The Frosted Telescope

I haven’t written for a while. I’m not doing St Stephen’s anymore, because I don’t believe that it’s a good program. And because I sent an angst-ridden letter to the director and professors expressing rather indelicately various ways in which I have found it to be a poor program. And got a fairly acid response. So I won’t be writing about it anymore.

I do have a blessing to consider why I have a tendency to participate in educational venues that I’m unlikely to like, and then freak out some when, in fact, I do not like them. And whether there’s something I ought to be learning from this. We did actually have a Groundhog Day themed sermon the other week, and it was sort on that (not necessarily on education, but things that just keep coming around again and again. And the movie). So I gave it some thought. Having been here before, I have plenty of thoughts. Steamers full of them. Sorting thoughts is more difficult than finding them in this case. They go off in rather different directions.

One thought was: it’s like I’m expecting a course to be sort of like a telescope. There’s True Stuff out there to look at, and a course might direct and amplify our vision so that we can see it — and see particular bits of it in some detail. One might imagine some lenses; the Program Structure lens focusing into the Books and Materials lens, toward the Great Books or Tradition lens, and the Big Questions lens, and finally toward the True, Good, or Beautiful that is being aimed at.

I’m thinking of a course like a telescope, I said, but perhaps the organizer is thinking of it as a goad, or a measuring stick. If I were a comic artist, this would present some amusing scenes: trying to look into the distance through a stick, and nearly poking my eye out. Wondering why the lenses of the measuring stick are so cloudy. I imagine the facilitator standing by watching, wondering how anyone can be so dull. Teacher trainers like to quote “if all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” (I don’t know who that’s ascribed to), and perhaps if all you want is to see, a lot of things might look like telescopes which aren’t, or are very poor ones.

Still, it seems rather thoughtless to make something that *looks* like it’s going to be for seeing, but which is not quite fit for seeing with, and then to poke or measure people with it. I imagine getting poked in the eye a number of times, and then squawking or sulking, as I have been known to do, as the victim of a rather poor joke.

So thought: you’re a rather clever girl. Surely you could figure this out after a couple of tries. One would think. Presumably after getting a packet of materials that says a lot about how to get a certificate, and nothing at all about how to assimilate knowledge into wisdom, you’d know it as being more of a measuring stick than a telescope, and only inadvertently a mirror. Or, after going to enough workshops that end up being very much about controlling people, and very little about the desirability of doing so, one would recognize a stick for prodding with. One might very well continue to dislike being prodded and measured, but surprise becomes increasingly implausible. What else is going on?

Not uncommonly, organizers have a couple of intentions, which may interact oddly. They may want to convince you that if you don’t repent you will burn in hell for all eternity — and also want you to have fun. It’s not necessary that the desire to inflict fun be any less sincere than the desire to inspire repentance. Making a small group of people miserable every day for months and years is not a desirable career for any sane person. And I suspect that many people, including educational professionals, secretly suspect that if they exclusively did what they mean to do — goad people into being more responsible teachers, for instance — then they and we would be rather miserable. We might even disagree on what we ought to be repenting of. It might become unpleasant. We might reach an impasse. So, whether by design or no, we whip up a kind of manipulation stew. Something that I find extraordinarily distasteful, because I cant’ tell what’s in it. Is the spoon full of aspartame hiding medicine, poison, or placebo? It’s a bit chancy.

I should note, before confusing myself and you with example soup, that not all of this applies equally to every situation. Just now I was mostly thinking about workshop facilitators who pour on the games, activities, and literal candy so thick that there’s very little room to consider what’s under the icing. And it’s not even good icing — it’s the kind you want to scrape off when it gets thicker than an eighth of an inch. This is far less true of St Stephen’s, where the appeal is actually in the the topic and the essays — so in that which the course actually consists of — only it’s rather poorly done. That may well have been a simple case of ignorantly poking myself with something I mistook for a telescope, but which was, in fact, a measuring stick, after trying very hard to look through it.

PS: With less psychological maneuvering one might say “it’s hard to admit that something I’ve hoped would be good and interesting if I just put enough or the right kind of effort and thought and consideration into it is probably just not very good, even if the experience of encountering it is, in other ways, good for me. So first I invest a lot of energy into making it work (and had to previously invest some money into it, making me want to quit even less), and get some good cognitive dissonance going on.

