Mason vs. Lockerbie: Two Views of the Teacher

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find all the posts here. More recently we have been looking at what various reformed thinkers have to say on education. You can find the intro to this this series within a series here. 

I have been reading through D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). While there is a lot I like about his philosophy of education, our main point of difference, as I discussed in this post, is in how we view the role of the teacher. For Lockerbie, as for his mentor Gaebelein, the Christian teacher is paramount.

Though I do not accept the exalted place Lockerbie gives to the teacher, I would like to take a few minutes to look at some of the qualifications he lists and to compare them to those Charlotte Mason gives.

Because the character of the teacher is so central to his philosophy, Lockerbie demands and expects a lot of them. Teachers, he says, must always be learning (p. 92). They should know their subject matter inside and out and be able to fuse it with their faith (p. 147). They should love their subject (p. 94).

In contrast, this is what Charlotte Mason says:

“Living ideas can be derived only from living minds, and so it occasionally happens that a vital spark is flashed from teacher to pupil. But this occurs only when the subject is one to which the teacher has given original thought. In most cases the oral lesson, or the more advanced lecture, consists of information got up by the teacher from various books, and imparted in language, a little pedantic, or a little commonplace, or a little reading-made-easy in style. At the best, the teacher is not likely to have vital interset in, and, consequently, original thought upon, a wide range of subjects.” [School Education (Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2008) p. 121]

Note that the standard is a little higher here. The teacher able to communicate ideas is not just someone who knows her subject but has had original thought on it. By this standard, there may be a lot of university professors, those who do their own research and writing, who qualify, but the average school teacher does not have the leisure, or, sadly, often the intellectual ability and training, to do so.

The truth is, when there is someone who knows their subject and is passionate about it, this comes through, and even a subject one is not inherently interested in becomes fascinating when they talk about it. This is a lot to expect of every teacher in every class they have to teach, but that’s okay. The wonderful thing about us humans is that we are able to record our thoughts so that another human, even thousands of years later, can read them. In this way our teachers are not only those standing in front of us, but those who communicate to us through books. A given school may have a wonderful chemistry or English or history teacher. Perhaps it even has all three. But through the power of the written word — and it is quite powerful — the students get not just one good teacher but dozens on any given subject. That is why I would argue, with Mason, that teachers not read and distill the materials for their students but that they put their students in direct contact with these great minds through their writings.


3 responses to this post.

  1. […] dialectical process, through questions and answers, comes to either accept or reject this dogma. [We have seen a similar idea in Gaebelein and Lockerbie. For both the teacher is paramount and to some extent teaches […]


  2. […] human knowledge is communicated from mind to mind therefore we should choose our teachers well. (Two Views of the Teacher; See Pick Your Teachers Well for tips on how to do […]


  3. […] When we looked at the work of Bruce Lockerbie, I briefly outlined two views of the teacher. In Lockerbie’s view the teacher is essential and therefore his personal character is as essential as his knowledge if not more so. In contrast, for Charlotte Mason the teacher’s role is largely to step back.  Ideas, for Mason, are communicated from mind to mind, but the minds from which we get our ideas are largely those we find in our books (or art or music). Clark and Jain tend more toward Lockerbie’s side of things. Though there is a place for the teacher to put the student in touch with other minds through the medium of books, the role of the teacher is still fairly large and so his character is also important (p. 216). Charlotte Mason would say that the teacher spreads a feast of ideas for the students and what they take in is up to God. For Clark and Jain, “[t]he teacher’s job is then to mediate that Great Conversation” (p. 128; emphasis added). This seems a much more hands-on, involved role. It is the teacher’s interests that drive the curriculum (pp. 244-45). Though there is an overarching focus on Christ, the teacher is in some sense the immediate master to whom the child is discipled. Mason would agree that “[a]ll learning occurs within a network of relationships” (p. 283)  but would argue that the relationship is with the material and the minds behind it, not necessarily with the teacher. […]


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