Saturday, April 24, 2004

There is something to be said of Pai Mei, Gordon Liu's character in Kill Bill Vol 2. As a teacher, his pedagogy sucks big time. He is a taskmaster; he is insulting, demoralizing, demonstrates a technique only once and expects replication, and causes actual physical harm to a student who disrespects him. What does works for him is that he knows that his students' success does not lie in his skills as a 'teacher' but in their own determination and reslilience to learn the skills that he is master of. The key is that the students truly desire to learn and master the skills and will go to any lengths involving humiliation, tedium, pain and deprivation in order to acquire them. They know 'why' they want to learn, and thus they can do little else but learn.
Endless repetition, doing the same piece of work over and over again, constantly being told it isn't good enough is par for the course in the learning experience. As with physical exercise, doing 10 push-ups perfectly once isn't going to make an Arnold Schwarzenneger out of you. Likewise, learning is a muscle that needs to be stressed daily in order to develop. It also needs proper nutrition and rest, but without the student's will to do until done it's just going to get flabby and flappy and pretty much useless.
Pai Mei doesn't bother himself with caring whether they are learning or not. He knows a good student learns regardless of circumstance, regardless of the teaching approach. It's a tough world out there, beyond the institution that the students will one day have to venture into. Their survival, not even their success, depends entirely on how much effort they were willing to put into their training when they had the opportunity to. You either learn to survive or die. It's really that simple.
Perhaps that's what's wrong with the 'education system.' In trying so hard to develop the best teachers, the best curriculum, and throwing money on the best facilities, we have forgotten that the students lack the motivation to learn because they are given everything even before they know to ask for it. They need to need, they have to learn to want, more than anything else. They have to search themselves for the reasons why they are studying the subjects they are taking. How badly do they want to master these subjects? What are they willing to tolerate to achieve this mastery? On this basis, they can truly assess for themselves how well they are likely to succeed in their course of study. No other report card/book could be a more accurate assessment.
The other point to note in the film is that Pai Mei, who lives by the sword dies by the sword, so to speak. I guess he deserves it for being the kind of teacher he was.

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