I hate zero sum games (situations where my gain is dependent on the loss of someone else). A good example of a zero sum game is poker, where every dollar you win is a dollar that someone else has lost. It’s simply inefficient. As a society I believe we should strive to create cultural conventions whereby everyones benefits are aligned (financial and otherwise). That is why I love education. Teaching is the ultimate non-zero-sum game. Much like how one candle can light many others, yet lose none of it’s own light, one teacher can teach many others and lose none of their own knowledge.
Thinking back to my education, I had many great teachers, however there are two that influenced me more than all the others. They are recognized and categorized below.
Kevin Coll: The Free Thinker
As a high school writing teacher Mr. Coll refused to conform to the conventions of writing education. When asked by a student if it was proper to begin a sentence with the word “and” or craft a paragraph out of only one sentence, rather than simply saying no, Mr. Coll would tell the student to try it and see how it feels. He would encourage students to break every rule and tradition and feel their way to their own unique style of writing and communication. He promoted free thinking and taught me to break the rules.
Stephan Perlman: The Slave Driver
Prof. Perlman was, and continues to be, one of the most impressive individuals who I have ever met. In his role as a 100 level college English teacher he forced his students to learn to think for themselves by hammering them with assignments. His course required that every 2 weeks, all students complete a writing composition that was at least 7 pages long and had a thesis that was both original (something that had never been said before) and subversive (in contrary to popular opinion). If your work did not succeed in meeting these criteria, you received an F. After 5 F grades, 10 all-nighters, and having chalk thrown at me more than once, I finally learned to think for myself.
A holistic education really needs both types of teachers. The Free Thinker puts you on the path to success, and the Slave Driver makes sure you get there. Personally, as a teacher, I much prefer playing the part of the Free Thinker. However, it is equally important to balance an education with a Slave Driver who can facilitate transformative experiences to propel students to the next level.
It’s also not a coincidence that both of the teachers who I believe have been most influential to me are writing teachers. Communication is the most important skill for any job. As my great uncle once told me: no matter what business you’re in, you’re in the people business.