Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Meet the Teacher Night

Written by: on September 20, 2018

Just last week was “Meet the Teacher” night at our local elementary school. This was the opportunity for the faculty and staff to introduce themselves to all the parents in town and to show off a little bit. It was a great night and the school did not disappoint. All the parents who showed were able to see some of the new construction that happened over the summer. We were able to see some of the new tech improvements. We even had the opportunity to tour our children’s classrooms. But the most amazing part of the night was learning from the teachers how they plan to teach each different subject.

Literacy was a focal point. Large portions of the morning will focus on creative writing, putting together critical thoughts, spelling. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, play a key part in the afternoon. But the way math will be taught was what fascinated me the most.

I remember math in elementary school as being memorization. Flash cards, or Mad Minutes, would appear in front of my face and I would have to answer “4+4=?” and give the answer “8” as quickly as I possibly could. The same would be for subtraction, multiplication and division. The competition of answering the question before my peers was the motivation for learning. The faster I could spit out the reply, the more accolades I received. This is how I learned elementary math.

This is not how children at the local elementary school are going to learn math. The teacher walked us stunned parents through new processes where instead of asking discussing “4+4=8” the question posed to the students would be, “In how many different ways can we creatively get to the number 8?” In this model “2+2+2+2” would be correct. So would “11-3.” Many of us looked at one another in shock and pleasant surprise, knowing that this new method would better teach our children a more complete understanding of math and numbers.

The idea of a “new way of learning” is what struck me throughout Adler and Van Doran’s How to Read a Book. Sure I have been reading for years, (poetry and fiction being my favorite) but this text lifts up a new way to synthesize material that helps a reader better understand in a way that is more complex than just memorization. Different methods, or types of reading are described and the method that struck me the most was the fourth style (which is clearly the most advanced) titled syntopical reading. A reader here delves into a certain topic by reading numerous books on that topic to best understand the different opinions, ideas, critiques, and accounts of that certain topic. “Knowing that more than one book is relevant to a particular question is the first requirement in any project of syntopical reading. Knowing which books should be read, in general, is the second requirement. The second requirement is a great deal harder to satisfy than the first.” [1]

As I reflected on this concept, I thought that, perhaps, the best text I can try my hand at this syntopical reading would be on the four canonical gospels found in the New Testament (and in the suggested reading list found in the book). All intend to share the message of the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and yet there are some major differences among the texts. Mark, Matthew and Luke are all “synoptic gospels,” all of which share a similar style and source material, while John has a different order and a distinct focus. Mark is written with the most enthusiasm, the author strongly desires the reader move at a brisk pace. Luke was written by someone with a base level of medical training from the Biblical period and many scholars believe was also the author of Acts. Matthew focuses on the divinity of Jesus, often emphasizing the supernatural elements of Jesus life and ministry. John is a very schematic text and is where we find all of the “I AM” sayings of Jesus in the Bible. Each text was written by certain authors in certain contexts with intended unique audiences living in their own unique contexts as well. My role as a syntopic reader would be to best understand the similarities and differences about each gospel and be able to explain how and why each is so unique.

The other field I immediately thought of regarding the concept of syntopical reading was music. Let’s take the Beatles recorded catalog for instance. A Hard Day’s Night is clearly different than Yellow Submarine, which is also different than Let it Be. To best read these musical texts from a syntopical standpoint, one would study, know, and fully understand what was influencing the artists during each recording, what was going on in the world that was inspiring them, and their intended outcome for the music, at such a deep level, all the material would be completely understood.

I was never a big fan of math. I was more a fan of The Beatles and the Bible. However, hopefully the children at the local elementary school better understand math because of the new way it will be taught. For me, may a more complete understanding, and a deeper reading of each text, be the result of this new way of reading, for this past week I met my teacher. His name was Mortimer Adler.

1 Adler, Mortimer and Charles Van Doran. How to Read a Book; New York, Touchstone 1972. P 309.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

4 responses to “Meet the Teacher Night”

  1. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jacob, our grandson is six years old and also has been learning math in a new method. I am amazed at how quickly he understands and can explain the method. Creativity seems to open the mind with understanding in a way memorization does not. My husband’s PhD is in Human Development and as I hear what he is learning I am intrigued with how neuroscience can unlock so many of the mysteries of human potential. We certainly are fearfully and wonderfully made! This gives me great anticipation as we enter this program and what will come out of all of us through it.

  2. Digby Wilkinson says:

    I have been a stereotypical chariscature of a parent doing math homework with a child, and exhibiting dinosaur type qualities. Usually there comes a point in the gowing conflict when I say “That’s not how I learned math”. At that point my status as educational geriatric is fully established. Ironically, despite our different ways of sorting a math problem, we both end up with the same answer. Having three older kids means I have relearned how to do math. But importantly, I have enjoyed it more than ever. Adler offers a new way, which, when learned, hopefully makes reading more enjoyable

    • Karen Rouggly says:

      Digby, thank you for this. First – it made me chuckle. Second – it gave me something to read my husband so he could chuckle, because this is EXACTLY what I end up telling my son. Granted, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with teaching a first grader how to do math, math has NEVER been my strong-suit and never will be. I usually end up telling him, “I’m sorry, that’s not how mommy knows to do it”. It’s my husband that ends up as his secondary teacher for math.

      Jacob – this post was so good. This last week was “back to school night” for us too, and I was also impressed by how the teachers are unpacking their subjects from just routine memorization. I see how that suits my son and his learning style and personality so much better!

      And when we get to Hong Kong, I can regale you with my tales of being in Bible Drill as a child, and learning how to spout Bible facts as fast as I could to get rewards – much like you (and I did) in math!

      • Jenn Burnett says:

        Karen and Jacob, my first question given our competitive learning upbringing is: who’s brining the prizes?
        More importantly, Jacob I love how you went to the Synoptics as an illustration of syntopical reading. It raises an important question about intended audience and actual audience for me. Adler does a decent job of recommending that we be in dialogue with the author of our texts, but does it make a difference who the intended audience is? For example if I read a grade school math textbook as if it were written for me, I might conclude that it is condescending and that the illustrations were inapplicable to my life. However if I read the same textbook with my child, choosing to evaluate it by how well my child can dialogue with the author, I might conclude that it was excellent and surprisingly relevant. Again I think of the tone of voice I use with my child when they ask if there is anything to eat while I’m preparing dinner, versus the tone of voice if my husband were to ask. If someone was to over here my comments, I suspect it would make a difference as to what they thought of me, based on whether they were aware of my intended audience. As readers, how great is our responsibility to reconstruct the intended audience so far as we are able? Or are we not permited to read out of our own subjectivity regardless of intended audience? Should I read Matthew alongside the first century Jewish community? Luke alongside the the first century gentile community? Is that even possible? Or can I just read it as me? What is gained? What is lost? Most importantly, what is faithful?

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