Please post reflections on the classes with Prof. Norman Cornett at Multnomah University here.
Professor Norman Cornett delivered a stimulating lecture and engaged meaningfully the intern leaders at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins at Multnomah Biblical Seminary of Multnomah University. Prof. Cornett described his pedagogical model as reflected in the film “Professor Norman Cornett” and its question, “Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?”. We found it a valuable exercise with prophetic import for education and ministry with concern for our society. I continue to reflect upon the statement, “Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?” and allude to it in various conversations. Prof. Cornett, thank you very much for your faithful service to the educational enterprise and its value for public discourse and citizenship.
I have engaged the Dr. Cornett’s session at Multnomah University on my blog here: http://enlet1.wordpress.com/2011/10/29/meeting-with-professor-norman-cornett/
Here is what I wrote:
Last Friday we had our regular meeting time for New Wine and we had the privilege of meeting Dr. Norman Cornett who was formerly a professor at McGill University in Canada. The story of his release from McGill University due to his unorthodox teaching methods without explanation was very interesting and has gotten me thinking about so much. As an introduction to his story we watched a clip from a video that summarized what he was about. The film quotes a saying by Dr. Cornett which became the emphasis of our discussion: “Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?”
Dr. Cornett explained that in an honest learning environment both students and pedagogue intersect in a dialogical dynamic where students are not merely there as “blank slates” going through the motions of receiving info and reproducing it for a grade. Students are included in the dialogue and are given freedom to contribute to any subject matter. In an environment where the student is concerned merely about getting the good grade he/she will not be authentically engaged with the material. Thus, in such a dynamic the right answer per se is the answer that gets us the results we desire. That environment is a dead environment and an immoral environment. In order to foster a truly moral and honest learning experience one must realize that there is more to learning than receiving and reproducing information. There needs to be receiving, giving, critiquing, affirming, creating, and etc. In essence, there needs to be room for ‘imagination.’ All of this has to happen both ways between teacher and students. The student should be free within the classroom setting to dialogue and think outside of the box. The student should be given the freedom to question the content, to shape the experience, to critique. Anything and all things are fair game so as to unleash a students creativity and imagination. According to Dr. Cornett the imagination is that vehicle of learning inherent in human beings that needs to be tapped if one is to truly participate in an honest education.
We touched on different issues throughout the discussion and interacted further with Dr. Cornett. He was indeed a brilliant man and a very engaging figure. He gave you the sense that he really cared about you and your thoughts. The question that I posed was: “given the dialogical and dynamic approach to education, how vital is one’s personal/relational involvement with other persons especially in the context of institutional boundaries?” He was absolutely spot on in his answer. He said that in the learning dynamic the “human touch” is absolutely crucial because education must be “involved”. To have an honest education one must experience personally the subject matter and must be be able to be involved personally with other persons. Individuals are whole persons and not merely minds to absorb information. Such an interaction takes into account the whole person encompassing other aspects of the human existence and not being limited to the overly rational anthropology that engages man primarily as a cerebral entity.
As both a teacher and a graduate student I was thoroughly intrigued by this discussion because of its implications for both theological education and education in general. What has transpired in many Christian educational institutions is the concern for spiritual formation in addition to the normal pedagogical aspect of learning theological content. However, the spiritual formation emphasis within the educational curriculums of such christian institutions are methodologically bound to the educational approach in question. Often times the formational aspect of learning is relegated to chapel times or any other extracurricular activities that are not integrally part of the classroom experience. How can we incorporate all aspects of the development process for students into the classroom? Is it necessary to consider the classroom as not merely a laboratory of learning but as a living theatre of imaginative engagement and authentic human flourishing? In other words, is there need for some sort of a liberation of Christian education from the common teacher-student approach that is not dialogical and which approaches students as blank slates????
If the answer to these is in the affirmative, then consequently, effectiveness, in terms of the achievement of high grades and passings tests, should not be the gauge we use in evaluating whether or not one has received a good education. The evaluation would have to be based on whether or not all the players in an educational setting have truly and honestly expressed themselves, not merely for the sake of a grade, but because it is both the right and honest answer.
In a cross-cultural context is there something to be said about how education is done in non-western countries? There are so many implications of this dialogical approach when we enter the cross-cultural realm. As a Chuukese, I ask myself this: “what is a truly and uniquely Micronesian education?” Due to the globalization process and the historical imprint of western imperialism and colonialism, what we have in Micronesia is quite frankly a dishonest (immoral?) and non-Micronesian/non-Chuukese education. From a Christian perspective………… more later.
Well, this was my initial response to having watched the film. I put it up on my facebook right after I watched the film. After hearing his lecture at Multnomah, my opinion of what he has to offer in the realm of the educational community hasn’t changed a bit! His style and approach to teaching is fresh, intuitive, and inspiring.
Doctor Norman Cornett will be speaking Oct 19, 2011 at Multnomah University L101 at 3:30. He is like the Einstein of teaching. The man is novel, and brilliant! Personally, I think that he should have his own university of higher learning. Many professors teach students what to think, or even how to think- their way. Here’s a man who dares to teach students to think for themselves!
Doctor Cornett was the doctor religious studies at McGill University in Montreal Canada, until McGill refused to renew his contract.
From what I can garner from the film, it seems like he was dismissed as being too different from the herd. It appears that the failure to renew his contract was presumably because of his unique approach to teaching. His students loved and admired his so much that they wrote over 700 petitions to have him reinstated. McGill should have looked to the positive results seen in the lives of his students.
Petitions to have him reinstated to Mc Gill, but instead they offered him a total Instead they offered him compensation of only $ 5000.00, and to date, McGill has refused to tell him why they would not reinstate him. He has applied to Concordia University, but has not yet secured a position with Concordia after being so arbitrarily dismissed from McGill.
~ Snow Wright
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