Reflections about Education and “Walking the Talk”

Carol A. Hand

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” (George Bernard Shaw, 1903, Maxims for Revolutionists)

I wonder. How many people believe Shaw’s words to be true?

teacher 3

Perhaps it is for those who define what they do as “teaching.” The narrow view that those we call “students” are empty vessels waiting for experts to fill them up with facts and status quo explanations. What if, like Freire, we view the foundation of education, both of others and ourselves, as a never ending process that emerges from experience, observations, dialogue and critical reflection?

“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.” (Paulo Freire)

The role of an educator carries the responsibility for careful reflection about how to use the prevailing social institutions (or explore the possibility of new ones) to liberate rather than oppress. That means creating an environment where inquiry and curiosity are encouraged, where it’s safe to question everything and engage in honest, critical reflection and dialogue about the world as it was, is, and could be.

“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

What if you have been able to do the things you’re hired to “teach” about? That doesn’t make it easy to pass on knowledge and skills to others. Often what you know came as a result of trial and error in the real world, reinventing the wheel in specific contexts through authentic egalitarian dialogic partnerships with others. Is this something that you can allow others to experience in a 15-week semester?

course development 2

This is the task a friend and I are presently trying to address as we attempt to integrate courses on research and community practice. It’s why I don’t post much these days. Yesterday, we spent hours planning how to integrate and sequence our assignments to provide the knowledge students will need for competent ethical practice in the future and experiential learning opportunities to test it out in “close to real-life” situations.

The real challenge for both of us, working in partnership, is to create an environment for students to learn for themselves what we have both been able to do in the past (and still do as our current efforts demonstrate). Can we “do” community practice and research in the context of these classes nested within an educational institution? For me, it is a mini-research study. “What works and what doesn’t?” For my colleague, it’s an opportunity to engage students in our classes as groups and as a a whole community in the process of planning respectful, liberatory, beneficent community change. There are crucial lessons to be learned for all of us by working together.


Image: Community Clip Art

“The oppressors do not favor promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)



50 thoughts on “Reflections about Education and “Walking the Talk”

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  1. I taught in a performing arts/fine arts high school, which was attached to an alternative “arts and academics” high school as well.

    In the performing arts, we threw our kids together to work on projects throughout the year, and this led to a place where we the “couldn’t dos, so we taught” sat back and watched as our kids grew by leaps and bounds, and not only in knowledge but in creative experience. All I had to do was feed them the information they needed, and keep placing ways in front of them for them to use that information. Process was the key, and I really stumbled on it. It was there and found me and our kids.

    My composers and performers would work with dance and theater students, and the Radio/Broadcast students would record and produce their art on video. We even got the fine arts students involved in these collaborations. It was a freedom and source of creativity, in an educational setting, that I never experienced as a young musician, in high school or college. And as I became ill and had to leave, we were even planning to bring in the academic teachers and students.

    Did I mention I loved teaching?

    Anyway, you seem to be seeking a similar process and result. And I have no doubt you will succeed!

    As I’ve said before, Carol, your students, whether they realize it fully or not, will be blessed to have you as a mentor/instructor and someone who cares about them, their friend!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Dave, I’m so sorry to hear that you had to leave a job you loved due to illness. It was such a loss for students and the the new initiatives you were planning.

      It is so much easier for me to imagine students being excited about the freedom to be self-directed and creative in art classes than it is to imagine social work students who are eager to take a research class. Amazingly, the last time I taught it (in 2014), there were 2 students out of 16 who were excited and remained so even after the class was done. I think the difference is not because art is any less rigorous, but students in art usually choose to be there. Social work students are required to take research, something they’ve learned to view with dread because of the horror stories they’ve heard from previous students.

      You mentioned a crucial ingredient. You need to love the subject you’re teaching as well as the chance to share that love with others – the chance to inspire others to learn tools that can unlock creative skills, critical thought, and maybe preserve beauty and help move us to a kinder world.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I still have a few close friends who were academic teachers. And so I understand what you mean, Carol. As you point out, my kids were in the program because they had chosen and wanted to be. I had it made from the start, in comparison to my fellow academic teachers.

        This is why we (the arts staff) were scratching our heads, right before I left, on how to bring in the math/science and language teachers into this process. But I still believe there is a way, because we all have a cognitive and an affective thirst, and the two should never really be separated, in my opinion. Knowledge, imagination and creativity are all three key to learning and life long successful application.

