As I return once more to Martin Heidegger’s What Is Called Thinking?, I am stepping away from the thread of his argument for a moment to take up some comments that he makes on the the nature of teaching. “Teaching is more difficult than learning,” he says, “because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than – learning. His conduct, therefore, often produces the impression that we properly learn nothing from him, if by ‘learning’ we now suddenly understand merely the procurement of useful information. The teacher is ahead of his apprentices in this alone, that he has still far more to learn than they – he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices.” Then, a few pages further on, he returns to the subject, saying, “Learning, then, cannot be brought about by scolding. Even so, a man who teaches must at times grow noisy. In fact, he may have to scream and scream, although the aim is to make his students learn so quiet a thing as thinking.”
The question of teaching and learning is one that continually preoccupies me, as my longtime readers will know, and I am particularly concerned with how to teach, not literature as such, but learning through literature. I am interested, to use Heidegger’s language, in how to teach students to learn, in how to provoke them to learning, in how to draw them into learning. The difficulty is that I must accomplish this within the constraints of institutional education, according to the demands of grades and credits and degrees, demands which remain operative on students generally even if they are alleviated, at least to some extent, in my own class?
In response to these questions, I am toying with several ideas for my fall class, and I am interested in Heidegger’s claim that to teach is to let learn, but that this letting learn is not necessarily a quiet or a passive thing, that it sometimes involve a good deal of noise, a good deal of screaming. In other words, if Heidegger is interested in what provokes us to thinking, I wonder whether we might take another form of this word and suggest that he is interested also, at least to some degree, in the provocative, insofar as it relates to thinking, and the question for my own teaching becomes about how to provoke learning, how to provoke reading, how to provoke reflection, how to provoke conversation, how to provoke writing, and to do so entirely apart from the entirely artificial and deformative stimuli of grades and credits. How would a teacher be provocative in this way? Would it require a certain noisiness at times, as Heidegger suggests? What would be required for a teacher to provoke in our school stoday?