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.