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5 thoughts on “The Frosted Telescope

  1. My response will only be to share some wisdom with respect to this writing. It will not directly respond to any particular theme from your writing as I found it difficult to follow at times to be sincere. You state you are not doing St.Stephen’s any more. Interesting statement but within that statement says a lot. That within itself would take a 4 page response so I will let that go for another day. What I have learned from my many years in education from the very start can be summed up in a few sentences. When I graduated many many years ago I was ordering my class ring in my Junior year at a university. On the form they asked is your degree a BS or a BA. Being rather young and quite innocent I replied a BA. Well a degree in education to teach is a BS. In there lies possibly something we should all think about. Is teaching a science or an art? I truly believe it is an art hands down. Just like painting or a sculpture you personally may be working on it comes form your heart, hands, mind and most of all your soul so to speak. At St. Stephen’s and all the way down to a 1st grade class teachers are teaching to the masses which makes teaching rather difficult to say the least. So teachers show movies try to make people laugh and use a tool box of skills from their heart, hands & so on. At times our students get bored, feel we are not challenging them enough and at some point become disillusioned with education at many different levels both literally & figuratively speaking. So where does the problem lie truly? Our education system has not grown or changed one little bit in over 200 years in the US. We as educators should strive to think outside of the box and challenge all our students on an individual basis as artists would challenge themselves in creating a masterpiece of work. Are not our students each and everyone of them true masterpieces being shaped drawn and worked on everyday we spend time with them. With what I have just shared at some point students will remove themselves from a formal education as it may not be fitting their needs or desires. This is not due to a failure of a particular teacher or institution but rather the student is now becoming and growing in a different direction as they search for increased wisdom knowledge and fulfillment. My final thought is continue your quest for all 3 of these goals in your own way and remain a life long learner. I am not a great writer as you are aware of but my love and ability to teach I stand by as goals I continue to enjoy and fulfill as a lifetime of an “Art” I do love, “Teaching” !

    Uhpa Joe

    • Hi Joe!

      I have always found it rather ironic that a degree in teaching is a BS.

      Anyway, the program in question is primarily a correspondence course, which means that mostly we’re interacting with their printed materials and assigned books. For better or worse, I’m sort of a design nerd, which means that I tend to overreact to design and materials choices, especially if I don’t have a lot else to go on. And in this case I didn’t.

  2. Hi Molly, do you remember me from Eagle River, Alaska? I hope you are well!

    About the St. Stephen’s course. Fr. Tom, my husband, completed it a few years ago and I really think that it is a simple course for the archdiocese to equip people and make sure bases are covered and to find out where people are at ability wise and theologically before they take an official role teaching and serving the Church. I’m sorry you were let down by it, but maybe you tend to be like me and set your expectations and hopes too high. In these cases we are the ones who are poking and hurting ourselves. Not the instructors.

    Previously Fr. Tom was able to study theology in two Lutheran seminaries. A correspondence course cannot offer the fuller contextual experience and relationships. I think the people who administer the St. Stephen’s course would be the first one to recognize that. If you cannot attend a seminary and you want to study theology, you’ve got to make the best with what you’ve got. For lots of people, the best thy’ve got is the St. Stephen’s course. But surely you know the saying, “A theologian is one who prays”. We can’t really study the One whom you are trying to find through your telescope or sign up for illumination. ;-). Our Archbishop JOSEPH says, “Have patience and do not fear.” All of these words are aimed at me too.

    Love and Respect in Christ,
    Kh. Laura

    • Kh. Laura,

      Thank you for replying (and blessed feast!) Yes, sometimes I am quite slow on the uptake — as much about what I was looking for as about what I’ve actually encountered.

  3. Uhpa Joe: I love what you said. My belief is that a good teacher loves people (those would-be learners) and his subject (what he shares). All that methods stuff is, when formalized into a certificate, 100% BS. When good teachers (i.e. craftsmen) share their trade tools (i.e. methods), then it’s gold. AND, the best teachers are often those Mentors whose primary job descriptions are far afield of (big ‘e’) Education.

    Molly: keep learning, seeking, and yes, teaching–wherever you find yourself. Sharing your thoughts here is a form of teaching that I learn from.

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