How Are You Going To Learn If There Are No Teachers?


Friday, 9.17pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Doctor Who: You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself! (from Tooth and Claw in Season 2) – Russell T. Davies

There are two things that I’m thinking about today – and they are sort of related.

The first thing has to do with knowledge – where it is, how to get it and who can help you.

And the second is what that help is worth.

The reason for this is that I’d like to find someone who is an expert on a particular research methodology – someone that can help guide me as I try and learn more about it.

The problem is we’d all like to learn from the best in the field- but what if that isn’t possible – you can’t afford them, they’ve retired or moved on?

In such a situation I’m always reminded of a story my grandmother used to tell.

It was about a boy – a poor one who wanted to be an archer.

His name was Eklavya and he wanted to learn from the best teacher in the land – Drona – the one who taught the royal family.

But he was too poor and Drona refused to take him on.

Eklavya was undaunted. He went into the forest and built a clay statue of Drona and practised in front of it – treating the statue as his teacher – as his guru.

And he became good – so good in fact that when Drona and the royal princes came across him practising they realised that he was better than them.

Things didn’t turn out too well for him, but before we get to that…

There is a concept in India called gurudakshina.

Teachers, or gurus, didn’t charge fees for lessons.

Instead, once students had finished learning they gave their teachers a gift – something that showed how they valued what they had received.

A pre-historic pay what you want pricing strategy, if you will.

It was a strong concept back then and Drona, when he realised that Eklavya was going to be better than the princes he tutored, was torn.

Should he be proud of the young archer? Or worried for the future of the kingdom when a poor peasant could be better than the royals?

Eklavya stood before Drona and asked him to ask for anything as gurudakshina – he saw him as his guru even though all he had done was practice in front of a statue.

Drona asked for Eklavya’s right thumb – and the boy severed it and gave it to him – ending his archery dreams.

I did say it didn’t end well…

Now there are more layers of story to this – but for that you need to read the epic.

The point is this – knowledge has no value when it is secret.

If you know something – then until people know what you know they can’t tell if it’s worth anything.

So knowledge is not an asset – not in the sense that you have to control it and use it carefully in case it wears out.

If it’s good people will value it – and value you.

In addition, when you put your knowledge out into the world you lose nothing.

You don’t know less – you haven’t had something stolen from you.

Unless you have a different point of view – one that sees knowledge as a business and something you can make money from.

Which, to be fair, is the foundation of the entire modern education system and the exploding number of courses out there.

Or you could read a book.

The educational business model that looks most appealing, however, is probably one that is closer to the gurudakshina concept.

The online MOOC provider Coursera, for example, lets you audit many courses. You can do the whole course for free – only paying if you want a certificate at the end.

If you’re in the knowledge business – and we all are to some extent – that’s an approach that might be worth adapating and adopting and seeing what that does for you.


Karthik Suresh

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