In our culture we do too much teaching, or too much of what we call “teaching;” and much of that activity interferes with education more than it helps. Some readers have wondered if I’m just plain dead set against all forms of teaching. The answer to that, of course, is no. I’m just against teaching that is forced upon or foisted upon learners — teaching that is not a response to the learners’ own desires to learn. I think forced or foisted teaching creates more harm than good; it blunts curiosity, promotes helplessness, and in some cases induces hatred and avoidance of the subject taught and even of the teacher. But teaching that is wanted by the learner is great. It’s laudable, like any behavior that really succeeds in helping others achieve their goals.
My goal in this new series of essays is to examine teaching from the ground up. I start, here, with a definition of teaching and with evidence that teaching occurs in at least some non-human animals. An examination of teaching in other species may lead to insights that will be useful for understanding teaching in our species.