Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Gilbert Highet on Teaching (and Learning) Greek

The first excerpt from Gilbert Highet's Art of Teaching illustrates the tutorial system:
And while I am taking examples from my own experience ..., let me pay a debt of thanks to the schoolmaster who taught me Greek. He used the tutorial system because I was his only pupil; and what is more, he gave up half his lunch-hour to do it. We were both doing Greek as an extra: I because I liked the idea of learning the language written in the queer but charming letters; and he because--I don't know: he was a dour quiet Scotsman who seldom showed enthusiasm for anything but his garden. Perhaps he wanted a pupil who might go on to the university and do him credit; probably he liked teaching enough to give up spare time to it if he had a willing learner; certainly he liked Greek literature, for he introduced me to the best in it. Whatever his motives were, he tutored me kindly but relentlessly. I stood beside him at his desk (sometimes cocking an ear to the yells of my friends playing after-lunch football outside) and translated my daily stint of Homer, line by line. He missed nothing, not the smallest γε. He insisted on a straight literal translation, which was the best level for a beginner--like Charles Lamb's Mrs. Battle, he loved 'a clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game'--and if I finished ahead of time, I didn't pack up and go. No, I was made to push on into the unknown, and translate the next page or so unprepared and unseen. The rest of the time he stood there, stiff and silent, smelling of pipe-smoke and damp tweeds and garden mixtures, and, for one small boy who scarcely understood, representing the long and noble tradition of exact scholarship and sound teaching. Now I offer him this tribute, regretting only that it comes too late. (pp. 115-116)

Substitute Greek for French in the second excerpt, and the relevance is obvious:
Every good teacher will learn more about his subject every year--every month, every week if possible. If a girl chooses the career of teaching French in school, she should not hope to commit the prescribed texts and grammars to memory and then turn her mind to other things. She should dedicate part of her life to the French language, to the superb literature of France, to French art and history and civilization. To become a good teacher of French, she will build up a growing library of her own French books, spending one year (for instance) reading Balzac, the next year reading Proust,... For it will not all be serious work and planned self-improvement. It will be living, and therefore it will contain enjoyments, and even frivolities... But it will be learning at the same time, and it will make better teaching. (12-13)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gilbert Highet on the Art of Teaching

I read through much of Gilbert Highet's The Art of Teaching a dozen years ago. Coming back to it after a decade in the classroom and after reading a good handful of other books on college teaching, I am reminded why I liked it so much: Highet writes well, tells great stories--click here for one example--and the book is still chock-full of good advice 65 years after it was first published. No wonder, for by all accounts Highet was himself an outstanding teacher.

To whet your appetite, here are Highet's 5 essentials of good teaching:

  1. "First, and most necessary of all, he must know the subject. He must know what he teaches. ... Therefore teaching is inseparable from learning. Every good teacher will learn more about his subject every year--every month, every week if possible. ... A limited field of material stirs very few imaginations. It can be learned off by heart, but seldom creatively understood and never loved. A subject that carries the mind out in limitless journeys will, if it is well taught, make the learner eager to master all the preliminary essentials and press on." (12, 14)
  2.  "The second essential is that he must like [the subject]. The two are connected, for it is almost impossible to go on learning anything year after year without feeling a spontaneous interest in it ... [T]o dislike the entire subject, to be a history teacher and be bored by history, to teach French and never open a French book at home, that must be either a constant pain or a numbing narcosis. Think how astonished you would be if your doctor told you that personally he really cared nothing about the art of healing, that he never read the medical journals and paid no attention to new treatments for common complaints, that apart from making a living he thought it completely unimportant whether his patients were sick or sound, and that his real interest was mountain-climbing. You would change your doctor." (18-19)
  3. "The third essential of good teaching is to like the pupils. If you do not actually like boys and girls, or young men and young women, give up teaching. It is easy to like the young because they are young. They have no faults, except the very ones which they are asking you to eradicate: ignorance, shallowness, and inexperience. The really hateful faults are those which we grown men and women have. Some of these grow on us like diseases, others we build up and cherish as though they were virtues. Ingrained conceit, calculated cruelty, deep-rooted cowardice, slobbering greed, vulgar self-satisfaction, puffy laziness of mind and body--these and the other real sins result from years, decades of careful cultivation. They show on our faces, they ring harsh or hollow in our voices, they have become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. The young do not sin in those ways. Heaven knows they are infuriatingly lazy and unbelievably stupid and sometimes detestably cruel--but not for long, not all at once, and not (like grown-ups) as a matter of habit or policy. They are trying to be energetic and wise and kind. When you remember this, it is difficult not to like them." (25)
  4. "[W]ithin limits" the good teacher should "know his pupils." (48)
  5. "He or she should know much else. The good teacher is a man or woman of exceptionally wide and lively intellectual interests....Teachers in schools and colleges must see more, think more, and understand more than the average man and woman of the society in which they live" (48-49).
But do check out the book for yourself. Parts of it are dated, to be sure, but it is, I think, still one of the best books on the subject.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chaim Potok on the life of study

