Goal of Teaching

Excellent set of ideas from Gary Gutting:

I’ve concluded that the goal of most college courses should not be knowledge but engaging in certain intellectual exercises.   For the last few years I’ve had the privilege of teaching a seminar to first-year Honors students in which we read a wide range of wonderful texts, from Plato and Thucydides to Calvino and Nabokov.  We have lively discussions that require a thorough knowledge of the text, and the students write excellent papers that give close readings of particular passages.  But the half-life of their detailed knowledge is probably far less than a year.  The goal of the course is simply that they have had close encounters with some great writing.

What’s the value of such encounters?  They make students vividly aware of new possibilities for intellectual and aesthetic fulfillment—pleasure, to give its proper name.  They may not enjoy every book we read, but they enjoy some of them and learn that—and how—this sort of thing (Greek philosophy, modernist literature) can be enjoyable.  They may never again exploit the possibility, but it remains part of their lives, something that may start to bud again when they see a review of a new translation of Homer or a biography of T. S. Eliot, or when “Tartuffe” or “The Seagull” in playing at a local theater.

College education is a proliferation of such possibilities: the beauty of mathematical discovery, the thrill of scientific understanding, the fascination of historical narrative, the mystery of theological speculation. We should judge teaching not by the amount of knowledge it passes on, but by the enduring excitement it generates. Knowledge, when it comes, is a later arrival, flaring up, when the time is right, from the sparks good teachers have implanted in their students’ souls.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://prodigalthought.net/ Scott Lencke

    Scot -

    I’m sure you know of Jamie Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. It’s a fascinating book on proper education – not as dissemination of information, but as stirring desire.

  • http://nateshoemaker.wordpress.com/ Nate S.

    Yep, I like this.

  • gingoro

    Yes that kind of education should be part of the experience BUT I do hope that my doctor or lawyer actually get some amount of knowledge and skills out of their education.

    DaveW

  • Richard H

    I liked Gutting’s piece when I read it. My ideal of teaching is
    introducing students into a tradition of inquiry more than it is the
    acquiring of strictly delimited competencies that can be assessed on a
    final exam. Alas, higher ed, at least where I sit, seems to be moving a
    different direction.


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