I love to read books about teaching and learning beyond the classroom, the sort of teaching and learning that happens to us as we explore our passions and interests, as we live our lives. That is what drew me to a small $6.00 paperback called, The Tracker. I’ve had it on one of the shelves in my library for years. Every year or two, I see it again, open it up, and read a bit. It is the story of a tracker in the making, and I contend that is has more than a few lessons for those of us interested in the art and science of teaching and learning. Consider this excerpt.
I was fascinated with nature even before Stalking Wolf taught me to track, but my nature-watching was limited by the necessity of sitting and waiting for a long time in a place where we hoped something might happen. Stalking Wolf gave me the tools to track the mystery to its source. He taught me how to teach myself. I have been using the tools he gave me every since.
Stalking wolf was an Apace tracker. He had come to New Jersey to be near his son who was stationed there. His grandson, Rick, was my best friend, and Stalking Wolf taught both of us how we could teach ourselves to track, to stalk, to live in the woods, and to survive there. He gave us the questions that would lead us to our answers, but he never told us an answer. He taught me to see and to hear, to walk and to remain silent; he taught me how to be patient and resourceful, how to know and how to understand. He taught me to see invisible things from the trail that all action leaves around itself. He taught me how to teach myself the mystery of the track.
From The Tracker, The True Story of Tom Brown, Jr. as told to William John Watkins, p. 5
Notice how he talks about animal tracks. He refers to, “the mystery of the track.” In the opening lines of the book, he explains that, “at the far end of a track is a moving being, a mystery…” Each track is a clue, saying something about the actions of the mystery at the end of the track. He goes into great detail about what you can learn from a simple track or a series of them. With study and observation, one can almost see the animal’s movements and reactions simply by studying a series of tracks.
This strikes me as beautiful way of thinking about learning, the type of learning that provides hope for our current generation. Learning is the pursuit of the mystery at the end of the tracks, and it requires learning how to hear and see what is invisible to the untrained ear and eye. The role of the teacher, from this perspective, is not to tell the students what mystery is at the end of the tracks, but to ensure that each student is learning how to study the tracks for him or herself, that the student is developing the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue and uncover mysteries for a lifetime.