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Psychology of Change & Transformation

Article Summary:
Kindling the Fire of Curiosity:
Professor Julius Sumner Miller on What is Needed to be a Good Teacher

James Neill
Last updated:
13 Aug 2004

As printed in The Weekend Australian, October 24-25, 1992, pg. 30.  Italics added.

What I have to say holds for the teaching of anything -- science, literature, poetry, mathematics, navigation and rockclimbing -- all, indeed, that comes within the pale of human knowledge.

My view is this: We TEACH nothing. We do not teach psychology nor do we teach STUDENTS.  (I take psychology as an example.) NO ONE IS TAUGHT ANYTHING!  Here lies the folly of his business.  We try to teach somebody something. This is a sorry endeavour for no one can be taught a thing.

What we do, if we are successful, is to stir interest in the matter at hand, awaken enthusiasm for it, arouse a curiosity, kindle a feeling, fire up the imagination -- and now she who is exposed in this fashion goes on her own way, I owe a great and lasting debt.

Not too many teachers are endowed or equipped to do these things. And for this we can in part blame their teachers.  This scheme of 'instruction' is a far cry from the mere communication and recitation of facts.

What is needed is competence first and enthusiasm first. There is nothing second!  Although each or one of these alone is a good start, one without the other is impotent.  But if I had a choice I would have enthusiasm first.  The teacher must herself be excited if she is to sell her goods.  And she can do an exciting job in stirring the student without herself knowing all the answers.

As I see it then, the teacher communicates too much fact and the students ingests too much.  The teachers tells her what she should know, this she acquires transiently and superficially, and to the degree she regurgitates it is her success measured.  And her brain has been barely touched.

Teachers must, I say, recite LESS facts, ASK MORE questions, in classrooms, on the campus or on a wilderness experience. The drama and beauty and aesthetic of the subject must be pointed up.

The intellectual process must be STIRREDA FEELING for knowledge for its own sake must be engendered.  Learning will then be an exciting adventure which few can escape, nor will many wish to.  And it will bring the spirit to a great awakening which can likely last a lifetime.