Children Education

Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks

Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks did not prepare lectures. They went straight into the classroom and started to talk. Of course they were teaching in universities to young grown-ups who already had a stock of knowledge picked up from schools. However, the way that these three men worked must have come as something of a shock to their students. They were all treated as researchers, continuously picking up new thoughts and possibilities as they went along, being free to be able to think and make notes about what was being said and sometimes to respond in their own ways to their teachers.

These three men treated every lecture as a continuation of ongoing discoveries. I was particularly impressed by Wittgenstein, who thought out loud and often showed his feelings and frustration because the work he was doing was so hard. It must have been very encouraging for his students that the great man could also suffer as they suffered when they came across blocks as all researchers do.

How I envied that method when I first found out about it! I would love to have sat at Sacks’ feet and heard everything straight from his mouth! However at that time my university degree was behind me and I was in South America with my young family and I didn’t know about Sacks until decades later.

Another unorthodox aspect of such teaching was that all three men published very few books. They were too busy thinking and learning. Indeed, Saussure’s students took on the task, after his death, to put together from notes taken during lectures and publish what they had learned from him. Similarly, one of Harvey Sacks women students, Gail Jefferson, had the foresight to tape-record and transcribe most of his lectures and published them in a hefty volume. Introductions to each of the two parts were written by Sacks’ close friend and colleague, Emanuel A. Schegloff.

Clearly, such a method would not be suitable for children. They need more guidance, but nevertheless, education would work better when children were encouraged to take part themselves instead of having to be talked at instead of with. The best teachers have always done that as I have heard from my own children and others who experienced the same approach. You can’t put teaching into a straitjacket and expect to produce creative and enthusiastic pupils for the benefit of all our futures.

Behaviour Children Education

Perfection is a Waste of Time

You won’t believe this but Ofsted has interfered so much in education, with pressure from the government, that at the beginning of each new academic year all teachers in comprehensive schools are obliged to attend the day before to be taught how to teach no matter how much or how little experience they have had. The result is that many of the best teachers feel very frustrated and look for another job or take the earliest retirement they can whilst the worst, who don’t mind being told what to do, stay on. The truth is that teaching, like writing, music and all kinds of creative activities are inherited abilities, just as we all have the mental capacity to be able to learn to speak and we all learn to do so in our own individual way.

So it follows that the the best teachers have their own methods learned from their own inherited talents and experiences. Three of the greatest in the field of language, Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks, were all innovators. They were from different countries: Saussure was Swiss, Wittgenstein was German and Sacks was American. Saussure discovered that words are signs and symbols that stand for all things, people and ideas. Wittgenstein taught us that the meaning of words depends on the contexts in which the words are used and Sacks agreed with Wittgenstein and contributed his work on Conversation Analysis in all social talk in many situations.

Could you imagine any of these great men allowing anyone to tell them what to do? Certainly not. We should show the same respect to our teachers as was the case before the 1950’s when I was at school. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Standards have dropped drastically. Useful subjects are largely left out, especially English grammar, Latin and foreign languages. Note these are all the humanities on which we build the foundations of our ability to think clearly and understand human nature and the bases of our own cultures.

We must not let ourselves be taken in by examination results. Anyone who wants to can rig them and they do. Who are making the judgements? Many of those whose education has suffered from the constantly lowering standards of the last few decades. They are the people who think they are right and that there is only one way of doing things according to their own prejudices.

More than ever standards are dropping in the fine arts.

However it is not all doom and gloom. For example, no-one tells conductors what to do yet they work in perfect harmony and this is recognised by the constantly filled Halls of the most popular music, including those from the past as well as the present.

Simon Rattle is, I think, one of the best. On the radio he was asked the question “How do you manage the orchestra?” His answer was “I’m constantly challenging the orchestra to do better. But they are also challenging me, so it’s a series of continual failures.”

This is a sharp reminder that nothing is perfect. All researchers have to bear this in mind. We learn more from our failures than from our successes. The more times we get something wrong the further we move towards success. What do we do when that is over? All who are worth their salt start to look for a further challenge.