Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A question about pedagogy

Mark Goodacre's recent post about his first day of teaching a class on the New Testament this term has brought up a question that I've asked myself so many times: how do professors separate faith from the classroom? I don't mean to ask this in the sense that I think it's impossible, I've dialogued with people about the NT numerous times without having to resort to even talking about faith or my own personal beliefs (although I'm sure it creeps through without me knowing it). Is it ever appropriate for a professor to divulge his own beliefs on the matter, though? I know if you take Bart Ehrman's NT course at the University of North Carolina, he is extremely vocal about what he thinks. Does that unnecessarily bias the students towards your belief? I think it does. The professor is such an icon in our world. He is the supposed guarantor of all knowledge in his field, an expert among experts. If he believes it, it must be true!

As someone who wants to be a professor, my idea is that I want to keep my students guessing. I want them to have zero clue where I stand on the matter because I want to have as little influence over them as possible. My big revelation over the last few years has been that there's too much indoctrination (in almost every field) in universities today. Students end up being fundamentalists, able to rattle off the professor's arguments for whatever stance. My hope for myself is that when I finally get around to teaching (sometime in the year 3056, I think) is that I'll be able to discuss Bultmann, Sanders, Wright, Black, Robinson, Tilling (oh yes, he'll be famous by then), Goodacre, etc without my students knowing which parts I agree with and which I don't. Is this sound pedagogy? Is it possible?


Simon said...

I am head of religious studies in an English state school. This question has been at the heart of my teaching career. I have taught for the last 8 years without students knowing about my Christian faith. My reasons for this was to give students the opportunity to think and debate freely. It also allows me to teach and challenge positions openly that I may well actually agree with without the retort "You can't say that, you're a Christian".

This system has worked well. However in recent years I have been rethinking this. Even though I may not explicitly teach my bias - and I attempt to be even handed as possible - I still lean towards my faith position. Do I not owe it to my students to be 'open' (in the sense only that they know my bias) so they have the opportunities to be aware of my slant? Do they not need to know that none of us come from a neutral place?

Finally, my students think I am either Hindu, Muslim or atheist!



Kevin Scott said...


First, thanks for stopping by the church and leaving a comment. If only all future NT profs would learn from my wisdom the world would be a better place.

Second, I would encourage you to take a look a Grudem's Systematic Theology. He openly discusses his own beliefs while admitting their strengths and weaknesses and showing what and why others believe as they do. It's one of the most honest ST's out there.

Josh McManaway said...

Hey Kevin,

Thanks for stopping by. Grudem is somewhat different because he teaches at confessional institutions. Naturally, it's easier to be open with your beliefs when the school requires you to have them in order to teach. I'm thinking more along the lines of professors at state universities and such.

Josh McManaway said...


Thanks so much for stopping by. Good to know I'm not the only one thinking about these things.

Chris Tilling said...

"yes, he'll be famous by then"

Fingers crossed!

Thanks for your - probably missplaced - confidence though!

By th eway, if that Simon is who I think it is, he is one of the finest (and thinnest) teachers in England.

Josh McManaway said...

No offense, but if I had to eat British food, I'd probably be pretty thin too.

Nathan Brasfield said...

oh yes. this is good stuff. I totally agree.

you can do it. I need footsteps to follow. ;)