Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Teaching, learning and understanding

Some of the best writing I’ve come across over the past month has been Eric Liu’s columns over at Slate. Some of the columns are drawn from his book published late last year, Guiding Lights : The People Who Lead Us Toward Our Purpose in Life, which only means I’m going to pick up my own copy to read more. The columns have really been spectacular.

I’ve been blessed with a few outstanding teachers through the years, and reading Liu’s columns has made me want to seek others out. His columns (so far) are here:

  • How to speak music, in which a Julliard professor teaches Eric the language of music, and in the process Eric learns how to improvise. As someone who worked hard to learn how to improvise (after more than a decade of playing clarinet, I managed one truly good jazz solo), it’s really interesting to see the process broken down by a master. Makes me want to re-learn the piano. Again.

  • How to pitch, where a Seattle Mariners pitching coach teaches Eric how to throw a change-up. The relevant quote:

  • He’d used the fastball interlude as a distraction and had gotten me back onto my original objective—throwing a good change. Like any good teacher, Bryan is a master of misdirection: working on a fastball to improve a change-up, using dry work without a ball to sharpen performance with a ball, and talking about how to keep a quiet head when, in fact, we were talking about how to keep a quiet mind.

  • How to act, where Eric learned from a Hollywood acting coach how to act.

  • [Teachers] manipulate. And that’s not inherently a bad thing. When you think about it, every act of teaching is a kind of manipulation. We hope—we trust—that the manipulation is well-meant, guiding us to discovery and to a clearer sense of our own voice. But ultimately, we can be sure of that only by trying, by entering into the apprenticeship. That is the risk that every actor, on every stage, is asked to take.

  • Being a Marine Drill Sargent, where Eric (who had spent two summers at Quantico’s Marine Officer Candidate School in college) learned how to command a squad of Marines at Camp Pendleton.

I look forward to reading more of Liu’s stories, and giving more thought to how they apply to organizational learning (which isn’t so much about individual teaching as it is about group dynamics and a collective desire to learn and improve). Much to digest!

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