Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Go Deep, Part II

Continued from yesterday’s discussion when I realized that the following does not fit in a comment :)

JM wrote, "I guess it comes down to a philosophical, rather than a simple black and white choice for me. "

Which was, actually, my initial point - go back and look where I specifically spoke of not making it an either/or thing.

Knowledge is an interesting thing.  We can get it for ourselves, and then we can impart it to others.  Both take effort on our part.  Though technically people can learn from you even when you didn't intend to teach, I'm talking about the deliberate awareness of "I am trying to teach you something" in this case.

My point was not for people sit on the "I have X much knowledge and therefore wish to hang with people who have (X+1) or (X-1) knowledge", but rather to look at the forces that compel us in one direction or another.  I could focus on learning, or "going deeper" to use our original analogy, to the point where I care about little else.  Or I could take what I know and spend the rest of my life imparting that to others, and though maybe I might increase my knowledge a bit here and there, it would be a side effect of my teaching, and not the primary goal.

Of course those are the polar ends, much like the person who's never seen the ocean versus the dude who builds his own bathysphere to visit the Marianas Trench.  Everybody ends up in the middle.  My original point was to get into which way the forces pull you *more*.  Is it more valuable to you to increase your own knowledge, or to impart your knowledge to others?  Not an either/or, and if I'd asked "what is valuable to you" then of course the answer is "both".  But reality is rarely 50/50, and it would be a pretty poor argument for people to say "Oh, both equally, all the time." 

Tangent : When I interview programmers I'll often divide the world of software into broad areas like "user interface", "server-side / infrastructure" and "database", and then say "Where are you most happy? Pick one."  Never in all my time asking that question has anybody comfortably said "Oh, server side, definitely" (or what have you).  Every person, without fail, tries to hedge and say "Well, I can do them all."  That's why I ask it, because I didn't ask whether you could do them all, I asked which one makes you the happiest, and for you to answer that question you need to pick one.

Tangent over.

Different Tangent : A long long time ago, when I hung out on USENET newsgroups, I once put forth "Duane's Rule of Categories" that says, "Whenever you propose a list in which you claim all people fit into N categories, regardless of the size of N, the majority of your responses will be from people arguing that they do not fit into any of your categories."

Second tangent over.

So, back to the question at hand, since I'm getting into it now :).  Let's go back to our scalar that now goes between "100% Teach" and "100% Learn".  It *approaches* those two ends, and naturally cannot ever really touch them, so let's stop talking about absolutes that make no sense in the real world.  You have to place yourself on this spectrum somewhere.  I can't stop you from claiming "50/50, right in the middle!" (see tangents #1 and #2 :)) but I don't think it does justice to the debate to claim that, since it's almost certainly not true.  You are an entity of limited resources (there's 24 hours in the day for all of us) so there will be times when you have to pick one opportunity over another.

Got a side picked, even if it's just 49/51 in favor one way or the other? 

This spectrum is what originally had me thinking.  Because the math doesn't balance.  If I know something, then I can teach that to 100s of people, right? But I can only learn it once, and learning it is, primarily, for little ol' me.  True that I can pass on what I learn, but it's not like it's perfectly 1:1, I'm a human being not an information sieve.  It’s this knowledge lifecycle that intrigues me, because of course to teach you have to learn, but they happen at such different rates that they have to find a different equilibrium for each person.  The professor with his nose in a book would in all likelihood, if asked a question, answer it.  That doesn’t mean he takes 20 hours out of his research time every week to go teach a class, unless the university forces him to do so.  Or he could be the young upstart who spends most of his time hanging out on blogs like this one looking for people to chat with, and totally ignores his mandatory research until publish-or-perish kicks in and he has to come up with something.

