Leading the Pais (Child): A Discourse on Pedagogy

Pedagogy comes from two Greek words meaning “child” (pais) and “leader” (agōgos) from the verb “to lead” (agein).

Thinker: Pedagogy. 

Sophist: Say what? 

Thinker: Pedagogy. 

Sophist: I know, I know.  I heard you the first time.  What the hell is that?

Thinker: Have you gone to school?

Sophist: Well yea.  Can’t say that I liked it much.  It was boring.

Thinker: Well, if you went to school, you experienced pedagogy.

Sophist: I can’t remember taking a class by that name.  In fact, I can’t remember anyone even mentioning ped-goji – how to you pronounce it?

Thinker: Ped-a-gogy.

Sophist: Yea, that.  I am quite sure no one ever mentioned that word…not that I was always listening.

Thinker: It comes from an ancient Greek word.

Sophist: Yea, that figures.  The ancient Greeks—who cares what they thought.  They’re dead.

Thinker: Well, sometimes were indebted to those who come before us.  You know…it’s called history.

Sophist: I didn’t like history either.  It was r-e-a-l-l-y boring.

Thinker: Pedagogy actually comes from two Greek words meaning “child” (pais) and “leader” (agōgos) from the verb “to lead” (agein).

Sophist: What is this, an English lesson?

Thinker: Not really.  I’m trying to tell you what the word means and why it is important that we understand it.

Sophist: Oh.

Thinker: Have you ever known a leader?

Sophist: Well yes.  She was a pretty cool woman. 

Thinker:  Who was it?

Sophist:  It was a professor I had in college.  She taught psychology.

Thinker:  You liked psychology?

Sophist:  I didn’t say I liked the course.  I said that I liked the professor.  She was quite the leader.

Thinker:  What made her a leader?

Sophist:  Well, she wasn’t all talk.  You’ve heard the statement “if you can, do; if you can’t, teach.”  She was the exception to that rule.  She was not only a good psychology teacher, but she was a good psychologist.  She knew how to listen to people and could really help them with their problems.  I guess I respected what she did more than what she said.  She was a good teacher.

Thinker: Did you learn any psychology?

Sophist: Well, when the professor is someone who really knows what they are doing, then it is easy to learn something about what they do.  It’s not just something out of a textbook.

Thinker:  So, you did experience pedagogy in college.

Sophist:  When?

Thinker:  We’ve been talking about it when you talked about the psychology professor you liked.  You may not have been a child, but your psychology professor was a leader who led you into a deeper understanding of psychology.  Until you were in her class, psychology may have just been a word, or something you understood only through movies, TV or the Internet, but you really didn’t understand or know psychology. The ability and skill to lead you into a deeper understanding of psychology is called “pedagogy.”

Sophist: Woe!  I guess I didn’t really think of it like that before.

Thinker:  I’d like to think more about a leader and how that is necessary for teaching.  You said that you respected your psychology professor more for what she did than what she said.  Is that correct?

Sophist: Yes.

Thinker:  I’m curious about what that might mean.  You seem to suggest that there is a disconnect between what people—and especially those who teach—think and what they do and on the rare occasion that these two things connect, then leadership results.

Sophist:  I guess I didn’t think of it quite that way.  You know…teachers will stand up in front of a class and spout a bunch of BS; they may believe it, but they really don’t practice it.

Thinker:  That sounds like hypocrisy.  Can you give me an example?

Sophist: Well, yes.  I took a philosophy course once…what a waste!

Thinker: Why?

Sophist: Philosophers, or least that philosopher, don’t do nothing.

Thinker: Anything.

Sophist:  Whatever!  All they do is talk about stuff that doesn’t seem to have any importance to no one.

Thinker: Anyone.

Sophist:  Whatever!  Quit interrupting.  You’re messing up my line of thought.

Thinker: Sorry.

Sophist:  Well, like I was saying.  Those guys don’t do anything and what they say isn’t good for anyone.

Thinker:  What are philosophers supposed to do?

Sophist:  Hell if I know.

Thinker:  Do you remember anything he talked about?

Sophist:  Not really, but I do remember how mad he made me!

Thinker:  You got angry?

Sophist; Yes, I got angry.  He kept wanting us to think about things in, I don’t know, really frustrating ways.  For example, He’d question everything.  If I said that was a pencil, he’d ask “What is a pencil?”  If I admired a work of art, he wondered what about the work made it art.  If we talked about a friend or a loved one, he wanted to know that about our relationship made it loving or friendly.  Nothing was as it seemed.  It was as if he were looking for that guy in the Wizard of Oz who was sitting behind the curtain making everything work.

Thinker:  Did you ever find that guy…you know, the Wizard?

Sophist:  I’m not sure we did.  He didn’t seem to have many answers, but boy did he have a lot of questions.

Thinker: Sorry.

Sophist:  Well, like I was saying.  Those guys don’t do anything and what they say isn’t good for anyone.

Thinker:  What are philosophers supposed to do?

Sophist:  Hell if I know.

Thinker:  Do you remember anything he talked about?

