|I meant to capture the window display, but got the streetview instead.|
How do they do it? I believe some of the most effective teaching methods are the ones which result in indirect or accidental learning. In other words, something is "caught" or "rubs off on" a student rather than being directly taught. Here are some of my observations on a few of the effective teaching skills exhibited by these writers. While there is nothing really new here in regard to educational methodology in general, it is of particular interest to me because these methods are not always evident in a field such as theology.
1. Modeling ongoing learning. In the introduction, Larry S. Chapp writes: "I will never make any pretense to truly understanding the full scope of Balthasar's theology or the intellectual currents of thought to which he was responding." Phew! Thanks, Larry! I thought I was the only one who was relatively clueless! When I read this, I immediately felt less pressure to "get it" and more relaxed about my topic. A good teacher knows how to lower stress levels, and very often this is done by letting the student see the teacher's own process, incomplete as it may be. An honest "I don't know" can go a long way when inviting others along on a journey of diligent learning; it can also significantly reduce the immense pressure to understand it all. As a result, the amount of energy that might have been wasted in stressful worry and coping with feelings of inadequacy can now be harnessed for productive and creative learning.
2. Incorporating humour. One of my favourite anecdotes in the book is from Larry S. Chapp's time in minor seminary when he was struggling with the theological understanding of the modern world. One of his teachers, a "curmudgeonly German and a convert from Judaism," called him into his office and tossed a copy of Balthasar's Love Alone is Credible on the desk. The young Chapp asked, "Who is this guy?" The teacher responded: "Never mind that. Just read it. It will make you less stupid." I laughed out loud when I read this. There is something to be said for humour in the learning process. Humour opens a back door, it seems, where truths and insights can slip in almost unnoticed while our mouths are open in laughter and our minds are skipping in delight. Suddenly, we find ourselves poked in the ribs, and we see or know something that just a laugh ago we didn't. In addition, anything learned through humour is more memorable, and due to the enjoyment factor, provides a pretty powerful incentive to continue learning. Humour produces openness and openness is the beginning of learning.
3. Showing instead of just telling. Much of learning (especially theology and philosophy) can rely heavily on passing on information in a rather straightforward, unadorned manner. But true teaching, in my opinion, always "puts on skin." Martin Bieler writes about being a high school student in Basel and buying a few of Balthasar's books from a local bookstore. The bookseller noticed his interest and told him that the theologian lived not far away. Bieler bravely wrote to Balthasar and the great scholar immediately responded with an invitation for Bieler to visit him at his home. At their first meeting, Bieler was struck by Balthasar's friendliness, his childlike ability to be astonished at things, and his willingness to spend time discussing various topics with a young man interested in theology. Bieler says that he never left Balthasar's house without being given a book, very often from the theologian's own publishing house. It is apparent that Bieler's generous and meticulous interpretations of Balthasar's work are based on his encounter with a generous and meticulous man.
I want to be a teacher that offers a lot of opportunities for students to learn in these ways. Most of the time, it just means being myself and being open and unafraid. May life be filled with many moments of indirect and accidental learning sprinkled liberally throughout the more deliberate exercises which are required of us.
"Balthasar has always acted like an intellectual antihistamine that simply allows me to clear my mind of clutter and to see things more clearly." - Larry S. Chapp
Quotes taken from Rodney A. Howsare and Larry S. Chapp, eds. How Balthasar Changed My Mind: 15 Scholars Reflect on the Meaning of Balthasar for Their Own Work. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2008.