I tried writing this afternoon, and meandered my way through various heavily planned events, retreats, camps, conferences, classes, trainings, etc. The salient point of all that is: my current philosophy of education might best be summed up as: let the organization be as simple as possible so that the content can be difficult. Or, alternately: let the content be as difficult as necessary, so long at the external order in simple and clear enough to contain it well. But when I poke at this — as, I’m afraid, I can’t help doing — I find that I don’t mean precisely that, especially when it comes to outings. There are, upon inspection, different kinds of to-and-fro-ing, and the difference is not based upon a rule or a formula. The to-and-fro-ing of the trip to Washington DC I went on when I was 16 was usually aggravating, while a similar amount of somewhat ridiculous movement in Syria was mysteriously enchanting. This may be because I’ve grown up — it’s partly that, but partly not. It’s partly that, partly that pilgrimage activities are just better, but greatly because in DC we were always encountering the hard edges of the Program, whereas, in Syria, instead of a Program we had a Bishop. I often underestimate things like that — but it’s huge. if one is being sent here and there, doing rather perplexing and uncomfortable things by a bishop — that is, by a person who isn’t perfect, but whom one respects and trusts, then it’s an altogether different thing. In DC there was all manner of drama because we were asked not to go view President Reagan’s casket — but I suspect that a great deal of that drama wasn’t about Reagan at all (well, not for me, anyway), but about the suspicion that the people making that decision were people we neither knew nor trusted nor respected very much, who cared less about us than about the Program.
I might even amend my first statement: organizational simplicity is a good idea, but, really, the big thing — the HUGE, ENORMOUS, challenge, or problem, or temptation, or whatever you want to call it, that teaching and confrence-ish sorts of events have in common is one of trust, and of listening (and knowing). Most of the problems in my classes are not academic problems — they aren’t inability or lack of preparation — they’re trust problems. We don’t, and perhaps can’t, trust one another. I don’t know about the students, but I’ve learned not to trust students easily — when I first started I gave them a lot of trust, and they (not all of them, obviously, but enough) abused it; I set up Ukrainian egg making, and someone egged the walls in the hallway. of all the disheartening things about teacher trainings, and there are several (“research shows!”), perhaps the most powerful is how obvious it is that those designing and presenting them do not trust us to listen to what they are saying and perhaps use it — or at least consider it thoughtfully. St Johns works if and only if all the students are trustworthy, or those who are so outnumber those who aren’t that the untrustworthy ones don’t get to infect the general course of the conversation. It also works only if the tutors can be trusted to choose good books, and the students hold out this trust, perhaps for weeks — or even for an entire preceptorial. Otherwise the whole thing collapses. Without trustworthiness and trust it doesn’t work at all.
I suppose that this is true of all communication. If I can’t trust you to be able to read, and to try to understand what I’m saying, then I can’t possibly write to you. You have to trust that I’m writing things that I actually believe and consider important or true, and that I don’t have some hidden agenda that I’m trying to push on you.
This makes me wonder — since I tend to interpret gimmicks and games as distrust; like they’re trying to distract me so that I won’t pay careful attention to what they’re saying — whether extroverts, who apparently like games, if not necessarily gimmicks, have a different criterion of trust. Do I have any excitement loving extrovert readers out there?
But this is not the answer I wanted — I didn’t want to say that most of this stuff comes down to the earning and keeping of trust, because if the fault is that our curriculum is ridiculous, we can change the curriculum; of the problem is that we’re planning the wrong kinds of activities, then we can find better activities; if we need fewer or more or different assignments, we can do that — but trust is much harder.
So perhaps my new philosophy of education should begin: Trust is essential, and “methods are necessary in the absence of character” (where was that paraphrased from, and what was the quote?).