For those of you who don’t know me, I am a teacher. In ways both encouraging and soul crushing, this title tells you almost everything you need to know about who I am.
Recently, I have been teaching through a pair of essays written by two educational theorists about the relationship between teachers and their students. The first, written in 1968 by a devoutly Catholic Brazilian Marxist (!) named Paulo Freire, is called “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education.” In that essay, Freire argues that education has been poisoned by something he calls the “narrative” approach to teaching. In this approach, the teacher is the real Subject of the classroom, and he or she presents information to students not as a vibrant tool for discovery, but as an exclusive story being generously “shared” with students. The consequence of this approach is that it trains students to play the parts of the patient, listening “objects” of their own education, and as a result, they never actually learn how to become “learners.” Freire suggests that this framework betrays the fundamentally communal nature of education, and strips us of our humanity. To fix this, Freire suggests that we begin to see one another as co-learners and partners in education, exploring the world as a set of “posed problems” rather than as a collection of “facts” or “information.”
The second essay was written by an American named Christopher Ferry in 1996, and it is a response to Freire’s essay, titled “When the Distressed Teach the Oppressed: Towards a Model of Communion and Commitment.” Ferry begins by summarizing the various efforts teachers and schools have made to implement Freire’s recommended changes since 1968, as well as the numerous reasons these efforts have been unsuccessful. Then, Ferry makes the following argument: he says that the reason we haven’t succeeded with Freire’s reforms is because we want them for students and not for ourselves. He says that truly successful teachers must undergo an “Easter experience,” where they kill off the desire for traditional, power-driven models of teaching within themselves, and experience a “true conversion” to a student-focused, cooperative classroom environment. Until teachers have this “conversion,” Ferry argues, they can’t be “preachers”—that is to say, they can’t effectively communicate their own personal, transformational experiences—and instead are merely “performers,” whose acting will never and can never transform the lives of students.
Now, I’m not trying to simply nerd out about pedagogical theory here, but I think these arguments matter for us, as Christians, too. What these texts have taught me is that I can’t convince people to share my beliefs about things unless those beliefs are already deeply and profoundly a part of who I am. My work requires more than knowledge: it requires my entire identity.
Technically, this post was supposed to be about Easter, and more specifically, about Holy Week. And, in some ways, I suppose it is: certainly, Easter is about conversion, and it’s also about the complete commitment of a teacher, in Jesus, to “equality” with his students, or all of humanity.
But even moreso, these readings have gotten me thinking about Holy Week itself. Holy Week is the week leading up to the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. What has long stood out to me about Holy Week is the apparent, rapid change in the public’s perception of who Jesus is: on Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem a redeemer and hero, welcomed with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” But by Friday, he has been abandoned, betrayed, tried, and executed as a common criminal, largely by crowds of those same people who had welcomed him only five days before. Their change of heart seems so sudden, and so aggressive—and so costly—it defies explanation or understanding.
But this week, I’ve started to change my mind about those crowds. I no longer think this is a story about the sudden reversal of public opinion. Instead, I think it’s the story a man who pays a dear price for failing to bring the same message to the citizens of Jerusalem that they had already decided they would be willing to die for. Their hearts don’t change—they still want revolution; they still want power; they still want their anger to be recognized and their voices to be heard. But Jesus doesn’t end up bringing them the message they are looking for. Instead, as soon as Jesus enters Jerusalem, he heads straight to the temple and turns over the tables of the moneylenders, who had been selling animals for sacrifice in the temple courts. He calls them “thieves,” and then condemns the management of the entire religious institution of the nation. More significantly, he did all of this instead of going straight to the palace, as his followers expected he would, to lead the revolution against the Roman governor. The crowds grow angry because Jesus doesn’t seem to be standing up for their beliefs…he seems to be directly confronting them.
This means that they don’t turn on Jesus: Jesus becomes incompatible with them.
To frame that idea within the discussion of Freire and Ferry from earlier, I think what happened in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago anticipates the anxiety we feel within our own hearts. We can’t talk about Jesus from a position of comfort. We can’t approach him (or Easter) honestly without first considering how we are being asked to change. Let’s face it: when Jesus comes into our lives, he heads straight for the temple, and it is his full intention to wreck up the place. If we truly want to understand him—or to effectively invite others into this encounter—we have to begin by accepting that the acts of demolition Jesus is carrying out within us aren’t secondary to his gospel, they are the actual working out of the gospel in praxis, within our lives. We can’t merely be “willing to die” for Christ…we have to have died already, and then been reborn. There is no real gospel, I would argue, otherwise.
I’m learning that Easter can’t be a message until it has been an experience. However, as a message, it can and ought to redefine who we are. I said at the beginning that I am a teacher, and that tells you almost everything you need to know about me. Why is this true? Because I’ve been converted: teaching isn’t just something I “do,” it’s who I am—it directs the way I see the world, it shapes my relationships, it empowers the way I parent. I can’t even shake it when I’m asked to write a guest blog entry! I wouldn’t know how to describe myself without using that word.
And yet being a Christian rarely seems worth that level of internalization. Instead, I often think of faith as something I act or perform…while at the same time imagining myself an evangelist! There is no better time than Easter—no better week than Holy Week—to look more closely at this insufficiency within me, and when I find it, to prayerfully ask not that I be made well, but that my heart be overturned and the moneylenders cast out. It’s time for me to remember: my reflection will only look more like Christ if I do.
Dr. Kenny Camacho