Learning for Loudmouths

"I know one thing: that I know nothing" (Socrates)

“I know one thing: that I know nothing” (Socrates)

When ‘collaborative working’ becomes the chief means of education, then loudmouths dominate. The pupils who have the loudest voices and the strongest opinions will tend to predominate in any group discussion.

But loudmouths are not necessarily knowledgeable or articulate. There is no necessary correlation between the volume of a person’s voice and the extent of their knowledge and vocabulary. Indeed, after having been repeatedly congratulated over the years for expressing their opinion, however crude and ignorant that opinion happens to be, pupils are not likely to be aware that such a thing as inaccuracy or poor expression really exists. If a teacher has the temerity to point out any flaws in their enunciations of divine genius, they are likely to look hurt and offended, and retreat into muttering about how that’s their opinion, and the teacher should just respect it, and who does he think he is to tell them what to think anyway?

Built into the ideology of collaborative working is this notion: that it is expressing opinions that counts, regardless of how well informed they are. Pupils need to ‘think for themselves’, say those who oppose direct instruction.

I really want my pupils to think for themselves. Who could disagree with that goal? Like most progressive rallying cries, it is a platitude. But my pupils will never be able to think clearly while they believe that any opinion is equally valid, however ill-informed. They need to know that there is a vast amount of knowledge out there which they do not yet possess, which they can only acquire with effort, and which is necessary for the formation of useful thinking on any topic.

Realising our ignorance is the beginning of a lifelong journey to know more, to understand better. In contrast to the dull monotony of listening to one’s own voice, the quest for knowledge is exciting, and it opens young people up to listening to the voices of those who have lived longer, studied harder and thought more deeply than they have.

It would be a monster of egotism who never tired of the sound of his own voice. He may not, however, be tired of it by the age of fifteen. But some day he may start to wonder why he can’t break out of the bubble of proud self-sufficiency that is cutting him off from other people. He may start wondering why, when he was at school, no one ever told him to stop spouting nonsense, shut up and listen to others who know better.

(Image from Wikipedia)


2 thoughts on “Learning for Loudmouths

  1. Some interesting points made in Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet’ about assumptions made about extroverts – something along the lines that studies show that people tend to think that louder people are more intelligent, even though there is no correlation between intelligence and being an extrovert.


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