        Carol, you had two students who were excited! That’s what I call success! This is what I call, to coin an educational, behavioral phrase, a “successive approximation towards a desired goal!”;-)

        And thank you for your kindness, Carol. I was blessed to have had those years I taught!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am finding not teaching, for the first time in memory, odd. I would say that teaching is very much doing, and teaching well is a major accomplishment. It is also fun, and very hard work. But then, you know this already.(How can anyone not know that Shaw was just being himself?)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Michael. I’m surprised to hear that you won’t be teaching this semester. I’m sure the students will miss you a great deal. I’m sure you will breathe your love and spirit into whatever your choose to do this semester.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hate that remark. It’s insulting and implies that teaching is beneath anyone with “real” talent. There are rotten apples in any barrel and sadly the teaching profession is not exempt for such. But at least for me, I worked hard, cared about my students, and gave it my best shot. Only their lives will tell whether or not I did them any good. But I walked away believing I’d done as good a job as I could and better than most. People on the outside looking in seldom have any real understanding about anything. You have to walk to proverbial mile in someone else’s shoes to have any kind of knowledge of a circumstance or job. I use to hate it when my daughter and some of my students were called over-achievers as if they had no real ability. I preferred to think of them as super achievers who understood well why learning was important. Sorry, but I get on my soap box pretty easily when it comes to the publics view and ignorance of such things. Very nice post Carol. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hear you on this. Being in the arts, I was a practicing musician before I became a teacher. And most of the arts educators I knew were also still either performing or practicing their art professionally. So we had that advantage that many academic educators don’t have.

      But this quote is ridiculous. I had, as a student, and knew excellent academic teachers who had taught their entire lives! And they taught because they loved teaching and wanted to teach, not because they had to! As one of the other comments made clear, it is always those on the outside looking in who seem to believe they have all the answers. And this is why teachers and administrators are struggling right now, because it is those on the outside looking in who are in charge!

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Thank you so much for sharing your passionate commitment to teaching, Natalie. Educators do one of the most essential jobs in any culture – they help people learn the knowledge and develop the skills they need to survive from one generation to the next. I have no doubt that you cared about all of your students and had a profound effect on their lives. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  4. An interesting article on “education” and “teaching.” The way I see it, perhaps the first 3-4 years could be spent inculcating data: letters, arithmetic, learning to read, write and add, subtract, multiply. After that it gets very difficult. If I were a free thought educator – not a robot in a government controlled institution as all public ed is today – I’d bring my class (maximum 20 people) together and we’d get to know each other. Then my question would be, “What do you hope to gain from this exchange; what do you want from me? Also, what are you willing to teach me, so I can learn to share my information with you more effectively? Finally, “DO YOU HONESTLY DESIRE TO BE HERE?” If the answer to that last question is ambivalent, then class dismissed – permanently. Next group.

    You cannot “teach” anything to a captive audience that would naturally choose to be somewhere else. Sure, you can make robots, but not educated people whose education helps them evolve all aspects of living in a social environment. You have to be able to demonstrate how every aspect of your teaching is directly connected to your student’s home, street, work or leisure time environment. That sort of teaching can only come by drawing on one’s personal experience. No teacher for, say, grades 5 and up should be in a teaching environment who hasn’t spent half a life at least in the “real” world either as a salaried employee or a professional. You don’t learn to teach from courses and books… or by Googling! 🙂 Just as a truly successful student isn’t the one who aces tests. Those only demonstrate either a good memory and cheating smarts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your always thoughtful and thought-provoking insights, Sha’Tara. I do agree that those without knowledge gathered though experience, and love for what they do, shouldn’t tell others what to do. Those who do have real-life experience know that what matters is the ability to think critically in order to solve new problems. Old approaches may provide suggestions about where to start or what to avoid, but not the whole answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not a teacher, and also dislike that initial quote! I think inspiring students can be very hard, and I’m so grateful to the fantastic teachers I’ve had. I’ve been asked to give a short careers session to a group of 15-16 year olds at my old school next week! Feel a bit underqualified for this, and hope I can make it a dialogue, not a presentation… Met the current Head recently and found him an inspiring and passionate teacher.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Farmer Fi. I’m sure you will do a great job at the careers session. I loved the video you posted recently that explained why and how you trimmed your olive trees. The work you do is fascinating and crucial these days for people to learn. Best wishes to you with your presentation and farm. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you very much for your kind words, and for taking the time to watch my video!

        I feel reassured that people like you are involved in education, encouraging students to develop enquiring minds 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Shaw I am sure was an ass but I do love many of his works. On this, though, I sometimes wonder if he didn’t mean that teaching is what one should do after they’ve DONE something…. which is what my Aunt Else May Smith (teacher of teachers and one fo the core founders of the gerontology movement) advised me as I wanted to be a teacher. She said, “Don’t study teaching. Go study what you love, do that, then teach THAT.” I followed her advice.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Carol, Shaw could be such a smart-ass… And only those who can’t teach would or could believe that line!
    I was lucky enough to have many great teachers — I just wish it had rubbed off! Thanks and more for your fine work here, and could we find some way I could have you for my teacher without moving to Minnesota? – Linda

