The Eternal Bond of Teaching

I have students from the past that now stretch out over the thirty years.  Apart from making me feel old, it also amazes me how many of them still remember our time together and state there is some connection still there, no matter how long it has been.  I know I am not alone in this phenomena.  It has been cussed and discussed over the life of Western civilization.  The learning act produces a lasting bond.  So what is it that produces this bond?  I give just a few guesses to start this meditation…

teacher student

Ego. It could be as simple as the pride or sense of accomplishment that the teacher and learner share.  The teacher remembers that the student passed or at least tried to, and the student is happy that they made it through.  Some of the comments I see on Facebook from time to time intimate that what is remembered of my teaching and their experience is the difficulty of the experience.  But I think it goes beyond this, as the other more difficult aspects of life would slowly wear away at this – unless I am the toughest thing they ever faced!

Commonality. There is the possibility that we are both drawn together by a common goal or purpose.  Just being in the same class or school can build a bond of identity.  The fact that we know each other is a form of this bond, but it seems to go well beyond simple acquaintance.

Sweat affinity. Two who have worked together often have a bond of sweat.  Take to boys that don’t know each other and have them dig a hole together and forever after the one considers the other “the guy I dug that whole with.”  I think this is in play here, but in situations of education I think it is more than just the hard work.

Love.  For many of my past students, we were together long enough to begin to love one another.  This is helped by the prayer I have prayed since before I even began teaching that God would cause me to love all my students regardless of their lovability.  When I say we were together long enough, I am not saying that simple passage of time is enough.  But the time allowed for the words and commitments to pass between us that are necessary for two people to love each other around ideas and actions.  Time allows for sins and forgiveness, mistakes and corrections, victory and celebration.  And much of that is outside the parameters of the final “assessment” – “I got an A in Elliott’s class.”  Some of the students who seem the most bonded with me were the ones who struggled the most but received additional time, attention, and instruction from me as a result.  This is a deep bond, but I venture one step further.

Delight or even Joy. I think most of the bond that is present in the relationship of learning is that of joy.  At least delight.  A good teacher and student will enjoy thinking together, and this will bond them in a way that is beyond even the bond of love, in fact I think it spells out the love or desire or impulse that was at the heart of the last paragraph.  A love of true, good, and beautiful things is a very strong thing.  It can pull two disparate people deeply into affection, and become the kind of memory that immediately warms the heart and results in nice expressions on Facebook, or much deeper things than that.  The problem with Joy in this life, as Lewis so well expressed, is that it is fleeting.  It cannot be held on to for any length of time in a fallen world.  But its memory is something we seek to return to as often as we can, so when it is experienced at all in the classroom, the heart hangs on to it, and to those it was shared with.

Just the thoughts running through my head.  Your comments might bond us together…


The Road and the Wheel

I have said many times that if you read Wendell Berry’s essays, substituting “education” every time you read “farming” you will have a great deal to consider about teaching well.  That being repeated again, I have been working through his essay, “Discipline and Hope” doing just such.  One major section of this long essay is entitled, “The Road and the Wheel,”  in which he examines the differences inherent in a linear view of life and a cyclical one.  I think there is much here worthy of thinking about on this blog.  So I am taking a chart of his on the two views and dividing it up into a series of posts over the next several weeks.  Jump right in with comments.

First, let’s get his basic points out there:

He sees there being two fundamental ways of looking at the nature of human life and experience — The Road and the Wheel.

  • The Road – this is the idea of progress.  The linear vision looks fixedly straight ahead.  It believes in discarding old experience as it encounters new ones. Quantity depresses quality, and thus we arrive at waste and disposability.  Its constant hunger is for better, now, without concern for past or future.
  • The Wheel – this is a much older view that includes death in the mix with birth and life.  What is here will leave to come again; in getting there must be a giving up.  This holds on to what is known even while adding to it what is learned, in hopes of passing it on to those who come after.

This basic comparison yields up a great number of specific contrasts.  I will blog on each of these in coming days.  For now, consider these two basic views in light of how we currently educate and how we have educated in the past.

It’s About Life

I have been on a reading kick lately that has led me through more modern literature than I have ever read before.  The past two years have been a watershed for me as a reader and professionally.  Even as my reading has taken me deep into the “heart of darkness” my own life has met what I guess we all refer to as that “mid-life” crisis of seeking my vocation, of re-examining the foundations upon which I am to move forward.  I won’t say it has been fun.  It has not.  But it has been worth the difficulty and tears.  There is a refining process that is only found in the midst of fire.  There is no “cool” way to go through it.  And I am not done with it, and not sure if it will ever end, but I have been hesitant to share much of this darkness publicly such as on this blog.  But there are some things that should be shared.

Education is about life.  It is not a business.  It is not about production.  It must be brought to farming terms for it is about the forming of life.  The industrial model of our day does not promote learning, education, or life.  It churns out products, period.  And yet most of my career in education has been reduced and evaluated by the industrial model of education.  One friend, in commenting particularly on the money issue in education, said, “It’s like blood to the body.  The body is not about blood, but boy you sure need it.”  I think that sums up the issue of money, business, bottom line thinking in education well.  Money is not why education exists.  It cannot exist at least in its school form without it, but it does not exist to earn a profit of money.  It exists to grow a soul.

This confusion of ends is much of the trouble we have not only in education but in the general living of life these days.  There must be more to our existence than subsistence.  In this election year there are so many promises, so much angst about “the way things are” and the desire to elect someone who will make it better.  But at the heart of that is our appetites – what we want is what we will elect, always.  And there may be the problem.  We want the wrong things, perhaps.  We are too easily pleased with the notion that a good education will get us into X college, or will provide us with a job of Y salary.  We should want more.  It should be about life, not just money.




Ordering the Soul 2

Continuing with my earlier blog on a summary of why the cultivation of virtue is a central key to education, I take up here the relationship between thought and action.  Again, pardon my attempt at being very basic and elementary.

I began our tour with “Man is a rational but fallen creature” and wound up with the assertion that “Education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.”  I am aware that I left rather vague the connection between wisdom and virtue, choosing to focus on virtue.  This must be addressed.

  1. Virtue is man’s pursuit of godliness.  I believe you can by and large use Aristotle’s classic definition of virtue being the mean between two vices in this context.  Sin is possible through either excess or ommission.
  2. Plato’s Meno does a fine job of demonstrating that virtue is dependent upon wisdom.  One must know the truth in order to do the good.
  3. Wisdom surpasses knowledge and understanding.
  4. Wisdom is cultivated through the teaching modes of the didactic (the contemplation of models) and the dialectic (the conversation of two souls through questions).
  5. Education cannot be content to cultivate either wisdom or virtue, but must pursue both together.
  6. An excellent education will cultivate wisdom and virtue by contemplating models of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
  7. An excellent educator will bring his students to question their inadequate concepts of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful by his examination not only of their thoughts but their actions.

With all these blogs the author’s intent is less to be dogmatic and more to seek other’s thoughts both as to where they agree with me and where we differ.  Chime in and help this pilgrim learn.  I know of nothing more difficult than leading another soul toward Christ while dealing with my own sinful self.