The other day, I reviewed Mark Schwehn’s Exiles From Eden, which is a defense of the academic vocation of teaching. This idea was reinforced today at the conference I’m attending, which centers around the idea of the vocation of faculty.
One of our speakers, in a moment of refreshing honesty confessed that she has experienced real frustrations in teaching at times and that her temptation is to lash out at her students. Instead, she said she had felt God saying that she needed to be a “shepherd” and then referred to the Dead Sea scrolls reference to a “Teacher of Righteousness who would be a guide in the way of God’s heart.” She works with clinicians in a helping field and sees preparing empathetic and ethical people as holy work.
She spoke as one highly proficient in her field, both in research and clinical experience. And she gave the lie to the old saw “those who can’t do, teach.” She, and others I’ve met combine research excellence with a love for students and a sense that teaching and forming students in their disciplinary work is indeed a calling, not a painful distraction from research and publication.
Universities love to talk about how much they care about teaching and the experience of students. Yet the truth is that the value system in universities still values “knowledge-making” over teaching and the formation of students, even though many of the students who matriculate do not aspire to be academics or researchers. They will pursue commerce, politics, engineering, and various forms of work that foster human flourishing.
It seems it is time and past time to re-examine how important the one who teaches is to the preparation of the next generation who will shape our society. What we don’t need, as one commentator once noted is “highly skilled barbarians.” Yet this, I think is what will result if we continue to denigrate the important, indeed sacred, role of those who teach. I wonder, can we afford that?