Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments of Teaching

Found on the fabulous Brainpickings, Bertrand Russell’s “The Liberal Decalogue” lists ten commandments for teachers,  and is another pleasing list for my ‘manifestos and rules file’. I’d love this list to be at the core of teacher training courses, though I expect it is a minority of school teachers who feel confident or have time to encourage intelligent dissent from their large groups in the context of a proscriptive curriculum and an examination model that prioritises knowledge over thinking. “Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.” is a laudable approach to encourage but when the curriculum dictates what is right and wrong, even where there is ambiguity, it is hard to expect school teachers to act as anything other than an unquestionable authority. Thankfully, this is less true in art and design and even less so on art and design Foundation courses, where experimentation, investigation, critical analysis and dissent are key to the curriculum. Over the last ten years teaching on an excellent Art & Design Foundation course I feel a major part of my role has been trying t0 encourage intelligent argument, considered dissent and challenging of authority in students who have been trained to be incredibly well mannered, dutiful and reverential of authority. They may still be questioning and have good critical thinking skills but a willingness to accept the tutor’s view and desire to know what is ‘right’ often supersedes their intellectual enquiries.

Bertrand Russell’s The Liberal Decalogue:

“The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.”

Text in quotations copied from Brainpickings.

Described by the post author as “a treasure trove of wisdom in its entirety”, Brainpickings recommends reading ‘The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1944-1969’, in which The Liberal Decalogue can be found.

Brain Pickings is subsidised by its readers. To donate visit: brainpickings.org/donate.

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