At today’s faculty meeting the whole faculty was invited to share stories about why we teach. At the time I chose to keep quiet and listen instead of speak. I hope this blog post isn’t too late for me to join the conversation.
The first circle of hell
This summer I offered Dante’s Inferno as a summer reading option for students. It was my first time reading it, and I really enjoyed it. (And so did 18 students. Who would have thought that 18 high schoolers would want to spend their summer reading Dante’s Inferno?)
But I was distracted the whole time. Even though I read each canto and traveled with Dante and Virgil through all nine circles of hell, my thoughts were stuck with those on the first circle. Since reading about the poor souls on that first circle I think I have been getting a little closer to putting my finger on what it is about teaching that speaks to me.
A moral wrong
Our only punishment
is that we live on desire alone
but without hope. (Canto IV)
I was so distracted after reading this passage that even thirty cantos (and eight circles) later I was not impressed by the image of Satan spending eternity munching on the most wicked souls in hell. This punishment — desire without hope — felt like such a moral wrong that I had a hard time shaking it. I couldn’t escape thinking that I see this punishment around me; I couldn’t escape thinking about the people whose day-to-day life is like living in Dante’s first circle of hell.
And since then I have been wondering if this is why I teach. I wonder if teaching is the clearest way for me to address this moral wrong that I see.
Now I just have to figure out what hope is
The only catch is that I haven’t yet been able to define what “hope” means to me. The best definitions I can muster are either circular or flimsy.
But I am getting close to triangulating an idea that rings true: that the heart of teaching has something to do with hope, creativity, and empowerment.
And if you read this far, then maybe you’ll help me narrow it down even further: how do you define what hope means to you?
[UPDATE: Click here to read Part II.]