Tuesday, 14 September 2021

The teacher can only do half the job


One of the interesting quirks of the Welsh language for learners is that we use the same word – dysgu – to mean both teaching and learning. Knowing which would be the correct translation depends entirely on sentence construction and context. I remember my Welsh teacher in secondary school explaining it in terms something along the lines of Welsh seeing it as a single process of two equal parts performed jointly rather than the English view of two separate processes performed by two different parties. I was never entirely sure of that ‘explanation’; the way languages use and adopt words is rarely, if ever, as thought-out and planned as that suggests; it just happens.

Anyway, what brought it to mind today was this story about the death of the PM’s mother. It quotes the PM talking about his mother in a conference speech in 2019 in which Johnson said his mother had taught him “the equal importance, the equal dignity, the equal worth of every human being on the planet”. I’m certain that she tried and played her part in the one half of the process, the teaching. But I can see nothing in the subsequent life of her child which shows any evidence that the second half of the process, the learning, ever occurred. Quite the opposite – he gives every impression of believing that no-one else, whether family, acquaintance, or complete stranger can ever be the equal of himself, that no foreigner can ever be the equal of a white Brit and that no-one can ever be as important as he. I’m sure that his mother did her best with him, but perhaps my old Welsh teacher had it right all along – teaching without learning is only half of what’s needed.

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