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Friday, March 19, 2021

Dr. Joe Rudolph
Dear JH Classical Academy Parents,
 
In faculty professional development, JH Classical teachers are currently reading Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach. In Chapter IV, which we read and discussed this past Wednesday, Palmer discusses the concept of community and looks at the various ways in which community is an indispensable part of education. This has been a subject especially on my mind this past year as teachers across the world made their way through an unprecedented disruption of normal classroom learning. We all went through at least a few months of teaching that did not feel very communal.
Of course, “remote learning” is not the only threat to the communal nature of the classroom. It is wrong and dangerous, Palmer suggests, to see education as the work of an expert teacher imparting knowledge into passive vessels or to look on the subjects we teach as static bodies of knowledge of which we the teachers are master dispensers. This insight rings especially true for me as a literature teacher. There is a frightening tendency in our time to view works from the past exclusively through the lens of present concerns. “From this standpoint,” Palmer writes, “it does not matter that Moby Dick reaches deep into such great things in the human experience as hubris and destiny. It matters only that Melville was a patriarchal bigot.” And while we certainly must look honestly at the assumptions that inform the author of a work (in the ancient Greek epics, for instance, wanton warfare is glorified, slavery is taken for granted, and women are viewed as property), we blind ourselves with our arrogance if we pretend that we can stand in judgement over the past simply. A well-run literature seminar is not just a dialogue between teacher and students…it is a dialogue with an artifact from the past that contains truths that we can only apprehend if we approach it humbly. One might recall the aphorism attributed to Bernard of Chartres that we are “dwarves on the shoulders of giants” or T.S. Eliot’s response to the idea that we know more than writers of the past: “Precisely,” he wrote “and they are that which we know.”
 
A brilliant scholar is not always a good teacher, for the mark of a good teacher is not simply knowledge or insight. A good teacher shares knowledge and insight in a way that benefits a student. One of my mentors insisted that the best way to teach students about common errors of grammar and usage is to use only student-generated examples. Why? Because it helped focus the class on the real needs of the students, not on what some textbook publisher imagined those needs to be. Math and science show us perennial truths, to be sure, but these truths are arrived at as the result of a long conversation across history and must be presented in a way that a student can grasp. A good science teacher teaches students to ask questions and seek answers and to develop good mathematical and scientific habits of mind, not simply to memorize accepted conclusions.
 
Our mission at Jackson Hole Classical Academy acknowledges the inherently communal nature of education. We seek to “cultivate” (not simply impart) within our students the wisdom and virtue necessary to discover and fulfill something God-given and contribute to a flourishing and free society. The student is neither self-sufficient nor isolated and must never be treated as such. And the work of the teacher always builds on, draws from, and contributes to the family, the church, society, and the world.
 
 
 
Dr. Joseph P. Rudolph
Dean of Faculty
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