Does teaching need changing?*

A woman visits her doctor, who has her enter his medical office. After several minutes of waiting she notices that the doctor has paid no attention to her, and that he is bent over his worksheets, on which he writes without pause. After a period of some impatience, the woman says to the doctor:

Woman:  “Well, aren’t you going to pay any attention to me?”

Doctor:  “Certainly, madam, I’ve already given you my attention for several minutes.”

Woman:  “But, doctor, I haven’t yet told you what’s wrong with me. What are you doing, what are you writing?”

Doctor:  “Madam, you have my attention; I’m writing a prescription for you.”

Woman:  (thrown off-balance, she looks at him open-mouthed).

Doctor:  “Please understand, madam, that I see hundreds of patients here each week; you can understand that I haven’t the time to listen to each of them. I have therefore prepared, after long years of experience, a single prescription for all my patients.

The results are quite remarkable. Some of my patients are completely cured, while others…

Have you, madam, heard talk of the normal distribution curve?”

This doctor’s behaviour, quite naturally, seems to us to be aberrant. One finds it inconceivable that a doctor should think of writing a prescription for a patient without first enquiring what problems that patient has, without first asking diagnostic questions.

Nonetheless, in teaching, do we not often dole out a single prescription to all students, with little concern for why the students came to us? Should diagnosis be a prerequisite in education as it is, quite reasonably, in medicine?

(This article is a reprint from Chem 13 News, October 1978, page 3.)

*This passage has been translated and adapted from an article, “Une method…plutôt qu’une autre?” by Pierre Dalceggio in the April 1976 issue of Pédagogiques, published by l’Université de Montréal.