Sophist:  Not really, but I do remember how mad he made me!

Thinker:  You got angry?

Sophist; Yes, I got angry.  He kept wanting us to think about things in, I don’t know, really frustrating ways.  For example, He’d question everything.  If I said that was a pencil, he’d ask “What is a pencil?”  If I admired a work of art, he wondered what about the work made it art.  If we talked about a friend or a loved one, he wanted to know that about our relationship made it loving or friendly.  Nothing was as it seemed.  It was as if he were looking for that guy in the Wizard of Oz who was sitting behind the curtain making everything work.

Thinker:  Did you ever find that guy…you know, the Wizard?

Sophist:  I’m not sure we did.  He didn’t seem to have many answers, but boy did he have a lot of questions.

Thinker: That may be an important point.  Let’s think about that for a moment.  It seems to me that what the philosopher was trying to teach you was how to open doors to knowledge.  Most often that is not done by giving answers, but by asking questions.

Sophist:  Why?

Thinker:  Because answers are periods and questions are invitations.

Sophist: Huh?

Thinker: That may be an important point.  Let’s think about that for a moment.  It seems to me that what the philosopher was trying to teach you was how to open doors to knowledge.  Most often that is not done by giving answers, but by asking questions.

Sophist:  Why?

Thinker:  Because answers are periods and questions are invitations.

Sophist: Huh?

Thinker:  Think about it.  If I tell you the answer to 2+2 is four, that is the end of the discussion.  We really don’t have to think too much more about it.  But what if I were to ask the question, “Does 2+2 equal four?”  To ask a question of this sort is to invite a response on your part, and even though you may know the answer is 4, I have invited you to get involved in the process of determining the answer.  By asking the question rather than simply giving the answer, I have invited you to a dialogue.  We can talk about it.

Sophist:  Well, that would be a short conversation.  I would simply say “yes.”

Thinker: Yea, but you did respond; you got involved.

Sophist: Whatever!  What does all of this have to do with leadership?

Thinker: A leader is one who invites the person to follow them.  They do not demand it; instead, the leader leads those who follow into a greater exploration of whatever they are focusing on, whether it is psychology, pencils or anything else, things or ideas.  The result is that a leader does not demand conformity but looks for consensus based upon the give intake of discourse that questions invite.  If a teacher is a leader, that means the teacher’s “goodness” comes from their ability to lead people by asking them questions that invite exploration and hence, greater understanding.  This is wisdom and that is what your philosophy professor was inviting you to explore…wisdom.  And that is pedagogy.

Sophist:  Yea, but I’m not a child.

Thinker:  True but think about children.  Their minds are absorbing huge amounts of information each day and they are naturally curious.  They ask questions about that which they are experiencing in the hope of understanding it better.  Sometimes their questions become annoying, but they want to learn.

Sophist:  Well, they seem to lose that quickly?

Thinker:  What?

Sophist:  Wanting to learn.

Thinker:  Do they?

Sophist:  Yea!  My 12-year-old son is always telling me that “school is boring.”

Thinker:  What does he mean by that?

Sophist:  I don’t know.  He doesn’t like what he’s being taught, I guess.

Thinker:  He doesn’t like what is being taught or he doesn’t like the way it’s being taught?  There is a difference as you pointed out earlier.  The teacher who simply teaches and expects root memorization is not perhaps a leader and their instruction may be boring.  However, a teacher who is a leader invites examination. ” Don’t believe me,” they might say, “but see for yourself.”  Students still must learn the fundamentals but even 2+2=4 invites exploration.  It might not be a long exploration but think of the relationships expressed by this equation.  It boggles the imagination.  The art of asking questions that invite students to engage in mind-boggling examination is pedagogy.

Sophist:  Pedagogy huh…never thought about it like this before but it makes sense.  I wish more teachers would learn it.  Maybe that would help those who want to learn.

Thinker:  Yes, but students need to maintain the curiosity of a child.  A leader leads when those they lead maintain the curiosity necessary to follow.

Published by Harold W. Anderson

I am a retired United Methodist Minister working in private practice as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). I also work in addiction issues and am a Certified Addiction Counselor, level III (CAC III). I also supervise graduate students working on their Master Degrees and supervise Candidates in Training who are working towards licensure. My desire to provide a window of hope to those with whom I work that they live in a world of opportunity.

2 thoughts on “Leading the Pais (Child): A Discourse on Pedagogy

  1. I worked for the CA Department of Education for over 20 years and during that time I constantly asked the administration to include advice to the field on the kinds of instructional methods (pedagogy) that worked best. I could never get them to even engage in a discussion… We produced Instructional Frameworks that detailed the “what” and “when” of the curriculum but never “how” to best deliver the content…. “We have met the enemy and they are us…”

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  2. I had a similar problem when teaching philosophy at Red Rocks Community College at about the time that philosophy was put online (I was the first to do that at that institution). They wanted the class shell to be a one fits all format, which in philosophy is impossible. That was something they simply could not grasp. There too, there was NO discussion just a demand to “do it” the way they wanted it.

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