Harry Wong had a saying that he proposed in one of his famous talks on teaching. He said, "Culture is built around the dinner table." When I watched the poor quality recording from the early nineties in which he spoke these words, I was struck by their truth. In our attempts as teachers to create a "culture of learning" we are tempted to rely on systems, on research, on engaging and culturally relevant lessons, and the rest. All of these things are excellent, and their power to support a classroom that builds upon students' wonder should not be underestimated. I think they share a common flaw, however. All these techniques and methods are aimed too much at something resembling "productivity". How often do we allow out focus to shift away from learning targets to the students and the class themselves? Given such a short amount of time to accomplish our educational goals, we (or at least I) neglect to address the more human and important elements of education.
We in Catholic education have the blessing and opportunity to engage in fellowship with our students. By fellowship I simply mean spending time together as a community for no other purpose than to enjoy the company of others and build a shared trust. In Christian fellowship we are reminded that wherever two or more gather in Jesus' name, he is there. So our act of fellowship becomes a devotion, a growing in love of Christ as much as for our fellow (see what happened there) human beings.
I had the pleasure of spending time with a fine group of students, teachers, and members of our community in the form of the inaugural dinner of the "Society of Francis and Clare." I was touched by how the students who were reticent at first to engage, soon dissolved the bands of technological and personal isolation and began to speak, to lose track of time, in the course of a long shared meal. One of our guests remarked at how "This is very European" and "this is what a meal should be". I was honored that he saw the same things I did.
Culture is indeed built around a dinner table, and education, being a model of human culture should incorporate such fellowship openly and frequently. Wherever we can remove the stress of performance in favor of the joy of shared experience and thrill of the pursuit of wonder we are on the right track. Here's to you!