We're Not Laying Pipe
The movie Dead Poets Society is about an unconventional literature teacher, John Keating (played by Robin Williams), in a New England prep school for boys. The viewers are introduced to the teacher’s unique style when he assigns a student to read the introduction to a literature textbook and the author’s medicinal advice in rating the value of a poem. Keating is critical of the author as he tells his students, “We’re not laying pipe. We’re talking about poetry.” He instructs the boys to rip out the entire introduction of the book!
He continues, “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering; these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life, but poetry, beauty, romance, love--these are what we stay alive for.”
Keating's final comment in this scene is a response to a line from the poem “Oh Me! Oh Life!” by Walt Whitman, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse." He presents the question all teachers should ask, “What will your verse be?”
In our vision for the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, Holy Trinity offers a response to a secular culture that has immersed itself so deeply in gathering and measuring data, that it is forgetting how to live. Keating says we live for poetry and beauty, and I would add the “truth” and “goodness”.
Educational tools can gather just about any data one would want to know about a student except what is most important--the dignity of a human person. Something we should not measure yet value most. The value is not to categorize a student, but to understand a student from a familiar reference. To understand what drives him--what motivates him to become who he is in the powerful play of life that God has imagined for him.
Granted, some of the aforementioned tools have their place--that is the science of education--but not at the expense of the identity of a child and the art of teaching. We do not wish to sacrifice the dignity of a child by defining his value through an assessment, and we do not wish to sacrifice creative, artful teaching. Through differentiated instruction, the flavor of learning each teacher brings to the classroom, his art, should also be valued as a God-given gift.
We do that by inspiring wonder and awe in the discovery of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness...by discovering the order God created in the world through math and science. By understanding the Virtues through great literature and through stories of great men and women whose verse left a timeless mark on the annals of history. We are not laying pipe, we are inspiring students to become who they are, so they may contribute an extraordinary verse.