Teaching genius . . . does it come in a can?
Claremont, Calif. — "Why not make a videotape of Doc?" a parent was suggesting. The faculty was losing an outstanding teacher. Doc has an exceedingly rare gift: Not only can he communicate mathematics -- even calculus -- to students who think themselves to be stupid in such a subject; he can even inspire a love and pleasure for math in students who previously though they hated it.
But can you collect Doc in a can? True, a movie might be valuable to students whose inclination to learn is already a habit. But could it preserve the living presence of his teaching genius?
"Why not?" the parent asked. After all, this is an audiovisual age!
A member of the faculty answered: "The relationship of a teacher with a particular student or class is as sensitive, as delicate, as the rapport of a particular performing artist with his particular audience [in contrast to a mass audience]. A genuine teacher must perform as an artist."
A teacher must call the individual out of the mass! that is the challenge.
Many a scholar may know as much mathematics as Doc does. Probably very, very few can make mathematics both clear and beautiful -- particularly to those who have never thought rigorously before or to those conditioned to believe they can't learn the stuff.
Once I experimented with some excellent films on literary classics, featuring celebrated scholars, from whom I personally learned much. Yet one of my students -- hardly the best grademaker -- blurted out one day:
"Why can't we get back to class and discuss things ourselves?"
"Living Docs" are required in real schools. Even books are "only secondary" -- as Albert Einstein insisted -- however "indispensable" books may be.
The live human being is the best and always will be the best teaching aid for those who are also human. He's even indispensable for programming a computer.