Every student started the semester scared of Dr. Carreno. He had quite the reputation. His classes were hard. He expected excellence from his students. He was a hard grader. He assigned a ton of homework. He had no mercy on first time philosophy students.
During that semester, I read The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis, for the first time and the words hurt. I felt my heart's every fiber split, twist and tear. These words hurt, deeply.
“We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. Then they become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.” (1)
Idols toppled, ripping the landscape of my heart with the fall. The Throne of God came to mean something. I grew and changed and hurt, but not because I suddenly learned that love of God must come before every other love. I hurt because I saw that love of God must come first.
Seeing takes time. At 8:40 am every Monday morning, crammed into a tiny classroom, coffee mug in hand, I felt like a grumpy child, standing at a dark window, unappreciative and sulky. As Carreno described what he could see from his window on the world, the tremendous mountain ranges and the raging rivers, the landscape started to glow with its own light, a light that I could see with my own eyes.
Teachers - talk until the cows come home about the window on the world. Paint me pictures of the view. Make graphs, maps and charts minutely dissecting the terrain. Jab an obnoxious red pointer from place to place. Until you take me to the windowsill, I will be no better for it.
Being able to recite or even replicate facts about the world - even if they accurately match what's actually out there - does me no good at all. It actually does me harm, because I learn to settle for being able to produce the painting, the chart and the graph accurately, instead of at least still wanting to see beyond the window panes.
I tried to take one class with a teacher who expected me to ignore the window. From his perspective, it was easier and more efficient for students to study and reproduce the charts and the paintings. The water out the window is too wet. The mountains are too muddy. The trees are too crooked and complicated. Better look at that clean cut canvas because it's easier to copy.
I left the first class angry. I left the second class angrier. I left the third class and didn't come back.
Teaching a chart or a graph dictates a worldview. That worldview might very well be accurate, but the damage is done. The problem is not necessarily a question of truth or falsity, accuracy or inaccuracy, but a question of educational dictatorship.
I want to see for myself. I need to see for myself. I know my eyes are weak, so strengthen my eyes. Don't replace them. Programming graphs and charts directly into the brain would be mighty efficient, mighty effective and mighty damning. It does the human person a tremendous disservice to download data onto the human hard drive, instead of presenting ideas to the person and pointing him towards the truth, but leaving him to do the seeing.
Good teachers don't have all the answers. Good teachers don't have the data to download, because they are like their students, constantly pursuing more of the truth. Alice Von Hildebrand was a good teacher. After thirty-seven years teaching philosophy at Hunter College in New York, she did not claim the credit for her own success.
"I was successful because I was the only person in the department, if not the whole college, who stood for the objectivity of truth. When I taught, through much suffering and prayer, I was able to awaken in my students a longing for truth." (2)
She was successful because she took students to the window, described the mountains and then waited for them to start to see alongside her. And she awakened in her students a longing to see more.
Me too. I want to see more.
My plea to every teacher - stand beside me, hands on the windowsill.
(1) C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.
(2) "Alice Von Hildebrand: Reflecting on a Life of Teaching, Scholarship, and Prayer," The Catholic World Report, July 9. 2014, accessed online November 6th, 2014, http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/3239/alice_von_hildebrand_reflecting_on_a_life_of_teaching_scholarship_and_prayer.aspx.