Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Teaching from the Center
"Oddly enough, Dr. Brown was not a gifted performer in the classroom. He read from densely prepared lectures, rarely pausing to make a point stick, or changing the pitch of his voice. He would cough--or clear his throat with a husky rumble--every two minutes or so. This was wildly irritating. But his erudition and passion for literature and ideas were obvious, and students admired him, even worshipped him. The main lesson I learned from this important teacher was that content matters more than anything else. You cannot fake the substance of a course, and must always teach from the center of your material, trusting the material to carry the class forward, to stimulate the students. . . . I have always used the memory of Edward Brown as a way of reminding myself to stick with the core intellectual content of each class, and let the truth and beauty of the material carry its own weight. In some ways, the best teachers are those who step aside, letting the subject dominate, letting it shimmer. This takes skill and faith, but it remains the only way to succeed as a teacher." - Jay Parini, The Art of Teaching (Oxford University Press, 2005), 23-24.