Tuesday, March 13, 2012


     "Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth — greater, indeed, inasmuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth towards discretion and good manners."
     -- Henry Fowler

     We teachers sometimes start thinking we have some type of superior knowledge, which, as the above quote suggests, can set us off on the path to something like vulgarity. By this I don’t mean we start using swear words or saying offensive jokes, but simply that we act in an academically rude manner – sort of riding roughshod over our students because of our supposed more upscale and worthier wisdom. Even if it’s in small and unnoticed ways, this kind of scholarly snobbery can set a mood of standoffishness in the classroom – an atmosphere with the cultured, erudite teacher on one side and his amateurish students on the other. I’ve seen more than my share of this kind of classroom, which is why Fowler’s statement seemed so significant when I came across it recently. I need to remember, when I’m in the classroom, that whatever knowledge has been bestowed on me must be shared with my students with the utmost “discretion and good manners”. There’s a certain sensitivity that should keep company with understanding and  expertise – the sensitivity that allows me to be mindful of my ignorance even as I am taking pleasure in some new knowledge. There are certain good manners that go along with the parceling out of education in the classroom – manners that make it possible for me to be both knowledgeable and gracious with my students, both scholarly and courteous. I may have superior knowledge about participles and poetry, but the civility and politeness with which I instruct my students will shine more brightly, and bring more awareness their way, than any ostentatious display of learning. 

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