Educating Messiahs

Jan 2, 2014 by



There can be no greater gratification for a teacher than to hear gracious and encouraging words from former students. All of us who stand at the front of a classroom like to think, and wish to believe, that our efforts with our students have borne productive fruit. Colin Hannaford has for many years dedicated his life to that sometimes challenging and always critically important task of pointing students in the direction of broader horizons and of leading them step by step to new discoveries and to life-changing commitments.

When a group of graduates from the European Union School in Culham near Oxford, England, invited him to a reunion for former students and teachers, Colin was greeted with a surprising and career-affirming challenge to write a series of essays to appear on Facebook to “tell the world what you taught us in your classroom.” What more genuine and humbling words could a teacher ever hope to hear than these?

What you are about to read is the faithful product of many long hours and many restless nights devoted to meeting the challenge laid down by his students. What could he say of significance about how to help the children of the world defuse the explosive dynamite of the absolute certainties held and defended by religions and governments and societies the world over that threaten, in the end, to be our collective undoing?

“We kill to defend our idols,” he suggests, and he encourages us always to think it possible that, contrary to our unquestioned convictions, we may find the wisdom to acknowledge that in some critically destructive way we just might be wrong. What hideous results of our being wrong might we discover some sad and awful day lying at our feet on our own doorsteps?

What, you may ask, does he have to offer by calling into question the madness that all too often passes as “standing our ground,” or for defending “the truth” against error, or for protecting and ensuring our clearly parochial way of life?

Could it be that, as the author suggests, the most powerful weapon of nonviolence is “the refusal to accept shabby lies as certain truths”? Could it be that we often confuse habits and traditions with morality? Could it be that it is to our children that we must look to help us out of what Colin courageously identifies as “Satan’s trap”?

As you read, you will find yourself drawn into the delightful and sometimes sobering continuing dialogue between a thoughtful and beloved teacher and an admiring group of former students, many of them now parents with children of their own. He writes them letters and sends them emails, and he makes them all available to you, the reader, as he thinks his way, with his students and with you, through the dark labyrinth of failed ideas and, with hope, into the light of new possibilities.

“Quo vadis?” he wonders. Where are you going? But more importantly, perhaps, where are we going? And if we need to change directions, is it too late?

You may not like or agree with everything you read here, and that’s okay. But if you don’t, that probably means, more importantly, that you are doing some careful thinking. I think I can assure you that nothing could please Colin more than to believe that you have taken it seriously.

Duane E. Davis, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Religion and Philosophy
Mercer University
Georgia, USA

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