I don't usually do this but I'm turning my last comment from the last post into a post of its own. Matthew and Tanti got me onto a slightly different topic than I originally brought up, but its one I really think about.
Matthew said: "I caught myself enjoying the feeling I was getting from bestowing. I realized I was in a position of power, and that I was taking pleasure in that. It kinda horrified me."
This hits at something. Certainly there must be a legitimate pleasure to be had in "bestowing"? Certainly the teacher must be allowed to enjoy his/her "craft"? But there is a (horrifying) pleasure in ones power and a (good?) pleasure to be had in the topic, the productive discussion, and the sight of light-bulbs going on above student's heads.
I think anyone who has taught or presented knows that simultaneously good and horrifying feeling you refer to Matthew. I cringe at it myself, though I paradoxically seek it. For good reasons or bad do I seek it? And can I be sure when I'm seeing it in others? How do I tell the passion for the subject or the pupil or the discussion from a passion for one's own power or esteem or position? I think we get a sense of it, and it turns us off, but we aren't always right in our sense.
I stood up awhile back at a preaching conference and asked the main presenter (a famous preacher) about this. Certainly he must know the power in his own rhetorical skill. None of us could deny it. I told him that he had the power over us as an audience that if he wanted to he could persuade all 400of us in the crowd down to the kitchen to sing happy birthday to the cook, even if it wasn't the cook's birthday.
I told him that many in my generation are suspicious of such wielded power, that such power is a dangerous thing, even when used for good intentions. I asked if he would ever consider "dialing down" his rhetoric for the sake of something greater, something more genuine, something which engaged people less potentially manipulatively? (I was not this articulate in my question, but that was the jist).
He said he couldn't imagine "dialing it down" when he believed so passionately in the cause for which he spoke. If his best efforts with his talents won people over, he was gonna keep doing his best. It was his conviction. He was passionate about it. Why dial it down?
This didn't sit well with me. But I was convinced that for him it was not necessarily the thrill of pride so much as the passion for the topic. Enjoyment of bestowing, you might say. But there is a danger in it, isn't there?
And isn't that the subtext of Dead Poets Society? After all, for all we take from it, the movie is a Tragedy. Mr. Keating wins Mr. Perry over to his Romanticism for life, sees him careening to a conflict with parents, tries to steer him to deal with it well, but can't keep him from the suicidal edge of that conflict. Mr. Keating's power of persuasion and his passion for the topic (depicted without a hint of pride, thouch certainly it would be there) do great damage, or at least have a big part in the damage. The film ends with us wondering what he (and others) would do different if they had to do it all over.
It is a frightening thing to have that power, even more frightening to enjoy it. It seems for me whenever I get caught up in it as a preacher I get humbled. I hate that, but am deeply thankful for it too.
This is huge for pedagogy (the philosophy of teaching). At the end of the day our passion has to be for our topic, we must be allowed to enjoy our trade, and even a productive discussion, and yet we need a deeper motive, a driving motive that grounds us in humble perspective and causes us to do all to benefit the other. I think when this is in place we can have a cautious, but pure, enjoyment of the teaching practice.
Of course, you hate to dial down passion to a mediocre passivity, don't you? Perhaps in an environment where grace prevails upon the group and the input and engagement of others is valued alongside the teacher's passion and skill, there can be more freedom for personality and persuasiveness. I don't think a teacher's self-aggrandizing pride helps this much, though, and whenever it is welling up it ought to be, as Matthew put it, a "horrifying" gut check.
Most of us leave Dead Poets applauding Mr. Keating (metaphorically standing on our own desks) and lamenting the situation he was in. But if even his teaching, as pure and genuinely as it is portrayed, can have such devestating consequences when mixed with the wrong circumstances, it must at least leave us with a certain gut-checked perspective to go with all that stirred-up passion. We have to wonder if going from there he will teach quite the same way, don't we?