We all have teachers. And no, I’m not just talking about the ones with degrees who stand in front of a room and teach. What I have in mind is much broader. Family and friends? Sure. Pastors, counselors, mentors? Yes, they count too. But I’m thinking even broader, because it isn’t just the people we know personally who act as teachers in our lives.
Of course our first teachers are chosen for us: our parents—who in turn choose our next teachers. But in due time we have a lot of control as to who and/or what occupies the role of teacher in our lives. Think about it. When I pick up my latest read at Barnes and Noble, or go see the latest blockbuster, I’ve just made a whole host of authors, writers, directors, editors, composers, graphic designers, etc., my most recent teachers—hired at a cost of only $19.95 and $12.00, respectively (popcorn and drinks not included).
So here I am, offering another “garbage in-garbage out” warning, and issuing a call for us to stop seeing movies because Hollywood is evil, and stop reading books that fill our heads with nonsense. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s declare our homes as media asylums and placard King James inscriptions of Philippians 4:8 on our lone black and white tube TV’s, used only for the express purpose of replaying our home videos and viewing the occasional vintage Billy Graham Crusade.
Not exactly . . . and I hope you’ll excuse my sarcasm. It does have a point.
I’m guessing that if I were to use that last (and clearly disingenuous) paragraph as my Facebook status update, I’d probably get a few “likes.” And that’s a shame. Sure, it’s shame because some random person who didn’t get the sarcasm might agree, but what’s worse is that many who would get the sarcasm would find themselves aligning with not only its antagonist sentiment, but its arrogant attitude. And who is that supposed to help? It certainly isn’t convincing, although I suppose it may help reinforce one’s own position (albeit destructively and through logically barren means).
In the field of logic, such an “argument” would be regarded as a “straw man fallacy.” That is, it’s an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of an opponent’s position when in fact almost no one of that sort actually exists, at least in the mainstream. This is different from what we would call “Taking the roof off,” the logical tactic of exposing the inherent consequences of one’s particular assertion when correctly applied. One is cheating. One is actually quite helpful if done in the proper manner. But unfortunately, it seems we as a society are overwhelmingly guilty of the first and woefully unskilled at the second.
One of the very few commentators that I actually enjoy listening to has as his personal motto, “I prefer clarity to agreement.” I appreciate that deeply. It his belief that if we are committed to being on the side of truth (as opposed to blindly declaring that the truth is on our side) that we owe it not only to our opponents, but to our students and to ourselves, to make clear and valid arguments and to offer them in a respectful manner. I by no means agree with him on everything, but I would much rather welcome him as a teacher in my life than someone I agree with all the time but who is far more concerned with what I think than with how I think and why I think it.
In the age-old debate of being in the world, but not of it, I’d like to propose a new metric for those who don’t already have this one in the toolbox. Instead of simply accepting and rejecting your teachers on the basis of whether or not they “proclaim the truth,” add this to your criteria: a teacher shall make fair arguments and not rely on subversive means to advance his or her ideas. Also – a good teacher is persuasive, but while passionate and bold, should honor, and even welcome honest questions or disagreement. If your questions aren’t welcome, there’s a good chance he’s a lot more invested in himself than in you.