Bad Teaching

Bad Teaching

By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning

Polemics against bad teaching and poor education are a staple in social science, philosophy, and education literature. I suspect for two reasons: first, they are effective in getting readers riled up, and, second, I suspect it’s just too easy to sling tomatoes at poor teachers. After all, who among us hasn’t suffered under one? However, I do love a good rant…

Below is from critic George Steiner from his book Lessons of the Masters (Harvard University Press, 2003, pp. 18-19). I’m enjoying this book on many levels, including having to use a penknife to cut the folio edges (haven’t had to do that in a long time in the age of e-books!).

Here is Steiner on poor teaching:

“Poor teaching, pedagogic routine, a style of instruction which is, consciously or not, cynical in its merely utilitarian aims, are ruinous. They tear up hope by its roots. Bad teaching is, almost literally, murderous and, metaphorically, a sin. It diminishes the student, it reduces to grey inanity the subject being presented. It drips into the child’s or the adult’s sensibility that most corrosive of acids, boredom, the marsh gas of ennui. Millions have had mathematics, poetry, logical thinking, killed for them by dead teaching, by the perhaps subconsciously vengeful mediocrity of frustrated pedagogues. Molier’s vignettes are implacable.

“Anti-teaching is statistically close to being the norm. Good teachers, fire-raisers in their pupil’s nascent souls may well be rarer than virtuoso artists or sages. Schoolmasters, trainers of mind and body, aware of what is at stake, of the interplay of trust and vulnerability, of the organic fusion between responsibility and response (what I call “answerability”) are alarmingly few. Ovid reminds us: “there is no greater wonder.” In actual fact, as we know, the majority of those to whom we entrust our children in secondary education, to whom we look to guidance and example in the academy, are more or less amiable gravediggers. They labour to diminish their students to their own level of indifferent fatigue. They do not “open Delphi” but close it.

“The contrasting ideal of a true Master is no romantic fantasy or utopia out of practical reach. The fortunate among us will have met with true Masters, be they Socrates or Emerson, Nadia Boulanger or Max Perutz. Often, they remain anomymous: isolated school masters and mistresses who wake a child’s or adolescent’s gift, who set obsession on its way. By lending a book, by staying after class willing to be sought out. In Judaism, the liturgy includes a special blessing for families at least one of whose offspring becomes a scholar.”

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to the Digital Flipchart blog.

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