29 January 2007

Part of an on-going discussion with a colleague about teaching styles & the place of scholarship:

An investigator in any field stands on the shoulders of giants. But I ain't primarily up there to study their shoulders. Nor am I primarily there to hear them describe what they see. I'm there to look at what they're looking at.

My job as a teacher is to point people toward what I think is true about the subject. I believe that the best hope we have at arriving in the neighbourhood of this truth is through careful examination, the scholarly process. It therefore behooves me to teach and to model this process as well. I believe that I do my students and my own pursuit of the truth a disservice if I am not in, and not showing them that I am in, constant dialogue with the ideas that the scholarly process throws up, especially ones that are 1) spectacularly insightful, 2) prevalent and powerful among my peers or theirs, 3) spectacularly and instructively wrong, or 4) instructive in modeling how investigative examination should work. But equally important is nurturing a faith perspective about Scripture and a critical enquiring attitude toward the work of human beings. Woe is me if I talk glowingly about scholarly results rather than about the process.

My goal is not people who are fed enough information to answer questions on an exam, but people who are changed into the kind of folks who can think deeply enough to answer questions on an exam. I'd like an exam to be less 'a one-off challenge to rise to' and more a 'measurement of where folks have gotten to.' We do that in my classes by confronting the subject matter together and alongside the ideas from scholarship, being surprised at the turning points along the way and learning to make sense by allowing ourselves to, initially, see the problem.

I want to teach in such a way that in 20 years time, when the particulars of the scholarly landscape have changed, and students come to their notes from or memories of the class, they don't think 'rats, we never covered X and Y because they hadn't written yet' but rather 'probably I should approach the ideas of X and Y just like we approached scholarly ideas in those days -- throw myself into thinking about the text and the subject.'
This blog is closed now. I've moved to http://gempf.com