Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.

By Everett Lockhart
January 05, 2007 12:48 PM EST

Have you ever heard the phrase "those who can, do; those who can’t, teach", or its variation, "those who can’t do, teach"?  Or, better yet, have you heard this one, "that’s not how we do it in the real world.  The book is not right."?  If you have never heard these phrases, then I am sure that at some point in your career, you will.  These are the words of the “experienced employee”.  The non-student type who found no significance in their college courses, i.e. the “hands-on” type that knows all.  These phrases have often sparked other conversations.  Conversations that actually question the need for degrees, or any form of continuing education. 


      In the IT professional industry, it seems that there are two ways to classify IT professionals:  those who learn by experience and example, and those who learn by theory and structure.  Many of the professionals that attended college feel that they didn’t really learn anything until after they where in the workforce, and those who didn’t attend college feel that a degree is more, or less, not necessary because they’ve made it without one.  Which is better?  Which is useful, and which is not? 

    Some IT professionals, degreed and non-degreed, express that it is not necessary to obtain an undergraduate, or graduate, degree.  They express that many courses, which the professors teach, are essentially useless.   They feel that since the course material is rarely seen in “real” world problems, then their studies were fruitless.  Well, what if the problem is not with the professor and what they teach, but with the individual and what they learn?  Anything that can be taught, or involves learning, must be structured and generalized to reach the multitude of minds willing to learn and master the discipline. 


     The task of the professor is not to teach the individual every fine detail about any one topic.  The task is to teach them the topic as a whole and provide them with a generalized view of the concept.  Once this is accomplished, they can take what they have learned and expand on the subject.  This expansion is the true knowledge.  No one can teach any individual everything there is to know about any topic, but they can teach them to grow from the initial knowledge received.  So, instead of criticizing professors and the items that should have been learned in the educational setting, how about applauding them in teaching us to think.  If you cannot see the benefit from the lessons covered in class, then maybe it is because you didn’t learn what you were supposed to learn to be able to expand.