Learning as a curse for those who teach

To be an educator is a frighteningly difficult task.

Why? Because we can’t unlearn what we learn. Which means we can’t see problems or situations in the same way that those who don’t know the solutions or how to tackle the problems.

The moment you see an apple as the subject of a still-life painting, the more difficult it becomes to see it as a source of red-dye, or simple nutrition. Not impossible, just more difficult.

A pianist who has been playing for decades sees the keyboard of her piano as more of a map than a series of keys, as the novice often does. To teach someone else to play the piano, then, she has to change how she sees the keyboard, how she plays herself. But then how is she to effectively teach what she knows, if her task is to momentarily forget it?

To learn, in essence, is to alienate yourself from educating others about what it is you’ve learned.

Arthur Koestler describes this predicament in his book The Act of Creation by writing:

“The discoveries of yesterday are the truisms of tomorrow, because we can add to our knowledge but cannot subtract from it. When two frames of reference have both become integrated into one, it becomes difficult to imagine that previously they existed separately.”

I often think about this problem, particularly as someone who writes in order to educate others about creative thought and how to think creatively.

With my years of understanding on the topic, I fear that when I write – on how creativity is not that hard or being unhappy with your work – that I’m writing from a perspective many people can’t understand or relate to.

That defeats one reason of why I write: to teach what I know now.

The solution? For teachers and writers, for creatives of any kind: to change perspective, to become a novice again. To be naive and even re-approach the basics of what it is we’re doing.

An even better way to get back into the naive mindset – which is rewarding for educators and creatives alike – is simply to listen. To go where the novices are, to ask them questions and really listen to what they have to say.

Fortunately for us, the Internet makes this remarkably easy. Sites like Quora, Yahoo! Answers, even Twitter, Facebook, and Google unveil the perspective of a novice, of someone who is trying to learn.

If we can step back and see and listen to the questions those who don’t know what we know are trying to ask, we’ll be better equipped to teach, to explore, and to remind ourselves of what it is we’re doing in the first place.

Now get out there and unlearn something.