Is teaching about instruction or selection?

by on February 15, 2015 at 12:28 pm in Education, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

That is the title of a short essay by Gary Davis, here is the essay in toto:

Teaching is commonly associated with instruction, yet in evolution, immunology, and neuroscience, instructional theories are largely defunct.

We propose a co-immunity theory of teaching, where attempts by a teacher to alter student neuronal structure to accommodate cultural ideas and practices is sort of a reverse to the function of the immune system, which exists to preserve the physical self, while teaching episodes are designed to alter the mental self.

This is a theory of teaching that is based on the inter-subjective relationship between teacher and learner. This theory posits that teaching does not, as is commonly assumed, take place via instruction from teacher to students, but rather through a process of selection in the learner’s brain, stimulated by materials and activities utilized by the teacher. In this theory, the mechanism that drives the selection process in learners’ brains is co-regulated emotional signaling between teacher and learner. From this perspective, the power of formative assessment is that it intrinsically carries with it emotional aspects for both learner and teacher, in that it provides a feedback relationship between them both, and so, according to the Greenspan & Shanker theory of cognitive symbolic development, promotes cognitive development.

That is from the Journal of Brief Ideas, a new and worthy web site, and for the pointer to the site I thank Michelle Dawson.

1 dearieme February 15, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Teaching what? Must everything describes as teaching be of the same nature?

2 Yep February 15, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Are you suggesting that teaching dodgeball and teaching the fundamental theorem of calculus are substantially different? I see you’ve never been involved in the public education system of the US.

3 Jason February 16, 2015 at 10:12 am

If you can dodge a derivative you can dodge a ball!

4 TJA February 16, 2015 at 12:16 pm

When in doubt Dodge! When really in doubt, Duck!

5 Alex February 16, 2015 at 9:43 pm

“I see you’ve never been involved in the public education system of the US”

Well that is certainly a positive.

Teaching not only differs in subject but also differs that people are diiferent. And that includes Children. Children are different.

6 Randall Parker February 15, 2015 at 1:32 pm

The problem happens when the profs are bonkers crazy or malicious and the students are ignorant fools raised on TV. Limited cognitive immunity is overcome and a deluded view of the world gets poured in. Look at the microaggression farce as an example.

7 Enrique February 15, 2015 at 1:52 pm

We could also ask the same question about most forms of scholarship and academic research

8 Larry J February 16, 2015 at 4:01 pm

I suspect that a high percentage of academic fads can be traced back to “publish or perish” universities. Rather than write yet another paper on “Yes, Phonics Still Works”, they devise new and diminished approaches so they can get published.

9 David Mattins February 15, 2015 at 2:02 pm


10 Rob February 15, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I also did not understand this.

11 PT February 15, 2015 at 3:22 pm

I thought this was like the Sokal hoax

12 Jeff S. February 16, 2015 at 11:24 am

We are all Sokal!

13 Bruce Cleaver February 15, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Thank you! The excerpt provided by Tyler read like Wernicke’s Aphasia.

14 Yep February 15, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Yep. Reading this I wavered between amusement, as in, “Of course, teaching is whatever is not measurable”, confusion, as in, “ummm, immunology, evolution, and neuroscience, yeaaaahhhh, I guess we can’t exactly ‘instruct’ within events ruled by birth and genetics, are you surprised? or am I misunderstanding ‘instructional theory’?”, and, wtf did I just waste my time reading, as in, “long story short, teachers make friends with the students they like and promote them”

15 Norm thompson February 15, 2015 at 3:04 pm

in 1966 R.S..Peters wrote a book “ethics and education” where he outlines the difference between ‘instruction ‘and ‘education’. Read it please

16 Thor February 15, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Peters was brilliant and thoughtful. I had to read it in Uni. I didn’t want to, and I am not sure I grasped all of it, but it dispelled any notion I had that ALL education courses were intellectually lightweight.

17 Al February 15, 2015 at 3:06 pm

Journal of Ideas from My Briefs

18 Al February 15, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Ok. Sorry. That was my inner ten-year old speaking. Please rest assured that he has been repressed for the remainder of the day.

