I want to start by telling you about a student from some time ago. He was not a great student, especially early in his college career. His grades during his freshman year were fine, though he did make a C in a couple of classes, but he was clearly never one of the best students in class. The first semester his sophomore year almost cost him his scholarship. He needed to keep a 2.9 to maintain the scholarship, and he only managed a 2.5, with 3 Cs and 3 Bs. In a Sophomore Humanities course that fall, he almost failed the major paper. It was only due to the grace of his professor, who allowed him to revise it, that he pulled it up to a D. The college gave him one semester to pull his GPA back up in order to keep his scholarship, and he managed a 2.9 the next semester, making 2 As to go with his 2 Cs.
“Die Grammatik drucke die Gestalt unsere Gedanken aus.” What did he say? The year was 1984 and I was over my head in a total immersion language course in Heidelberg. The idea was that if the student was inundated with the German language, in some way, it would seep in. If a student didn’t understand, the “go to” technique was simply to repeat the German word louder. It wasn’t working. Nevertheless, I was struck by the literal rendering of that one peculiar phrase: “Grammar presses the shape of our thoughts out.” I took that to mean that each thought has a particular “shape.” Moreover, we have devised a way, i.e., grammar, to ex-press those thoughts in a visual form. This form can be analyzed, decoded, and transferred. Hmmm…
From the book read for discussion, “Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology out of Your College Classroom will Improve Student Learning” a large number of sites were listed. I was asked to review sites and give my evaluation on the sites. Here is a list of those I selected and reviewed. I hope you find these useful.
We all know that feeling we get when a class is not working and we need to do significant work to it to make it better. We plan to spend part of whatever break is coming looking for a better textbook or ways to improve class discussion or more effective lectures. There is a mixture of trepidation and excitement as we find a new way to approach whatever problems we saw in the class before.
Several weeks ago now, perhaps on the first day of class, perhaps the day before they started, I was walking across the Ped Mall to Vest when I saw someone moving across the campus. I was far enough away that I couldn’t tell if he was a student or not, so I paid attention to his movements. There weren’t many people around, but there was a young woman moving in his direction, so I slowed down to make sure I was still outside when they crossed paths, just in case something happened. I wasn’t sure if he was someone who was simply crossing our campus or if he was here to cause trouble. He passed her without incident, and I walked on to my office.
It is amazing to see how academic minds think along the same lines across our campus. Heather Quagliana’s article on “Scholarship on Effective Teaching in the College Classroom” addressed the same vision that our Department Chair, Pam Browning and former Dean, Debbie Murray had after our NCATE visit a few years ago. This, along with the CTE session on ways to do research on our own teaching, is a tremendous affirmation of the importance of doing scholarship on what we do best, college teaching.
In addition to the flipped classroom idea I’m trying on a fairly small scale (it shows up briefly in one of my previous blog posts), I’m also attempting to switch from individual student conferences to group conferences. I found both of these ideas in an essay from The Chronicle of Higher Education this spring (“‘Not Your Grandfather’s Comp. Class’: Model Mixes Face Time and Technology”; not available online without subscription, though it is available through our library database). I am enjoying the different dynamic, and I believe it’s more beneficial for students, but it has not gone as smoothly as I would have liked.
Many thanks to Aaron for his stimulating reflections on Teaching as War. Far from a quarrel or even dialogue, what I’m moved to offer here is wholehearted agreement and a kind of application. A pacifist myself, I have experienced teaching at Lee as a battleground; I feel more strongly on the front lines here than at any other time and place in my adult life.
In Search of Alternative Metaphors: Response to Aaron Johnson’s “Teaching as War: Looking for and Appropriate Metaphor for What Christian Teachers Do”
While the theme of spiritual warfare has preoccupied much of contemporary evangelical spirituality, my pacifist theological imagination feels a bit uneasy with the topic of “Teaching as War” and naturally tends towards seeking alternative metaphors in order to depict the unique endeavors of Christian pedagogics. This is not to deny or understate the reality of spiritual warfare and the legitimacy of its Scriptural articulation (or to question the usefulness of this metaphor in depicting the uniqueness of Christ-centered university instruction). Indeed, Apostle Paul vividly describes the Christian life as a battle, yet not against “flesh and blood,” but against powerful “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6.12) that seek to establish their rule over the hearts and minds of humanity. No doubt, as a Christian community of pedagogues and scholars we should be involved in an ongoing process of discerning the spirits that seek to find their incarnation in the lives of our students, competing for their attention and shaping their moral imagination and worldview. In its complex reality, redemption is experienced also as liberation from the rule of the spirits of the present age and surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. Thus, in its essence, redemption is a profoundly counter-cultural experience that negates many of the values which have formed Western culture. The Spirit of God, in contrast to the spirits of the age, seeks to incarnate Christ within the community of faith until it becomes His living extension in the world. This process of Christoformation through the agency of the Spirit is marked with continual askesis and kenosis – with fasting from oneself (from one’s self-indulging desires) for the sake of the other and the different and pouring one’s life into others so that they may live and flourish. This procession towards the likeness of God presupposes the development of a covenantal communal consciousness that takes responsibility for the wellbeing of the other person and the rest of creation. Taking responsibility for the condition of the world (experienced in confession and repentance) is the beginning of cosmic redemption; it is the initiation of ontological healing in reversing the effects of the Fall. An ethic of responsibility negates the intuitive human impulse towards externalization of evil and scapegoating the fellow human (holding them accountable for the devastation of the cosmos), but redirects attention to locating the roots of vice in fallen human nature itself (often manifested in socio-political, economic, cultural, environmental marginalization, oppression, violence and injustice toward the other).
At the center of the Christian faith lies a fundamental tension, which too often in practice is dissolved or ignored: on the one hand, Christ’s death brings peace, having broken down the dividing wall of hostility between peoples and between people and God; on the other hand, however, Christ’s death was the definitive victory in an intense battle in which the enemy, giddy with a sense of triumph at having killed the suffering Servant, suddenly saw hell harrowed and death defeated. This tension between peace and war, so incisively exhibited in the death of Christ and recalled in the liturgy of the Lord’s Table where the fractured bread is broken in order to bring together Christ’s body (of believers) in a new wholeness, is also declared by the biblical authors to be at the heart of the Christian life. Christians are called to be a people of peace, to be peace-makers, while at the same time arming themselves for battle with spiritual armor and preparing to fight against rulers, authorities, and spiritual forces, taking captive thoughts that war against us, and uprooting the strongholds of Satan.