that cognitive dissonance that forced me to daily blogging, where I rediscovered and internalized many of the things I was teaching.
  • In the SKS, I'm always teaching the students about the value of making and keeping commitments . . . which invariably forces me to reevaluate my own capacity to make and keep commitments (which sometimes has been less-than-stellar).
  • As a consultant, this is a regular part of business. Sometimes people hire me because of my specific knowledge in a specific field, but given the breadth of my projects and their very nature (systems integration) there are always lots of things I'm learning on-the-fly. And, with most technical things, you don't have to know that much more than everyone else to become the local expert.

It comes down to making the committment to learn. Once you get up in front of a bunch of other people to teach them something, you feel an awful lot of pressure to know what you're talking about. And because the teaching always has a deadline -- an explicit time and place when the class takes place -- you don't have a lot of room to procrastinate or fudge.

If we embrace this approach, it turns into a kind of conscious hypocracy -- teach the things you know nothing about, model the behaviors you yourself are lacking. Weird. But, as Hamlet said, "Assume a virute if thou hast it not." We will fake it until we make it . . . or, more precisely, fake it in order to make it.

This also is why I think teaching should be a core part of the curricula in education at nearly all levels. The process of trying to model and transfer skills and understanding is a powerful way to motivate and reinforce your own learning.

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