When I taught in Colombia, I taught a more or less even mass of people all of whom were quite happy to be spoon fed. There were among them a few who aspired to more, but their aspirations did not ordinarily rise very high. There were trained people among them, but they remained peripheral, and what one taught was the even mass of those happy to learn as long as it involved no great effort on their part.
Such people, I think, will usually be most of the congregation. It has its advantages and its frustrations, but it is the reality with which any teacher has to deal. And a good teacher aims to bring them along as far as is possible. What is more difficult here is that there is quite a larger number of the more keen and admirable. Because they are admirable and eager, one is tempted to draw ahead with them, leaving the mass behind.
The shock comes here: I have had response to my teaching above what I expected. I had one elder show up for class yesterday with the first volume of the 38-set, Ante, Nicene and Post collection. I had people asking about the reference in a text I was talking about; I didn’t have it, this guy looked it up and read the footnote for us, prompting a small and rather esoteric exchange. I also had the experience later on in which somebody just off the top of his head challenged my reading of something Eusebius of Caesarea wrote. It came form an unexpected quarter–a young father of five who is not in any kind of academic job and is learning Greek to be able to home school his kids to read Greek and who is patiently working his way through those 38 volumes during his lunch at work (and, morevover, has not given up on Irenaeus of Lyons after going a good way in).
It represents a challenge and a temptation for me, for this reason: what motivates me, I have come to understand, is honor. I seek honor the way some seek money or pleasure. Like those who seek money or pleasure, those of us who seek honor must understand what real honor is. Like treasures in heaven, or solid joys and lasting pleasure, the honor those of us who are moved by it should aspire to is the honor of God. That goes for this circumstance of teaching, in which there are various sources for gratifying one’s quest for honor, but only one that really counts.
I do not want to be shown up in class–though there is honor in humility. At the same time, I can’t leave the bulk of the people dangling. The solution is to honor God–not that that is as easy as it sounds. One hates to be the sort of teacher who gives up on those who are really hungry in order to feed those who will eat what is put in their mouth but no more (was it Plato who talked about it, letting the eager teach themselves, leaving the dullest behind, helping the middle class? I don’t agree with him–not yet at least). One has a duty to the majority of the class, on the other hand, that seems incompatible with the personal satisfaction of climbing higher with the few who would provide the joy and camaraderie of more competent exhilarations. But God sits over it all, calling those who teach to teach every group well. Not to leave the eager alone, not to leave the slow behind, but somehow to provide all things for all of them.
It is, perhaps, one of those things which is placed before us in order to try us by being too great for a present satisfactory solution, but edifying in that is stretches us more than we would because it makes us try to overcome what cannot be overcome in this life. I think a lot of this life is like that, and that it is a mistake to give up just because the problem appears intractable. After all, we are not made for just this present, most limited, and altogether brief phase of our existence. It is a training ground, and a nursery, and we will grow out of it and begin the real task of our existence after this part is all settled and done with. Does it not stand to reason that if we are to be greater beings in the resurrection, that we are therefore presently as children are to the outsized furniture of adults in our present circumstances? I think it is an important part of the Christian attitude to realize that this life is in not the settled part of our existence. And I wonder if this problem of teaching with a more mixed group is not part of that. I do not believe there will be less, but more hierarchy in our lives in the world to come, and I believe that very much.
(And I have been listening to Perelandra, hence my diction.)
Anyway, it has left me with a bit of culture shock and something to think about. I had forgotten, so long has it been since I’ve taught, how much energy teaching requires. I have the week off for an Easter breakfast next week, and books coming due that I can’t renew, and this consideration as I work on the lesson plan. Enough to keep one’s life engaged.