My Teaching Philosophy
By Skip Schiel
© All text copyright Skip Schiel, 2017 and earlier
Sergei Eisenstein, the renowned Soviet filmmaker, often said as he introduced his classes—
"I can't teach you anything. But look here: you can learn!"
He meant by this, as I understand the accounts of his teaching, that he could not teach how to write and direct a motion picture—he could not teach creativity—but he could help establish conditions in which his students could learn: by trying, doing, perfecting, side by side with an accomplished guide.
And Paulo Freire, the brilliant Brazilian educator and activist, speaks of student-centered education as being more useful (and humane) than the banking model. In the latter, teachers—experts—fill up the empty students with information, expertise, wisdom. Based on his teaching literacy, Freire advocated helping students discover in their own lives what they need to know, what they already know, the issues and questions and prior realizations from their lives that will then form the basis and goals of the class.
What I attempt in my teaching is to design a framework in which students, bringing their own experiences to the forefront, learn how to make photographs. They do this in a mode resembling apprenticeship, working along with me on a project of concern to all of us, sharing the inception, execution and finishing phases of the work. And possibly exhibiting publicly together what we've made. What can be learned is how light works, how frame excludes as well as includes, how the photographer's body can the thought of as a moving camera platform, that the viewfinder "finds the view" (if allowed to), the value of "wild mind photographing" (i.e., freeing the eye from the finger, not over-analyzing), what happens when the photographer waits for the thing to be photographed to present itself to be photographed (rather than pushing it), and the lineage in which each of us works—our forbearers and successors, our debt and our obligation.
Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar player, and many of his Indian artist peers believe the purpose of making art is to honor the spirit forces, the gods and goddesses. I hope to show my students that making art today, in the twenty first century Western world, rather than making what sells, is making what nourishes, heals, saves. Photography joins league with the unseen, makes visible the invisible, the yet-to-be, the once-was, the matrix of forces we hesitate to acknowledge, the great mystery surrounding and energizing us. And I hope I can do this by simply asking the students to begin with their own lives.
“The teacher must lead the student to the gate. The student must walk the path.”
“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
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- Cambridge Massachusetts 02138-1843