Today I mean to simply to go straight to the point. There will be no interruptions and I won’t even be taking questions! I find that this is the only way to really get things done. Sometimes we like to defend the excellence of the Socratic method and the effectiveness of the seminar or discussion method in learning. But let’s face it. These methods are not really that effective when the object is merely to get things done. There is simply no greater obstacle to progressing through a text or a curriculum plan than allowing students to ask questions or examine one’s argument premise by premise. Well I suppose a tornado or an earthquake might cause significant interruptions, but these things are not half so threatening to a teacher’s sense of “getting things done” as eight or nine students who feel free to speak their minds when they please.
After rebuilding the school, I bet I could still get through more text, turn more pages and “cover more material” if we just jettisoned the discussion method! Sure maybe the discussion method is an effective way for a student to become actively engaged in his own education. Maybe allowing a student to speak and ask questions and make comments (relevant or even irrelevant) is an effective way to provoke his enthusiasm for knowledge and perhaps provoke deeper understanding and even real learning. Nonetheless, I still maintain that it is a very poor method for getting things done. And the terrible irony is this: After allowing students to speak freely and engage in discussion and intelligent “back and forth” and “two-way learning” (to use Adler’s expression) and Socratic-like debate, after provoking authentic interest in their minds for a subject by long examinations of even minor points and perhaps even trivial matters (of course “trivial matters” are arguably what an education in the Trivium and the liberal arts is all about!), after all this I say, students will be the first to point out at the end of the Fall semester,
“Hey… isn’t this a class on the Sacraments?… Well how are we supposed to get through all seven if we are still only half way through Baptism?
Isn’t this just the way of it? I almost blush to think how fast a student will “turn his back” on his poor teacher in pointing out the lack of progress-through-the-text simply because the teacher was suckered into the idea of provoking real learning! And is the student ashamed to draw attention to this “lack of progress” to his parents? No! How many students have carefully pointed out to their parents
Mom…Dad…the reason why our American History Class never made it past the North’s violent attempt to resupply Fort Sumter in 1861, was that we were really trying to understand step by step from a careful reading of the “Declaration” and the Constitution, and all relevant primary source material …of course all the time with spirited but amicable debate and discussion ….how the North could so brazenly betray the very principles of their own independence.”
No instead who gets crucified for what appears to be sheer incompetence in “making progress?” You guessed it. The poor teacher. Not that I am complaining or anything, I am simply pointing out the fact that allowing students the intellectual liberty to speak at all is inimical to covering material! I have known some teachers who disagree. They say things like
“well one can have it both ways, in discussions, the teacher must be very vigilant in only allowing relevant points to advance. There must be a firm discipline in directing students to speak to the point succinctly etc… etc…”
Obviously this teacher knows nothing about real classroom discussions. “Relevant points”…”Succinct” … ha! or sometimes teachers will say
“I spend the first 35 minutes lecturing on important material that I want to cover and then I allow 5 minutes for a lively and spirited debate.”
Well that is just shameless. As if a discussion could happen in five minutes. In my experience it takes at least 30 minutes to simply make a question arise. To even make and issue seem discussable… worth discussing…interesting…arguable…this takes loads and loads of time. The mind of the student, you must remember, is sort of like the mind of a bear in hibernation.
And it certainly takes more than five minutes to provoke such a mind to vibrant discussion. But it is much easier to make progress when one is simply writing things down in a blog post such as this. The fact of the matter is that one gets to control the flow of the “discussion” more closely. As a result the flow of ideas, the thread of thought is easier to follow than in a real-time discussion, and, frankly, the ability to use images to advance a point can be a very powerful aid…like that bear for instance…isn’t “he” just like what you might imagine the mind of a student might look like, say, in the morning during those first period classes? About those four reasons… I would like to address this rather quickly, but now that I have considered it, I think it might be a mistake to attempt to present all four reasons simultaneously, and therefore I will attempt to only present maybe one or at most two reasons at a time. But I will go ahead and mention that the reasons why “Does nature act for an end?” is an excellent question will be arranged as follows
- It is an extremely important question for the student of nature (i.e. the one who would like to know something about nature….maybe even the person that we call these days “the scientist!”
- It is an absolutely significant question for the Ethicist and for anyone who is living. (I suppose that would apply to all of us)
- It is a very good question for those who practice one of the arts that “aid nature” (e.g. doctors, midwives, logicians)
- It is an excellent question for the Theologian.
But this needs to be discussed at more length and certainly “wisely and slowly” as Friar Lawrence would advise.