Missing Persons: Thoughts on Impersonal Education
This theological prologue should inform and inspire our educational endeavors: our learning, teaching, studying, and writing. Education is meant to bring restoration of persons by persons, whereby knowledge is communicated in life-shaping ways. I love knowledge and I love students, and I want to bring the two together.Now consider the manifold degradations of persons in American education. I will only list several with minimal comment.
1. Grades replace careful comments about a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential for growth.
2. Class sizes often make it impossible to learn student’s names, to know them in any meaningful sense. But such knowing makes teaching and learning deeper, better.
3. Many courses exclude personal presence entirely--on line education. One may hear a lecture recorded or perhaps see a video, but there is no person-to-person ambiance. It is privatized, segmented from any sense of community.
4. Students typically travel to and from classes, often involving the traversing of great distances; they have little time to linger and discuss matters after class. They are too busy being in transit to be anywhere for long.
5. Our Western sense of time is so chronologically oriented that event time (or kairos) is eclipsed. Classes last a precise time; after that, it is "time to go." Students fidget. But perhaps it is time to remain, to linger, to sit in silence. But no, the clock says... And we obey.
6. Multiple choice and true/false tests fail to test persons for knowledge. One can guess correct answers. Students can be good "test-takers" (an impersonal method) and not good learners. This is also vanity and a grasping of the wind. This mode of reduction also inhibits writing skills. Writing is a distinct avenue for personal expression—for eloquence, for articulation in one's own voice. Standardized tests mute it.
One could go on, but what is the answer? I honestly do not know, so I lament and make the best of my opportunities--and dream a bit.
1. I attempt to find a few students to invest in more heavily, even if I cannot reach them all in a profound way.
2. I never assign reductionist tests, but only essays. I often allow students to rewrite them (if the class size is not too great). Few do so, but some improve considerably.
3. I pray for my students.
4. Thus far, I have avoided having to create any on-line classes. I wrote against this in The Soul in Cyberspace. I'm happy that my apologetics lectures are on line, but that is not the same as taking the course.But what is the ideal? Perhaps something like this:
1. Students and teachers live not too far from each other or perhaps even on the same compound. They spend protracted time together in many different situations, as Jesus did with the disciples.
2. Class sizes are fairly small, such that students get to know each other and the teacher is allowed into the lives of the students and vice versa.
3. Class timing is more elastic, more kairos oriented and less chronos dominated.Few institutions allow for such oddities. Most that approximate these ideas are probably not "accredited" by an official agency. This would include the L'Abris worldwide and ministries that are similar.
So, I lament...and wonder and dream for something different, something more in the shape of the Kingdom of God. Do you share this dream--as a teacher, as a student? Have you seen it lived out?