Thursday, August 2, 2012

Gilbert Highet on relevance

On how to make a subject relevant:

The best way to do it is for the teacher to make himself relevant. Nine thousand times more pupils have learnt a difficult subject well because they felt the teacher’s vitality and energy proved its value than because they chose the subject for its own sake. If a youth, sizing up the professor of medieval history, decides that he is a tremendous expert in the history of the Middle Ages and a deadly bore in everything else, he is apt to conclude that medieval history makes a man a deadly bore. If on the other hand he finds that the man is filled with lively interest in the contemporary world, that he actually knows more about it because, through his training, he understands it better, that the practice of intellectual life, so far from making him vague or remote, has made him wise and competent, the youth will conclude without further evidence that medieval history is a valuable asset.

The good teacher is an interesting man or woman.

Gilbert Highet, The Art of Teaching (New York: Knopf, 1951).
I’d add: being interesting need not be a matter of attempting to prove to “the kids” that one is “hep” or “with it.”

[Thank goodness Highet added “or woman” to the last sentence. The language of he and man makes me grind my teeth.]

comments: 3

Adair said...

Is this the same Gilbert Highet who wrote that wonderful book, Poets in a Landscape? I love it.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes. I should get that book.

Michael Leddy said...

It was reprinted in 2010 as a New York Review Books book.