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My Philosophy of Learning

Hiking with his students, an instructor is at the advance of a special exploration party. If it is a successful exploration it will unstiffen some previously held theories, ideas, and images; and it will encourage the development of broader perspectives, higher viewpoints, and enriched common sense.

The effective instructor, no less than any individual student, is an explorer during the trip. For the students it is mostly new terrain. For the instructor, much of the way has already been glimpsed, if not trodden. Paths that the instructor knows to be treacherous, misleading, or needlessly difficult are avoided. Students are guided to the pathways with abundant intellectual flora and fauna; to the meadows luxuriant with hints and promises of discovery; to the hills that offer panoramas of insight.

The effective instructor is responsive to the needs and concerns of his fellow hikers. Acquiring specialized vocabularies is difficult, so he is careful with his words. Searching for hidden intelligibility is painstaking, so he is careful with his questions and answers—encouraging individual discovery and personal appropriation. Seeing new paths and other points of interest, some students will stride off to areas that are unfamiliar or unknown to the instructor. So, the untypical or unexpected question is never dismissed as irrelevant. The instructor accepts his own considerable ignorance and will always be prepared to say: "I don't know about that; let's investigate and discuss it later."

The effective instructor challenges his students to be diligent and creative in their studies. Without taking sides or espousing his own favorite explanations, he “toughens up the tender and tenderizes the tough”—as William James puts it. He elicits a strong commitment to honest and straightforward discussion. He demands strict intellectual integrity.

It is impossible for the instructor to make a student learn something that the student cannot or does not want to understand. An instructor can only marshal the sensible elements of an issue in a suggestive order, with a proper distribution of emphasis and a deep-rooted enthusiasm. The instructor, together with every student, is an active learner—committed to continuous learning.

Hiking with his students, the instructor will especially follow paths that have "heart." Aware that reason has its limits, the instructor seeks those special paths that integrate feeling and reason—adventures in love and logic.

For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. There I travel, looking, looking breathlessly. —Carlos Castenada

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