Weekly musings on the arts and current events.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
By rights, Socrates should be the patron saint of teachers; however, he wasn't a Christian. So the Catholics are stuck with the insufferable Gregory the Great (he despised sex) and John Baptiste de la Salle, founder of the Christian Brothers schools where there was always a supply of sturdy new rulers in case one was unaccountably shattered.
When I first thought of entering the field, I called a former teacher of mine and asked him if it had been a fulfilling profession for him. "O my lord, yes," he said, "but the secret is to teach all the time." This was to be our last conversation, as he was very ill, and his words were a great, albeit daunting, gift. He meant that a teacher must never retreat from speaking the truth.
As classes resume for me tomorrow, I will try to bear in mind a corollary to his advice: students learn all the time. The problem is that in our stifling institutions, too often students learn lessons that are wrong. As we herd them into homeroom where nothing happens other than roll call, students learn that showing up is all the school wants or expects of them. As the fire alarms blast at various times every single day, and are summarily ignored, they learn not to heed warnings or to take precautions. And as young teachers are laid off due to budget cuts, students learn that an education is of little value in the workplace.
Socrates was martyred for corrupting the youth of Athens with his gadfly questioning. He taught all the time, turning his own execution into a teachable moment. He was a philosopher and teacher for the ages, and therefore despised by the institutions of his day.
Socrates: Fresco from ancient Ephesus