Thursday Book Club: The Teacher

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

Daniel J. Estes, Hear, My Son: Teaching & Learning in Proverbs 1-9, (Inter-Varsity Press, 1997), 174 pages. In this post, I plan to finish out my extended review of  Hear, My Son that I've been working through for much of this year.    The final three chapters of the book unpack the educational process and the role of the teacher and learner in that process.  In Estes' observations of Proverbs 1-9, he finds three primary roles for the teacher that correspond with three primary modes of instruction.

Teacher as Expert Authority. Estes presents the teacher as a reliable transmitter of tradition who is qualified to speak with expert authority when he uses directive modes.  In these modes, the teacher is central, and the learner is expected to accept the teaching on the basis of his authority.  But, even when the teacher's authority is most prominent, his most direct instruction is  crafted as part of a literary devise.   This demonstrates the Teacher's own wisdom and humility.  In two passages where direct address is used, the speaker is not the teacher at all, but personified Wisdom (Proverbs 1:20-33; 8:1-11), a prophetic character that the teacher describes and recommends to his student.  In these texts, Wisdom speaks openly in the streets, and she denounces evil with accusations and threats of judgment.  She boasts of her own authority and the gifts that she can bestow.  She is the authority that the teacher recommends, but he is subversively recommending himself and his own tradition.  Similarly, the teacher paints a negative portrait of the evil person and evil activities that the LORD hates in Proverbs 6:12-19.  The teacher gives direct commands without literary subversion or substantiation (see below) only in Proverbs 6:1-5.  In this passage, the debtor has risked his own impoverishment by rash pledges, and the teacher directly commands him to free himself from debt.  The directness of the commands are appropriate to the conditions.

Teacher as Facilitator. The teacher is seen as a facilitator when he uses incentive and invitation.  In Proverbs 3:13-18 and 8:12-21, there is an appeal to the learner that praises all of the benefits of wisdom.  "By describing the intrinsic good of wisdom and the instrumental benefits which it can provide, the teacher endeavours to create in the learner a desire to choose what is best" (121).  In these passages, there is a focus on the learner's involvement with no commands or appeals to logic.  The teacher simply "presents the advantages of the way of wisdom, but leaves the choice up to the learner" (128).

Teacher as Guide. When the teacher gives commands with substantiation (reasons, illustrations, consequences, rhetorical questions), he regards the learner as an active participant in the learning process.  Instruction is seen as a "synergism, with both the teacher and learner playing crucial roles" (112).   "Commands with reasons" constitutes "the largest single category of rhetoric in Proverbs 1-9" (111).  The teacher speaks from his own knowledge and experience to provide direction for the learner, and he also appeals to observations.  In making these appeals, the teacher respects the learner's own experience and readiness to hear.  At times, illustrations (1:10-19), consequences (1:8-9), and rhetorical questions (6:27-28) are added to reasons.  These additions constitute an appeal to the learner's desires and affections, and they help to move the learner toward the point of decision.

For an overview of the first several sections of Estes' book, check out: