In the matter of classroom instruction, a most profound truth is that nothing whatsoever can take the place of the richness of direct interaction between student and teacher. Jeff Bliss—the Duncanville student who lambasted his teaching for not being involved in the teaching of her students—seems to have mightily grasped this point. Part of the explanation for why direct interaction is so important is that non-verbal behavior plays a most significant role in how human beings understand what is said to them.
Everyone grasps this in the parent-child situation. Although the words “I love you” are ever so commonplace, a most profound truth is that a parent can nonetheless say those three words with such majesty and affirmation that the child is moved to tears upon hearing them. The facial expressions and tonality, with which the words are uttered, along with the context of the utterance can effectively give the utterance of those three words extraordinary depth at that very moment even though the child has heard those words uttered to her or him on countless other occasions.
With respect to teaching, the parallel to parenting is far greater than might be initially supposed. The reaction that an instructor gives to the question or response of a student can be absolutely rich with affirmation, on the one hand, or an indication of utter incredulity, on the other. And in so very many cases, all that is necessary is the appropriate body posture and facial expression.
One way of understanding the concern of Jeff Bliss is that teaching has become so formulaic that it has truly lost the wherewithal to engage students in a personal way. Of course, another factor here is that the kind of respect and affirmation that teachers use to have has pretty much faded. There was a time when parents could be counted upon to support teachers. Nowadays, however, parental love is taken to mean siding with the child against the teacher, no matter how ignoble the child’s behavior might be. The observation that I have just made is part of the reason why so very many parents who have the means to do so are sending their children to private school—indeed, Catholic Schools.
Teaching at its best is not merely about conveying information. For that is easily enough done by computers nowadays. Rather, it is about occasioning deep insight into why an answer is right or insight into why it is better to proceed in a given way in order to obtain the right answer.
There are those who have criticized Jeff Bliss for being disrespectful of the teacher. And there are those who have pointed out that Bliss is unaware of how formulaic things have become. As to the first point, we do not have disrespect as that term is usually meant. Bliss is not distraught because he is being forced to learn and he would rather do so something else. Quite the contrary, precisely what animates him is that the teacher seems not to be all committed to engaging the students intellectually. Thus, he appears to be expressing a genuine thirst for knowledge; and that is light years away from being disrespectful of an instructor who is committed to engaging students intellectually. As to the second point, while it is probably true that Bliss does not grasp how formulaic things have become, his frustration in that regard tells us something very disturbing about the way in which things have changed for the worse. It is also tells us something quite wonderful about him. For it is ever so clear that with regard to learning he has not at all become numb. And that speaks mountains about him that is positive.
In this ever so complicated world in which people make all sorts of excuses for failing to be excellent: The very clear, genuine, and unequivocal call for excellence on the part of the teacher by Jeff Bliss is none other than a marvelous moral melody.
© 2013 Laurence Thomas