Training Pedagogy: Fear or Inspiration

Broadly speaking there are two ways to train: through fear and intimidation, or inspiration. Training through fear begins with the premise that people know nothing, and enforces discipline and training protocols through harsh criticism that depends on undermining the confidence of soldiers in what they know and how they do it.

Training through inspiration assumes people will figure things out by themselves — in fact, that learning through doing and exploring is better and more durable than learning through explanation — and that telling them what to do and enforcing strict compliance through fear of error is neutral at best (or counterproductive at worst) when it comes to instruction.

Moreover, training through inspiration is a humanistic and egalitarian model. Not only does it help people learn on a timeline that’s paced to their capabilities, but it does so in a way that encourages cooperation, collaboration, teamwork, and constructive feedback. It does the thing it says it is, and in so doing, underlines and supports the training.

There are two great flaws with authoritative training. First is that it requires authority to teach effectively and in war, authority is earned, it is never received. So to be taught by a competent professional requires that the professional prove themselves to you in some way, and offer a matrix of trust into which trainees can put their confidence. It is difficult to find such professional authorities to train, and such professionals are not cheap.

The second flaw is that it diminishes the agency and authority of the person who is learning. This doesn’t have to be a problem — the basic trainee who has not thrown a live grenade before should have less agency and authority than the drill sergeant who has thrown many, and some in combat. Nevertheless, there’s always a tradeoff in such situations — what one wants, in a democratic military, is a military of experts who trust each other and themselves. When the pedagogical method involves an expert explaining a thing through lecture and demonstration, it is always going to seat expertise outside the individual and undermine collaborative and inspirational spaces.

There is limited time to train. The most important thing is to deliver a quality experience so that the people being trained can come away with it having improved their war-fighting capabilities. Ultimately, whether one trains through fear and intimidation, or by inspiring, is up to the individual. And it should be a matter of what fits most appropriately. In C2SI, of course, we favor the latter model — inspiration. 

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