Mill and Teaching
As a student in the Michigan School of Education, I can clearly see the value in the wisdom expressed in J.S. Mill’s work On Liberty. Within this work, Mill offers a valuable thought to all, but one that will be especially useful to remember as a future teacher:
“But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
A lot of training for potential teachers involves framing one’s instruction and connecting it back to one’s central focus and intellectual problem. However, within that instruction, much work is being done towards giving students the opportunity to ‘play’ with the material through using the actual tools and methods a mathematician, a scientist, a historian, etc. would use for their inquiries in a professional setting. Those tools involve group collaboration and discussion both within a small group setting (anywhere from 2-5 students) and in whole class discussions. Involving one’s students with discussion and investigation should play a critical role in any classroom setting (although it may take different forms for different classes). Mill’s quote shows the value in these types of methods about instruction. Everyone can benefit from another’s opinion – whether that opinion is right or wrong does not necessarily matter, but understanding the way one’s students think and how they think and how they connect those ideas to one another does. Hearing everyone’s opinion offers valuable opportunities for teaching moments and points and can help lead to better and more substantial instruction. My hope for educational settings in the future is that all teachers do involve their students in more meaningful and engaging ways – rather than just copying notes from a chalk/white board, doing problems right out of the textbook all the time, being told what is “right” or “wrong”.