The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
While this proverb appears fair and obvious, the idea that a fully trained student will be like his teacher is distressing and terrifying. A certain kind of parent will say of Christ’s teaching, “But my child is nothing like his teachers. I am nothing like my teachers. I could not stand my teachers.” Yet, such claims are based on a misunderstanding. A student will always become like his teacher, though many parents do not actually know who their children’s teachers are. They believe their children’s teachers work at the school their children attend. They believe their children’s teachers pass out math books and literature books at the beginning of the year, assign grades, and may be spoken to on the occasion of parent-teacher conferences. And yet, this is not always the case.
If you want to know who your children’s teachers are, you must simply look at who they are becoming like. Who do they want to dress like? Who do they want to sound like? Whose opinion on matters of politics, religion, art, and music do they imitate? Whose vocabulary do they borrow? Whose manners do they reproduce at the dinner table? Whose morals and prejudices are they sensitive to? These are your children’s actual teachers. If your children dress like pop musicians, talk like rappers, and gaze at athletes, these are your children’s teachers. These are the people your children want to be like. The guy who stands at the front of a class room and talks about algebra is not necessarily a teacher. If your child is becoming more and more like a pop musician or a rapper, your child regards the guy in the classroom who talks about algebra as an obstacle who keeps him from his actual teachers. At the end of the fake school day, the child can return to actual school, listening to the music of his teachers, gazing at digital images of his teachers, and resuming the athletic habits and rituals of his teachers.
The idea that a teacher works in loco parentis is not a philosophical claim, but a raw and brutal fact. At 3:00 PM everyday, parents decide who the teacher’s competition will be— for teachers must not only compete for time, but affection. There are kinds of movies, kinds of music, kinds of amusement and entertainment enjoyed after school which make school more boring, more stale, and more unendurably dull. A good cross-section of popular music is little better than Penthouse with a drum machine, and at least half of my students reference such music with scientific ease. The student accustomed to blockbuster films wherein alien robots and lingerie models conspire to destroy New York City is simply not going to find Robert Frost’s poetry or the English Civil War sufficiently interesting. For permissive parents, 8:00am to 3:00pm will prove one step forward, and 3:00pm to 11:00pm two steps back. Mr. Smith the lit teacher is a babysitter, but Kendrick Lamar and Blake Shelton are the professors.
By itself, time is not evidence of affection, for many men in this country have mindless and loathsome jobs which are only endurable because of what comes at the end of the day— a woman, a drink, a game. In and of itself, the time a student puts into school proves nothing. Teachers today have stiff competition. The more sensual, the more visceral a student’s tastes for the world, the less algebra and theology will matter. The more sensual, the more mindless a student’s tastes, the less they will hear or mind at school. On the other hand, the teacher who relies upon a mere fair presentation of the facts to prick the hearts of his students is delusional— Simpleton, you are up against the beautiful and the clever! Your facts are not worth a fig. Know your enemy. Ours is a capitalist society, so you should understand the import of competition.
Teachers who imagine their students will grant begrudging respect for technical proficiency, longevity, and a good pedigree are simply embarrassed by Christ’s teaching about the destiny of every student. In order for students to obtain virtue, parents and teachers must conspire together. The teacher must have a sufficiently winning personality that his students would want to be like him— not merely want to know what the teacher knows— and parents must not allow endless, irrefutable competition against the teacher to swindle the student’s heart away. No matter how great school is, if television is better, school is a waste of time and money.