I have been working on this lately, rewriting it to express better what I believe about education. I may tweak it more, but this is where I stand today.
It is the duty of the educator to prepare students to live lives of quality and purpose¹. Intellectually, a life of quality involves being reasonable, adept, and thoughtful, and enables people to be vigilant citizens² of their community. Skills that will prepare students to live such a life include the ability to reason carefully (part of what I mean here is often referred to as critical thinking), to think agilely (within this is the idea of problem solving) and to reflect deeply. These skills and the knowledge base needed to sustain them are best attained through an interdisciplinary, liberal arts study.
Within the humanities, these skills are attained best when students evaluate how others express their thinking and precisely what thinking is expressed. In concert with that evaluation, the students themselves attempt to express substantive ideas in clear and convincing ways. Said another way, these skills are attained by examining to what extent others have expressed beautifully that which is true, and by attempting themselves to express truth beautifully.
Language arts content that aids this pursuit is measured by its ability to last (that is, its endurance for yielding pleasure and insight after close and repeated study) and its ability to develop in students empathy for fellow people.
Within this pursuit, the teacher is foremost a model of that which is taught, which obligates the teacher to live that life of quality and purpose. As a model, the teacher is therefore able to act as a guide for others, serving occasionally as a source of knowledge but mostly as one who points the way for fellow explorers.
It is important to note that a life of quality and purpose is not synonymous with a life of academic scholarship. Students’ interests, talents, and areas of intelligence vary, and it is appropriate for educators to expect production to vary. It is essential, however, that once such individuality is taken into account that educators expect quality from students, as accepting less conditions students to apply poor efforts and undercuts the very attribute education is intended to produce.
Along these lines, an educator has a duty to view students individually, to work with them practically, empathizing with them before reprimanding them and using the most appropriate disciplinary strategy for each situation.
The teacher is not above the student but farther along than the student, and the teacher’s purpose is to show the student how to come to that same place of quality and purpose.
1. It must be said that from my perspective a life of purpose is tied to a Christian world view, succinctly summed up in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. In this view a life of purpose is not possible without that transcendent meaning. Since I teach in a secular institution, I do not teach students this purpose, but I leave it in my philosophy of education because even in this secular context I am convinced that purpose and meaning are essential for a life of quality. See, for example, Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning.
2. I am indebted to Robb Webb for the phrase “vigilant citizen.”