“The learner should not be seen as the object of the verb to teach, but the subject of the verb to learn.” #ANewAtoZofELT
— Scott Thornbury (@thornburyscott) August 23, 2016
This quote comes from Scott Thornbury’s Twitter account, and is apparently part of a new book he’s working on. I figure it deserves a bit of unpacking.
First, “teach” has two argument structures, one where the direct object is the content:
"I used to teach maths in England, which is why I pluralize it"
and the other where the direct object is the people doing the learning:
"I used to teach younglings before Anakin killed them all"
In the former case the people learning can be an indirect object, as in
"I teach criminal law to convicts"
and in which case the indirect object can be moved up between the verb and the direct object, like
"I teach 3rd years Defence Against the Dark Arts"
Thornbury’s quote refers to direct objects, not indirect objects, so it can’t be this last one he has a problem with, although there are reasons explored below why this argument structure is a bit problematic. Having a problem with learners as direct objects of “to teach”, on the other hand, doesn’t really make sense except when you assume unflattering things about the word “teach” itself.