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Teaching effectively in Biblical Studies

September 6, 2010

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes for effective teaching and why so many teachers fail to inspire student interest. Today while reading the collected essays of Leo Tolstoy on education, I ran across the following paragraph:

School is good only when it has taken cognizance of the fundamental laws by which the people live. A beautiful school for a Russian village of the steppe, which satisfies all the wants of its pupils, will be a very poor school for a Parisian; and the best school of the seventeenth century will be an exceedingly bad school in our time; and, on the other hand, the very worst school in the Middle Ages was in its time better than the best in our time, because it better corresponded to its time, at least stood on a level with the general education, if not in advance of it, while our school stands behind it (Tolstoy on Education [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967], 19-20).

This comment comes in the context of Tolstoy’s attack on the failure of education to continue advancing in a way that connects the learning of the past with contemporary needs, ideals, beliefs, and ideologies. Perhaps one of the reasons we fail today is that many teachers (and this is also true of college professors) adopt the teaching methods used by their professors without questioning their relevance or effectiveness.

One of the things I try to do in each class, whether specialized courses such as Greek and Hebrew, or overview courses on the biblical literature, is to make consistent connections to the everyday experiences of the students. Reading Tolstoy today has inspired me to continue wedding my most theoretical thoughts about pedagogical method to my most practical attempts at helping students make a connection to something they already know. As I continue experimenting, I will post more about this throughout the fall semester.

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