Geek As Citizen: To Teach

Last week I discussed how we Geeks should work to archive, organize, republish, and propagate our works – and really to encourage people to do something with what they write (or at least the good stuff). Now back to my speculations on the Geek role as a Citizen (and eventually back to this more specific speculation).

And related to publishing? I think a major role of Citizen Geeks is to teach.

Actually, I consider most people have a civic duty to impart information. Part of civilization is communicating important knowledge anyway, otherwise you tend not to communicate the whole “civilization” thing. Society really is sort of a code run in the mind of the human computer.

However, as I’ve noted, Geeks have their specific inclinations – they’re knowledge-based people heavy into application of that knowledge, no matter how unusual or obscure it is. Not necessarily academics nor dedicated to productive activity, they straddle a kind of middle ground.

So I consider it the duty of geeks to focus on teaching (as I do most anyone) – but with their particular idiom as it were.

  1. We’re good at our specialized spheres of information (even if our sphere is very broad stuff). Even if it seems impractical.
  2. We’re good at doing something with it. Even if it seems impractical.

(Of course as we’re often aware, the seemingly impractical can be of use at times).

First, we should work to pass on our knowledge of things, even if it may seem a bit odd or specialized. We have the advantage that we’re passionate about what we know, even if it’s not something others may feel equally. This passion combined with our ability to apply it gives us an advantage in that it can both enthuse others, but also allow us to show how that knowledge is used.

Secondly, because we are about the application of our passions, we in turn can teach useful applications (well useful in that it does things and makes things) of that knowledge. In short we can teach not just what we like, but how to do something with it. The aforementioned passion usually helps carry this as well. Being “into” something carries in the development of skills as well.

In a few cases of truly “productive passion” – programming, art cooking and all the things where passion and application really come together – I’d say your average geek type is one of the best teachers. Certain things where you apply knowledge are best learn from the enthused to the near-obsessed.

I also think that the hobbyist side of our passions provides us an advantage not just in how it enthuses your audience, but how it enthuses us. Consider how valuable a passionate teacher is not just for the students, but for their ability o put up with the sheer amount of crap any teacher does. You have to like teaching, like your subject, or like both to really be successful. We can at least count on the latter.

We also have a large, widespread culture to tap into for opportunities to teach and spread information. Conventions, Hackerspaces, fanfic groups, and more. We can get the word and the skills out. That’s a powerful opportunity (and if your convention is a bit shrinking, a chance to recruit . . .)

Now after this rather enthusiastic statement about how we should do more teaching in our lives, I want to reiterate that we’re good for teaching certain things. For deep academic knowledge I’d prefer an academic or an academic geek. We’re not always practical about what we do and should remember that our inclinations aren’t always right for a given subject (or we need to tone them down). It’s best to remember where we fit in

But for what we’re good at? I think we’re very good.

There’s almost surely something out there that you love and whose use you can communicate. What is it?

(By the way, I also consider it the duty of Academics to communicate information even if it seems useless or impractical. An Academic’s dedication to knowledge means at times they’re really the only one to get how valuable it is in too many cases.)

– Steven “Teaching When Possible” Savage