The Passive Teacher vs. The Undogmatic Teacher

August 20, 2008 at 2:37 pm 3 comments

As summer winds down and I’m gearing up to start teaching again, I’ve begun to think more about what it means to be an undogmatic teacher. In the past we’ve brought it up on this blog, but while re-reading portions of John Holt’s Instead of Education and listening to “I Want To Do This All Day” (in this case specifically track 14) – I feel I have in the past partially fallen into the trap of being passive in an attempt to not force my views on those I’m teaching.

Now, what I mean here by a passive teacher (specifically in the radical learning movement) is a teacher who is just there for the pickings: who simply answers the questions/demands of the learners, who doesn’t think up ideas and try to work on projects/goals alongside students, who simply shares information and hides their views on such matters, who doesn’t ask anything of their students, and who doesn’t establish personal guidelines on how they work alongside individuals and groups. This can often be misinterpreted for being undogmatic. Yet, in reality, it is a passive approach to teaching and does not impart motivation onto the learners for taking their learning into their own hands – nor does it respect them as free, naturally learning people who can make their own rational decisions. (And it probably subconsciously teaches them that.) This is the same trap that the federal school system falls into, but instead of forcing students to follow unexplained and arbitrary rules, this approach implies that nothing is expected of the learners and that they have full control over the teachers (and thus by default, other people in their lives). This also ultimately leads to boredom and a lack of cooperation in learning.

I personally don’t think I’ve ever fully used this passive teacher approach, but I certainly admit portions of it have infiltrated my teaching habits – especially while teachings U.S. history. However, it’s important to remember that in a free school setting students are (presumably) learning from a teacher under their own, free volition. What this means is that these students are agreeing to learn from their teacher under settings that the teacher and students feel comfortable. In a free school/radical learning environment, if a learner (or in fact a teacher) does not feel adequate about how the student-teacher relationship is playing out, they can discontinue the process with no forced consequence. This, in itself, is important in the fight for undogmatic learning environments. Yet, I maintain that it is still important for undogmatic teachers to recognize their place in teachings and how they are conducting themselves (i.e. by not stating, “what I say is important, this is what you have to know” and by allowing/encouraging dissent, disagreements, and differences with their learners). An undogmatic teacher can state what they believe and think is true, but it is still equally as important for them to value the learners’ voices as equal in the process. Undogmatic and non-passive teaching means a teacher should be open and honest about their views, willing to share them normally, but while still combating the tendency to overtake a learning process and putting their views central and as the unquestionable truth. It also means allowing for and encouraging the controversies and disagreements that this might spark with the learners – and giving their views more than equal room in the learning process. I say it is important to encourage this because in status quo environments learners are discouraged to question and disagree with the knowledge that is being shared with them, thus to in order to be undogmatic it is important to dispel this normality.

In short, being an undogmatic teacher is about trusting the learners as rational, free, and natural learning people while not hiding behind a façade of fakery, indifference, or absolute truth.


Entry filed under: Related To Free Schooling, Teaching. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

“I Want To Do This All Day” – A Radio Documentary About Free Schools and Radical Learning Slow-Posting This Week

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. victoriatravels  |  September 14, 2008 at 8:32 am

    It’s a good point you bring up. I imagine that it could get really easy to slip into being a passive teacher when the students aren’t necessarily being aggressive learners, but it definitely says something that you recognize this so openly.
    I think some of the best classes I’ve ever had are the ones where the professor learns with us. Particularly when during class discussion he/she brings up one of their own realizations that we can then all work through together.
    Also, as I read through your thoughts, it makes me realize that one of the biggest steps for being an undogmatic teacher (as I understand it so far) involves learning first about oneself: actively addressing preconceived notions, information sources, personal histories, etc. I think this meta-awareness is a bit part of helping learners to understand the how/why/where about the information they’re receiving and how it would differ based on who is teaching it. Plus, of course, by being aware of one’s background, it’s possible to try and present information in a more neutral way, or at least to provide a wider variety of viewpoints.

  • 2. bzeines  |  August 9, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I see we are compatriots in the blogging sphere. I am a founding parent at Brooklyn Free School and have recently started the blog “The Free School Apparent”. We may want to link to each other. I will be happy to connect you on my links.
    My blog is Please visit and share your thougts. And, I shall return.

    Regards. BZ

  • 3. read this  |  August 8, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    read this

    The Passive Teacher vs. The Undogmatic Teacher | Adventures in Free Schooling


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