Grace-full education

In the latest Commonweal, the Spring Books issue, Dennis O’Brien has an appreciative review of Andrew Delbianco’s book, College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be.” He particularly likes the emphasis placed on grace in shaping higher education and quotes a paragraph on the need for it in daily instruction:
Every true teacher…understands [that] a mysterious third force is present in every classroom…. One never knows how the teacher’s voice will be received by the student…. Sometimes the spoken word is just noise…. Sometimes it can have surprising and powerful effects–yet is impossible to say why and when this will happen.
This reminded me of St. Augustine’s doctrine of the “inner Teacher,” as in the following (which I sent during this last Lent):
“Call no one your master on earth; you have only one Master, Christ” (Mt 23:8-9). Let him speak inwardly, then, where no human is present, because even if someone is beside you, no one is in your heart. But don’t let there be no one in your heart: let Christ be in your heart; let his anointing be in your heart; don’t let your heart thirst in a desert without fountains to give it water. It is the inner Master who teaches; Christ teaches; his inspiration teaches. Where his inspiration and his anointing is not, loud noise resounds from outside in vain. So are these words, brothers and sisters, that we are speaking from outside, like that farmer and his tree. He works from the outside: he applies water and feeds it diligently. No matter what he does from outside, does he form the apples? Does he clothe the naked trees with the shade of the leaves? Does he do anything like this from inside? Who does that? Listen to the farmer-apostle, and see what we are, and listen to the inner Master: “I have planted; Apollo has watered; but God gives the increase. The one who plants is nothing, and neither is the one who waters, only he who grants the increase, God” (1 Cor 3:6-7). We tell you, then: whether by our speaking we are planting or we are watering, we are not anything; it is God, who gives the increase, that is, the anointing of his that teaches you about all things. (Augustine on I John, Hom. 3, 13; PL 35, 2005)
In another sermon he remarks on the unbreakable link between teaching and learning.
What is teaching but giving knowledge. And these two things are so closely linked that one can’t exist without the other. No one is taught unless he learns, and no one learns unless he is taught. So if a student is not capable of the things that are said by a teacher, the latter cannot say, “I taught but he didn’t learn.” He can say, “I said what should have been said, but he didn’t learn, because he didn’t get it, didn’t grasp it, didn’t understand it.” For the one would have learned if the other had taught. And so God, when he wishes to teach, first gives understanding without which a person cannot learn the things that belong to divine teaching, and that’s why the Psalms says a little later: “Give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.”
I suppose all of us present or former teachers have had experience similar to those of Augustine and of Delbianco: days when nothing seemed to get through, other days when we had the joy of seeing an insight light up the face of a student, and were grateful for the grace.

In the latest Commonweal, the Spring Books issue, Dennis O’Brien has an appreciative review of Andrew Delbianco’s book, College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be. He particularly likes the emphasis placed on grace in shaping higher education and quotes a paragraph on the need for it in daily instruction:

Every true teacher…understands [that] a mysterious third force is present in every classroom…. One never knows how the teacher’s voice will be received by the student…. Sometimes the spoken word is just noise…. Sometimes it can have surprising and powerful effects–yet it is impossible to say why and when this will happen.

This reminded me of St. Augustine’s doctrine of the “inner Teacher,” as in the following (which I sent during this last Lent):

“Call no one your master on earth; you have only one Master, Christ” (Mt 23:8-9). Let him speak inwardly, then, where no human is present, because even if someone is beside you, no one is in your heart. But don’t let there be no one in your heart: let Christ be in your heart; let his anointing be in your heart; don’t let your heart thirst in a desert without fountains to give it water. It is the inner Master who teaches; Christ teaches; his inspiration teaches. Where his inspiration and his anointing is not, loud noise resounds from outside in vain. So are these words, brothers and sisters, that we are speaking from outside, like that farmer and his tree. He works from the outside: he applies water and feeds it diligently. No matter what he does from outside, does he form the apples? Does he clothe the naked trees with the shade of the leaves? Does he do anything like this from inside? Who does that? Listen to the farmer-apostle, and see what we are, and listen to the inner Master: “I have planted; Apollo has watered; but God gives the increase. The one who plants is nothing, and neither is the one who waters, only he who grants the increase, God” (1 Cor 3:6-7). We tell you, then: whether by our speaking we are planting or we are watering, we are not anything; it is God, who gives the increase, that is, the anointing of his that teaches you about all things. (Augustine on I John, Hom. 3, 13; PL 35, 2005)

In another sermon he remarks on the unbreakable link between teaching and learning.

What is teaching but giving knowledge? And these two things are so closely linked that one can’t exist without the other. No one is taught unless he learns, and no one learns unless he is taught. So if a student is not capable of the things that are said by a teacher, the latter cannot say, “I taught but he didn’t learn.” He can say, “I said what should have been said, but he didn’t learn, because he didn’t get it, didn’t grasp it, didn’t understand it.” For the one would have learned if the other had taught. And so God, when he wishes to teach, first gives understanding without which a person cannot learn the things that belong to divine teaching, and that’s why the Psalms says a little later: “Give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.”

I suppose all of us present or former teachers have had experiences similar to those of Augustine and of Delbianco: days when nothing seemed to get through, other days when we had the joy of seeing an insight light up the face of a student, and were grateful for the grace of it.

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