Pete's Blog

Teaching

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Those that can, do - and those that can't, teach. It's an old saw (from George Bernard Shaw?) whose principal application seems to be by students crying sour grapes over a poor grade. Of course these days the job market for poets, 12-tone composers, and experts in Medieval Field Systems is such that often masters of these fields must teach somewhere to earn their livings but never mind. There's another reason that Shaw's old put-down has no special sting. I'm convinced that the best teachers, at least in the arts, are rarely the "best" exponents of the art they teach. What you want in a teacher is not so much mastery of the art itself as thorough, objective study of it. Too often the visiting genius stands at the lectern and says, "I dunno how I do it. It's in me and it comes out. Where's my check?" This person's understanding of the form extends only to the point of his own understanding, no further. with no need to know how other great artists do their work or, indeed, how to become a great artist at all. The teacher, on the other hand, poor, benighted hack whose own work doesn't rise past the level of competence, is far better able to compare, contrast, explicate for students' benefit the work of all the major figures of the form, his study fueled by the hopeless desire to someday understand the way the geniuses that inspired him understand. More than that, the teacher, in his loyalty to a muse who will never repay his love, does work just as capital-I Important as the genius, if not moreso. The teacher is the one who nourishes the line, his consciousness extending past the rewards of self and into the satisfactions of history. It is great work, perhaps the greatest of all.

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