In my article “Bitcoin is a Test”, I claimed that Bitcoin was a teacher that teaches you about yourself. As it relates to me, Bitcoin taught me that I am a teacher. It also taught me what it means to be a teacher. What follows is what Bitcoin taught me about me and about teaching.
They say “Bitcoin Changes You”. I now say it too. My passion for learning about Bitcoin and sharing that learning lead to many people telling me I am a teacher, although several used the Japanese word “Sensei” when telling me that. I had never thought of myself as a teacher before that — I’d spent 25 years as a businessman.
When I accepted this label, it made me ask the question “What does it means to be a teacher?”
As it did with so many other things, Bitcoin made me reflect on what I took for granted and presumed I understood. It made me take a fresh look at these things. When I did this, I realized what I thought I knew about being a teacher was not correct.
This is my view of what it means to be a teacher, as learned through my experience of being a teacher of Bitcoin. (It is written in the first person because it is my assessment of what it means for me to be a teacher.)
Teaching Consists of 3 Parts
Being a proper teacher consists of three broad activities:
- Discovering knowledge.
- Shaping that knowledge into a lesson.
- Teaching that lesson.
Before I Can Teach Anything New , First, I Must Discover Something New.
To teach, I must discover knowledge not yet known. For without some new learning, there is nothing new to teach.
To learn requires not just studying what is already known, but exploring that which is not yet known.
I must examine that which has not yet been examined.
I must also examine that which has been, but not thoroughly enough.
I must contemplate what I have seen and learned.
I must try to understand it as clearly as I can.
I must use reason, intuition, and emotion.
I must explore ideas that at first seem crazy and scary. I must stretch ideas that at first seem simple.
Eventually the crazy ideas may seem simple, the simple ones nuanced and complex, and the scary ones inspiring.
I must look as broadly as possible to find connections, similarities, and differences.
I must take my time. There is nothing to teach until the knowledge is learned.
When a new insight strikes I must test it for its validity — this is the first literal ‘moment of truth’. Have I found an actual truth? If so, I now have the raw material for a lesson. If not, I must return to contemplation and exploration.
There is a terrible phenomenon which afflicts many teachers that is summed up in the expression “Those who can do, while those who can’t teach!” This reflects a grotesque perversion of the concept of teaching. One should never attempt to teach what one does not understand or cannot do.
I must therefore never teach a lesson about a topic I do not myself understand, for that is not teaching. It may be mimicking a teacher. However, it is also likely to be mis-teaching. It would be a betrayal of my role as teacher to pretend to be knowledgable about a topic which I am not able to teach. It would be a fraud to claim to know that which I do not know before an audience of trusting human beings — students.
No teacher knows all. I know this fact to be true. It is a reminder that I must always explain that knowledge is finite and contextual. I must be honest about what I know and what I do not. I must not let the (self-appointed) title of ‘teacher’ trick my ego into believing I can teach that which I cannot. And I know that to teach anything, I must first know it well.
As a lover of knowledge I have great motivation to learn things well. This motivates me in this first task of knowledge discovery.
As a lover of sharing knowledge, I have great motivation as well regarding the next task of teaching, to prepare and package that knowledge for others:
Second, I Must Codify My Learning Into a Lesson
So that it can be taught, anything that I learn and discover must be made into a lesson.
Nature does not explain itself. It exists all at once, simultaneously, not cut up into bite size pieces with explanations attached to each one.
My role as teacher is to take my discovered knowledge and present it purified. I must remove from it all the extraneous details of the universe outside the context of my lesson. The sculptor chisels and sands away the pieces of marble that do not belong in the final work. He then polishes what remains to leave behind a statue to be gazed upon. I must also cut or edit away all the extraneous and unnecessary elements, and perfect what remains to be left with a lesson to be learned. This is very hard. It takes great practice and effort and requires removing things I love, but which are not a part of the lesson. (I almost removed this part.)
