My wife hit one out of the park, recently. Here is a picture that she gave me as I have been deeply reflecting on the future of my classroom. It is a picture of a half filled classroom and a host of silhouettes sitting at desks.
The life of a teacher, like other professions, can be utterly depressing, fulfilling, lonely, exhilarating, and a host of other polar emotions. Adding to that, the pursuit of a Ph.D. makes it all the more grueling.
A vision that was granted to me, by another, assists me—among other things—to wake up early in the morning and get out of bed to add to my own personal flourishing.
Here is a picture of faceless students figurally representing a host of lives that I hope will turn to real students. This image is already filling in as more and more lives fill my classroom. But, without being pretentious, the arduous labors of long mornings, and lonely times in the office, and painstaking care given to writing and learning will soon affect these faceless students.
Education is sometimes the dispensing of knowledge. That is, it relays facts and information to the pupil. However, add to this the incarnational mentoring of tutor-pupil, teacher-student, an act of paideia, if you may, that seeks to shift the affections of students so that they learn to love the pursuit of knowledge as a way to reorient their lives.
Hence, an aspect of education is the ordo amoris—the order of affections. As Augustine says,
We must, however, observe right order even in our love for the very love by which we love that which is worthy to be loved, so that there may be in us that virtue which enables us to live well. Hence, it seems to me that a brief and true definition of virtue is ‘rightly ordered love’. (City of God, 15, 22)
Or as Plato recognizes, education comes about when the youth is able of recognize the beautiful; thus, another reordering of the affections of the student.
Isn’t education in the arts most essential for these reasons, in that rhythm and melody above all penetrate to the innermost part of the soul and most powerfully affect it, bringing gracefulness, and, if one is brought up correctly, make one graceful… Furthermore he who has been brought up in the arts as he should have been, will be most acutely aware of what has been omitted and not well made, or not well nurtured, and he would rightly disparage it and approve and rejoice in what is beautiful, allow it into his soul, feed on it and become a good, fine man. (Plato, Republic, III, 401e—402a)
For the remainder of my time as a Ph.D. student, then, this picture will be hanging on my wall near my desk, resting in my purview as a reminder to think well, write better, love deeper for the sake of these empty silhouettes slowly turning into real lives.