You’re a pacifist and you have to teach The Song of Roland. You’re a cessationist and you have to teach the City of God. You’re a conservative and you have to teach The Social Contract. You’re Catholic and you have to teach the Reformation.
I recently read a former Duke Divinity student say that, in his time at the school, Stanley Hauerwas would regularly walk into a classroom and tell his students that none of them knew enough to have an opinion, and that he was going to teach them instead. Say what you will about Hauerwas’ bedside manner, the story rang true. In my nine years of teaching literature, some of the least profitable discussions I’ve lead have been born out of that great meaningless question which young teachers are particularly prone to: “What do you all think of that?”
With the end of one school year comes preparation for the following year, and I suspect that in the last month or so, many teachers have received assignments for the Fall.
Summer is the time I get most of my new reading done, and much of that reading is in service of forthcoming classes, especially those classes with curriculum I’m not well acquainted with. For humanities teachers, a new teaching assignment can be quite daunting. A young teacher may have read Homer and Virgil in college, and yet feel unprepared to teach “Ancient History.”
In the last twenty years, I’ve only walked out of two movies (Chicago and Sideways), but both occasions were exhilarating. I’ve wanted to walk out of scores of movies, deriding myself as I watched them for not having the nerve to leave. I have turned off scores of movies because they were too vulgar, or too boring, or too stupid, but walking out of a movie is an act of genuine protest. You must stand, blocking the view of others, collect your things and exit the theater. We’re more apt to watch a movie at home by ourselves, but we go to the movies in a crowd.
There was once a young lady who attended a classical Christian school and she enjoyed putting forward opinions which were contrary to the opinions which most of her classmates held to. When the subject of abortion came up, she liked to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that only recently had Christians embraced the idea that life began at conception and that ancient Christians sometimes dated “life” to forty days after conception. When the subject of homosexuality came up, she reminded everyone that homosexuals were persecuted by Christians and that they deserved equal rights, as well.
Note: the intent of this essay might be best discerned in the titles which I discarded in favor of something more direct. The post might have been titled “Forced Conversion”, or “The Medievals Drank Beer For Breakfast”, or “The Letter of Prester John”, or “The Hagia Sophia”, or “Trials By Ordeal.”
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What follows is a conversation which might occur in a university classroom sometime in the middle of the 4th millennium AD.
Does the dynamic of your classrooms change when you have prospective parents taking a tour? Do you encourage students to sit up when the board of the school is in for their annual review? Is the lawn freshly mowed when grandparents come? For most of us, the fourth quarter has arrived and the volume of visitors at our schools has lately risen, which often means an increased interest in decorum and aesthetics among staff and faculty.
One drink is just right, two is too many, three is too few.
- Old Irish proverb
I’ve tried everything to lose weight… I stopped just short of diet and exercise.
- Standup comic I saw years ago
Last week, I led a class of twenty-two sophomores to the Met in New York, and in the days which followed, I have returned often to this familiar teaching of St. Paul:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
First, an experiment: Imagine building a sandcastle. Imagine building that sandcastle right now, as you read this. Imagine driving to the beach, parking your car, walking out onto the sand, going down to the surf and getting the wet sand. Fill up a bucket. If you forgot to imagine bringing a bucket, imagine driving home to get one. Pack the sand in good. Dump it out in an even bucket shape. Do this four times, and have each upside down bucket of wet sand be a corner of the castle. Sculpt walls of sand between the corners. Dig a moat around the castle.