10. Teaching as a Subversive Activity

We all dwell in an unsta­ble buzz of mol­e­cules. Some of these atomic tides have become sta­ble enough for a while, and recur­sive enough in their rela­tion­ships, to some­how gen­er­ate that sense of “I”, the iden­tity which allows us to view other assem­blies as enti­ties of greater or lesser rel­e­vance to the preser­va­tion of “I”.

We clas­sify these other enti­ties, and their rela­tion­ship with self, on a scale from solids to pho­tons, and from embed­ded con­vic­tion to diaphanous hope. At some hard to pin down, but robust perime­ter of cer­tainty, we declare all within to be our sys­tem of knowl­edge and being. Within all ele­ments must har­mo­nize, or at least develop pro­tec­tive shells of mutual igno­rance, like pearls cohab­it­ing blindly within our liv­ing oys­ter. And hav­ing set­tled upon this sys­tem of knowl­edge, for bet­ter or for worse, we become immensely pro­tec­tive of it. It is, after all, US, and all which threat­ens it threat­ens US.

Enter the teacher. A teacher’s role is to induce new knowl­edge into the knowl­edge sys­tems of other beings. A des­per­ate task, uni­ver­sally unwel­come to the own­ers of those work­ing sys­tems, no mat­ter that they will­fully put them­selves in harms way by enrolling for a “course” in this or that. Until the moment of hav­ing to learn new knowl­edge, it doesn’t occur to them that a threat to old knowl­edge is being posed. They bite, swal­low a mouth­ful of the new stuff, and gag. It’s for­eign mat­ter.

So what makes for a great teacher? Sub­ver­sion. There’s no doubt about it. Qual­i­fi­ca­tions, ref­er­ences, class­room years … none of it mat­ters in the end, not in the busi­ness of real teach­ing. The poseurs are legion. They instruct oth­ers in cur­ricu­lums, they dole out mouth­fuls of infor­ma­tion with threats and gold stars, they get peo­ple to pass exams. But mostly they don’t suc­ceed in teach­ing new knowl­edge sys­tems.

A teacher is that rare indi­vid­ual who coaxes the exist­ing knowl­edge sys­tems of his stu­dents out of hid­ing, drags every last ten­ta­cle of the mon­ster from the depths into broad day­light, hoses off the slime, wrestles it to the ground when it puts up a fight, and finally gives it a heart trans­plant. That’s sub­ver­sion. That’s teach­ing.

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