A Teacher's Writes

One teacher's thoughts on life, literature, and learning

Something drove Marble Jones to an exceptional life

As she talked of the church, I thought of your grandfather, the one you know, and how his first intellectual adventures were found in the recitation of Bible passages. I thought of your mother, who did the same. And I thought of my own distance from an institution that has, so often, been the only support for our people. I often wonder if in that distance I’ve missed something, some notions of cosmic hope, some wisdom beyond my mean physical perception of the world, something beyond the body, that I might have transmitted to you. I wondered this, at that particular moment, because something beyond anything I have ever understood drove Marble Jones to an exceptional life. (139)

– Ta Nahisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“But persistent or not, the myth of the unemployed humanities major is just that: a myth, and an easily disproven one at that. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has been tracking differences in the employment of graduates from various disciplines for years, demonstrating that all graduates see spikes and troughs in their employment prospects with the changing economy. And AAC&U’s employer surveys confirm, year after year, that the skills employers value most in the new graduates they hire are not technical, job-specific skills, but written and oral communication, problem solving, and critical thinking—exactly the sort of “soft skills” humanities majors tend to excel in.”

Reblogged from Alan Jacobs. I’ve been telling people this for years, ever since I declared my English major as a college freshman. At no point have I felt unqualified or un-competitive in the work force. I’ve felt at times like I might need to move away from a small city that lies out in the middle of nowhere, but in that I’m far from alone, and that has little to do with my choice to major in English.

Roger Lundin as a cultivator of memory

Anyone who knew Roger at all well noted how profoundly memorial, as well as historical, his imagination was. I may have had a very slightly better verbal memory than he did, which means that I could sometimes remind him what someone had said in a given long-ago conversation — at which point he would tell me precisely when that conversation had happened. Were he reading this, he would cheerfully rattle off the year, month, and day on which we paid that visit to Borders, what the weather had been, what headlines had been featured in the Trib, and how Chicago’s professional sports teams had performed.

This was a kind of parlor trick, and an invariably impressive one, but for Roger the cultivation of memory, both personal and cultural, is an essential spiritual discipline, and one which Americans, in our haste always to fare forward, tend very much to neglect. We strain into the future, but, as Fitzgerald reminds us, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” It was Roger’s distinctive calling as a teacher and scholar to encourage us to embrace that backwards pull, to use it to help us understand where we have come from, and to do honor to those who went before us.

Alan Jacobs, on his friend Roger Lundin

“Loose and useless words must be discarded”

I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago–the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for the economy of truth–loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts.

– Ta-Nahisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Ta-Nahisi Coates sees the library & the classroom as opposing paradigms of learning

I was still in school, after all. I wanted to pursue things, to know things, but I could not match the means of knowing that came naturally to me with the expectations of professors. The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.

from Ta-Nahisi Coates, Between the World and Me.

When it comes to Scripture, put your energy into preaching it

It’s natural to ask how effective the careful exposition of the Bible could possibly be in a culture that is becoming more and more averse to authority, particularly religious authority. But consider the advice of nineteenth-century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, who famously said:

There seems to be to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion—it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while a host of us would defend [him]….Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself.

The Bible is like a lion, Spurgeon claims, so you must not spend too much of your breath describing it, defending it, or arguing about why it should be believed. Instead, he urges you to put your energy into simply preaching it—into actually exposing people to it in its clearest and most vivid form. Then the extraordinary power and authority of the Word will become self-evident—even in the most antiauthoritarian settings, among the most skeptical people. I know this to be true.

Timothy Keller, on preaching

Roger Lundin’s Christian faith influenced his reading of literature

I think I would be naïve if I were to think that my Christian faith did not influence my reading of literature. I don’t find that a limiting thing, I find it a liberating thing. My concerns as a Christian father, a Christian husband, a Christian worker, a Christian friend, a Christian servant affect the way I read literature.

– Dr. Roger Lundin, one of many fine literature professors I experienced at Wheaton College, who died this week.


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