THE TEACHER AS HOST:
LET'S TALK ABOUT IT
JAMES A. THORNE
Keith Anderson asks the right questions in his article, "Education As Hospitality--Teacher As Host" (Faculty Dialogue, Fall-Winter, 1986-87, No. 7, pp. 37-42). His comments deserve dialogue. To start with, he makes the right approach: "The assumptions I make about the student are essential to how I choose to teach" (p. 38). Thus, we learn that this is an article about students more than about teachers. In fact, a careful reading would suggest that the title might well be "Education As Hospitality--Student As Guest."
We are treated to a quartet of succinct snapshots of the student. Let's talk about the details of these snapshots.
I. The "Containerized Student"
It is uncomfortably true that many teachers see students as containers. Some college administrations in their efforts to certify and quantify education, utilize the "containerization" concept too much.
One must ask, though, "Is it not accurate to see a student as a potential repository of truth?" Did not Paul say to the Colossians that his prayer was to the effect that they would be "filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Colossians 1:9)?
To speak of the student as container does not necessarily militate against the value of that container in God's eyes. The student is (after all) made in the image of God. In criticizing the "student as a container" view, it would seem important not to deny the need for informational input (content) in the teaching process.
II. The "Nonperson" Student
To see the student as a non-person is the height of inconsistency. If the student is a "citizen without full rights," "three-fourths human" (or less), "devalued," "dehumanized," and "unimportant," then why bother with the creature? This is, of course, an exaggeration. But there are teachers (God help them) who do not think much of their students. It reminds me of a pastor friend of mine who had resigned his church and was making shoes. I asked him why. His answer will go down as the ultimate inconsistency: "Well, I loved to preach--but I couldn't stand the people."
It seems unfair to make fun of a teacher because he knows more than the student. To characterize the teacher as a Scrooge harboring his knowledge and only letting it go as a patronizing gesture is only to create a straw man. It has become fashionable to put down smart people. The idea that one person is smarter than another is thought to be almost undemocratic. But, there are some teachers (James 3:1). By definition (?) they are smarter than their pupils. Or is that a form of teacher chauvinism?
One must agree that "the master would invest his life into the lives of the learners." In fact, one must strongly advocate that position in our morally degenerate society which shortchanges the idea of commitment at all. But to say that the discipleship relationship is unworthy somehow because it emphasizes authority demands some defense. To say that one person is a teacher and the other a disciple is not demeaning to the disciple. A major portion of the New Testament characterizes the followers of Jesus Christ as disciples so named by Him and sought by them. (Matthew 28:18-20)
The issue of authority is important in the education process. If the teacher is the authority, then the subject is open to human fallibility. If the teacher is a person under authority (of the Scriptures, Christ, God, or all three at once), then the subject taught must carry weight to the student. In fact, if the student does not sense authority, there will be a rejection of the teaching out of hand. Thus, we find validity in the master-disciple model in teaching.
IV. The Student as "Guest"
The major contribution of this article is to introduce the student as a guest in the classroom. What visions of rationalism, the education journey, and social joys are created by the thought of a teaching hosting the student in his classroom! Certainly Abraham and his guests had good fellowship and yet one would debate who was the teacher and who the student in that experience. A better illustration seems to be the Emmaus road experience when Jesus treated His "guest-students" to a sumptuous scriptural feast (Luke 24:13-35).
There is no question but that the student is a guest. But treating the student as a guest may short circuit some very necessary educational criteria. Guests rarely work, tend to be served instead of serve, and, in general, coast along the journey rather than running the race set before them.
Since this is a dialogue, let's talk about the significance of each model (strengths and weaknesses). Let's talk about the way these models stretch our thinking. To be frank, I'm not convinced that the "guest" image is strong enough for the student. The question, "What assumptions do we have of the learner?", needs to be pursued further.