Friday, August 14, 2009

Follow-Up: Teaching the Bible

I posted the previous topic both here and on Facebook, soliciting comments from lots of diverse people. The basic questions were, for Bible profs, How does your classroom teaching compare with what you received as an undergraduate or (if applicable) seminarian?, and for non-profs, Looking back at your education, how do you wish you'd been taught?

What kind of feedback came in? My post is a little long, but the major conclusions are at the bottom of this post. Pat McCullough also posted a thoughtful reply on his own blog.

Among the professors, comments included the following (I'll include a note about how widely shared the senitment was.)
  • Several of us have moved away from teaching students "stuff they should know" to helping them grow develop their skills and confidence as interpreters in their own right. Students are still encouraged to consult other voices and opinions, but the mode of teaching emphasizes the process of discovery rather than a passive reception of information.
  • Textbooks received some interest. One instructor assigns multiple textbooks, so that no one voice dominates the class. (I've done that in a variety of ways in most of my intro courses.) Another uses a course pack or online files. (Yep. Me, too.)
  • Several of us raised questions of ethics, politics, and identity. Most who so commented are persons of color. (I also share this concern, though I'm never satisfied with my own work here.)
  • A couple of people commented on the prospects and perils of integrating technology with pedagogy. (Yep. Uh-huh.)
  • A few of us require significant exegesis projects that come in multiple stages. (I call this an "interpretive essay.")
  • One person moved away from trying to cover the canon to helping students engage a set of themes. I think this decision has to do with achieving depth of engagement and cultivating the students' own interpretive voices, over against a relatively shallow "survey" of the canon.
  • One person mentioned critical pedagogy (hooks, Brookfield, Vella). I think I'll work with Broofield's Critical Incident Questionnaire this semester. This practice also includes a measure of self-disclosure on the part of the instructor.
  • One respondent prefers small class sizes.
  • One respondent engaged the question of sensitivity in dealing with topics that will challenge students' faith.
  • One respondent emphasized the instructor's continuing growth and engagement with the material. (I never use the same syllabus twice, though certain parts have lasted 10 years.)
From seminary graduates several comments came in.
  • Especially important was helping students cultivate their own interpretive practices rather than be passive recipients of wisdom. Both groups shared this cluster.
  • One respondent emphasized relevance for ministry, how to take biblical studies out into the parish and the world.
  • One respondent desired more contemporary modes of interpretation (not just the historical critical approaches I received in seminary).
  • One respondent emphasized the personal engagement of the instructor as a key element in their effectiveness.
  • What about diversity in the faculty? One Latina, Laura Cardena (thanks for permission), noted that she had never studied from a Latino/Latina professor. Another (white male) would prefer more theological and methodological diversity from faculty in his education.
Conclusions:
  • Clearly, the strongest point of emphasis involved educating people to perform their own interpretive work (in conversation with other readers, of course), rather than educating people to remember a bunch of stuff.
  • Diverse questions of diversity (I meant to write that) come in with an emphasis: diverse opinions, diverse traditions, diverse methods, diverse theological sensibilities, diverse identities, you name it.
  • The role and investment of the instructor figured prominently in the conversation.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd add ...

- Extensive training in fiercely responsible exegesis and understanding of the "sitz im leben" in teaching and (more importantly) preaching the Word. (The reason the evangelical world is bleeding so badly now is because of, I'd propose, Kindergarten-like teaching.

- Intense training in the importance and techniques of successful practical application of the Word in listener's lives starting immediately after the receipt of the Word.

- Emphasis on personal spiritual disciplines as the lifeblood of a man or woman of God, so that exposition and preaching comes from real life rather than a refrigerator of theological concepts.

Blessings !!

Sanford said...

When we teach, we must stress basic principles and rules of logic. True for math and science, and also true for the Hebrew Bible. (I cannot comment about the Christian Bible, as I have not studied it). See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.

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