The Reciprocity of Teaching

By March 24, 2005

As I dig through mounds of emails left unread after traveling for much of the past two weeks, I come across an interesting and touching article (subscription required) in the Chronicle of Higher Education regarding a teacher’s thoughts after the death of one of her students:

I could say that Chuck’s death reminded me that my work touches lives, but I suppose I always knew that. What I’d failed to remember was the reciprocity of teaching, that indeed my students can and should teach me something. As a writing teacher, I am expected to help students find and use their voices. But I am supposed to get something out of it, too, something more than a thanks or the satisfaction of a job well done. I am one of the beneficiaries of those voices, and they inform and contribute to my own.

As aggressive as FIRE may be in defending free speech, at the core of the philosophy of free speech is a very beautiful idea: humility. None of us is omniscient and we must at all times recognize that wisdom can arise from unexpected sources (this is a topic we expand on great detail in the opening of our Guide to Free Speech on Campus). Professors who remember that their students present a constant opportunity for them to learn and are not merely inductees to be reformed to a “correct” way of thinking better represent the true spirit of both liberty and education. If more professors, students, and administrators approached the views of others with humility and a willingness to learn through the process of debate and discussion we would see far fewer of the types of abuses FIRE fights every day.