Monday 22 October 2007

Hauerwas on education

“As a way to challenge such a [liberal] view of freedom, I start my classes by telling my students that I do not teach in a manner that is meant to help them make up their own minds. Instead, I tell them that I do not believe they have minds worth making up until they have been trained by me. I realize such a statement is deeply offensive to students since it exhibits a complete lack of pedagogic sensitivities. Yet I cannot imagine any teacher who is serious who would allow students to make up their own minds.”

—Stanley Hauerwas, “Christian Schooling or Making Students Dysfunctional,” in Sanctify Them in the Truth: Holiness Exemplified (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), p. 220.


derek said...

Wow, i'll need to think on this one . . .

Anonymous said...

Stanley at his most Hauerwasian!

A tad hyperbolic, no doubt, but infinitely preferable to teachers who now with misplaced, if not false, modesty refuse the name and regard themselves as "enablers" and "facilitators", moderating the sharing of ignorance and calling it "education".

A good teacher will, of course, lubricate his students, but only as he fills their tanks with gas/petrol. And he will make it clear that both he and his students are the servants of the body of knowledge they inherit, such that (as someone has said) if they come to see farther than their predecessors, it is because they stand on their shoulders.

By the way, I don't know how it is elsewhere, but in the UK education has been gazumped by "training" - the church not excluded. Indeed perhaps the church most of all. In my own (Welsh) Synod of the United Reformed Church, what used to be known as the Education Officer is now known as the Training Officer, because it was said that the term "education" would put people off. And we wonder at the epidemic of TDD in the church - that's Theological Deficit Disorder - with symptoms exactly corresponding to those of ADD (OED: "poor concentration, hyperactivity, and learning difficulties"). I am glad to say that some colleagues are recognising the condition and writing prescriptions for treatment.

I will now dismount from my high horse! :)

Anonymous said...

What Hauerwaus draws attention to here is what was once the heart of a Liberal Arts education: there are certain things one must know in order to have a mind capable of making good decisions. We certainly have lost that focus, and as he points out, teach students that uninformed decisions are somehow every bit as valid as informed decisions.

And Kim, I believe that is an international phenomena. I have noticed very few education programs that focus on knowledge for the sake of forming a mind, without also having at least some emphasis on "training." It would be safe to say that most universities have become vocational training schools.

Robert Cornwall said...

Hauerwas' statement is stated in a way that's off-putting, but there is truth to his statement. Having been a college professor, I assumed that what I had to say was worth considering and should be considered before making up one's mind. Too often we/they come into the educational situation with minds already made up and unwilling to look at things differently. So, yes education is formation of the mind and the teacher has a responsibility to form the minds!

Theo said...

Much as the liberal education agenda is in the crosswires here, Stanley is drawing attention to a more specific target: the ficticious division between form and content that besets liberal education, and stuff in general. Like the methodology/theology divide. You can't teach someone *how* to think without teaching them *what* to think. At least a bit.

And then the second point I suspect is not so general at all. In a quirky way, Stanley means really that everyone ought to be taught by him!

Whether the form/content divide is such a bogeyman...well.

Rachel said...

I studied theology at Oxford where the student was assumed to have very little knowledge and asked to receive (although in a critical fashion) the tradition; and then at Union, New York where my life experience was valued and my reflections on faith were given space. Much as I valued learning about the tradition, Oxford was a disempowering experience. Whereas Union helped me learn to trust my own voice in conversation with others. This is especially important for women students I think since the weight of the tradition we are asked to receive is from a male perspective.

Anonymous said...

This was why I turned down a chance to study with Hauerwas for my Ph.D. He and I agree on many things, but he assumes what Freire calls the "banking" method of education. That doesn't teach students how to think and, therefore, it doesn't prepare them to be shapers as well as receivers of tradition. As Rachel said, it is disempowering.

Hauerwas is one of God's great gifts to the church--but this shows why most of his students are simply parrots.

A teacher of theology is supposed to make disciples for Jesus Christ--not disciples for her or himself.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael and Rachel,

Are Stanley's students really all parrots? Is his goal simply to produce clones? I find that hard to believe. There are certainly students of Barth (who I suspect would be sympathetic with Hauerwas' opening gambit, particularly for its shock value) who simply ape the master, but thereby demonstrate that, really, they didn't get it.

I studied English at Wesleyan University (Connecticut) and read theology at Oxford, and I can't say that the seminars at the former and the tutorials at the latter were significanly different in terms of self-expression or empowerment. I shall certainly never forget the Oxford poet who taught us Shakespeare at Wesleyan. He had some of his classes in the theatre, where he would order in pizza and beer. We rarely got past Act III, as we slurred our way through iambic pentameter, turning tragedy into farce. Conversely, at Mansfield College my NT tutor was an American D.Phil student of George Caird's who was once pulled over for drunk-driving - on his bicycle. He was, however, always sober at our turorials. I think.

Paul said...

Ahh Stanley Hauerwas, I had taken a lecture of his here in Canada, man he is not shy about being direct and about what he is thinking. I understand the direction he is coming from, if he is passionate and honest in what he believes his desire will be to pass this on to his students. But surely he must be ok with a dialogue that would put his ideas in question? Otherwise it might be a bit of a turn off...

Halden said...

Michael, I wonder which of Hauwerwas's "disciples" you refer to with this statement. Frankly, I find precious few 'Hauwerwas clones' getting pumped out of Duke. In fact most of the people that come out of Duke that I know go in as Hauwerwas fans and come out with quite varied and altered perspectives on his work. Likewise, most of them come from quite varied traditons and appropriate his thought and develop it in very different ways. Honestly, I think you're making a rather sweeping claim about his "parrots" more on the basis of what you don't like in his thought than what his students are actually doing.

