By 1992, as I approached my 20th year of university teaching, I’d evolved the philosophy that we who taught about religion had two tasks to perform with our students. One was to shake them up. The other was to build them up.
David Halperin tells the wonderful story of a Jewish professor teaching a New Testament class in the South to what could be described as a tough crowd.
So many lessons here on the value of shaking things up, yes, and also the responsibility to build something in its place, and the wonderful surprises that can occur when you take a calculated risk. Something alchemical happened between professor, students, subject matter, and dialogue that produced something unique and unattainable elsewhere.
I had lunch with David recently; he said he had discovered over the years that fundamentalist students were happy to challenge when they were in the opposition, but they shut up when handed the mic. This “interactive method” for teaching a large class neutralized that stance; it also, from his description, called forth from the students resources they did not know they possessed. What they learned they had earned.
He never taught the class again nor deployed that method again. A golden memory, to be sure.