Sunday, October 17, 2010

Untrained minds

I recently came across this interesting xkcd comic:

It reminded of me of an instructive personal incident from a long time ago, which serves to keep me humble as a teacher, to this day.

When I was in middle school, my school had this tradition of letting seniors teach juniors, a single class on Teacher's Day (September 5, in India). I distinctly remember that day, when I was teaching a bunch of second graders the difference between living and non-living things.

I neatly divided the board into two columns, and put "living things" on one side, and "non-living things" on the other, and proceeded to list their differences.

Living things move, non-livings things don't.
Living things grow, non-livings things don't.
Living things reproduce, non-livings things don't.
Living things die, non-livings things don't.

And so on.

Pretty vanilla, huh.

After I had smugly transcribed the contents of my memory, I turned around to see if there were any questions. I wasn't expecting any, really, so I was surprised when an eager hand shot up.

This kid asked me if a smart robot (like Giant Robot, from Johnny Sokko and his flying robot which aired on National TV) was living or non-living. Clearly, it could move, it could add stuff to itself, create new stuff, and be destroyed.

My response was something along one of the lines, in the comic above.

Of course, I now know the right answer should have started with "I really don't know."

PS: As a teacher now, I find the ability of untrained minds to ask penetrating questions extremely refreshing. They keep the fire alive.


milieu said...

Absolutely! And thanks for sharing the wonderful xkcd comic too. I just put it up on my facebook page.
Also, young and untrained ppl do not have their thinking set in a fixed pattern. This fixed pattern, while it is tremendously useful for the trained person, it also leads to group think and the inability to think outside the box for creative and innovative solutions.
I really love this quote...

"The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influences..."
Amos Alcott

Sachin Shanbhag said...

I love that quote - hadn't heard it before.