Planned Obsolescence

Teaching was a passion that began in college—I was confident in front of a class that I regularly volunteered for reports and as a substitute teacher.  Subsequent community work revealed the joy of teaching kids.  I volunteered to teach Sunday school after college which in turn would lead to twist and turns in my life where I would find myself in seminary.

And I stayed in seminary to teach as well; I preferred a classroom to a pulpit.  The interesting thing about the milieu of my ministry was the choice to serve the urban poor.  Now the teaching strategy when dealing with the marginalized is non-traditional: i.e., you do not spoon feed them the data but take them on a journey to discover that knowledge.  As important as acquiring the right theology and understanding of the Bible is to ministry, equally important is the process of thinking through those things—critical thinking.  That is hard work—the rise of cults can be attributed to many surrendering just that because of the fear of responsibility (“with great power comes great responsibility”—Uncle Ben, Spider-Man) or plain laziness (see Erich Fromm. Man for Himself. 1949, 1968).

The posture one takes then is not that of an authority but a facilitator.  You do not distribute the fish but fish with your students (“if you give a man a fish…” —Confucius).  Much of the effort was not in teaching/facilitating but in assuring your “partners” that we are in the same journey discovering together.  Now when I first started, being a skinny 98 pounder, that was easy enough—I looked like my students; indeed some were older, even more matured, than I was.  The first trimester of my ministry was the honeymoon but a shift happened during the second.  I got kicked up to positions which had titles that included academic dean, chaplain and president (not necessarily in that order) and I grew, well…old.  A younger generation of students was coming in and they did not know me apart from my apparent seniority and the obvious rank (..."stop calling me 'sir'"...).  Enough of the older students were around during the second trimester to ease the state of affairs but by the third trimester I realized I was getting tired.

Of teaching?


Of the hard work I put in to assure the students that I was not the “authority” figure (while having all those vestiges of position and rank hanging over me like Damocles’ sword).  It was at this point that I realized that I was irrelevant—the ministry I was in demanded a worker who was a peer to the student.

I also see that irrelevance in another way: I spent the first quarter of my teaching career echoing and evaluating whatever curriculum I inherited, the second quarter tweaking and improving that curriculum to make it more relevant, the third quarter proudly showcasing the new and improved curriculum, and the last quarter discovering that it is already irrelevant.

Sadly, this reflection and realization is not common, especially to Filipinos (we did have a president who said that he “did not plan to die”).  In various levels of society, we have people clinging to their position by any which way (“kapit tuko”); we have had geriatrics for senators and virtual corpses as mayors.