Like an artist, I must also apply my own style to the lessons I prepare. To parrot the teaching style of another teacher may be a form of flattery, but it is not authentic — it is a pretence. It is an attempt to be another teacher and pretend the lesson comes from that teacher. This is okay for a teacher who himself is learning how to teach and must ‘workshop’ their style, but to look upon another teacher and presume one should teach the same way is to suppress one’s unique perspectives and personality, and to attempt to wrap it in that of another’s.
Just as every singer has their voice, so too does every teacher. My own voice is, I believe, wise, precise, articulate, gentle, patient, and it shares the emotions I experience from each lesson I learned — emotions which typically encompass awe, irony, fun, reverence, truth, and, when appropriate, moral fervour!
Above all, I must never mislead. This is the greatest sin a teacher can commit. I must always explain any aspect of my lesson that an honest student enquires about, or confess that I do not have an explanation.
All of the above represent the second moment of truth — the making of a lesson. This is the distillation of my discovered truth into the following:
- A message that contains only the truth;
- which is honest about the context in which that truth applies; and
- which can be presented in a manner that can be learned by an honest and prepared student.
The act of making a lesson is itself not teaching. Not yet. It is the preparation of what I will teach in a manner suitable for those who I will be teaching.
Whether it is a short article, a presentation about just one small point or an entire course on advanced concepts, the preparation of knowledge into a ‘lesson’ or a ‘teaching’ is crucially important because it is the link that joins to the two other aspects of teaching, which are the gathering of the knowledge and the actual teaching of it.
Finally, I Must Teach the Lesson.
To teach a lesson is the final moment of truth. This is the moment where all the explorations, contemplations and preparations are exposed. If all of these have been done properly, the potential to teach something of value exists, but only as a potential. Successfully transmitting knowledge is the actual teaching.
For a lesson that is purely written (like this article), the teaching must be baked into the writing itself. I may hand out, share, or transmit the reading, perhaps with a note. However, the lesson must be fully encapsulated in the reading itself. To make a reading a good teaching experience I must wear the hat of teacher while also wearing the hat of lesson preparer during the authoring of the reading. It is essential to review the document multiple times, playing the two separate roles during different reviews.
No matter what form the teaching takes, I must always be clear about what will be learned. I must teach it and provide the facts and the reasoning so that the students can themselves understand and validate the claim. I must provide the context so the students can know where to apply it. I must provide my assessment of its importance so that the students can think for themselves about whether they share my assessment.
It is not my role to attempt to indoctrinate or decree any knowledge or interpretation of that knowledge. That is another sin many people in the role of teacher commit, which turns them from teacher to attempted slavemaster. The mind of a student cannot be forced and no effort should ever be made to do so. The tactics of all of the informal fallacies must always be avoided — appeal to authority, appeal to laughter, appeal to the crowd, etc… None of these fallacies have any validity.
This is where a teacher who is in dialogue with their students — presenting a lesson in which the students may ask questions — is finally put to the test.
It is I, the teacher, not the student who is being tested. The test is whether I bring truthful knowledge, whether I have prepared it in a manner suitable to be learned, and whether I am able to connect with the minds of my students to transmit the lesson clearly, honestly, purely and thoroughly.
It is my responsibility to motivate students.
It is my responsibility to be interesting.
It is my responsibility to be patient, and prepared, and passionate.
It is my responsibility to be honest — including being honest about the limits of my own knowledge.
It is my responsibility to recognize the gaps in my students’ knowledge and to direct them on how to fill those gaps or to fill those gaps myself.
A class that does not learn the lesson is not a class of people who failed. It is a class with a teacher who failed.
Finally, I must also always be clear about whether or not I am teaching at any given point in time, because being a teacher also means that I must spend many hours not teaching, but instead being a learner, a lesson preparer and a human being doing other human tasks. Students may think I am in teaching mode when I am not. I must not let them make that error.
Summary, My Pledge as a Teacher
My teacher’s pledge then is this:
I will go out into the world and work to learn and discover new knowledge.
I will work to distill that knowledge so that others may learn it.
I will work to teach that knowledge to others using, as my primary tools, writing and speaking.