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News > From the Chalkface > Julian Dobson - From the Chalkface

Julian Dobson - From the Chalkface

"I'm afraid this essay was distinctly average." "I'll take average. Average plus inheritance equals great!"


"I'm afraid this essay was distinctly average."
"I'll take average. Average plus inheritance equals great!"

This tongue-in-cheek exchange, which happened last year, does not typify most Tonbridgians’ attitude to work, though it does give a snapshot of the wit and ‘banter’ one enjoys on a daily basis. Indeed one of the reasons I enjoy teaching, and teaching at Tonbridge, is the opportunity to roar with laughter lesson-by-lesson, which must make it a unique profession. Happy, relaxed lessons, I think, make for a positive learning environment. Of course, it is not simply a matter of entertaining the troops and the boys jumping through the dreary and serious examination hoops. It helps. The key to what I do lesson-by-lesson, to engage, promote thought and ultimately exam success, is inviting and asking questions.
As a Divinity teacher, over the years, I have been asked an array of bizarre questions ranging from ‘Did Muhammad have any pets?‘, ‘Are Muslims Christians?’ to (quite shockingly) ‘Is the Pope really Catholic?’  But others continually excel and show the boys’ depth of interest and intellectual prowess. For example, a few years ago in a philosophical discussion, one bright spark asked ‘Do you need language to think?’ which prompted a diversion into the mind and what constitutes thought.
One of the reasons Divinity has grown in popularity over recent years is the ability to ask questions that not only pose an intellectual challenge but also strike home.  As we work through a range of theological and philosophical topics, we touch on issues as diverse as personhood in the abortion and euthanasia debate to the historical worth of the Gospels. Recently with the LVI, the question under scrutiny has been, ‘Can religious belief be rational?’ For the majority of the boys in the class, paid up members of the New Atheist-Dawkins-Hitchens club, the answer is of course, no.
But we also explore the likes of William James’ pragmatist argument, that our ‘passional natures’ validate our beliefs. We look at the likes of Kierkegaard, who argues that reason is dangerous to faith and that relationships provide important lessons - not only in religious epistemology but also in how and why arguments, belief and relationships are formed. Hopefully they have emerged a little less certain of their convictions.
‘You’re not stupid, you went to the same university as my Dad. Why on earth would you teach?’ Exhausted on a winter Friday afternoon, one does indeed wonder; but only momentarily. The answer is always, I enjoy it and I enjoy making you think. As boys move on to university, and one expects to predominantly city careers, the ability to laugh and to question and speculate on answers, one hopes, will sustain and enrich.

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