Pay No Attention to Those Facts behind the Curtain

What do we try to keep from our students, and why? On examination, it often turns out to be stuff that’s too good or too bad. And either way, that’s too bad.

A number of Hebrew Bible professors and their doctoral students were discussing fine points of the “local origins” approach to the Israelite settlement question. One asked, “How might we communicate this to our M.Div. students?” Almost reflexively, some replied, “Oh, we won’t, of course.” The implied warrant wasn’t that the material might be too advanced, but that it might be too upsetting (or, as I suspect, too disruptive: and let’s face it, taking away the exodus can lead to an eruption of disruption). I have pretty well completely rejected this idea in my practice. True, on practical grounds, some concepts are too advanced for an introductory class to explore deeply, and potentially upsetting ideas must be introduced with care, but their existence is not a secret. Solid food, please.

So it was with surprise that I realized I habitually keep another set of facts from my students: the Bad Stuff, the junk food. As do many professors, I teach my students to recognize and find peer-reviewed or time-tested scholarship, and except in carefully controlled circumstanes I restrict them to those sources. “No Internet Sources” is a dictum seen in many syllabi, and for excellent reasons. It is also for excellent reasons that Josh McDowell is not on in our reading for the Israelite origins question.

In principle, I have always been willing for students to read low-quality scholarship, if only they are willing to subject it to the critical knife. In practice, the main obstacle is time. But assuming for the sake of argument that you have a new syllabus that finds room for critical evaluation of sketchy claims (upcoming entry), then why not?

As a starting move in that direction, I have begun to create public pages of aggregated web-feeds for my students. (A shout-out to Michael Wesch here and to AKMA for bringing him to my attention). These are rudimentary at this time, just a set of searches for key terms: much more is possible.

Later, I will discuss two issues that this practice brings in:

  • How do we teach the critical reasoning that helps the student to know the solid food from the junk food, and to taste sanely of the junk?
  • Where do we find time for that task?

The “tabs” of my aggragate page are called “Hebrew Bible,” “Hebrew Language,” and “Holiness/Purity” (this last for an independent study on holiness and purity in the Priestly Writer), and they can all be found on my NetVibes page.


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