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Portrait Of The Arrogant Teacher

“I have read the right books. I am not so foolish as to think I am the only person who has read the right books, but I have read the right books in the right way. Other people read the right books, but they read them incorrectly. Even classic books have to be interpreted rightly, and certain claims in classic books have to be disregarded. I know which of these claims need to be disregarded. Other people aren’t reading classics with the same kind of discernment I am, so the classics aren’t doing much for them.

When I say that I have read the right books in the right way, I mean that I am neither rationalistic nor superstitious. Rather, I am prudently skeptical, but appropriately credulous. It is a narrow tightrope to walk, but I do it capably. Some people are too cynical when they read, and discredit anything which is contrary to their contemporary prejudices, while others are gullible and believe anything they read. Unless the reader is perfectly situated between these two positions, he won’t prosper and thrive as a reader.

I know there are other people who have read more books than I have, but they have not read them properly, or else they have spent too much time on reading and study and not enough time on enjoying life. If a person is a slave to study, what they are studying will not make any sense to them. You cannot expect to understand the desires of bygone eras unless you have done a little gardening, a little traveling, a little cooking, played darts like a common man in a blue collar bar… that kind of stuff. I do those things. I enjoy life, which enables me to get a lot out of the books I read. Other people are incapable of spiritually grappling with classics because their lives are not full. On the other hand, there are some so-called intellectuals who read very little, study very little, and don’t really know enough to make any real judgments. I study the right amount. The time I put into work is perfectly balanced against the time I spend playing with my kids and enjoying life. These intellectuals who never play with their kids are pathetic, but so are the intellectuals who blow off the hard work and sacrifice of study for another evening watching romantic comedies with their wives.

I know there are people who disagree with my opinions, but they haven’t done the study I have done, and they are often blinded by fear, ignorance, denominationalism, political party factionalism, traditionalism, or by the fact they grew up in small, ultra-conservative towns. Or giant, liberal cities. Those factors skew proper intellectual growth and retard intellectual maturity. I was blessed by God to grow up in a city where I was not adversely affected by either ignorance or hubris. All things considered, I had a very mild, normal upbringing. I guess you could say that my opinions don’t have an accent. Other people allow their Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, or Anabaptist convictions to guide and slant their reading of history and philosophy. At the same time, I also have genuine commitments to my particular Christian tradition which provide me with stability because I approach those commitments in a thoughtful, yet faithful manner.

Now, that said, I’ve spent some time around profoundly arrogant people who are in positions of power. I have even worked with them closely, and I have seen how arrogance can destroy a man’s mind. Not everyone sees through the smoke and mirrors of those arrogant people, but I do and it has given me a sharp ability to sniff out hubris in other people, as well as myself. In the academic community, I am sad to say, it is amazing just how mediocre a man can be and still pass for a genuine intellectual. I have known many men who did not deserve the positions within schools and universities which they had obtained, and I am studying hard to make sure I do not perpetuate such weakness. I may seem stingy about offering others praise, but I prefer to extol the virtues of a small, elite crowd of thinkers I trust rather than sling attaboys around haphazardly. I am judicious when complimenting my peers. And let me explains something: yes, the few people I admire are almost exactly like me. But that’s to see everything from the wrong end. I am like the few people I admire because I have tried (successfully) to be like them, not because I am only capable of admiring myself.

I am aware that others my age seem to have accomplished more within the intellectual world— books and articles published, degrees earned, conferences, citations in journals— but let’s be honest: fifty years ago, my “more accomplished peers” would be nobodies because the internet hadn’t been invented. Their notoriety has everything to do with just how cheap electronic ink is. I would not want those people’s notoriety anyhow, because it comes at the expense of their time, and that time could be better spent in study or in time with my family. No thanks. The time a teacher puts into study always repays the students directly. Students don’t benefit from a teacher who gets a book published, though. Besides, have you been to an educator’s conference before? Half the breakout sessions aren’t any good. I went to a conference once and I was better equipped than most of the people giving lectures to rooms of 200 or 300 people. You know how I got better equipped? By reading the right books in the right way and not wasting my time writing lectures for conferences. I don’t have a PhD, but who needs one? Four of my coworkers have PhDs and none of them can lead a real discussion to save their lives— or else, all they do is discuss because they don’t actually know enough to deliver a good lecture.

The quality of my teaching is frequently overlooked simply because my classes aren’t “fun.” I don’t pander to students like other teachers do, and my exams are very challenging. Classicism is hard work. Have you seen what the reading list at Harvard used to look like? As in, a hundred years ago? My classes may be harder than every other class at this school, but my classes are still easier than they should be. I am not allowed to make my classes as difficult as they ought to be. Students don’t ask me if we can do cake for birthdays during my class because they know I take class seriously. Ask the rhetoric teacher if you can do cake during his hour, because that guy doesn’t care how little curriculum he covers. I know that someday, years down the road, I’m going to get former students sending me letters thanking me for the rigorous way I conducted class. “I am sorry I did not appreciate you at the time, though many of the things you said back then have stayed with me. You were different than the other teachers.” On the other hand, there are already plenty of students who love my class. They ask me some question at the start of class which is unrelated to our text because they like to listen to me give my personal opinions. They’ll listen to me rant about anything for nearly a whole period. They think they’re pulling one over on me, but you know, a lot of what students learn is learned from rabbit trails. I make use of those rabbit trails, unlike other teachers who are overly curriculum focused. It is all about achieving the right balance, which I’ve always been quite gifted at.

One of the surest signs of my success and quality as a teacher is that the few students with the guts and stamina to like my class are also the best students in the school. My teaching style appeals to the best students. If the mediocre students spoke highly of my class, I would be concerned. I have sometimes heard other teachers warn, “The good students become good students by liking all their classes,” but I have heard the best students make subtly critical comments about other teachers.

To be honest, the problem is not merely with this or that teacher wasting time. The whole classical model, as it is practiced today in classical schools, is not really classical. I’ve read plenty of books about real classicism and let me tell you, most classical schools today are nothing more than small public schools with a lot of Latin, rhetoric, logic, Homer, Jane Austen, chapel, prayer, uniforms, Christian conduct codes, creeds, tuition, and legalism tacked on.”

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