ANST - Instruction was: To Dennis O' Connor

Dennis O'Connor dmoc at
Wed Aug 6 11:16:30 PDT 1997

 >Siobhan here.
>On those occasions when I have undertaken to instruct someone who has not
>requested that I do them such a favor, I have found the following techniques
>most productive:
>Privacy.  Even when a criticism is on point, it is easier to accept it
>gracefully when it is not received publicly.

This is true.  But as I noted, there is utility in a public lesson as well.
Teaching the whole net one-at-a-time is impossible.

>Expression of expertise.  Trying to strike a note of "I have found it helpful
>in the past to..." as opposed to "let me gift you with my wisdom from on
>high" yields better results.

On some matters, for which personal experience is the only
guide, that approach is appropriate.  But the techniques of
logic and argument are not that way.  They are a set of rules
closely link to the foundations of mathematics itself.  And I
expect you may agree that it is not necessary to say "I have
found it useful in the past to treat 1 plus 1 as equaling 2", for
all that the statement is almost certainly true.  It is better to
state "1+1=2" and not leave the student in doubt as to the
strength of the statement, I think.

>Not Gloating.  Eagerly anticipating the grief your public "instruction" will
>bring to someone is not gracious.

Perhaps not.  Being gracious is not the most important principle
in my belief system.  Honesty and a certain amount of efficiency
rank above it, on the net.  But anyway, it would be a mistake, I
think, to confuse predicting someone's reaction (with an eye to
getting them to realize that it *is* indeed an emotional reaction),
and then pointing out the negative consequences that might
ensue, is "gloating".  If I wanted to gloat, I could have remained
silent, watched the person fly off the handle, and then privately
gloated over it.  Been there, done that.  Recently, even. :-)

>When you assume that you are someone's "instructor," you have de facto
>assumed that you have superior knowledge in some field.  When you
>assume such a position, you assume some responsibilities.  One of them
> is _not_ having "too much fun" by attempting to publicly humiliate someone.

It may be illuminating for you to know that as far as I can tell,
you *can't* humiliate someone on the net: only they can do that.
What you *can* do is point out to them that they have done so.
This usually pisses people of at first, but in my experience, people
eventually realize that it  they are mainly pissed off at themselves.

So, I never attempt to humiliate people on the net, because it
is not possible to do so.  Only the lamest flame-newbie thinks
otherwise, I believe. But there is public utility in letting people
know they have embarrassed themselves, and in having others
recognize that a particular kind of behavior is indeed embarrassing,
with an idea towards reducing the incidences of such behavior.

BTW, the "too much fun" in part refers to the joy of constructing
a strong argument, which is similar to the fun one finds in constructing
a good thorough mathematical proof. (I have a Bachelors in Math, BTW).
"Too much fun" also refers in part to certain "evil" elements of my
own psyche (which no one is free of) that are none of your business. :-)

>Yes, I realize I have just assumed such a position by presuming to
>"instruct."  I also did in "in public."  I pray that I have done so, good
>friends, without damage to anyone's sensibilities.

Not at all, I enjoy debating philosophies of instruction as much
as anything else.  I suspect we hold differences of opinion with
respect to certain axiomatic aspects, such as when or if it is
appropriate to use embarrassment as an instructional tool.
Dennis O'Connor               dmoc at
All rights reserved. Speaking only for myself, by default.


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