You Cannot be Teachable Unless You Are Critical

Excellent. From Justin Taylor, quoting Adler’s How to Read a Book (p. 140):

Teachability is often confused with subservience.

A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable.

On the contrary, teachability is an extremely active virtue.

No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment. He can be trained, perhaps, but not taught. The most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical. He is the reader who finally responds to a book by the greatest effort to make up his own mind on the matters the author has discussed.

  • Jennie Pakula

    Fantastic quote. This is something I frequently try to impress on my younger team members and my children.

  • Victor Norman

    Hmmm… I’m not sure I understand. My 10-year-old is not very teachable, it seems to me, when it comes to learning the trumpet. E.g., suppose he is getting a rhythm wrong and knows something is wrong. When I point out the problem and try to help him fix it, he says he just wants to do it his way. He is being critical, isn’t he? But, he not being teachable. It seems to me he could use a bit more subservience and a little less critical-ness…

  • Matt

    Victor: I’d say that in these instances, your son is not being critical.

    In Adler’s sense here, “critical” means engaging with the ideas. So if someone just dismisses something, they are not being critical in this positive and essential sense that Adler is talking about. To be critical means to thoughtful process and engage with the ideas and recommendations.

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