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Friday, April 29, 2005

Teaching off the subject

My theology, and my calendar, tell me that I'm not going to get another shot at teaching at a Christian college for 41 years. I've had my only chance, and I'm so glad I did.

One of the many things that I wish I could do go back and do differently would be to occasionally address issues that aren’t directly related to the course. I don’t believe, for example, that I ever said anything about the Viet Nam War (some of you don’t remember that) or the Watergate scandal (again, a long time ago) in class, because I was teaching botany, or animal behavior, or something, that didn’t relate to these issues. We had a faculty member, a long time ago, who was famous for teaching every course, whatever its supposed topic, as if it was a course on anti-communism, and that colored my thinking on this matter—I certainly didn’t want that kind of reputation.

Well, I stand corrected, at least partly corrected, and too late.

There are dangers, serious ones, in getting off the subject. If she does that, a teacher may not be teaching students what they are supposed to learn, or what she is paid for.

There are dangers in trying to present our opinions on controversial issues, even if they relate to the course subject. Our opinions may be wrong, or someone will turn us off or get angry if our opinions don't match theirs.

There are serious dangers if we try to impose our personal opinions on controversial subjects on a captive audience. That's especially true if we aren't experts in the area. But some opinions aren't just personal, they're factual, or scriptural. There was a holocaust, people of all ethnic backgrounds should be treated fairly, and God did create the universe. Too bad we can't always tell a factual, scriptural, correct opinion from a personal one, or know just how expert we aren't.

But, if there are dangers in getting off the subject, there are also dangers in not ever considering subjects that matter more to some of our students than the course topics do. If teachers don't deal with some of these subjects, at least a little bit, students may not pay attention to what they are supposed to learn, and the teacher has passed up an opportunity. A Christian teacher should be able to present a biblical perspective, as a reasonably mature Christian. A teacher should present an example of how to act, and how to think. I wish I had done that more.

Do I regret not being more "off-subject" sometimes? Sure, a little. Was I always right when I expressed my opinion on subject? No. But, like parenting, if I did have another chance to do it, I'd mess up in different ways than I did the first time. And, like most of my students, my kids, thank God, have turned out pretty well.


Grasshopper said...

Dr. LaBar,
I have learned so many things from you both in class and out of class. Just watching your everyday life has been a huge influence in my life. Personally, I've learned a lot from the classes I've had under your instruction, but I've learned a lot from your Christian example. For your "on-subject" and "off-subject" discussions, Thank you so much!

By the way, please keep in touch after graduation.

Laura said...

As I don't remember if you were or weren't always on topic, I do know that I learned a lot from you as well. You did bring up both sides to topics and didn't push your beliefs on anyone, but I think that's a good thing. In your own way you were an example to all of us, whether that was your intention or not. You did present an example of how to act and think... a non-judgemental example.

Robert Furr said...

Dr. LaBar,
Your wisdom will live on way past the day you enter heaven Sir. And i look up to you from a students point of view and respect the humble nature that you hold. I enjoyed the way you push me in the class room and presented the material.