I just finished Chaim Potok's novel, The Chosen, perhaps the best baseball novel I have read since A Prayer for Owen Meany. The Chosen is also a sympathetic and insightful portrayal of mid-20th century Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and of traditional Jewish Talmud study in general. A great book. Since this blog has more to do with learning than with baseball, here are a few excerpts about the latter:
  • "If a person has a contribution to make, he must make it in public. If learning is not made public, it is a waste" (149). 
  • On 18th century Talmud study:  "Pilpul, these discussions are called--empty, nonsensical arguments over minute points of the Talmud that have no relation at all to the world. Jewish scholars became interested in showing other Jewish scholars how much they knew, how many texts they could manipulate. They were not in the least bit interested in teaching the masses of Jews, in communicating their knowledge and uplifting the people. And so there grew up a great wall between the scholars and the people" (107).
  • On the difference between reading and studying: "'I forgot what it was like to study Talmud,' he said excitedly. 'Talmud is so easy for me now, I didn't remember what I used to go through when I first started it as a kid. Can you study Talmud without the commentaries? Imagine Talmud without Rashi. How far would you get?' I agreed with him that I wouldn't get very far at all. He had been going at it all wrong, he said, his eyes bright with excitement. He had wanted to read Freud. That had been his mistake. Freud had to be studied, not read. He had to be studied like a page of Talmud. And he had to be studied with a commentary" (181). 
  • And, again, on living a meaningful life: "Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? … I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. … A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here" (217).
  •  And don't miss this brilliant excerpt on my colleague Eric Ortlund's blog, which is what finally compelled me to pull the book off my "to be read" list and start reading.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Maccabean Revolt and the Ambiguous Identity of Gentile Christ-Believers in Acts

My major priority right now is finishing a draft of an essay that I am to present at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies in Ottawa at the end of the month. I am posting a (lightly revised) version of the abstract I submitted in January because I hope to comment more on questions related to the paper in a bit:
In this paper I will argue that Luke draws on the familiar storyline of the Maccabean revolt both to present criticism of Paul and to respond to it. The claim that Paul, like the Hellenizers of the Maccabean era, defiled the temple, and taught against the law and the people (Acts 21:28) treats Paul’s Gentile mission as a threat to Jewish identity. Luke responds by reversing the Maccabean “script”: Instead of collapsing a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, Luke maintains that the charges against Paul confuse Paul’s instructions to Gentiles with his instructions to law-observant Jews, and suggests that it is not Christ-believing Jews, but Paul’s Jewish opponents who violate the law and are thereby responsible for the temple’s demise.
It is not coincidence that my paper deals with some of the same issues I was working through last year (here, here, here, here, and here).

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

C.S. Lewis on Evil and its Remedy

On Evil:
"We have all often spoken--Ransom himself had often spoken--of a devilish smile. Now he realized that he had never taken the words seriously. The smile was not bitter, nor raging, nor, in an ordinary sense, sinister; it was not even mocking. It seemed to summon Ransom, with horrible naïveté of welcome, into the world of its own pleasures, as if all men were at one in those pleasures, as if they were the most natural thing in the world and no dispute could ever have occurred about them. It was not furtive, nor ashamed, it had nothing of the conspirator in it. It did not defy goodness, it ignored it to the point of annihilation." 
 ...and its remedy:
"It is not from the making a story that I shrink back, O Stranger," she answered, 'but from this one story that you have put into my head. I can make myself stories about my children or the King. I can make it that the fish fly and the land beasts swim. But if I try to make the story about living on the Fixed Island I do not know how to make it about Maleldil. For if I make it that He has changed His command, that will not go. And if I make it that we are living there against His command, that is like making the sky all black and the water so that we cannot drink it and the air so that we cannot breathe it. But also, I do not see what is the pleasure of trying to make these things."
Making the story "about Maleldil"--I take it that that is what Paul meant by "anything without faith is sin" (Rom 14:23).

