The General Semantics of the Teacher-Student Relation

JAN 04, 1979

In one of the popular characterizations of "symbol", one 'property', 'aspect', etc. of a symbol can be formulated that "what a symbol refers to cannot be inferred solely on the basis of the symbol". Of course, when we consider the "A" of general semantics, "the map is not the territory", or in other terms, the word is not the thing, or the symbol is not the referent, etc., it seems that this aspect is a sound one. When we consider the process of an organism (student) in its environment learning (from a teacher), the student must learn the relationship between the symbol and its referent from someone who uses that symbol to indicate that referent. In short, the student learns the relationship which they did not know from one who did know. In the process, the teacher must communicate with the student in order to find out when the student is using the symbol, must be aware of what referent the student is trying to indicate, and be able to provide the student with an evaluation regarding the student's use of that symbol to indicate that referent. Referents without physical representation, such as concepts, which can only be inferred, pose a special problem (for the student as well as the teacher).

Certain "social" responsibilities accrue upon the teacher by virtue of the fact of the context of learning, the social order into which the student must fit to permit 'proper' time-binding. The teacher is not free to impart his/her own unique symbol interpretations. The teacher must possess a representative understanding of the ways that symbol has been used in the culture and an intuition into the ways that symbol is likely to be used in the culture. After all, when the student leaves the context of the learning situation, he/she will have an opportunity to use that symbol in communication with others who have also learned what 'most' people use the symbol for or indicate by the symbol. If the new student does not use the symbol in accord with the manner with which his/her communication partner is familiar, miscommunication is likely to result. Cultural disharmony follows.

Of course, in a mutual learning situation where new symbols are being created, the weight of the previous time-binding need not be a large factor. Also, when new 'meanings' are being created using 'old' symbols, a degree of special flexibility on the part of the communicators can make up for the inadequacy of inappropriate symbols.

Standards for teaching general semantics must take into consideration and address the theoretical aspects of general semantics. I have mentioned several basic principles which must be addressed in every teaching situation.

  1. Map-territory
  2. Organism-in-the-environment
  3. Time-binding
  4. etc.

So far, I have only addressed certain 'formulational' considerations. Also, I have not addressed behavioral, integrative, affective, or other important considerations to be incorporated in standards for teaching general semantics.

Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

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