Burak Kanber is an engineer with a blog. He recently posted an article titled Effective Teaching is a Long Con;
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
– Carl Sagan
The above Carl Sagan quote is why most smart people are bad teachers. Smart, impassioned people know the whole story behind what they’re teaching. Smart people like to think about the whole story; they run it through their heads over and over in the shower, while they’re cooking, and on the subway. Smart people like to tell other people the whole story, and end up re-inventing the universe when all they set out to do was teach a lesson on a single topic.
(Of course, not all smart people are bad teachers. Being smart and being a good teacher are two separate skills. While being smart certainly can help a teacher’s skills, one can not get by as a teacher on being smart alone.)
Telling the whole story is frustrating to students; it’s too much to take in all at once. The smart person tends to forget that they learned the whole story over years of intense learning. It’s hard for the smart person to let go of pieces of the story — to consciously omit them — even if they’re not of immediate importance …
…. you’re not supposed to impress them. You’re supposed to guide and teach the people who need you to keep their best interests in mind, and you need to do that by whatever means necessary.
Smart Scoutmasters instructing a skill, formally training or informally mentoring youth leaders, speaking to Scouts or parents should heed Kanber’s advice; don’t tell them everything you know, tell them what they need to know. There’s a big difference!
If you’ve ever been instructing or speaking and look out on bored, distracted faces as you take the fourth digression from the lesson or message into your encyclopedic knowledge of the subject you know exactly what Kanber means;
“So the rabbit goes around the tree and… by the way there are many kinds of rope and cordage. Natural sisal fibers find their origin in the agave plant found originally in Yucatán but now cultivated in Florida. Florida, of course, is home to the manatee, a docile and fascinating creature who inhabits…”
Kanber goes on…
Knowing what not to teach is just as important as knowing what to teach. If you need to introduce a concept to complete a lesson, then do so — but don’t get pulled into the beauty of the deeper meaning that you understand, because your students don’t understand that stuff yet.
Instead, I strive to have my students accidentally learn stuff. Your lessons or lectures or articles should omit the bits that aren’t of immediate importance, but leave a little trail of breadcrumbs in the process. Drop little clues about those tangential topics you want your students to come to understand. Eventually your students will piece it all together.
Walter Underwood, who pointed me to Kanber’s article, suggests these examples of “breadcrumbs” –