There is a secret to the art of education, but it is an obvious secret. Despite the whirlings of the world, education is straightforward: It engages the good, the true, and the beautiful in the context of basic and natural human interactions and for the sake of human happiness. As an action exercised by one human being upon another, education has far more to do with friendship and faith, rather than with career-oriented, prepackaged lessons and talking points. Education can never be prepackaged. It requires a relationship, and relationships require human presence and dynamics, together with an open heart, an open mind, a good will, a knowledge of things, and facility in conversation. Subjects and academic rigors there must be, of course, but the mode of approach is central to any meaningful education. In following the ordinary principles of interaction, teachers can be extraordinary educators, and the same can be said for students—especially once both come to the realization that they must teach and learn objective truths through the subjective perspectives of own lives and their own loves. In other words, if teachers are to teach the truth effectively, they must teach themselves. And if students are to learn the truth effectively, they must learn themselves.
Speaking of education’s derisive critics, Catholic educator Dr. John Senior wrote in his unpublished work, The Restoration of Innocence: An Idea of a School:
They often say derisively, ‘He teaches himself instead of the subject.’ But he is the subject. If there is reason for derision it isn’t such teaching but the failure (usually the vanity) of the teacher. Every teacher teaches himself. And every student studies himself. Leonardo da Vinci said Narcissus contemplating the reflection of his own beauty in the mirror of a pool was the perfect artist—the perfect student, too, who sees in the mirror of language and nature a reflection of himself, discovering himself through what he thinks and feels. The anesthetic boy reflecting what the teacher says, rather than his own sensitive, emotional, volitional and intellectual experience, is as vain as the actor-teacher putting on an empty show.
It is an age-old maxim that teachers can only give what they have, and what they have most intimately are their own selves. No power-point presentation can come close to the power of a mere human being who is willing to share his life and the life of his mind. Only with such teachers will students advance with eagerness and energy towards their individual perfection through the art of education, seeing in their teacher a reflection of who they are themselves. In this approach, the importance of personal experiences that augment the subject matter to create human connections cannot be emphasized enough. For example, students of C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves will be made more keen hearing how their teacher fell in love and sharing their own romantic exploits than they would be with the text alone. Teachers must be personal if they are to reach people. Human beings find other human beings interesting, and teachers must be human when they teach if they are to form human beings. Furthermore, as Senior says, teachers should draw their students towards the material as people themselves, not as programs following a closed system, urging them to reflect inwardly and speak outwardly.
True education is more than the mere memorization of information or the assimilation of facts. It is a cultivation of mind that, as Cardinal Newman says in his Idea of a University, “implies an action upon our mental nature, and the formation of a character.” The formation of character implies an active character, and that character, that subject, again as Senior posits, is the teacher and the student. The more honest a teacher is about who he is, the more honest will his students become, beholding who they themselves are in the shared light of their educator who leads them joyfully, as a flesh-and-blood person, out of the cave of shadows. Teachers who teach themselves so that students can learn who they are establish an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual understanding; they establish rapport.
Rapport is a relationship wherein mutual trust and respect are nurtured in a spirit of friendship, sympathy, and cooperation. The educator who is deeply interested in helping people become better and more fulfilled will spark the recognition of this in the educand. Rapport arises between teacher and student when this human understanding between them takes shape: that the teacher sincerely cares about the welfare of the student and the student appreciates this and acts accordingly. When rapport is established, a teacher can become a positive influence as a person upon people, and the students will strive to please those whom they love, for love is the end of rapport. And love is impossible without a human connection.
Schools will not be restored until teachers and students alike first recognize that the realities they teach and learn are offered and received through themselves in an atmosphere of rapport. They should freely teach and learn the eternal truths through their own personal observations, experiences, perspectives, studies, thoughts, and queries, in the context of truths that they are passionate about. They should enjoy the material together as friends, talking about what they think, like, and do not like. They should allow ideas to intermingle, implementing stories instead of scripts. Conversations do not have plans. Neither do dynamic, interpersonal relationships which bring about perfection in the educational arena— namely, the perfection of a person at the hands of another person in the good, true, and beautiful.
The most obvious things in the world are often the most inscrutable, as G.K. Chesterton points out in The Everlasting Man. The master teacher St. John Bosco saw very clearly the necessary establishment of rapport, of interpersonal education, if a sound and lasting physical, emotional, intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation is to be imparted to the character. Following in the footsteps of this saintly teacher, teachers should learn to speak to their students in the language of the heart, their own hearts, and thereby offer themselves to their students through their subjects, inviting them to do the same. Such education through the self is only practiced with loyalty, humility, and love, and it yields as much fruit for student as for teacher, for it brings souls into contact with one another and with the truth to the enrichment of all. Don Bosco’s motto was, “Give me souls.” This captures the obvious secret of education: True education forms true Catholics through the power of good subjects discovered and shared in friendship.
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