If education grad classes were like seminary classes

Posted by

A parody…. in love…. but with a point….

“All right, class. Let’s get started. I’ll open in prayer:

Lord and Great God of All Wisdom, we enter Your presence today bringing with us our empty hands, begging for Your Grace and Spirit to fill us. Without your help, O Lord, we cannot comprehend these words of education. We will err in our understanding of the men You have raised up to speak Your words to us. Give us insight today as we consider these minute yet vital details which matter so much to our own lives and to the lives of our students. Grant us wisdom, O Lord. In your most Holy Name, Amen.

“Let’s turn in our Dewey to chapter 6, paragraph 15. I believe that’s where we left off last time. Sarah, would you begin reading with the first sentence?”

“Preparation” is a treacherous idea. In a certain sense every experience should do something to prepare a person for later experiences of a deeper and more expansive quality. That is the very meaning of growth, continuity, reconstruction of experience. But it is a mistake to suppose that the mere acquisition of a certain amount of arithmetic, geography, history, etc., which is taught and studied because it may be useful at some time in the future, has this effect, and it is a mistake to suppose that acquisition of skills in reading and figuring will automatically constitute preparation for their right and effective use under conditions very unlike those in which they were acquired.”
― John Dewey, Experience and Education

“Great. Let’s stop there and dig into these words. Class, you’ll need your dictionaries and lexicons handy. The Shorter Dewey has an interesting article on the word ‘preparation.’ Lester, what can you tell us about that word?”

“Well, sir, it’s an interesting choice for this passage. The author could have used a more specific synonym, like ‘training’ or a broader one like ‘education.’ It’s interesting that Dewey here chooses a middle-of-the-road word with a broad semantic domain.”

“Yes! Excellent! Did you notice that in three other books by Dewey, he uses the word ‘preparation’ in near conjunction with similar words to what we see here, like ‘education’ and ‘experience’?  The lexicons can fill in more detail – you all should spend some time with that entry tonight.  And tell me, just so we can nail down the basics, what kind of word is ‘preparation’?”

“Oh, it’s a noun….. um, singular, neuter. Regular stem …so the plural form would have had an -s on the end. I’m pretty sure this is a singular….”

“Yes. But isn’t that interesting? Does ‘preparation’ imply something more rich and meaningful than a single moment or single experience? Could Dewey be suggesting, by using the word ‘preparation’ in the singular, that the sum total of one’s learning experiences is actually what he has in view here? What ramifications does that have for our teaching practice?

“In fact, let’s make this really practical. What do you say when you’re beside the desk of a student who is struggling — really struggling to make it? What good does all of this graduate school learning mean to that one student? If, as we’ll see once we work our way through the paragraph entirely, Dewey is suggesting that teaching must go beyond merely imparting information to building someone’s very soul — what might that mean for our students?”

“You know, professor, just last week I was in that exact same situation. I was with one of my students who was failing. I thought he was a goner! Really! His grade was at rock-bottom, he’d stopped studying or even trying. And we had just gone through that part in chapter 3 here in class where Dewey uses the word ‘reflection’ to emphasize the real value that comes after the classroom time is done. Education doesn’t actually happen without reflection!

[*growing passionate*] I said to him, I said, ‘Tommy! You have to think about it! You’ve got to reflect!’ Of course, I didn’t tell him all the stuff we learned in class, about how verbs can actually function sometimes like nouns or adjectives, and the richness those verbals bring to the discourse. But I found that concept of reflection so compelling and I think Tommy did too.

[Class nods thoughtfully, staring back at Thursday’s notes. Real-world applications are always so meaningful….]

“Great, Clara! I’m so glad you’re applying what you’re learning here! In fact, did anything strike you about this week’s reading?”

“Yes! Did you notice how Dewey uses ‘preparation’ twice, once at the beginning of the paragraph and once at the end, but in the middle section he switches to ‘acquisition,’ sometimes with the object ‘skills’ explicitly stated? I wonder if this is one of those chiastic structures you suggested we should look for?”

“Absolutely, Clara! Excellent! Reading Dewey, you will find that many passages offer this X-shaped semantic structure, nestling a key idea in the center and flanking it with carefully constructed repetition on either side. We should consider that perhaps Dewey wants us to understand that the heart of preparation lies in acquisition more than anything else.

“Ah, I believe we are out of time. Class, in addition to your next reading from the syllabus, please take time to mark the nouns and verbs in this pericope. Look for unusual terms, perhaps places where Dewey alters his vocabulary or sentence structure. Those are always highlights in the text.

“Remember: We know the author’s intentionality behind his words. Every word choice, every grammatical point is a signpost of meaning. Dig in! And be blessed this week, my friends, as you go out into this cold world to care for the hearts and minds of the students in your class, fulfilling your high calling in this world.”

I find myself in an advanced grad-level Hebrew class for the first time in over a decade. It’s going to be a great class; we’re focusing on poetry and there’s so much that’s developed in linguistic understanding of biblical Hebrew since the last time I looked at any of this stuff. So I’m excited.

But I earned another master’s degree since I was last in seminary, and getting back into this particular setting highlights some of the unique *ahem* culture that exists among seminary people.

Everything is extra “holy.” Every word is held up as mattering more. Every motive is baptized with sincerity and earnestness because, after all, we’re studying God’s Word.

I guess it’s just kind of funny. I’m not here to criticize or be cynical. Really I’m not. But the approach feels so …. foreign now. I’m not sure God really cares as much as we think He does about how we’re parsing that Hithpael verb. I’m definitely sure Dr. Barrett was right when he constantly reminded us:

There’s an inverse relationship between your knowledge of a language and the amount of “nifty” things you can discover in it.

Never sacrifice exegetical exactness on the altar of ‘niftiness.’

Well said, sir. Well said.

Got a comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.