But seriously now, come on people, you have 200 words to describe your revolutionary concept and you choose to include “the mechanism that drives the selection process in learners’ brains is co-regulated emotional signaling” ?

Professor Cowen wouldn’t have published this excerpt if it didn’t mean something. But what? I’m just not feelin’ it.

19 Yep February 15, 2015 at 6:18 pm

The obvious takeaway is that if teachers spoke ebonics, we would find a correlation between the uniqueness of a child’s name and their SAT score.

20 erp February 16, 2015 at 10:27 am

… I think Cowen was being playful aka sarcastic.

21 Daniel Klein February 15, 2015 at 3:25 pm

I like it.

Allow me to attempt to relate to Smith and to Kierkegaard.

I wonder if the following translations, from Gary Davis to Adam Smith, are sound:

inter-subjective relationship => sympathy

co-regulated emotional signaling => sympathy

formative assessment => approval

emotional aspects => sentiments — emotions (passive) and passions (active)

teacher => “our leader and director” (TMS 336), “great leader in science and taste” (20)

cognitive development => wisdom and virtue

Regarding Kierkegaard, I think Kierkegaard is saying here what Gary Davis says:

“But the speaker is not the actor—not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if he is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk. The prompter whispers to the actor what he is to say, but the actor’s repetition of it is the main concern—is the solemn charm of the art. The speaker whispers the word to the listeners. But the main concern is earnestness: that the listeners by themselves, with themselves, and to themselves, in the silence before God, may speak with the help of this address.

The address is not given for the speaker’s sake, in order that men may praise or blame him. The listener’s repetition of it is what is aimed at. If the speaker has the responsibility for what he whispers, then the listener has an equally great responsibility not to fail short in his task. In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God.”

—Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart, pp. 180-81 (SV XI114-15); reprinted in Parables of Kierkegaard, Thomas C. Oden, ed.

22 CD February 15, 2015 at 5:10 pm

I don’t see the either/or. To the extent I understand the last paragraph, it sounds like normal teaching provided you care about your students and track how they’re learning.

23 jorod February 15, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Much of what is taught is not appreciated until months perhaps years later. Best teachers prepare their students for what lies ahead in life. Whether it is poetry, history, finance, law or calculus, when you need it, you need it.

24 Thomas February 15, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Poetry, history, finance, law, and calculus. Willing to bet my lifetime expected earnings against half of that amount that no information learned initially in any of these classes would provide a skill which is sufficient for use in life 10 years after graduation from college. I wouldn’t be a tenth so certain that President Obama wouldn’t manage to pass something substantial for his legacy from today onward.

The courses either teach nothing useful: poetry, history, law, calculus, or teach useful things you already knew: history, finance, law, calculus. The high school curriculum could be improved by eliminating high school and assigning 50,000 pages to read, mostly novels, some related to math and logic. I’m sorry to say that most people never reach my proposed high school education.

25 jorod February 15, 2015 at 5:20 pm

PS Obviously it is not limited to classrooms.

26 Donald A. Coffin February 15, 2015 at 5:48 pm

I think we’re simply applying their fancy term–“attempts by a teacher to alter student neuronal structure to accommodate cultural ideas and practices” or “a process of selection in the learner’s brain, stimulated by materials and activities utilized by the teacher”–to the old-fashioned term “instruction” or “teaching.” It reminds me of that famous article by Alan Sokal ( in which he pwned Social Text.

So call me unimpressed. (And I think Tyler’s trying to pwn us here as well.)

27 Yep February 15, 2015 at 6:23 pm

“attempts by a teacher to alter student neuronal structure to accommodate cultural ideas and practices.”, for those who speak plain English, means nothing more than a teacher trying to teach things they shouldn’t be teaching, which absolutely do not pertain to their class, but instead to the political goals of teachers unions and political leftists.

