Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who Is at the Front of the Room? “Higher” Education

Picture this scene at Wartburg Theological Seminary where I am blessed to teach.  Classes start early.  Alert, eager, engaged, we dig into studies together. Although I may sit at the front of the room, ten minutes into the hour, it’s not just my wisdom students copy down, but some new theological insight we discover together that none of us would have thought of on our own.  Next is chapel, followed by time in the refectory  to connect. One hears a buzz about global concerns, new student projects, meetings. By noon conversation has turned into action perhaps in the Dubuque community, perhaps in the broader church and world. 

Learning together, life together, all over the place.  Yes, students respect the faculty.  Likewise faculty respect students, their ideas, gifts and experiences.
Wartburg is a strong academic institution. And a strong learning community. The two go together. When any environment is merely hierarchical, assuming knowledge is inside only one person--the professor/teacher, pastor/priest-- teaching and learning are limited.
Appropriate teaching authority lies in setting the stage for people, the body of Christ Christians would say, to be learning around the Word of God together.

Only God is the Almighty One, so for me to “Lord it over” my students (Oh, did I say “my”?) is to confuse roles. That is not to say we professors abdicate our responsibility to teach, and to read, research, and publish. And there’s accountability, mutual accountability.  But students do not write a paper merely for the professor, rather, as adult learners, they study, read and write for their own growth and therefore learn in order to serve as ministerial leaders in the church and world.
Teaching and learning in community is extraordinarily challenging.  It’s much easier to deliver a lecture or preach a sermon while others remain quiet, “at our feet,” so to speak. But Jesus taught “on the way,” on the road, in the midst of people’s real lives, real needs. He interacted with them.

We are called to teach, believing the Holy Spirit resides in each person. That opens us to receive a student’s new insight, questions, comments, living examples. We learn from those whom others might discount.  We learn across gender, socio-economic, racial boundaries. 

No one student is at the head of the class. In fact, the shape of the class and learning itself changes. Amazing what we can learn together. This is higher education.