Teaching as Letting-Learn: Heidegger on Pedagogy

Paideia (παιδεία)

In What Is Called Thinking? (1951-52), Martin Heidegger seems to foreshadow what we teachers know as “co-construction” in the classroom. He calls it “letting-learn”:

Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than — learning.

The teacher teaches learners how to learn — though they might not get it:

Their conduct, therefore, often produces the impression that we properly learn nothing from him [or her], if by “learning” we now suddenly understand merely the procurement of useful information.

But the teacher also learns from teaching; he or she learns how to let learn:

The teacher is ahead of his [or her] students in this alone, that he [or she] has still far more to learn than they — he [or she] has to learn to let them learn.


The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the students. The teacher is far less assured of his [or her] ground than those who learn are of theirs. (WCT 15)

This “teachable moment,” when the teacher becomes the taught and their own teaching comes into question, entails risk, courage, trust . . . questioning (Havinghurst 5). Not for nothing is Socrates’ paradox “I know that I know nothing” the principle of pedagogy for Heidegger. But this revaluation of teaching also brings research into question, as Heidegger argues elsewhere:

Hitherto it was thought that teaching had to arise out of research—but the boundlessness of research has made teaching aimless. Not research—and thereby also teaching, but rather teaching—and in teaching—researching. [. . .] Only out of teaching does genuine research, that is, research that knows its limits and responsibilities arise again. (“GU” 305-06)

Teaching is not the poor relation of research: teaching is research. This is the deeper lesson of letting-learn.


Robert J. Havighurst. Human Development and Education. New York: Longmans Green, 1952.

Martin Heidegger. “The German University” (1934). Trans. the author. Gesamtausgabe 16: Reden und Andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges, 1910-76. Ed. Hermann Heidegger. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2000. 285-307.

—. What Is Called Thinking? (1951-52). Trans. Fred D. Wieck and J. Glenn Gray (slightly amended by the author). New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

For Heidegger on teaching, see also:

[Heidegger on] the Art of Teaching” (1945). Trans. Valerie Allen and Ares D. Axiotis. Heidegger, Education, and Modernity. Ed. Michael A. Peters. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. 27-45.

Modern Science, Metaphysics and Mathematics” (1962). Basic Writings. Ed. D. F. Krell. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. 249-54 (247-82). Excerpt from What Is a Thing? Trans. W.B. Barton and Vera Deutsch. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967. 66-108.

Plato’s Doctrine [or: Teaching] of Truth” (1947). Trans. Thomas Sheehan. Pathmarks. Ed. William A. McNeill. Cambridge: CUP, 1998. 155-82.

“Traditional Language and Technological Language” (1962). Trans. Wanda Torres Gregory. Journal of Philosophical Research 23 (1998): 129-45. [See Gregory’s “Heidegger On Traditional Language And Technological Language.”]


2 thoughts on “Teaching as Letting-Learn: Heidegger on Pedagogy

  1. Pingback: Pedagogy I: Letting Learn | mattdavepedaphone
  2. Pingback: Pedagogy I: Letting Learn | nodestinationlanguage

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