Teach a Man to Fish… Really?

This idea was inspired by something Tom with Leaving Work Behind wrote in an article about success months ago. He wrote:

Principles are timeless – techniques are not. Would you rather I give you a fish, or teach you to catch your own?

Here’s a week in the lives of Tom and me… “fishing”…


Bon: Hey, whatcha doing?

Tom: I’m fishing.

Bon: Why?

Tom: Because I’m hungry. You can eat fish.

Bon: I’m hungry too. Will you share your fish?

Tom: Sure!


Bon: I wonder where Tom is. I’m hungry.


Bon: Hey Tom!

Tom: Hi Bon!

Bon: I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten in two days. You weren’t here yesterday.

Tom: Well, I’m fishing now. Watch how I do it and if you ever need to, you can do it yourself.

Bon: Swell!


Bon: I wonder where Tom is. I’m hungry. Good thing I watched him yesterday. Now I can catch my own fish.


Bon: What’s going on. I’m not catching any fish. And I’m doing it exactly as Tom did! I’m so hungry!


Bon: What’s up, Tom!

Tom: Hey Bon. How are you?

Bon: I’m SO hungry. I tried to fish yesterday but I couldn’t catch anything. And I was doing it exactly like you did.

Tom: That’s strange. How about this. I’ll let you do the fishing today. Together we’ll see what you’re doing and adjust it so it works for you.

Bon: That sounds great!


Bon: Bummer. Tom’s not here. But I was successful catching fish yesterday so I’ll have no problem catching fish now!


Bon: Hey Tom!

Tom: How’s it going Bon?

Bon: Excellent! Hey – wanna join me for lunch? I’ve caught enough fish for both of us!

Do you really want to teach someone to fish?

There’s a difference between teaching someone to fish and helping them learn to fish. In the case of Tom’s teaching medium – his website – he can only teach. Likewise, here at MathFour.com, my writings can merely teach.

But when you’re face to face with a student, teaching isn’t nearly as valuable as helping them discover.

Indeed, if you’re going to teach a child who really needs help learning, you might as well just give them the fish.

Do you teach your kids to fish – or help them learn?

Share your thoughts in the comments or via twitter:

Images by Tony the Misfit and Brian Lane Winfield Moore, CC BY

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One Response to Teach a Man to Fish… Really?

  1. I am so struck by this:

    Indeed, if you’re going to teach a child who really needs help learning, you might as well just give them the fish.

    & since we fish AND we’re educators, I’ll share a little snippet with you.

    Our fishing trips used to be “Reel in your slack. Reel in your slack. You have to watch for bites. Get out of the mud. Reel in your slack. Watch your slack!”

    Totally relaxing day at the river, let me tell you. :\

    TEACHING them how to fish didn’t get us far. Working within the boundaries of their patience & understanding, then gently expanding those boundaries a piece at a time has really improved their math. I mean fishing. 😉

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