Guruism - a Stain on the Teaching Profession

If you're up at 4am, you may as well be productive, right?

Teachers, of great knowledge and none, can perhaps be divided into three different types:

1) The Dictator
2) The Guide
3) The Facilitator

The dictator is a dying breed, perhaps even alien to some of us. They are the teacher who thinks "Do what I say, when I say it, and not before. Only ask the right questions. If you don't get it then you must be stupid". Sometimes they will say these things as well. These are the school teachers of our past, and in some places, our present. I remember an English teacher at school once dictating to me "You'll never amount to anything. I'm a genius: I have a degree from University which certifies me as a genius". I thought it was bullshit then, and low and behold - it was!
 The good thing about Dictators however, is that their system inevitably leads to one outcome: Revolution. Sometimes the revolution is against their pedagogy, sometimes against their knowledge, occasionally against them personally. It is no walk in the park learning under a dictator, but unless you're crushed under their heel, then your drive in acquisition of impartial knowledge going forward is often greatly increased.

The Guide in mainstream education is a relatively new phenomena , though it's routes are perhaps the oldest of all methods of teaching. They take the student by the hand and lead (sometimes drag) them through their amassed knowledge, or the doctrine to which they subscribe. They think "Do what I say because I know this shit and it will be good for you. There may be many ways of doing things, but my way is right/the best. If you don't get it then you're not ready to receive this wisdom". These teachers are everywhere, in many different forms. They think because they are leading the student, as a parent with a child, that they are nurturing them; though their love is not unconditional, and they can drop you in a heartbeat if not happy with your progression.  
 The usual indicator of someone being a Guide is that you often remember what they've said/the soundbites, but have little to no grasp of the knowledge unless you stuck with them to the end. They love having a "big reveal" at the end: this might be a secret key which unlocks the whole of your learning, it might be their approval or acceptance of you as an equal who is ready to lead others, or it may be a revealing of who they actually are "I was mean/nice/cryptic/specific/distant/close so that would would amass this wisdom the right way". 
 Often, you might think they're a complete bell-end, but you respect them for the knowledge they have and their desire to (sort of) share it.

Then we have the Facilitator, that's who many of us aspire to be or think we are already. They think "Do and say what you want, I have my own ideas but they might be wrong... I want to do this with you today, but again my ideas might be wrong... I'm not going to judge you based on your ability to embody of regurgitate the knowledge I've shared". It's a big ask to be a facilitator, and there's precious few of them around. People really have to pull some big shit to be taught by a dictator and become a facilitator, because subconsciously they're always battling against the repression they were taught under. The danger is they end up in Permanent Revolution, and whilst established power structures are eradicated, progression is largely down to chance rather than established pedagogy. 
 There is a middle ground for the Facilitator of course; one in which they can be strong enough to lead in a space where they know they might not be right, or in which they are confident that the student will find their own way if supported - that they will learn to walk on their own.

Are you thinking "Hang on, you've written three paragraphs and haven't mentioned Guruism once..."? Don't worry, we're on track!   

Guruism in teaching comes from two distinct strands:

1) Knowledge/Tradition
2) Self-assurance/ego

To address the first, this blog post is not an attack on traditions or our learning from them. Our cultural makeups are built on tradition. However, guruists (I make the definition of "guruist/ism" as I am addressing something specific in pedagogic terms, not attacking Gurus of particular faiths/ideologies - this is much more about people who think they're gurus than those who actually are), so reliant on the esoteric idea that there are universal truths only to be revealed by hidden knowledge, forget that traditions EVOLVE. Traditions keep that which is pleasurable or helpful (for whom is another matter), and replace or renege those which are not.

The second is obvious - to believe that your shit is absolute and that you have all the answers you've got to be a billy-big-bollocks or at least believe you are. The reality often of course is that this air of "master", the idea you are the keeper of hidden knowledge to impart to the faithful is often covering MASSIVE personal insecurities, and this is painfully obvious to the students, regardless of how much the teacher thinks they're hiding it.

Fundamentally, it is the Guide who is most guilty of guruism in the teaching world. They are actually the direct result of, and are extremely close to the Dictator; it's just that their methods have varied. The Dictators love Guides, because although they might seem a bit hippy-dippy, they nonetheless continue to cement knowledge and snub evolution, moreover revolution. The tragically hilarious thing is that Guides often believe they are actually Facilitators, and even publicly profess to be so. 

The main point to all this is not that guruists annoy me personally, it is that they are actively DANGEROUS. The voice world is awash with them, chiefly because there are so many (and growing) numbers of "established" practices/methods, all with their own doctrine, all with their own brand of esoteric nonsense supposedly backing it up. Don't get me wrong, these are to greater and lesser degrees, and some practices are evolving; but if the political and philosophical thinking underpinning them are only capable of bending but not changing, then it's all just still just farting in the wind. Let me give you some examples of what I've heard, seen and witnessed. I won't give names but will separate different methods by numbers...

Top Tip 1: Spending 10 minutes guffing about how amazing old master X was (don't get me wrong, I'm sure they were lovely: a good teacher, and a knowledgeable person), does little or nothing to support your teaching or my learning, especially if you make an extended point about how lucky the few of you who knew them personally to be affected by their teaching were. Principally it makes your student feel a) There is a master whose shit does not stink and whose level of understanding we can never attain b) That hero worship is helpful or necessary in order to engage with this work c) Not to question any of this because it came from a lovely old person who was your friend who has since died (i.e. how could you be so heartless as to say/ask that?). 

Top Tip(s) 2: When being an authority on where the jaw should "naturally" sit, try checking your student physiologically and cross referencing your understanding with a dentist before acting like your knowledge is gospel. When giving out instructions for massage techniques from other disciplines, check they're not only for skilled professionals as they include a risk of inducing miscarriage. Don't tell young women who you are training "You're only speaking like that because you think you're sexually attractive to men, but you're not, men don't find that attractive" - I mean, what the hell do you know, and how is that even within your remit? Don't publicly infer that laughter and/or fatigue at your ballsology is a mark against the student's commitment to engaging with your work. 

Top Tip 3: Don't define what language your student uses to define their experience. You stray back into the land of the Dictator, and serve no one but your own ego. "This is the level of language we're using at this level" is not an acceptable reasoning, it just makes you an oppressor, despite your guruistic veneer.

Top Tip 4: Never laugh off a student's experience because it doesn't conform to your methodology or world view. "Hahaha, don't be silly" would likely result in physical violence in another setting, don't believe it's ok to get away with it in a classroom because you're far less likely to get a pool cue wrapped around your head.

Top Tip 5: If you genuinely think a client or student is "unteachable" or "not worth bothering with" maybe question why you took them on? If you can't teach them something, is it their problem or yours?

All the above come from certified "Master" teachers in their different methods teaching in top institutions in the UK, and USA. And the reason all the above happened (the thinnest edge of a very large wedge)? Guruism. The belief that you know best and your method has the ultimate answers. Guess what? It doesn't. 

Ultimately the sun is going to supernova and gobble up our little planet. Eventually gravity will crush everything in the universe into dust. Nothing is forever. In 200 years, nobody will even know we were here, short of a few nerdy historians, and far less who we were. If you believe in everything making sense in the end/an afterlife/the big reveal/esoterics/hidden knowledge, then all the more reason you should stop being a complete toss-pot and let it all go and SHARE your knowledge freely whilst seeking to EXPAND the knowledge you have currently amassed. Just think: although it works for you, everything you say and how you say it MIGHT be (and probably is) COMPLETE TOSH.

I'll try and provide some solutions for combating guruism in your practise in another post.