David Solway on The Good Teacher

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David Solway on The Good Teacher

  • November 15, 2018
  • By Admin: mrbauld
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Teachers cannot be trained, they must be found. And when they are found they must be lured, enticed, implored, dragooned, and even paid into the profession.

Education, if it is to be authentic, must be elitist. Students should not be conceived as belonging to an immense, featureless social category (roughly coterminous with early youth and adolescence), soon to be buried under a relentless avalanche of theory, technique, experiment, and dogma. Students should be conceived as a diverse collection of individuals some of whom respond to ideas and some of whom do not. (I am thinking mainly of the secondary levels now.) The corollary to this proposition is, to put it bluntly, that when a student successfully resists his education and will not be teased, badgered, or provoked into thought, then he must be given up. The student who is bright, inquisitive, and receptive must never be made to suffer in his development for the sake of the student who fails to respond to treatment. This is why most classes are sinks of averageness ‘ More important by far than even the sympathetic application of advanced methods, techniques, and devices is the strict maintenance of high standards, not only in the quality of instruction but in the level of entrance requirements as well. A renewed severity may have something to recommend it.

Education is not a secular profession. Education is a metanoic and transitive phenomenon. It bears a closer kinship to the primitive rite, the Eleusinian mystery, the religious communion, the dramatic “recognition,” the ecstatic transformation than it does to the mundane creed of character-building, social adjustment, preparation for a career, and that valedictory pinch of talc and fragrance we recognize as “culture.”‘ It should not be conceived as a masking and doping operation, which is all very well for silicon chips but will not likely bring out the unique and latent, complex humanness of the individual.

The teacher is neither a conduit nor a mere stimulator. Rather, he bears an intimate if secret resemblance to the mystic psychopomp, and the medium in which he works is the elusive and discredited shadow-realm of personality. The good teacher, the archontic personality, will consciously or unconsciously tend to consider the teaching situation and classroom context in the strange, ethereal light of the ritual metamorphosis.

It is clear that teaching, holistically conceived, involves both the imparting of information and skills and the instilling or evocation of an attitude. In the latter case the sine qua non is the manifestation of personality in the form of authority, drama, and a paradoxical openness. There is considerable overlap between these two categories, but the distinction is fundamental and real. This is why Performa courses, audio-visual techniques, pedagogical conferences, guides and manuals (the immense et cetera of which teaching largely consists) are unnecessary and even pernicious in

their cumulative effect. They do not touch the incunabular relation between the teacher and his sustaining discipline, and as for the relation between the teacher and his student – this is, in essence, as mysterious as that between man and wife, friend and friend, parent and child, because the teacher is not only conveying knowledge (tapes, computer, and humanoid robots would do as well), but is demiurgically fashioning an attitude, a state of mind, the contours of an identifiable self in his student. In other words, the relation is to be understood as transcendent and not as utilitarian or prudential.

From where, then, does the teacher secure his authority, if his supremacy is more than a function of superior “knowledge” or the accident of derived power, that is, an aspect of role-playing inside a system sanctioned by threat and maintained by guaranteed enforcements? Since we know that genuine authority is not coleopteran – rigid, external, and imposed – but flows from within the personality, a supple and fugitive thing and resistant to final definition, it follows that the teacher acquires his authority from himself, from a kind of spiritual equity or collateral that underwrites the enormous presumption (and often unwarranted expenditure) latent in the act of edification. He receives his diploma from the syndic of his own accomplished personality. This is the only source of authority which is both authentic and efficacious, and which is modally enacted through the convention of the dramatic transmutation. True authority is psychogenic and its expression is invariably metamorphic.