Quotations from C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Macmillan, 1944), pp. 110, 112

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bibleworks 10 Stuttgart Original Languages Module and Alternatives

Image courtesy of Bibleworks
Technical post alert: One of the biggest reasons to upgrade to Bibleworks 10 is that it is the only version of Bibleworks that supports the new Stuttgart Original Languages Module (SOLM), which provides you with both the most recent and yet-to-be-released texts, and also the critical apparatuses of the Hebrew Bible, Greek New Testament, Septuagint, Latin Vulgate, and Gospel of Thomas published by the German Bible Society. These are the standard original-language scholarly editions of these biblical (and extra-biblical) texts, so if you are a Bibleworks user and are looking for an electronic edition of the most up-to-date German Bible Society texts* with a critical apparatus, you may want to purchase SOLM. Unfortunately, the add-on will put you out an additional $200 (thank you, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft), but when it is compared with what other major Bible software companies offer, it is still an exceptional deal:

Olivetree offers the NA28, the Rahlfs-Hanhart LXX, and BHS with morphological-tagging, dictionaries (Newman, LEH, and BDB), and critical apparatuses, for a combined total of $279.97, but they periodically offer says at up to 50% off for their original languages texts--so wait for the sale. The advantage of Olivetree is that their texts display beautifully on Android, iOS and even Blackberry devices as well as Mac and Windows. The disadvantage is their very limited to non-existent original language search capabilities.

Several years ago Logos came out with the Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible. That appears to have been more-or-less superseded or replaced by the German Bible Society Bundle, which was last updated in 2009. I am told that Logos does not currently have permission from the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft to package the NA28 with other bundles, so to get a close equivalent to the Bibleworks SOLM you would need to purchase the German Bible Society Student Edition (for $217.95) as well as the NA28 with critical apparatus for another $99.99, for a total of $317.90. That will get you the BHS, Rahlfs-Hanhart LXX and NA28 all with morphological tagging and critical apparatus, as well as the UBS4, NA27 (with the same), the Vulgate with text and apparatus, a version of the texts of BHQ that were published by 1995 (apparently just Minor Prophets and Proverbs), and a German equivalent to Newman's Greek-English dictionary, and a Hebrew/Aramaic-German dictionary.

Accordance offers a critical morphologically-tagged text and apparatus of BHS, Rahlfs-Hanhart and NA28 in their Academic Bundle Blue - Level 1 for $400. The bundle includes a lot of other useful stuff, but no Vulgate or Gospel of Thomas. There may be a closer equivalent to the Stuttgart package.

What sets the Bibleworks Stuttgart Original Language Module apart (aside from its price) is not only what it offers now, but what it promises for the future: In addition to morphologically-tagged texts and critical apparatuses of BHS, NA28 and Rahlfs-Hanhart, and the text and apparatus of the Vulgate, customers will receive a tagged text and critical apparatus of UBS5, the Gospel of Thomas (in English, German and Coptic) when they are available, as well as BHQ when it is available (ca. 2020)! (Although the Bibleworks website doesn't explicitly say that BHQ will also include the all-important BHQ apparatus, Mike Bushell confirms that it "should.")

*Bibleworks 10 comes standard with a morphologically-tagged version of NA28 and BHS (without apparatus), so there should be no difference in search results between these two versions and the SOLM editions. There are a few very minor differences between the text of the LXX in Bibleworks 10 and the SOLM Rahlfs-Hanhart edition, which may affect search results in a few cases. The yet-to-be released BHQ will also, presumably, differ from the text of BHS.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Russian Schism and Protestant Individualism

Practicing levitation in the Ochocos

"Containing within it a germ of Protestantism, the Russian Schism cultivated it to its limits. Even among the Old Believers, the true preserver of the ancient heritage and tradition is the individual person. This person does not live in the past, but in the present; the adopted tradition, here shorn of an advantage over the individual in terms of living wholeness or catholicity (as in the Universal Church) and being in itself no more than a dead formality, is revitalized and reanimated merely by the faith and devoutness of its true preserver - the individual person. No sooner, however, does a position of this kind start to be aware that the centre of gravity is shifting from the dead past to the living present, than the conventional objects of tradition lose all value, and all significance is transferred to the independent, individual bearer of that tradition; from this there proceeds the direct transition to those free sects which notoriously claim personal inspiration and personal righteousness as the basis of religion" - V. S. Solovyov as quoted in David McDuff's introduction to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment (translated by David McDuff; London: Penguin Classics, 1996) pp. 26-27.