Shaping the Mind and Heart in the Classroom
August 24, 2022
At the moment, I am calculating the summer term grades of what is the 140th anniversary year of our institution as I am also preparing my fall syllabi for what will be an exciting new academic year. Allow me to offer a few thoughts on the task of teaching in 2022-2023.
Let me begin by stating the obvious. I teach, because like many other teachers, I am addicted to the “magic” that happens in the classroom–the moments of learning when a student makes a connection in their mind between different things–different subjects, different time periods, different forms of expression. But connecting them involves the intellectual improvisation of the student, the creative thinking process, which is always amazing to behold. I call it “magic” because while such moments can be encouraged, they cannot be manufactured. They must arise spontaneously from within the students themselves.
In a recent Gospel of John class, I lectured on how John, the narrator, hints that God is still sovereign in the midst of the horrible evil of Jesus’ Crucifixion. “With his editorial comments, John lets you know, even when it seems that evil men are free to do as they please, God is still in control and is bringing about a good purpose. The sovereignty of God encompasses and incorporates human freedom.” As I said this, the face of one young man named Julian lit up and he raised his hand, smiling saying, “Dr Chan, Dr. Chan, this is just like in The Simarillion! . . . When Ilúvatar created Middle Earth, Melkor was free to do evil things, yet Ilúvatar was still able to accomplish all his plans! “
Obviously, Julian was an avid Lord of the Rings fan. I am not. I hadn’t read The Simarillion, but thankfully I knew enough about Lord of the Rings that I could engage his enthusiastic discovery. I replied, “Yes, Tolkien was a well-known Christian and while he was not actively preaching this idea to his readers, he most certainly believed it personally and it ended up being baked into his novel.” Julian smiled. Julian had joyfully made a connection, in this case, a “text to text” connection, which I was able to applaud and celebrate, as his teacher. Perhaps someday, in the same way, he will make a “text to world” or a “text to self” connection. I count myself blessed because I saw the magic, and I got to be a part of building that learning impulse within him.
Jay Leno once addressed young stand-up comics and told them, “No matter how bad you might think your career is going, remember at the end of the day you’re getting paid to tell jokes–and how great is that?” I try to say something similar. Whatever is your subject or major, no matter how bad you might think your career is going, at the end of the day, you’re getting paid to facilitate the magic–and how great is that?”
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