Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Work With Those You Can Help

by AJ

In the past, education was mostly based on a Master-Apprentice model. The relationship was close, intimate, personal, and longterm. The masters job was to pass on his/her knowledge and train the learner to be the best at their chosen skill.

I've been reminded of this old educational model by a Korean TV Drama I've been watching called "Jewel In The Palace" (English Name). The show is about a woman who enters the Royal Palace as a cook's apprentice. Much of the show revolves around her learning experiences as she is guided by her master.

Of course, martial arts movies are filled with these kinds of relationships-- and although these are pop culture myths- I think they are good ones with powerful lessons.

One of the key lessons is that learning occurs best in the context of a very close and personal relationship. The modern factory model of education is, in fact, highly antagonistic to the natural way we learn. We pack the students in like lemmings and actively strive to "treat them all the same". In fact, treating all students the same is a professed goal of many traditional teachers and schools.

Another lesson of the Master-Apprentice system is that learning is best promoted by a longterm relationship that grows and evolves over time. The master and apprentice spend years together. In traditional education, the teacher and students get 9 months or less together. In a semester system, its only 4 months. How can a teacher get to know a student well over such a short time-- especially since she/he is supposed to teach 30, 50, or over 100 students in that short time.

The Master-Apprentice system is naturally a "work-study" program. The apprentice learns on the job while helping the master. In such a context, the student is not only studying-- they are applying what they are learning on a daily basis. This is an integrated model of education which combines theory and practice. By contrast, most traditional education is heavily weighted towards memorization, theory, and abstraction-- with little to know practice. Traditional students learn about a subject-- they don't really learn it in depth.

Finally, the apprentice model is based on selectivity and choice. Apprentices are not (at least in modern times) forced to study. They are not compelled by armed agents of the government. Likewise, the "master" is not coerced into accepting a particular apprentice. Often, in both myth and reality, the teacher will not accept a student until s/he is convinced of their dedication. An apprentice who is not dedicated can be dropped. A master who is not skillful will find their students deserting them. In modern education, students are forced to attend and teachers are forced to teach the students they are given. The result-- large numbers of disinterested students forced to endure large numbers of incompetent or burned out teachers.

In my own teaching, therefore, I am steadily drifting towards an apprentice model. I don't care to incorporate the authority and control aspects of that old model-- but I do prefer the elements of choice, selectivity, and longterm personal relationships. Increasingly, I find myself screening my private students very carefully. If I sense that a potential client is extrinsically motivated- I will refer them to someone else.

I'm also incorporating this approach to Effortless English, my student website. I'm trying to design it to attract independent, conscientious, and highly motivated students (and to discourage those who are not).

This is not only for selfish reasons. I have a certain approach and a certain attitude. It works very well with some learners, but not for all. Those others will be better served by finding a teacher who more closely fits their needs and mindset.

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