Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches. George Bernard Shaw is credited with this line from his 1903 play Man and Superman, although it is unknown whether this was actually the opinion of Shaw, or merely a line of dialogue for one of his many characters. Either way, it is a platitude that still finds its way into our modern conversations with a great degree of regularity. And while there is no definitive way to determine how many believe this sentiment, the fact that it shows no sign of fading into obscurity after a century of use says a great deal. Misconceptions like this one are so unfortunate because not only are they fueled by ignorance, but they perpetuate it as well. The recipe for these misguided generalizations seems dependent upon two major ingredients, the first being a cunningly crafted mnemonic used to express an oversimplification. The second is the fact that, for one reason or another, many people seem content to allow someone else to do their thinking. Whether it__™s due to the hectic pace of our modern lives, or just plain old fashion laziness, single sized servings of ill-founded logic and overly vague generalities seem every bit as popular as downloading the latest ring tones.
Corporate advertising has capitalized on this tendency and churned out innumerable slogans and catch phrases that make the line between ethics and consumerism nearly indiscernible. We walk around regurgitating these prepackaged thoughts and expressing our individuality with mass produced clich__s. Through sheer repetition and rote memorization, we risk allowing these nuggets of disinformation to evolve from cleverly worded adages into national perceptions.
While I don__™t believe that the average citizen holds the same level of contempt for the teaching profession as Shaw, there are the obvious trends that make one question our society__™s opinion of it as a whole. The salaries and benefits for teachers continue to be substandard, funding and budgets are consistently cut or reallocated, and the number of people entering the profession remains on a steady decline. However, there is no shortage of sappy, feel-good propaganda meant to induce the warm-fuzzies and placate us into submission.
In fact, it is that specific genre of writing that causes me to choose my words here with great caution. I do not want to simply restate an argument that has already been made countless times before. There is a wealth of literature that expounds on the nobility inherent in the teaching profession; that addresses the numerous intrinsic rewards and outlines the unending hours of extra duty needed to remain a successful classroom teacher. And that is not to say that I don__™t agree with these statements, I just wanted to try and do more than merely echo the sentiment of other educational advocates.
Instead I wanted to try and get at the root of this phrase and unlock the thinking behind why it still has life in our modern society. My best speculation about the original inception of this slogan is that it was, unfortunately, entrenched in fact. There was a time in our nations history when the standards for becoming a public educator were dramatically lower than they are presently. This was coupled with the misconception that being skilled at a specific trade qualified an individual to be a successful teacher of that same trade. As a result, our public schools become populated by a number of people who simply ended up, unintentionally, becoming teachers. In an environment such as this, it must be noted that Shaw__™s critique bears some truth.
But a lot has changed since then, and I believe that the average person is well aware that being skilled in a certain subject, and being a successful teacher of a certain subject, are two entirely different tasks. And by no means does the former ensure the latter. In fact, I would contend that a majority of people would defend teaching as a profession of some nobility that requires a unique commitment and dedication. To that end, it has been my experience that nearly every single person has a favorite teacher that somehow significantly impacted their life. Not only that, but when questioned about their favorite teacher, most people immediately revert to a child like enthusiasm in recounting the specifics of that teachers affect on them personally.
So why does Shaw__™s myth persist? I could continue rambling on trying to formulate some hypothesis, but in the end, it would all be meaningless conjecture. So instead, I opt for a different strategy. I propose we face this myth head on and do what we can to smite it from our public vernacular. I recommend that we counteract the negativity inherent in Shaw__™s statement with a wave of positivity that washes the proverbial slate clean.
Here__™s what I suggest. No doubt your mind has already wandered a bit to thoughts of your own favorite teacher since my mention of it earlier. Take some time to remember that teacher. Think about what they specifically did that affected you meaningfully enough that you would still recall them all these years later. Examine your present life for signs of that teacher__™s continuing influence. Gather your thoughts, take some notes, and then, make contact. Track that teacher down and let them know the role they__™ve played in your life. Write a letter, make a call, send an email. Perhaps you could share your memories here and send them the link, whatever. Make contact.
I can assure you that the ten minutes of your time it will take to do this will be well worth it. Personal feedback from former students is among the most prized and cherished rewards a teacher can receive. And your actions will be in direct contradiction to Shaw__™s misconceived dialogue that has already lived long past its prime. You__™ll be helping to rewrite and reshape the public perception into a statement that better reflects what we all know to be true: ___Everyone can, because of those who teach___