Are you listening to understand or just waiting to teach?

A few days ago, for a moment of levity before a more principled discussion, we watched the video below in one of my seminars.

It got me thinking, about how the segment was framed. The idea, here, is to think of Hicks as an ignorant, foolish, nonsensical man. As much as a vehemently and completely disagree with his stance on these issues, I still felt compelled to listen to Hicks.
He’s sharing more than racism when he speaks. To miss that is to miss an opportunity. Since the seminar, I’ve been thinking about how most people’s experiences watching the video are similar to the experiences of many teachers as their students file in to classrooms across the country.
“We have to teach these people. They think they know, but they don’t know. We need to change their minds. Scour that ignorance right out.”
Except that’s wrong.
As much as I want Hicks and others like him to change their minds, I don’t understand them. I don’t comprehend how or why they think the things they do.
The same was true in the classroom. While I had legions of standards and understandings I wanted my students to leave my classroom possessing, I had to restrain myself from attempting to immediately pass them along. It wouldn’t have worked.
I had to work to understand those students before I was going to be able to teach them. How were the knots in their thinking tied? What was necessary for me to loosen those knots? It was frustrating work at times. It was important work all the time.
When I meet with the student teachers I’m supervising this semester, one of my most frequent post-observation questions is, “What do you know about student X?” If the answer is a collection of facts about quiz scores, homework return, and time on task in class, we dig more deeply.
If, as teachers, we’re not working to understand the people in our care, we’re doing it wrong. If as people, we’re not working to understand those with whom we disagree, any success in changing their minds won’t last long.

One thought on “Are you listening to understand or just waiting to teach?

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