Five years ago I found that I wanted to talk about Shakespeare, but had nobody to talk about it with.  I’d spot a reference in a tv commercial, point it out to people, and have nobody know what I was talking about.  I didn’t, however, rush off to sign up for Shakespeare night-school classes so I could find a like-minded audience.  Instead, I started this blog.  Now when I want to talk about Shakespeare I have a place to do it, and people who listen and want to talk about it with me.  This has, in turn, brought more Shakespeare into my life since he comes up in conversation far more frequently (teachers, coworkers, playgroup moms are always asking me, “So I hear you’re all about Shakespeare? You run a site about him? What’s your favorite play? Is it true he might have been gay?”)  On the whole I expect that my audience is learning more than teaching, by the simple fact that most traffic reads but does not post.  The folks that post are the ones I learn from.  There are Shakespeare sites that go way, way over my head.  I could spend time on them and learn much more than I currently know, but I don’t.  I tend to dip my toe every now and again, and take a little taste.  I don’t have to blog at all, I could just research for my own interests.  I could blog less, and at a higher/deeper level.  But those things don’t interest me.  What I wanted to create, and hopefully have, is a place where anybody who wants to talk about Shakespeare, at any level, can jump in and do so.  And by existing, we raise the universe’s Shakespeare quotient by a couple points :)

On that note… see ya.

3 comments:

Lisa Ann said...

Since you're looking for numbers, I'd say that I'm 70/30 learn/teach when it comes to all things literary. I'd say that's combination of my natural curiosity, my introverted nature, and the fact that I have few opportunities to teach, but plenty of opportunities to read.

So thanks for starting this blog. I've been out of college for almost 10 years, and I love the chance for a little scholarship.

JM said...

Duane wrote: "Continued from yesterday’s discussion when I realized that the following does
not fit in a comment :)

JM wrote, "I guess it comes down to a philosophical, rather than a simple
black and white choice for me. "

[You've left out the immediately following qualifier:
"And philosophically speaking, the more I learn, AND the more I teach,the more
I realize how much there is I don't know. No mere platitude--that's the truth."]

[Hedging? Some nebulous attempt at an explanation, such as "uh, well, I can do
it all?"
And I picked the Bloom/Taylor group in that and only that particular instance,
because as you wrote]:
"You are an entity of limited resources (there's 24 hours in the day for all of us) so *there will be times* when you have to pick one opportunity over another."

[cont.]
JM wrote, "I guess it comes down to a philosophical, rather than a simple
black and white choice for me. "
Which was, actually, my initial point - go back and look where I specifically
spoke of not making it an either/or thing.

[I'm a little confused as to where these statements then "fit in" :)]

--"Do you want to teach, or learn?"
--"In this case, yes, I'm asking people to choose sides. :)"
--"Bah. Take a stand, pick one."
--"Which group do you go hang with?"
--"Got a side picked, even if it's just 49/51 in favor one way or the other? "

"I can't stop you from claiming "50/50, right in the middle!" (see tangents #1
and #2 :)) but I don't think it does justice to the debate to claim that, since it's almost certainly not true."

[That's a claim I never made.]

"So yes, we all want to both teach and learn, but given this one time choice
between the two, which would you pick? I pick teach."

[I gave a "one time" choice--in the next five minutes it could be the opposite choice--"one more time". For as you said...]
* "There will be times..."*

[And while it's true that I refuse to fit into either of your N categories, it's because, well, categorically, I think your question has no "pick one all time answer"...answer. Further, I feel as though it sets up "factions" and unnecessary competition between those created factions, the lines of which are blurry-drawn in reality. Would we demean one kind of communication in exchange for elevating another? Some of this happens automatically when pitting any one thing against another-it has to by the very nature of what it asks us to do. And technically, an "either this or that", given as an immutable parameter within which to work, creates a black or white equation--one "side" or another--50/50, 51/49 or whatever alternative description we might use for it. It's still an either/or, this or that, no option but one or the other, i.e. black or white, no matter the qualities of its ancillary or resultant sub-components ]

"I'm a human being not an information sieve."

[My Point--Exactly] :)

Duane said...

Apologies, JM, for ambiguities creeping in, it's hard to keep perfect context as the comments get longer.

It seems a simple enough question. I'm taking a position. Lisa Ann did. When I say teach, I'm not talking about the specific cocktail party example with newbies on one side and Harold Bloom on the other, with the caveat that at the next party over I'll change my mind. I'm saying, and I think Lisa's saying the same thing, that in general, I tend to lean more toward "teach" and in 100 such situations I'd end up picking teach more often (Lisa would pick learn). I don't feel the need to put any qualifiers on it, and I'm cool with that.