    Liked by 2 people

  8. spoken like the true
    compassionate teacher
    that you are, Carol!
    i recall reading quotes by those in power
    to shape education back in those days
    who declared education was to more
    or less craft dutiful workers & soldiers 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Such astute reminders of how those in power have crafted the current “teaching” (assimilating) institutions, David. But I do love the challenge of bucking the system as long as I can stand the heat, and it’s soooo refreshing when there are like-minded allies and partners to work with. 🙂


  9. Wonderful comments along with your inspiring post, Carol. As a learner, I have always found that critical thinking combined with hands-on exploration created learning experiences that stuck with me. When I was a teenager, I remember being challenged to think and some of my conclusions of that time informed the person that I would become. I have no doubt that you are creating life-changing educational experiences for your students. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing such important memories, Diana, and for your kind words. In all honesty, I do hope students gain something important, but they’re really the ones who make it happen. Teaching is like writing a book. One shares stories and ideas crafted with through and care, but it’s the reader who gives them meaning and ultimately breathes them into life. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Very interesting post. The lines about students being seen as empty vessels to be filled wth facts by experts really caught my eye. One of the online classes (MOOC) I have been involved in has had, as one of its stated aims, “the death of the lecture”. The professor sees his role as more of a facilitator, sparking discussions and encouraging a collaborative learning environment among students. I had thought this was a unique approach, but your post and the responses to it show otherwise. It demonstrates that those who truly desire to “teach” know the difference between merely imparting knowledge and

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Carl. The challenge of many teachers is to reframe our accomplishments. You were able to inspire a sizable number of high school students to take their education seriously despite peer pressure to do otherwise. That’s a major accomplishment from my perspective, although I don’t want to minimize how demoralizing it must have been at the time. It took courage and tenacity to keep trying for the sake of those who wanted to learn.


      1. I did have success mostly in setting individual paths wherein each teen could see and measure matters of accomplishment. I learned too in last half of my career. It was not history I should have been teaching – that’s a mere by-product. I needed to be more of a reading and writing skill teacher. I also believed in alternative assessment and gave grades for art work history related and so many excelled being allowed to learn and express in that domain.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Such crucial insights, Carl. I agree – reading, writing, critical thinking, and expressing creativity are the most important lessons we can use to try to inspire students across all subjects. It helps unlock a love for lifelong learning, the most important legacy.


  11. Thoughtful reflections on pedagogy. I am not from academia as my background is a corporate career of thirty eight years. Surprisingly, I am, since beginning of this year, part of guest faculty in two shipping & logistics schools based on my long years in the industry. And the realisation dawns that it takes real hard work to be an interesting teacher. Hence Shaw’s statement is more in the nature of one his satiric takes. However, the variant of it like ‘He who can, creates; he who cannot, criticises’, could be closer to truth. The shorter durations of vocational training courses, where the teacher gets to spend a maximum of 40 hours for a subject spread over twelve weeks make teaching all the more challenging in terms of squeezing in lectures, internal tests and assignments into the given time slot. It needs dedicated efforts. These qualities are there in you, Carol, and I can see you there on top of your task.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Raj. I’m glad to hear you are sharing your expertise! And I agree. Being an interesting teacher takes a lot of work, especially when you have to figure out what people need to know and what you can realistically cover in such a short time! (I’m still working on ways to integrate and explain the online pieces of a hybrid class more effectively.)

      I love how you reframed Shaw’s words: “He who can, creates; he who cannot, criticises.” Brilliant!


  12. If someone said something, should we take it as a Total Truth? I think that it was just a joke, in Show’s style. There are two separate parts in teaching process: knowledge itself and teaching techniques. Some people possess a ton of knowledge, but have no idea how to teach. Some people’s knowledge is quite modest, but they teach their pupils curiosity, observance, love for learning and questioning.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Such astute insights, Inese. Thank you for such thoughtful comments. I remember one of the best professors I had at the university. He acknowledged that learning hadn’t been easy for him, but it taught him how to teach. He also emphasized his philosophy for success – “Talent, training, and tenacity – tenacity being the most important.”

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Carol, your passion for teaching and sharing of knowledge shines out in this post. Educators with this care and ability have to power to effect so many live and are a crucial element in our society. For those at the receiving end of an education taught by people without such skills the result is equally profound. A thoughtful interesting post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments, Persian Past. I wish you success with your studies and with reaching your goal to become a special teacher who can help students develop and express their full potential.


  14. I loved reading your post Carol and I admire the way you speak about education and liberating the natural inquisition in students. I have learned so far in my short teaching career that the perspectives of my students have taught me so much. I love encouraging healthy class discussions and I enjoy it when students critically debate issues and content. Thank you for the inspiration and good luck with your research!


    1. Thank you for your thoughtful, lovely comments, JT. Teaching is such an important profession and your perspective and approach are so refreshing. I wish you the best with your wise and compassionate approach. I have no doubt that the lives of those you teach will be transformed in the process. ❤


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