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Teaching to Understand
On the Concept of the Exemplary in Teaching


Martin Wagenschein


If you can go to the source
don't go to the water jug

    Leonardo


I

Let us begin by looking at what we have to steer away from if school is not to suffocate from the sheer mass of content and then perish as a kind of subject-matter processing plant. The older and more established a subject is, the stricter we tend to plan the learning steps. I'm thinking of mathematics - in contrast to a younger subject like social science - where we are likely to fall for the temptation to stick with prescribed steps, move from the simple to the complex, leaving out no step in a so-called systematic course of study. In mathematics we at first stay close to the axioms. In physics we begin with skills such as measuring, introduce basic concepts, and teach mechanics as the birthplace of physics. In biology we go through the world of the animals in linear fashion, starting with one-celled organisms and ending up with human beings (or the other way round), moving from the past to the present, step-by-step. In these approaches, the essential thing seems to be: Every single detail serves as