Humility in Teaching and Learning

In a recent short video, a guy called fousey poses as a panhandler in the streets of Los Angeles. Dressed in a hoodie and sitting in the all-too-familiar passive-on-the-sidewalk position, fousey holds up a sign reading

NO ONE HAS EVER BECOME POOR FROM GIVING

And to completely turn the situation into the world of the unexpected, he attempts to give ten dollars to passers-by.

Before watching (it’s a worthwhile but uncomfortable 5 minutes, I can assure you) ask yourself about the likely responses he would get. What would you say 1) if you had time to think about it (oh, I’d be so magnanimous) or 2) if you were taken completely by surprise (I wouldn’t be mean, but I’d probably be real uncomfortable).

As with all such documentaries, we have no idea how much selection and editing went into the final version.

The anger and apparent arrogance naturally emitting from the majority of people in the video is off-putting. What is it about the offer of 10 bucks that makes some people into jerks? And why am I talking about it on an education blog? Both these questions have troubled me since I first watched the video.

First, what do I think is going on in the video? Fousey is on the right track when he speaks of humility. I think that the concept needs to be considered in a wider sense than it is often used. If you’ve never begged for money, take a second and ask yourself how you’d feel about yourself for doing it.

It seems to me that in order to ask for money from a stranger, you have to assume a position of inferiority. You have to submit. You must humble yourself. And this, I think, is why some of the passers-by became angry. They were asked to submit to someone they believed to be an inferior. The request was gentle, but it was unwelcome

I think this also explains the bad ending to the “experiment”. When the most obnoxious man tries to reinforce fousey’s inferior status, fousey stands up angrily to defend himself. Essentially, he is saying “I am not your inferior.” Spoils the moment, but illustrates the point.

It strikes me that the student is often in the position of the beggar. The student is required to submit to the teacher. The teacher dispenses information, structure and knowledge at her/his own pleasure, and the student must cooperate to receive. Think about it for a minute.

It is not hard to see how easily this system can go wrong. A child who breaks in her/his submission is often dealt with harshly. But, seriously, can you blame a student for trying to seize control from time to time? And the teacher is in a precarious position as well. How is the teacher to be open to new experiences, to understanding the mind and desires of the student from a position of power? To accept a student’s offer of learning is to surrender the status that has already been negotiated. To do this fairly and equitably in a class of 30? How?

I have no answers as of yet. Indeed, I really haven’t fully formed the ideas that have come to the fore. I hope to explore this at a later date.

Will you help me to learn?

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3 thoughts on “Humility in Teaching and Learning

  1. Reblogged this on Be Fearless & Take Risks and commented:
    I watched this for the first time the other day and truly believe that it is so important to give not only “materialistic” things, but also to give your knowledge, experience and compassion. Teaching, learning and helping someone learning in my opinion is one of the best ways to give back to the world.

    Liked by 1 person

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