June 2011

Teaching & Learning – Both Are Essential


I recently attended an annual conference at the University that focuses on “Teaching and Learning.”. I have been thinking since about the relationship between these two ideas, including wondering if one can occur without the other.

Much like the proverbial question about a tree that falls in the forest and whether it make a sound if no one hears it — can “teaching” take place in the absence of “learning”?

Communications theory would say no, insisting that a message must have a receiver in order to have been communicated. When there is a receiver then the message can be communicated and a feedback loop can be established, whereby one impacts or influences the other.

As I write this column, the sun is shining, and it does so for everyone, not just for me. And even though at the moment I cannot see it, I do believe it is shining. So far as feedback is concerned — well, the sun doesn’t stop shining just because I don’t notice it doing so.

Within the framework of religious traditions, this discussion takes on a different perspective, and the words we use would therefore be different. To offer a metaphor, “teaching” might be considered truths or instruction put forth by the Divine Messenger, and “learning” then becomes the resulting changes in people’s thoughts and behavior.

As an individual, I might wonder what determines whether I receive the teaching and what I might do with it, i.e. how I might learn. The answer is that I have free will to recognize it and take action to the extent of my own capacity. By “capacity” I don’t mean innate intelligence (such as measured by IQ or even EQ tests). Rather, this refers to receptivity, lack of prejudice, and a yearning to learn and grow. The role of free will is that I can choose to stretch to the limits of this capacity, or I can remain unfulfilled.

 Baha’is around the world follow the teachings of Baha’u’llah, and among the many ways we refer to Him is “Divine Educator”. His presence was announced and His message given, independent of who heard it or responded to it at the time. Since the essence of His message is “unity,” we believe that the world is moving toward unity, even as signs of disunity continue along the way.

Through the ages, other Teachers have come to educate humanity, with the purpose of improving our characters, advancing civilization, and guiding us to higher awareness. As humanity has developed and matured, so has the nature of the teachings. The fundamental truths have not changed, but themes, issues and practical aspects have evolved.

So I return to my initial question about “teaching and learning.” I have concluded that indeed one can take place without the other. I can choose to be attentive to teaching and to learn from it; or I can choose to disregard it. In either case, the consequences are mine to consider. And whether or not I learn, the potential is still there for others to learn and benefit.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2011