By: Dr. Benjamin Quinn
If Jesus’ words are true (and I believe they are!) that the most important thing about living in God’s world is to love God and love others, how does this apply to Student-hood—that time in life spent in the physical (or virtual) classroom amidst peers and professors?
The following series reflects portions of a “1st day of class” talk I give each semester on “Student-hood as Neighbor-love.”
The Relationship Between Fellow Students
We will begin by considering the peer-to-peer relationships between fellow students. At least five areas emerge where neighbor-love directly affects how peers relate while students. The first is pretty straightforward—that dreadful word that has plagued us since Kindergarten—attendance! Don’t worry, I will not attempt a case for “perfect attendance” here. If we are serious about loving our fellow students, however, showing up to class should be a priority. I’ll leave it at that for now.
Second is participation. “To speak or not to speak; that is the question.” And, the answer to this question cuts two ways. On one side, if you have something to contribute to the discussion, please do. On the other side, give serious consideration to your understanding of the word “contribute.” By “contribute” here, I mean, a comment or question that is relevant, thoughtful, critical (though charitable), and beneficial for the moment. Participation that is filtered in this way will doubtless enhance the experience for both students and teachers.
There is another side of neighbor-love as participation, though. Every class has “that student.” You know who I’m referring to. The person who fails to filter any comment or question through any sensible grid whatsoever. Peer-to-peer neighbor-love is important here. I encourage my students to love one another enough to pull “that student” aside and lovingly talk about how we can constructively contribute in class. “Who would ever do this?” you ask? Students who love each other enough to call one another to a high standard of Student-hood. Believe it or not, it has happened among my students, and we are all the better for it.
Listening is the third area to consider. Good students are good listeners. They are not merely listeners as the above suggests. But, they are careful and intentional listeners, such that when they ask a question or offer a comment, it either carries the conversation forward, or clarifies a point in a helpful way. Indeed, good listening is important for all of life (Deut. 6:4, Prov. 1 and 8, Luke 9:35); but, rarely is it more important than in the classroom.
A fourth area—and a sensitive one—is technology. Some professors and teachers have gone the way of eliminating all technology from the classroom. I understand this and have considered it myself. Eventually, though, I chose the other end of the spectrum. I encourage technology in my classroom. More specifically, I encourage the use of technology during class that fosters deeper community and enhances the learning environment.
This is accomplished in a few ways. First, I explain that the 21st century professor is no longer the expert in the room. The computer/tablet/phone is now the expert in the room. But, while the technology may provide the answers, it does not teach the questions. This is the professor’s task.
By encouraging technology in the classroom, I invite students to “fact check” anything discussed in class, and I encourage them to offer correction (respectfully, of course—preferably in the form of a question) if they find my information to be different from another reputable source. This promotes a culture of Truth that teachers need not fear, but instead should cherish. Additionally, it creates opportunities to challenge opposing views and narratives, and it forces students to critically consider the questions being asked and answered—and, thus, to critically consider their own.
Additionally, neighbor-love regulates our use of technology in the classroom. Perusing ESPN, Facebook, or Pinterest likely does nothing to enhance the learning environment. Therefore, avoid it. Explaining how neighbor-love regulates technology in the classroom in this way creates a culture of accountability that I have found effective. Now, I’m certain students have enjoyed ESPN or Pinterest now and then during class, but in seven years of teaching college and seminary students, I have never had a problem.
Finally, all of the above serves to cultivate the deepest level of classroom community possible. Neighbor-love is the stuff of good community—especially when preceded by proper love for God. In the classroom, then, teachers should take the lead in creating an environment that maximizes community and enriches learning. This is done in multiple ways, but not least by knowing and listening to the students. “The teacher should listen to the students?!?!” Yes!
If a teacher’s job is to educate, how does she know what the students do or do not know/understand if she does not listen to them? Quizzes, exams, and other assessment tools are certainly valuable here. But, class discussion is the ideal opportunity for real-time insight into what students understand, and how well (or poorly) the teacher is communicating ideas.
Moreover, for the students themselves, a classroom of budding friendships provides a richer learning environment that a cold room of strangers. Education is bigger than our classrooms. It continues into the hallways, parking lots, dorm rooms, and coffee shops as students soak in new ideas. Classroom community initiates these conversations, shapes the lives of students, and sometimes ignites lifelong friendships.
Dr. Benjamin Quinn is Assistant Professor of Theology and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Associate Dean of Institutional Effectiveness for the College at Southeastern.