Also, as to the matter of education, I think Hauwerwas's perspective deserves more consideration than some are giving it here. Frankly, I find claims like we should all "think for ourselves" and "trust our own voice[s]" to be drab, boring, and ultimately unsubversive. Trusting our instincts and perspectives is not something that very many people in the West need to be taught. As long as our primary line on education is that we are simply helping people more effectively think what and how they are already inclined to think, then we simply surrender the moral formation of students to the market, which happily trains them to be good consumers and fit nicely into affinity groups. The idea that education is just about helping students make up their own minds is one that is cut from the fabric of capitalism. Education as formation within a tradition is a healthy and necessary antidote to this.

Michael O'Neill Burns said...

last time i checked, the most exciting theologians in the united states right now are students of Stanley's; and they are FAR from parrots. Some examples would be Daniel Bell, D. Stephen Long, and William Cavanaugh (who has to be one of the most brilliant theological minds in the states, or anywhere, today).

Also, teachers of theology aren't supposed to make disciples of Jesus Christ; those people are called Priest/Pastors. The distinction is crucial.

Anonymous said...

It is an old question in education.

At what point do you stop "pouring knowledge in" and expect (let) students think and puzzle things out for themselves.

Some put the age much lower than others.

I suspect when you are brilliant it is easy to look at the students and feel they are not possibly prepared to be given the keys.

Ed Gentry said...

I don't think any of use would argue that this is an either/or proposition.

I don't expect my five year old to think critically, I expect her to take things on faith. As she grows older and gains experience I will expect her and even challenge her to think for herself.

It would be strange indeed to ask those unschooled in physics their opinion on in quantum mechanics or relativity. Why should theology be any different?

Naturally the point of much education is find one's own voice but one starts by learning.

You don't doubt your way into knowledge.

Anonymous said...

As a college professor for over a quarter century (gad!) at a posh, over-priced, but actually pretty good liberal arts college; as one who has few if any illusions left about higher education; and as one who is a great admirer of Hauerwas: I have to say that I nonetheless don't have the slightest idea what he's getting at in this passage. (Maybe it would help if I knew what he means by 'liberal view of freedom.')

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I can help split the difference here. I took upper and lower level course work with Stan the Man at Duke. In lower level courses he certainly does convey "my way or the highway" sort of lectures saying things like "you will be a pacifist at the end of this course or you will fail". In upper level seminars he is open to criticism and often subject to much skepticism from students. He can be very humble and generous there. I know it's unbelievable, but it's true. Still, the group has been pared down from those who would have fundamental opposition to his views by that level. (I was a non-pacifist in hiding, by necessity.

Parroting is a problem. How often do you see criticisms of Hauerwas even in blogdom?


Jonathan Marlowe said...

As an undergraduate student at Emory, I wrote my senior honor thesis on the pacifism of Yoder and Hauerwas. I then chose to go to seminary at Duke for my M. Div. because Stanley Hauerwas was there. I had read all of his books before I ever sat down in his classroom. He did begin the class "War and the Christain tradition" by saying that if we were not pacifists at the end of the class we would fail (He said if we ever joined the military in the future, he would go back and lower our grade). But at the end of the semester, he told us our grades would be determined by how well we argued our points, not on the basis of whether or not we agreed with him. While Hauerwas has had a huge influence on me theologically, I think Michael is being unfair to say that his students are mostly parrots. I do have some disagreements with Hauerwas, as do almost all of his students that I have known, including his grad students that I have known, such as Steve Long, Bill Cavanaugh, and Dan Bell.

Spaceman Spiff said...

One more @ Michael Westmoreland:

I don't think its fair to say Hauerwas assumes the "banking" model, to use Freire's language. He's almost certainly not just talking about information here, even though information is a part of it. Training a mind is different than merely filling it with information.

Others have already demonstrated that the results of Hauerwas' teaching methods isn't "parrots" but I thought it worth pointing out that even this quote can't be fairly made to support the "banking" model.

::aaron g:: said...

What is the “banking model”? Let Paulo speak for himself:

“The teacher cannot think for her students, nor can she impose her thought upon them. Authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only in communication.”

-- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 77. The banking model is being discussed in this context

Anonymous said...

What I understand Stanley H to be saying, is that 1)for you to learn to think well or think better you need a model, path to follow,to learn how to get from one point to a good conclusion. Something to imitate. 2) To argue against a Doctor of theology, in this case, you better first understand his methodology, and reasoning. Otherwise you probably will put your whole foot and maybe part of your leg in your mouth.

Then when we understand how and why he thinks that way - i.e. "pacifism is the best way or the truth". We UNDERSTAND better how he came to the conclusion and why. We then have learned a good and solid model of thinking. We then have obtained some "real" learning from a Master. Then and only then, we are ready and able to criticize or dialogue with his methodology and conclusions.

Interesting the context of Freire was the really poor, and oppressed, who have "no opinions that are worth anything", and their thinking has never been worth "1 centavo". And they most often believe and are controlled by this myth. That is they often have turned off their minds thinking and automatically imitate without reflecting on why or how.
I would say that this does not combine with the typical american college student experience.
Another great post Ben
James Gilbert

Thomas (Murphy) Bridges said...

I know I am a bit late to the conversation, but not only would I add that Hauerwas' students often are not parrots, but I think they often supersede Hauerwas (and Hauerwas both agrees with this and enjoys it). Rather than trying to found a school of thought, he muses, “I think of my work as a massive call for help” (Sanctify Them In The Truth, 7), but like Socrates, he is not going to let you help him until you have made it past him and his intellectual harassment.

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