The Odessa Record -

The desire to know more


"People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains. Knowledge has to be sucked into the brain, not pushed in. First, one must create a state of mind that craves interest and wonder. "You can teach only by creating an urge to know." Victor Weisskopf (1908-2002)

As this school year comes to a close, I look bakc upon my 42 years of teaching. It's been an interesting journey, to say the least. I began in what was then the largest high school in Georgia with 2,100 students, and I end in a rural eastern Washington high school with 58 students.

In 1971, the standard approach to teaching was that the teacher imparted knowledge to students eihter through showing them how or telling them what. Under my first English department chair, Mabel Wolinski, the hands-on approach became key to helping students make meaning of texts and their writing. As a teacher, I became a learner along with my students. That was my introduction to a new way of teaching, though I did not realize it at the time.

Of course, whether in high school or college, some knowledge is imparted, to be sure, but that knowledge which seems to stick around the longest is what matters the most and is used the most be learners, myself included. Even now, days from retirment, I am studying strategies for close reading to help students with their reading. Also, I have ordered a book on alternate ways of writing to further my understanding of different sentence structures and patterns that are closer to speech than to school or academic writing. Learning does not end when the last school bell rings or when the work stops for the day. Learning is a life-long endeavor.

When high school graduates thank me for teaching them, I thank them for using what they learned to advance themselves -- all I did was provide them opportunities to learn. That happened today with Josh Allen. I thanked him for taking what he learned and using it to his advantage. I truly think that the measure of all learning begins with the desire to know more about the world.

This notion of learning was voiced by Victor Wiesskopf, a theoretical physicist who wanted to know so much more about how the world operated that he worked on the Manhattan Project during World War Two and helped develop the atomic bomb. Known for his curiosity and intense enthusiasm for all things new, Weisskepf later pursued the path of peace and teaching.

I would expect such curiosity from a man like Weisskopf. More importantly, I expect the same from all those who just want to know more. We all can point to men and women who inspire us with their curiosity. For me, that began with my parents.World War Two interrupted their pursuits after high school. They never went to college. However, they read all the time, and not just for what helped them with work. They read for enjoyment, for the immense pleasure that reading gave to their personal lives. That pleasure they also nurtured in me.

I recall my high school German teacher, Frau Bertl Werny, who challenged us to stretch our thinking and world view by her reading to us, among other subjects, the latest thinking on how the mind works. My best friend, Van Brown, reads constantly and tells me at length what books I should read. I cannot keep up with him, but I do admire the depth and breadth of his desire to know more. My parents, Frau Werny and Van Brown, like many others in my life, have encouraged me to pursue my interests to know more.

I have taught at high school, vocational-tech school, and university levels. Those students who went beyond “getting grades” and pursued knowledge for its own sake have garnered for themselves a richer and fuller life. They learned to seek what fulfills them intellectually not because the job or school demanded it of them, but because they desired to know more. If I had a small hand in assisting any of them along this path, I am grateful I was able to help.

Teaching has not been about imparting knowledge, though some think that is all it is. Helping others to realize they know more than they think they do, that they have creativity to tap into, that they have much to share with the world – that is what teaching opens up for students. A teacher provides those opportunities to become engaged with the world. That is as it should be.


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