Seriously, why would 9 out of 10 teacher be teaching (here, “alter[ing] student neuronal structure”), “cultural ideas and practices” vice facts of the subject for which they are paid to teach? And, why would any Ph.D. be so insecure of their own intellectual ability as to prefer such presumptuous language even when it offers less than zero illumination for 90% of readers?

28 CD February 15, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Hilarious to see what people read into this!

Learning *is* an alteration of your neuronal structure. Part of why Donald C suspects this is a hoax…

“accommodate cultural ideas and practices”: your guess on what this means is as good as mine! But it has been a mainstay of conservative thinking since Plato that education ought to acculturate students. Go read your Allan Bloom.

29 Al February 15, 2015 at 7:38 pm

A professor with multiple PhDs once told me that, when an outsider comes to a discipline, if he/she does not use the terms common to that discipline, they view that person with skepticism and disregard anything they say. They might even reject that person.

But once that outsider learns to use the proper lingo, he/she stands a much better chance of being heard and accepted.

So, I guess one reason for the development of such a specialized vocabulary or way of talking is to exclude outsiders.

I also believe, though I could not prove, that soft scientists really, really, really want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the big, important hard scientists — the really clever math-oriented scientists who more or less _define_ the word ‘genius’ — so they invent a very technical, very esoteric languages which no one else understands. It makes them look smart.

30 werewife February 16, 2015 at 10:28 am

Al is right in all particulars. Heck, even his inner 10-year-old (“Journal of Ideas from My Briefs” – perfect!) has nailed it to the door.

31 Kevin Erdmann February 15, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Shorter version?
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. On the other hand, sometimes you may discover that a toddler will eat if you act like the spoon is an airplane. Same goes with learning.

32 Yep February 15, 2015 at 6:25 pm

But don’t forget that agents choose their friends. And so, we’ve finally explained why every preferred class of the left is outperformed. Even leftist teachers can’t resist the charm of the white patriarch. Or something.

33 kb February 15, 2015 at 9:54 pm

You can lead a whore to Vasser but you can’t make make her think.

34 Katherine February 16, 2015 at 12:33 pm

God bless Dorothy Parker for this sentiment.

35 Red February 15, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Education is more like a Chinese restaurant than what Harris compares it to. The major question you have to ask yourself is, what is education? Johnson and Larry et al claim that you can in fact learn much by observing observational dynamics related to the relevance of biochemical interactions in a cat’s brain with regard to North Korean economic policy. And that’s part of the much deeper message, that this is all a deep conspiracy by the masonic order.

36 Donald A. Coffin February 16, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Ah, the Yogi (Berra) approach: “You can learn a lot just by watching.”

37 dan in philly February 16, 2015 at 8:50 am

I don’t understand that excerpt. Not understanding things is unpleasant. It is also essential to learning, which is why, I believe, most people prefer not to learn. It’s hard, it’s unpleasant, and often it involves realizing you are a fool.

38 Donald Campbell February 16, 2015 at 10:49 am

Those that can, do. Those that can not, teach. Those that are totally clueless write about the inter-subjective relationship between teacher and learner. Teaching multiplication tables would be a large improvement.

39 Sardondi February 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Huh. Isn’t that funny? As American teachers began being trained more in “theories of learning” and “methodologies of education”, and less in the actual subjects they were to teach, the American education system has been steadily degraded, and has produced increasingly ignorant students. What a coincidence.

40 Chip February 16, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Much of modern education seems to be about forming emotional perspectives – like educators read Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow and walked away with exactly the wrong impression.

Isn’t learning actually rather simple?

Build a large store of knowledge and then engage in robust debate so this knowledge is synthesized with other knowledge to become new knowledge (ie, innovation, creation).

41 Steveward February 17, 2015 at 5:17 am

Teaching is a big art that not many can give and if we want to be successful in any field we must have a good teacher to guide us through and I am very much fortunate to be part of the global broker like OctaFX, it has excellent conditions which includes low spread of just 0.2 pips, high leverage up to plus have amazing demo account that is just like real account due to high speed servers which really help us in learning.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: