what would Bertrand Russell do?

On Education has posted an essay by Bertrand Russell that jibes with some of the ideas/questions/comments in my post on discipline and the beginning of the semester. I particularly love Russell’s final paragraph:

Unfortunately, it is utterly impossible for over-worked teachers to preserve an instinctive liking for children; they are bound to come to feel towards them as the proverbial confectioner’s apprentice does towards macaroons. I do not think that education ought to be anyone’s whole profession: it should be undertaken for at most two hours a day by people whose remaining hours are spent away from children. The society of the young is fatiguing, especially when strict discipline is avoided. Fatigue, in the end, produces irritation, which is likely to express itself somehow, whatever theories the harassed teacher may have taught himself or herself to believe. The necessary friendliness cannot be preserved by self-control alone. But where it exists, it should be unnecessary to have rules in advance as to how “naughty” children are to be treated, since impulse is likely to lead to the right decision, and almost any decision will be right if the child feels that you like him. No rules, however wise, are a substitute for affection and tact.

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2 responses

  1. When I worked in the House of Commons, I noticed something immediately when I started to make the rounds and meet all the staffers. There was a stark difference between the UKers and Americans regarding how they viewed themselves in relation to their work. Put simply, UKers more frequently expressed that what they do – their job – isn’t necessarily who they are. Contrast that with social situations in the US; the first question after, “What’s your name?” is “So what do you do?”

    Russell’s conclusion that, “I do not think that education ought to be anyone’s whole profession” would serve educators well. Though one need not separate themselves fully from their job, one must be more than their 9-5 or the burnout and resulting anomie/frustration/misery is too much.

    Oddly enough, this attitude means that one serves their students better by being less of an educator – as long as they fill that gap with being more of a person.

  2. Absolutely, Matthew. Once when I was having a particularly difficult semester, I went to see my dean – who was also a friend and who knew about some things that were important in my life outside of my day job – and asked her advice about a specific problem. She gave me a few practical suggestions, and then said, “You know what else I think you should do? I think you should go home and work on your novel. Remind yourself that this is not all you are.”

    CEGEP teachers are lucky, in that we do have long recovery periods in which to muster up our enthusiasm again. I’m not sure how elementary and high school teachers do it. Anyone? How do you do it?

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