"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

09 July 2007

On Commitment

Some of us have been exploring the concept of Christian liberal arts education this summer, and in one of the books we've been reading, Arthur F. Holmes' The Idea of a Christian College, we found some comments I may start including on my syllabi:

"The pursuit of truth [. . .] carries with it certain moral prerequisites: the willingness and determination to learn, intellectual honesty, a self-discipline that makes lesser and more selfish satisfactions wait."

The student needs to understand that "education is a Christian vocation, one's prime calling for these years, that education must be an act of love, of worship, of stewardship, a wholehearted response to God. Attitude and motivation accordingly afford but a beginning: this personal contact between faith and learning should extend to disciplined scholarship and to intellectual and artistic integrity."

"How a student may feel about a teacher or administrator or about rules and requirements is secondary to his moral commitment to [the] task [of education]. I do not expect students to like everything about me or my courses or the college, but I do expect them to be committed to gaining an education. It is that which qualifies them as members of an academic community."

I would say that if a young person doesn't have these attitudes toward education, he will be better off finding a different task for the present. This will not, however, remove from him the need for commitment and self-discipline.

Because, clearly, one can change the "college education" of Holmes' remarks to any task whatsoever and the admonitions still apply. Whatever one sets out to learn, whatever one wishes to accomplish in life, these attitudes of commitment to the task are paramount, or mediocrity will be the earned reward. As Richard Weaver points out in Ideas Have Consequences, this is a hard concept to sell to a culture which has rejected transcendentals, lives for comfort, and expects the rewards of excellence without work.

Pray for the parents and teachers who are trying to counteract what everything around us teaches the young people entrusted to our care.

3 comments:

GrumpyTeacher1 said...

Thanks for posting that; we all need prayer, I think.

Ellen said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment and with the quotes you've posted here . . . I find it helpful to modify this quote a little, though, as a teacher and as a student:
The TEACHER needs to understand that "education is a Christian vocation, one's prime calling for these years, that education must be an act of love, of worship, of stewardship, a wholehearted response to God. Attitude and motivation accordingly afford but a beginning: this personal contact between faith and learning should extend to disciplined scholarship and to intellectual and artistic integrity."
I think the teacher IS the personal contact that bridges these gaps in students' lives and understanding . . . as a student who has been successful only because my teachers (thank YOU!) motivated and inspired me to seek something more--to seek the good that I didn't know enough to want for myself--it occurs to me that we cannot begin to expect this commitment from students until we have truly embraced it ourselves. Thinking on the MANY school communities of which I have been a part, I remember so many "teachers" (better, perhaps, to call them employees) who are dispassionate, cynical, and joyless, who seem to love neither their academic fields nor their students, and I find it no surprise that our students exhibit these same characteristics: these are often learned behaviors and attitudes, reinforced over time by people and systems that are committed only to perpetual motion, not to forward motion, and certainly not to upward motion . . . We must be examples for our students of the integrity we want them to pursue in all areas of their academic and personal lives. . . . and remember that it often takes much time and effort and prayer on our part to undo the damage done to souls by those who are only nominally part of our profession.

alaiyo said...

You are welcome, GT.

Ellen, I agree with you wholeheartedly as well. I am a bit sensitive these days to the blaming of teachers for every student who doesn't care . . . One difficulty in teaching at the college level is that one should really not have to be spending the most of one's energy on motivating students . . . I am always struggling with the very real need to love each student equally, including trying to help them see the value in what is offered them, and the need to teach my subject at this level -- some will be left behind because they just aren't ready and can't "get" it unless we spend so much time at their level that the ones ready to truly learn are not served well. Not well stated but you know what I mean. You, of course came in ready and eager to learn . . . would that even half my students had half your enthusiasm! :) Your own students are most blessed.

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