Category Archives: Teaching and education

Read, Observe, or Pee on the Electric Fence

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American humorist Will Rogers once said, “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

I am slowing down my writing for the next few days to spend more time thinking, reflecting, reading and observing. I have been writing a lot on the Civil War, Civil Rights and Reconstruction, and I have been doing some writing on the outbreak of the First World War, I will continue to do that but I am going to slow down a bit, and just post a few short thoughts each day as I do some reading and reflecting on history and the things that we face today.

I do this because as a historian I known that for all of our great advances, especially in the form of technology that the character of people, the nature of humanity remains fairly constant. Technology may change the way we look the world, how we gather information, how and what we produce, how we fight wars, and even how we relate to each other, but humanity remains the same. Our forms of government and even religious faith may evolve, but the character of humanity is the one constant.

There has been a lot going on in this country and around the world and the one thing that I notice is that few seem to be taking the time to observe and seem to be more interested in immediately framing the events of the day into their particular ideology. This tendency is not limited to any one segment the population and goes across ideological divides.  We live in a time of great political and social upheaval and drastic change and if we are to ride out the storm we must continue to learn and not be satisfied with the banal and insipid sound bites that the Unholy Trinity of pundits, politicians and preachers spew out as wisdom.  The pundits, politicians and preachers who cite history usually do so completely out of context and do so in the form of bad analogies rather than by using any semblance of deductive or inductive reasoning.

Our culture has for the most part abandoned any serious attempt at learning. Schools teach to standardized tests, state school boards ensure that textbooks include nothing too controversial; universities sacrifice faculty and academic programs to prop up bloated administration and non-academic programs. We are consumers of corporate owned news networks that consider their programing entertainment and value market share more than truth. American philosopher Eric Hoffer quite rightly said, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” But sadly many people, including learned people who should know better and who have great responsibility in political, economic and even education, are content to live in a world that no longer exists.  

Learning comes from reading, observation and experience. Otto Von Bismarck, one of the most remarkable statesmen that ever lived said, “only a fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise man from the mistakes of others,” while Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington and victor of Waterloo wrote, “Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must.”

I for one would rather not be one of those that learn by the last named method.  Learning from my mistakes has never been enjoyable and has usually been quite painful, but then as the late Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

While I know I will make mistakes and hope to learn from them when I do I would much rather learn from the mistakes of others. Let’s hope that our leaders decide to actually pay attention and learn instead of making us pay for their mistakes. Sadly, I think that most people, especially those who claim to be leaders would rather pee on the electric fence themselves.

Anyway, it is time to do some reading and reflecting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Chasing Rabbits in Pursuit of Truth

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been thinking about new articles write and you will see some in the next few days. I have been very busy this weekend working on my Gettysburg text and the usual weekend activities. Even so, I have found that in the Gettysburg text and other things that I have been working on I have been often engaged in the very productive activity of chasing rabbits in pursuit of truth.

Some would say that this is a bad thing but I would choose to disagree. I think that we miss a lot by not chasing rabbits, especially those that lead us to truth, knowledge and wisdom that we would otherwise never come to know.

I think that I learned the value of chasing rabbits from my Professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary back in 1991-1992, Dr. Tom Urrey. Dr. Urrey was a fascinating character, a brilliant mind, gifted teacher and someone who never lost his sense of being able to connect theology with life. I had him for a year of New Testament survey courses. The first semester was devoted to the Gospels and the Book of Acts, and the second semester to the remainder of the New Testament.

One thing about Dr. Urrey was that he tended to go off script and chase rabbits, and we students were very good at encouraging this behavior by the questions that we raised. As such we did not even finish the Gospel of Matthew the first semester, and only made it through Romans, First Corinthians and a bit of Second Corinthians the second semester. However, I do not feel that I missed much because what Dr Urrey did do was to lead us to truth by chasing rabbits, truth that we would never had seen had he insisted on driving us through the text at ludicrous speed. (please note the gratuitous Mel Brooks Spaceballs reference)

Now you have to understand something about me. Back then such behavior was frustrating to me because I had the misconception from my time in the that in order to learn something you had to ram your way through it no matter what the cost. Now a quarter century later, I really appreciate what Dr. Urrey allowed us to do in class by enabling him to chase rabbits, and for that I am forever grateful.

For me now it is important, be it in teaching, writing, or research to follow the rabbit wherever he may lead. In doing so I find that I am discovering knowledge that I would have never before attained had I stayed between the lines. I know that by following the rabbit regarding the subject matter in my Gettysburg texts that I have been led to so much new knowledge about contemporary subjects only tangentially related to the Battle of Gettysburg or the Civil War.

Some of this you will see when I put out a major revision to something that I have written and posted here before, especially in my work on Gettysburg and the Civil War. Of course I do this with other subjects as well, but since so much of my time over the past two years has been devoted to Gettysburg and the Civil War era it is those subjects have captivated me and brought me so much more understanding, not just of them in isolation, but for what is going on today.

Now over the coming week I plan on publishing some new material here, some of it relating to the ongoing implosion of the politically minded Christian Right and their political allies related to the Duggar family and their cover up of the admitted criminal activity of their son Josh. I have been spending some time on thinking how to approach that subject, especially because for me truth matters too much to jump the gun and get things wrong in the process.

Apart from that subject we will see where chasing the rabbit leads me. So until tomorrow, I wish you a good evening and pleasant dreams.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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The Reward of Teaching



I love getting to do what I do as an Assistant Professor teaching Ethics and the Gettysburg Staff Ride. Through most of my career, be it as a Medical Service Corps officer and Chaplain in the Army, as well as a Navy Chaplain has been dealt with teaching ethics or history. However, until this assignment those duties have been things I took on in addition to my normal duties. 

I try to challenge my students, no matter what I teach to see issues in relationship to people; their character, intellect, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, faith, ideology, and their relationships. In other words, their humanity. For it is our humanity that is the common thread in all of history. Technology changes, political models change, and humanity is constantly evolving, or sometimes devolving, but the one constant is people. 

Sadly all to often humanity is left out, we find a way to dehumanize almost everything, even how businesses, governments and even religious bodies refer to people as “human capital,” “resources” or in the case of some money grubbing churches “tithing units.” 

However, when I teach, I may teach about history, philosophy, or ethics, I still concentrate on people; who they and why they matter. That is at least for me is what matters. Events, inventions, theories, methods are all important, but if we leave out the actual part about the people they don’t connect. 

So in addition to the classroom, or touring historic sites, I focus on people, and then, especially on trips where I am out with my students for two or three days. On these trips we travel tighter, we eat and drink together and spend time discussing the events and people we are studying, but also share our life experiences and time together. So for me, teaching is also about my students, and to see their interst piqued, who then come back and later tell me that they went and explored the life of the people that we discussed. It is like them dis coving buried treasure. 

I think that is the joy and the reward of teaching, especially higher education, but I am sure any teacher, even those who teach primary and secondary education could do the same thing if they are creative, for it is the people who connect us, people matter.



Today we had to break off the last day of our Gettybsurg trip due to a winter storm that shifted south and made road conditions really bad. From DC to Richmond I lost count of the number of accidents. Thankfully it looks like things get a bit better south of Richmond. 

But anyway for now, and if you live in the path of this storm, stay safe.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Teaching and education