I minored in history in college, and one of my professors was, um, memorable, in his own way. The class was called “The Age of Reason,” and we were supposed to be learning about the Enlightenment in the 18th C. However, this professor had dedicated his scholarly life to studying 18th C. French gardens, and that was all – I mean all – he lectured on. He assigned three books (all about French gardens), and gardens were all he appeared to care about. In fact, it was obvious to me that while he loved his subject, he merely tolerated his students (oddly, he hardly ever made eye contact with us).
Did you ever have a teacher who suffered from this purblind approach?
Arthur Holmes, in his book Building the Christian Academy, wrote,
If we consider the art or science that is taught, then [teaching] is a contemplative life devoted to the truth; but if we consider students and their needs, then it is indeed an active life engaged in the affairs of this world for the common good. It is not a choice between the two, for with a duty to both the discipline and the student, the teacher should in reality be a teacher-scholar.
So which is it: should teachers love their subject or their students? If Dr. Holmes is right, the answer is “yes.”
In the classical Christian vision for education, the teacher is a not simply a technician who has studied the science of pedagogy, much less a manipulator of psychological techniques of motivation functioning as a voice for the progressive shibboleths of the day. Rather, the teacher is a scholar who leads “a contemplative life devoted to the truth.” Should the teacher be skilled in the science of pedagogy? Absolutely. But a teacher’s greatest trait is a love for learning and for truth (historical truth, mathematical truth, language truth, etc.). She shares that love for learning with her students. She is first and foremost a pursuer of truth and of the One who is the Truth.
And, of course, a classical Christian teacher doesn’t just love his subject; he loves his students. He leads “an active life engaged in the affairs of this world for the common good” – and what greater good is there than training children to live for God? Students are image bearers of the Triune God. They aren’t pupils filling desks, with teachers filling their pockets by filling the students’ heads. Teachers are called to give themselves away to their students, to invest in them, and to approach them as dearly loved children.
Teachers who love their students but don’t love their subject can never lead their students to love learning. Teaching is always incarnational, and teachers are called to model their love for truth before their pupils in order for them to be transformed into their teacher’s image.
Teachers who love their subject but don’t love their students will be distant, harsh, and self-involved. Learning is drudgery when it’s about the teacher grinding through his pet subject or it’s merely about checking off the stuff you have to do to fulfill the class requirements. That drives students away. But love draws them. Relationships are powerful things.
I can still remember those long periods sitting under my French garden professor (I struggle even to remember his name). But let me tell you about Mr. Grove or Mr. Orlofsky or Dr. Lea. They were passionate for their subjects, but they loved me, too (somehow – I don’t think I was very lovable back then).
Teachers at Providence Classical Christian School aim to properly balance passion for our subjects and love for our students. The vision for scholar-teachers, with “duty to both the discipline and the student,” is a worthy vision. It is one to which our faculty is deeply committed.