During the spring 2019, the Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows at Valparaiso University have thoughtfully considered the meaning of education, and what constitutes teaching and learning. Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass are guiding the discussion around the question: How does the Christian tradition help us to consider the purposes of education and the vocation of an educator within the larger context of a whole human life?
The discussion began with a film: The Wild Child by Francois Truffaut, which considers the story of a feral child in the late 18th century in the south of France. Later named Victor, the feral child is found by hunters and captured. Dr. Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, a young physician, takes custody of him and tries to teach and socialize him, with the help of a nurse. Throughout the semester, we have considered, to what extent is our teaching similar to and different from Itard’s education of Victor. How are our views on education different from and similar to those of Itard and his nurse?
We then move to two selections from Everyone a Teacher, edited by Mark Schwehn, Eva Brann’s “Depth and Desire” and Philip W. Jackson’s “Real Teaching.” Brann explores the questions around how to awaken desire within students. Where should a teacher or curriculum begin? Do students bring a certain amount of “freshness” with them when they begin?
Jackson considers what constitutes teaching. He considers whether a salesperson could have a good day without anyone buying anything, and likewise whether a teacher can be a good teacher without students learning anything. In the current landscape of both K-12 and increasingly postsecondary education, student learning outcomes are increasingly being used not only to guide instruction, but also to measure teacher quality. This is a trend that can be both helpful and problematic; however, we went on to consider, what kinds of student learning are most important, and how do we know whether students have attained them? We also asked what it means to have “had a good class” on a particular day, and how our interpretation of our teaching changes over time.
We then went on to read excerpts from Linda Zagzebski’s Exemplarist Moral Theory, which suggests that people admire moral excellence and that the emotion of admiration awakens a desire to emulate that moral excellence. Not all exemplars have all virtues, but a particular exemplar, for example one who demonstrates great courage, would move us to be more courageous. An exemplar who demonstrates great compassion would move us to be more compassionate, even if that exemplar did not also demonstrate courage. We discussed the role of exemplary figures, both historical and fictional, in teaching, and whether a complicated figure can also be exemplary.
Additionally this semester, the postdoctoral fellows will have the opportunity to attend the Bach Institute’s performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” performed by the Valparaiso University Chorale and Bach Choir, with the Ft. Wayne Children’s Choir. Christopher Cock, who holds the Duesenberg Chair in Lutheran Music and is the director of the Bach institute, came to lead a discussion preceding the performance. The discussion was most enlightening, and gave the Lilly Fellows a number of contexts—musical, historical, and liturgical—for better understanding the performance of the “St. Matthew Passion.”
They will conclude the semester with readings from Leading Lives that Matter on the topic of whether it is possible to lead a balanced life, and whether a balanced life is preferable to a life that focuses on work, and with John Williams’ novel Stoner. Stoner tells the story of William Stoner, a young man who grows up on a farm in rural Missouri. Stoner is sent to the University of Missouri to study agriculture to help his family, but there he is taken with the study of literature, and eventually pursues a PhD and becomes a professor of English at the University of Missouri. The novel follows Stoner throughout his life and explores, among other things, the role that Stoner’s work as a college teacher plays in his life.
Posted by Jenna Van Sickle