Some Thoughts on Teaching -- from John Miller, CMU

These might be better titled ``thoughts on learning.'' In any event, over the years I've collected a variety of quotes that I have found to be insightful about what it means to learn and teach. JHM

We have to look for routes of power our teachers never imagined, or were encouraged to avoid.

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  1. Your study should be broad and diversified. Do not limit yourself.
  2. Examine and question. Ask yourself how and why something works. Be receptive to what others ignore.
  3. Be deliberate and careful in your thinking. Use your mind to discover proper understanding.
  4. Clearly examine. Separate concepts distinctly, then decide upon the proper course.
  5. Practice sincerely.

``The Five Virtues of T'ai Chi'' an early manuscript by an unknown master.

It then occurred to me that this was not the first time I had been given a map which failed to show many things I could see right in front of my eyes. All through school and university I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace of many of the things that I most cared about, and that seemed to me to be of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life. I remembered that for many years my perplexity had been complete; and no interpreter had come along to help me. It remained complete until I ceased to suspect the sanity of my perceptions and began, instead, to suspect the soundness of my maps.

E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed

The master shook his head. ``I could answer your questions but I won't try because you wouldn't understand the answer. Now, listen. Imagine that I am holding a pot of tea, and you are thirsty. You want me to give you tea. I can pour tea but you'll have to produce a cup. I can't pour the tea on your hands or you'll get burnt. If I pour it on the floor, I shall spoil the floormats. You have to have a cup. That cup you will form in yourself by the training you will receive here.''

Janwillem Van de Wetering, The Empty Mirror

Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

André Gide

This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

I cannot understand what makes them [scientists] tick. They are always wrong and they always go on.

Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud

A sage of Chelm went bathing in the lake and almost drowned. When he raised an outcry, other swimmers came to his rescue. As he was helped out of the water, he took a solemn oath: ``I swear never to go into the water again until I learn how to swim!''

A Treasury of Jewish Folklore

The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities... The Zen way of calligraphy is to write in the most straightforward, simple way as if you were a beginner, not trying to make something skillful or beautiful, but simply writing with full attention, as if you were discovering what you were writing for the first time.

Richard Baker

I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart?

Carlos Casteneda, The Teachings of Don Juan

To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Not many years ago I began to play the 'cello. Most people would say that what I am doing is ``learning to play'' the 'cello. But these words carry into our minds the strange idea that there exist two very different processes: 1) learning to play the 'cello; and 2) playing the 'cello. They imply that I will do the first until I have completed it, at which point I will stop the first process and begin the second; in short, that I will go on ``learning to play'' until I have ``learned to play'' and that then I will begin to play. Of course, this is nonsense. There are not two processes, but one. We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.

John Holt

I'm not here to give you the answers ... my purpose is to challenge your mindset.

Jeremy G. Davis

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Last Updated 23 October 1995
Robert Marks,