Saturday, December 5, 2009

Witnesses Teach

In this column from The Catholic Thing, words from Pope Paul VI are quoted that ring true—especially in the arena of personal transformation—and the concept that one who has done, can be a much more effective teacher than one who has studied, and the teaching potency of one with both, is even more, in bringing the lost back to the fold, the concept upon which our work at Lampstand is based.

An excerpt from the column.

“Contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, or if he listens to teachers, he does so because they are witnesses.” John Paul II and Benedict XVI have quoted these remarkable words of Paul VI. As Paul’s successors, they know wisdom when they see it. The Church is, of course, no stranger to education. The Catholic intellectual tradition is rich with insights into the nature of learning, but we should expect no less of the very institution that gave us the university.

“I am a college professor and I would like to reflect upon the powerful words of Paul VI from that perspective. It is hard to think of contemporary college professors as “witnesses,” especially when so many of them are reticent to “profess” anything (so why do they merit the term “professor?). One plague of the modern university is the bizarre notion that the teacher ought not to impose his beliefs upon his students. No, indeed! The professor ought rather to be a sophisticated master chef preparing the sumptuous banquet of neutral information.
“With prejudice towards no idea, a kind disposition towards all, and grave objectivity, the professor merely comments upon the relative strengths and weaknesses of each factual morsel comprising the feast of knowledge. Under this model, the uninitiated student, whose tastes are unformed, is left to his appetites – he gravitates towards what he personally finds interesting and meaningful. College thus becomes a type of four-year buffet where the student, safeguarded by the scrupulous “objectivity” of his instructors, makes knowledge and meaning for himself, without fear of interference from those serving him the banquet.

“Such an educational model rejects outright the notion of teacher as witness. Yet in an odd way Paul VI does have advocates in university circles. The intellectually honest among the professoriate know that the notion of the “purely objective” teacher is nonsense. Those who probe into the nature of education quickly conclude that it is simply impossible to “teach from nowhere,” as if the positions and perspectives of the teacher could simply be suspended in a weightless vacuum of objectivity. Further, this notion of pure objectivity in pedagogy treats neither the teacher nor the student with anything resembling the seriousness befitting human persons.”