Thursday, June 16, 2011

Disce Aut Discede*

A tooter who tooted a flute
tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor
is it harder to toot,
or to tutor two tooters to toot?

We've all heard the saying before. Those who can, do and those who can't, teach. Well, I call bullshit. For one thing, it pisses me off because it implies that teachers don't really know what they're talking about. Plus, the best teachers I've known have been people who excel at what they do. The big difference is that they are willing to help others excel at what they do.

Keeping knowledge to oneself is like enjoying a huge meal while starving people stare through the windows.

I recall a day several years ago when I was working as a legal assistant. It was an unusually "slow" day and my boss came into my office with a stack of folders. "I'm going to teach you everything I know," she said as she dropped the folders onto my desk. I laughed and asked, "Why would you want to do that?" She replied, "Because I can't do it all myself, and the more you know, the better able you'll be to assist me." She spent the next couple of days teaching me. She didn't just tell me how to do it, she made up dummy files and made me do the work while she explained (my favorite way of learning). By the time I left that job, I did know everything she knew and was able to move on to a better position.

Yesterday I was perusing my friend Jessica's blog (here). She's been posting tutorials on art journaling. Jessica's work is flat out brilliant. She does this thing with colors... makes them so vivid and real that I want to eat her work. I want to devour those colors and make them part of me. My point is, Jessica's work is good enough that it could stand on its own anywhere. She could easily spend all her time just making stuff and ignoring the rest of the world as she dances with her muses. But she chooses to share. She does this because she wants the rest of the world to experience the freedom and joy in creating art in the same way that she experiences it.

I wish I was a better teacher. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to share my knowledge. I don't mind if people watch me. I don't mind if people ask questions. But to put together any kind of lesson plan, to limn out instructions, or worse, to stand in front of people and give a 'how to'? I get so scattered that you'd think I was on tranquilizers. I tend to start in the middle and forget beginning steps, lurch to the end and then start again until we're all so confused we can't decide whether to scratch our watches or wind our asses.

Education of any kind is such a tremendous gift to give someone. We grow by learning. Knowledge is power. It really is. I'm often accused of being intelligent, and I'll acknowledge that I do possess a bit of intelligence. However, when I think about how it feels, I don't feel intelligent. What I feel is a penchant for learning, a need to know things. Sitting in the dark is such a lonely experience.

One of the things that's so cool about my relationship with Steve is that our knowledge bases compliment each other. He's incredibly intelligent and adept at so many things. He's good with technical stuff and machinery and building and, y'know... manly man stuff. I have decent stocks of knowledge in all things culinary, art, literature, grammar, spelling.

I had to laugh the other day - Nascar was on the TV; I sat on the sofa half watching, half reading; Steve was at the computer. I squinted at one of the cars and asked him, "What's the roundish black thingy sticking off that other dealie?" He explained patiently. (Considering I can't even remember the names of the parts just four days later, it's obvious that when it comes to car stuff I have the mental capacity of a ferret on three espressos.) Moments later, he turned to me and asked, "How do you spell (I forget which word)...?" And I rattled off the spelling. I love that particular symbiosis in our relationship.

I've said it before... if I stop learning, I'll start dying. By the same token, if I can't in some way share what I've learned, that knowledge will fester and rot. Sharing knowledge is the way we keep it fresh. It's also a great way to learn because it leads to more questions. We are all teachers as equally as we are all students.

Those who can, teach as they ought to do.

Those who can't... should learn.

*By the way, Disce aut discede is Latin for learn or leave.


  1. Many thanks for mentioning me and my blog in your post! :) I have to say, if you were to throw me in front of a class, I'm not sure how well I'd fare. Being able to write a blog post at my own leisure feels easier. I do have dreams of maybe someday hosting workshops, though.

    Anyway, great post!

  2. that's my school motto!!! and right now I'm kinda in training to be a teacher, so it goes a little close to home.

    one thing I've realized is that to even be able to share knowledge, you've got to be a special kinda special. Regardless of the scale of your classroom, whether its one or many. So if you've properly taught one person something you can be proud. Not everyone can do that :)

    p.s: Taylor Mali - What Teachers Make

  3. Hi Barb:
    Thanks for your sage words. With your permission, I'm going to share this with my Composition II class (and plug your blog, while I'm at it). We've been doing a unit on education these past couple of weeks and teachers have been taking it on the chin (myself excepted--probably because I haven't posted grades yet :P)
    My finding your site was serendipitous (I was doing some digging on the background of "Disce aut Discede"), but I'll make a point of following it from now on. Thanks Again.

  4. Hi Shadetree!

    Thanks so much for your kind words. You're more than welcome to share this with your class. I'm honored!

    Keep in touch. I'd be very interested in how they receive or react to my words. You can email me if you like at

    Thanks again for stopping by!
    All the best,


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.