November 1, 2010

Questions for Mr. Gregory

At the end of last school year I read through The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. I wrote a post about it here. I read the book, did a few essays in an accompanying workbook written by Tom Spencer the high school principal for Logos School in Idaho. Then, I simply put all the ideas and thoughts on hold and went traveling this summer and basically forgot about all the rich nuggets of truth I had found. But I did not really forget them I was letting them settle, simmer on the back burner to see if what I was reading and learning was really going to be helpful and practical for us this next year. If the ideas were good they would look good again in three months. They proved to be, for now I am compelled to write about many for the ideas which captured my mind, gave me new insights and have reassured me in areas where I can see we are staying with the natural laws of the mind and seeing success.

The book caught my attention because I really am a free spirit and the idea of being under more laws just did not sound appealing. But I do like a book that makes me think, so I thought if these guys over there in Idaho have found this little book so helpful that all their teachers read it and do the essay work, I want to see what there is in it. I was amazed! I was not turned off by the laws and found so many cool little nuggets of truth in it, that it may take a few years before they all sink in.

For starters let’s ask Mr. Gregory some questions:

What is teaching?
“Teaching in its simplest sense, is the communication of knowledge…. It is painting in another’s mind the mental picture in one’s own - the shaping of a pupil’s thought and understanding to the comprehension of some truth which the teacher knows and wishes to communicate.” Pg 20-21

What is meant by Communication?
“…helping another to reproduce the same knowledge, and thus make it common to the two.”
Pg 21

What!Teaching has laws?
“Teaching has its natural laws as fixed as the laws of circling planets or of growing organisms. Teaching is a process, in which definite forces are employed to produce definite effects, and these effects follow their causes as regularly and certainly as the day follows the sun… the mind has its laws of thought, feeling, and volition, and these laws are none the less fixed that they are spiritual rather than material.”
Pg 21

Why should I know these laws?
“To discover the laws of any process, whether mental or material, makes it possible to bring that process under control of him who knows the law and can command the conditions… So he that masters the laws of teaching may send knowledge into the depths of the soul, and may impress upon the mind the images of truth. He who would gain harvests must obey nature’s laws for growing corn; and he who would teach a child successfully must follow the laws of teaching which are also laws of the mental nature.”
Pg 22

What are the laws of the mental nature? (paraphrased from pg 23-24)
1. The teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth to be taught.

2. A learner is one who attends with interest to the lesson given.

3. The language used as a medium between teacher and learner must be common to both.

4. The lesson to be learned must be explicable in the terms of truth already known by the learner. The unknown must be explained by the known.

5. Teaching is arousing and using the pupil’s mind to form in it a desired conception or thought.

6. Learning is thinking into one’s own understanding a new idea or truth.

7. The test and proof of teaching done-the finishing and fastening process-must be re-viewing re-thinking re-knowing, and re-producing of the knowledge taught.
These laws seem pretty simple and a bit obvious… why write a whole book about them?
“Like all great laws of nature, these laws of teaching will seem at first simple facts, so obvious as scarcely to require such formal statement, and so plain that no explanation can make clearer their meaning, But, like all fundamental truths, their simplicity is more apparent than real. Each law varies in applications and effects with varying minds and persons, though remaining constant to itself; and each stands related to other laws and facts, in long and wide successions, till it reaches the outermost limits of the science of teaching…..the discussion in the following chapters will reach every valuable principle in education, and every practical rule which can be of use in the teacher’s work.”
Pg 25

Why do some people seem to already know how to teach well and they do not know any of these laws?
“Doubtless there are many successful teachers who never heard of these laws, and who do not consciously follow them just as there are people who walk safely without any theoretical knowledge of gravitation, and talk intelligently without studying grammar. Like the musician who plays by ear, and without knowledge of notes, these “natural teachers” as they are called, have learned the laws of teaching from practice, and obey them from habit. It is nonetheless true that their success comes from obeying law and not in spite of laws. They catch by intuition the secret of success, and do by sort of instinct what others do by rule and reflection.”
Pg 26

I am not a “natural teacher,” but I am afraid if I simply obey laws I will become a cold mechanical sort of teacher.
“Let no one fear that a study of the laws of teaching will tend to substitute a cold, mechanical sort of work for the warm-hearted, enthusiastic teaching so often admired and praised. True skill kindles and keeps alive enthusiasm by giving it success where it would have otherwise be discouraged by defeat. The true worker’s love for his work grows with his ability to do it well. Even enthusiasm will accomplish more when guided by intelligence and armed with skill…” Pg 27

All quotes are form The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory

I will be posting much more from this book in the coming days and weeks, may they inspire us and make us enthusiastic and skillful painters of ideas in our children’s minds!

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