October 23, 2013 — HOSPITALITY AS A TEACHING ATTITUDE
In the Book of Genesis Abraham welcomes three strangers and offers them hospitality. He makes them comfortable and offers them food, wine, and shade from the scorching sun. They in turn bring Abraham an astonishing message, namely, that his wife Sarah will bear a son even though she and Abraham are advanced in age. The story reveals that an attitude of hospitality brings the strangers’ gift. It seems to me that hospitality in a classroom has a similar benefit.
When FM students enter a classroom they pass through a gateway and into a rite of passage. The students will be changed by interacting with the subject matter of the course. The students’ view of the world will change and the reality of that view can be challenging and even frightening. Therefore, hospitality, which involves a host and a guest, facilitates the process of coping with this change in the view of the world. As an aside and interestingly enough host and guest come from the same root word and that suggests they are inseparable.
In a hospitable classroom the host is not necessarily the instructor nor is the student automatically the guest. The roles of host and guest are fluid as the hospitality circulates. Upon entering the classroom the FM student, as a stranger, brings a gift which may be the need to learn. Actually, the need also could be a variety of reasons for taking the course. The objective, for example, could be to learn about the subject, or the objective may also be a desire to earn three credits, or that the course fit into the schedule. Any reason that is given isn’t important. The important element is the reason brings the student as guest through the gateway and the instructor in the role of host initiates the instruction, and as I said when the roles are exchanged then possibility of growth emerges. The instructor acts as the guest when a student comments on the content of the lecture and either informs the class of an item the instructor didn’t mention or allows the instructor to take the lecture in a different direction. Of course the instructor should be open to this type of behavior for the hospitality to flow.
Courtesy is an essential part of this process as well. The attitude of hospitality, however, can be stymied by the host’s or the guest’s lack of courtesy. The FM student, for example, who texts a message during a lecture, or the FM instructor who distributes an ambiguous syllabus, are both being discourteous and obstructive. A productive culture in a classroom arises out of the effective harmony between the host and the guest. A harmony also gives rise to what C.G. Jung called synchronicity, or the chance interface of two different elements that produces a third. It may be bad math to say 1+1=3, but it is good creativity.
The conjunction of a hospitable FM host and FM guest permits so many possibilities. It would be a shame to withhold hospitality and miss the messages of the host and guest, who like Abraham and Sarah found so astonishing.
Greg Zoltowski is a Visual Arts Adjunct Faculty Instructor at FM.