Thursday, 11 October 2007

Teacher's Symbiotic Feet

During one of the sessions the question was posed: “Whether the relationship of teacher to student was one by which the student sat attentively at the teacher’s feet?” I shall attempt to argue below in the affirmative.

The term ‘symbiosis’ was first coined in 1879 by Heinrich Anton de Bary, who defined it as: "the living together of unlike organisms". Since then the term has been stretched and subdivided to include more detailed uses, to cover the many examples found in nature. For example, we have the classic mutuality where both organisms benefit, such as ants and aphids, or man and dog; alternatively we have the parasitic symbiosis of lice on hedgehogs.

My contention is that tutor and student, although both of the same species, have sufficiently different function to warrant a demarcation, and hence to be worth comparing to symbiotic analogues in the natural world. After all, the difference between animals is ultimately their different functionality within an environment.

For starters, the tutor teaches and the student learns; this is the main basis for demarcation hence worth a paragraph. To teach, one must have something to communicate; to learn, one must want to know. Also consider that there is no incentive to contradict oneself, therefore the teacher communicates what he believes to be right; whereas the student has to be convinced, because to maintain ones identity the student, like all sentient things, has an inherent cussedness, that filters outside influence from undue cognitive dissonance brought on by confutation with ones own beliefs.

When we socialise as equals, an unsolicited ‘lesson’ is regarded as impudent condescension. When equals teach and learn amongst themselves, they do so by mutual consent, often swapping roles dynamically within the acquired rules of social discourse. When both wish to teach at the same time, there is dispute.

If the dog handler gained equality in function with the dog and or visa versa, would one need the other? When a boy learns from his father, and a girl her mother, do they not finish their special dependency once one has acquired the mature status? The corollary would be the teenage rebellion, when the social function of parenting has matured prematurely relative to the legal function. The breakaway of the teenagers may be regarded as a natural consequence to their new status of ‘equality’, making the symbiosis expired because their demarcation has eroded. With time the young adults become parents themselves, and the older generation become grandparents; this becomes the basis for a new demarcation, with a corresponding family reunion.

In conclusion, the multifaceted nature of society relies not on equality, but on uniqueness of function and the symbiosis that knits it together, teacher and student must be sufficiently different in status, with the teacher as superior; equality between teacher and student will result in dispute and or redundancy.

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