Teachers Also Must Learn

by Charles Insco Gragg

(These are excerpts from an essay in the January, 1940 issue of The Harvard Educational Review.)

"Most of us, though all too infrequently, have experienced the stimulation of talking with someone whom we have felt to be genuinely willing to listen to us, that is, to exert himself to receive what we were saying and to comprehend it to the full extent of his capacity of imaginative understanding.  In the presence of such a person we are carried out of ourselves, our minds become more active, our thoughts more vibrant and original.  We see relationships and meanings that before were not apparent to us.  We may even end by seeing that our notion was in truth a poor and feeble one.  But whatever the outcome, it is something alive and real, not only for us, but also for our friend.  Creative intercommunication has taken place though our companion may not have said three words."

"Just as everyone has had the invigorating experience of talking with persons of receptive minds, so too we have all had the experience of trying to communicate a thought to someone unwilling to receive it.  Such a person, if we are fortunate, may keep quiet while we speak, but he will not exert himself to understand what we are saying.  It is not, of course, that we need approval.  Approval and disapproval are beside the point.  We are never discouraged in our thinking by having our ideas disapproved of or disagreed with by someone we know understands them.  But how stultifying is either approval or disapproval when it comes from a person who does not know what we are talking about!  Everything such a person says, no matter how weighty, is without pertinence. ... Our ideas wilt, our imagination retreats.  In such an atmosphere nothing can come to life.  The criticisms, comments, and suggestions offered by our adversary, for such he insists upon being though we looked for a friend, may be splendid and profound.  The trouble is they have no applicability in the situation.   In the presence of such an attitude, creative thought is stifled.  Neither we nor our companion have gained anything.  Our idea is no different from what it was at the beginning though it now seems less alive to us.  ... Nothing creative has happened in either mind."

"Now, if we , who should be somewhat used to the ways of productive thinking, can feel our creative faculties retreating in the presence of a mind which shows itself, to us at least, as opaque, how much greater is the effect of such an attitude likely to be upon the young? ... That they should be discouraged in their ideas may not matter, but that they should be discouraged from having ideas matters greatly."

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