Monday, March 14, 2011


"Prairie School", oil on board, by Don Gray
“It is this almost pugnacious acceptance of reality that distinguishes him…”
-- Michael Sadlier, in Anthony Trollope: A Commentary

Until I read Mr. Sadlier’s essay this morning, I would never have considered using the words “acquiescent” and “pugnacious” in a discussion of successful teaching, but he used them so appropriately in his treatise on the Victorian novelist that I begin wondering whether the good teacher must not always be, you might say,  pugnaciously acquiescent. It’s thought-provoking that the word “acquiesce” derives from the Latin word for “quiet”, for it suggests that an acquiescent person is simply one who finds more reasons for inner peace and quiet than for unease and apprehension. The word literally means “to be at rest”, which summons up a picture of a teacher who treats whatever happens in the classroom as a worthy- of-note occurrence that should be quietly welcomed and walked around and appraised. This is a teacher who knows that nothing can be gained by giving battle, but that everything is won through simple acceptance. However, this is not a submissive and spineless acceptance, but rather a pugnacious one – the kind of acquiescence that says, in feisty tones, “Yes, I’m brave enough to say yes to life as it shows itself to me in the classroom, life as it truly is.” It is a courageous kind of acquiescence, more willing to wonder and marvel at the thoughts and deeds of students than to condemn and castigate them. Of course, there will occasions when the students deserve the teacher’s censure for one reason or another, but the censure should be given with the same humble acquiescence -- the same sense of quietly accepting what simply needs to be done. A teacher can be both tough and soft, both stern and merciful. It’s like being sweet-tempered but with boxing gloves on.

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