Background Image

What One Old Dead Guy Taught Me – Part 1

August 3, 2016

Each summer, we, the faculty of Founders Christian School, take time to read some good books that would be beneficial to our calling as Christian educators. This summer, one of those books was a very short read: The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. Written a hundred years before I was born (1884… you do the math), this little work is a colossus.Simple, yet profound… precisely the opposite of what education has largely become in our country today.

Much of what’s inside this book could have been heard in our faculty meetings, our in-service trainings, and individual conversations between teachers since before our school opened its doors a year ago. There’s a reason this book is so popular in “Classical Christian Education” circles. But now that I’ve read it myself, I have been inspired and energized anew to make these “laws” central in my own classroom.

My own thoughts about Law One, which I share below, are purposely very succinct. They leave a lot of good meat on the bone, and I hope you’ll have the chance to read it all yourself. But, in a small nutshell, here’s what John Milton Gregory says about the first law of teaching.

Law One

You’ll notice as you read these blog posts that each law is, on its face, quite plain. But, as any fundamental truth, each law has far-reaching implications. So, on with it, Law #1: The teacher must know that which he would teach.

How often is that law broken? Yet how true it is; and in Milton’s own words, “What a man does not know he cannot teach successfully… teaching must be uncertain and limping when characterized by an inadequate knowledge of the material to be taught.”

Observations

This law provides, at once, both freedom and obligation. If kept, it provides the teacher with an unprecedented ease with which to apply his skill. He or she is not bound to a textbook or a curriculum in a burdened way, out of a total dependence. Rather, that teacher is free to use those tools as they were meant to be used: as tools and not as the teachers themselves! Can a conductor lead an orchestra if he does not know the song himself? As Gregory says, “The teacher who knows his lesson as he ought is at home in his recitation, and can watch the efforts of his class and direct with ease the trend of their thoughts.”

Such a mastery of the material also gives the students a great deal of confidence and eagerness. We’ve all sat in a class and realized, often in the first five minutes, that the teacher knows very little about what he or she is “teaching.” How excited are we about that class? And what a let-down it is—especially when it’s a subject about which we are genuinely interested! We cannot do such a disservice to our students, and we are determined not to let that happen here.

A Great Responsibility

One of my favorite parts of this book comes at the end of each chapter. Gregory includes a few remarks about common ways in which the law is often violated. One of the violations he mentions is, I think, particularly seen in the primary grades (the “Grammar Stage” as we call it). What often happens is that teachers make choices based on the belief that, even if they do (1) sell their students short through lack of preparation, (2) make mistakes in their instruction, or (3) rely on study that was done long ago rather than consistently review the material himself, that nothing will come of it, since the students will not be able to tell.

I appreciate that Gregory dismisses this assertion at several points, making it clear that students doindeed notice such things. They notice a lack of preparation, no matter how much we try to hide it; and sooner or later, they will notice factual mistakes that come through lack of preparation. And when they do, as the author puts it, “from that time the teacher’s standing with the class is gone.”

Perhaps without exception, we are all teachers. It may be our peers; it may be our own children at home; it may be other children in a Sunday school class, or a formal classroom. And so, teachers, let us pray for strength and endurance, that we might by every means necessary know that which we would teach.

What One Old Dead Guy Taught Me – Part 1

Each summer, we, the faculty of Founders Christian School, take time to read some good books that would be beneficial to our calling as Christian educators. This summer, one of those books was a very short read: The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. Written a hundred years before I was born (1884… you do the math), this little work is a colossus.Simple, yet profound… precisely the opposite of what education has largely become in our country today. Much of what’s inside this book could have been heard in our faculty meetings, our in-service trainings, and individual conversations between teachers since before our school opened its doors a year ago. There’s a reason this book is so popular in “Classical Christian Education” circles. But now that I’ve read it myself, I have been inspired and energized anew to make these “laws” central in my own classroom. My own thoughts about Law One, which I share below, are purposely very succinct. They leave a lot of good meat on the bone, and I hope you’ll have the chance to read it all yourself. But, in a small nutshell, here’s what John Milton Gregory says about the first law of teaching. Law One You’ll notice as you read these blog posts that each law is, on its face, quite plain. But, as any fundamental truth, each law has far-reaching implications. So, on with it, Law #1: The teacher must know that which he would teach. How often is that law broken? Yet how true it is; and in Milton’s own words, “What a man does not know he cannot teach successfully… teaching must be uncertain and limping when characterized by an inadequate knowledge of the material to be taught.” Observations This law provides, at once, both freedom and obligation. If kept, it provides the teacher with an unprecedented ease with which to apply his skill. He or she is not bound to a textbook or a curriculum in a burdened way, out of a total dependence. Rather, that teacher is free to use those tools as they were meant to be used: as tools and not as the teachers themselves! Can a conductor lead an orchestra if he does not know the song himself? As Gregory says, “The teacher who knows his lesson as he ought is at home in his recitation, and can watch the efforts of his class and direct with ease the trend of their thoughts.” Such a mastery of the material also gives the students a great deal of confidence and eagerness. We’ve all sat in a class and realized, often in the first five minutes, that the teacher knows very little about what he or she is "teaching." How excited are we about that class? And what a let-down it is—especially when it’s a subject about which we are genuinely interested! We cannot do such a disservice to our students, and we are determined not to let that happen here. A Great Responsibility One of my favorite parts of this book comes at the end of each chapter. Gregory includes a few remarks about common ways in which the law is often violated. One of the violations he mentions is, I think, particularly seen in the primary grades (the “Grammar Stage” as we call it). What often happens is that teachers make choices based on the belief that, even if they do (1) sell their students short through lack of preparation, (2) make mistakes in their instruction, or (3) rely on study that was done long ago rather than consistently review the material himself, that nothing will come of it, since the students will not be able to tell. I appreciate that Gregory dismisses this assertion at several points, making it clear that students doindeed notice such things. They notice a lack of preparation, no matter how much we try to hide it; and sooner or later, they will notice factual mistakes that come through lack of preparation. And when they do, as the author puts it, “from that time the teacher’s standing with the class is gone.” Perhaps without exception, we are all teachers. It may be our peers; it may be our own children at home; it may be other children in a Sunday school class, or a formal classroom. And so, teachers, let us pray for strength and endurance, that we might by every means necessary know that which we would teach.


Join The Discussion

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *