Facilitation versus Teaching?

In this first teacher’s blog, I’ve decided to discuss the topic of facilitation versus teaching. I believe we need to address this issue head on, because how we see ourselves in relation to our role with the Course determines how and what we teach. This seems to be an issue for many Course leaders, and it definitely used to be a big one for me.

It came up recently in one of our Workbook classes as we were reading the Introduction to the Final Lessons. When we got to “And let us be the leaders of our many brothers who are seeking for the way and find it not” (2:6), one of our students said that she has trouble with the idea of being a leader. She works in an addictions counselling agency that follows an inclusive, egalitarian, facilitative model and she doesn’t like what she sees as the hierarchical nature of leading. She thinks that there is a specialness inherent in the idea. Her comments led us to quite a lively discussion, as she wasn’t the only one who resisted the idea of being a leader (aka “teacher”).

I reminded everyone that, in the Course, Jesus is totally clear that we are all equal as holy Sons of God, but that we are not all at the same stage of our understanding, experience, and spiritual development. Here’s how one of my pupils described this aspect of our teacher-pupil relationship:

There is an equality between us which is understood, even though my teacher is more advanced in her understanding and experience of the Course at this time. In the Holy Spirit we are one and equal. I also know that I am learning to be a teacher of God, and am deepening my ability to step into that as a function one day.

As we continued the discussion, James (my husband and partner in Course Oasis) gave the analogy of a person who’s inside a burning building with a lot of other people. This person knows a safe way out, so does he stop and say to everyone, “Okay, let’s process what’s going on here. How should we approach this? What are your ideas? Do you prefer the door or the window?” Or, does he say, “Hey! I know the way out; follow me.” Everyone said that they would have no qualms about leading people out of a burning building if they knew the way. “Well,” James continued, “This [the Course] is the way out!”

Then we talked about Jesus in relation to his role, and wondered where we would be if he had said, “I don’t want to be a leader; I just want to be one of the gang.” He found the way out, and he’s extending his hand to bring us along with him. All he’s doing is asking us to do the same for our brothers. There’s nothing special about us. We’re still making our way out, but we have found the way out. Our elder brother is leading us, we’re following him, and others are following us; that’s all.

Because the Course teaches that we are all equal, some of us have a hard time accepting either to be a teacher or to have a teacher. Teaching seems to imply an inequality and specialness. However, there’s nothing inherently special about being a teacher/leader. It all depends on the meaning we give to the role, whose purpose we’re having it serve, and under whose direction we’re doing the teaching and leading.

I have a background as a facilitator of non-violent conflict resolution and Attitudinal Healing, and for years, I fought Robert both about my being a teacher and also about his being mine. It was the title that got to me. To me, the teaching model was inherently hierarchical–and, therefore, bad. In my perception, the model fostered one-upmanship, with teachers as the experts who knew it all, setting themselves above and beyond their pupils or students. I had often seen them guilting their pupils and putting them down in front of their peers, and I had also been on the receiving end of that. I rebelled against what I saw as the injustice of the role, and certainly didn’t want to identify myself with it and set myself up as special.

On the other hand, I loved the concept of facilitation. The symbol of the facilitation model was a circle. Facilitators worked in an inclusive manner, empowering people by drawing out the best in them, as well as their inherent wisdom. Facilitators helped people find the answers within and made it easier for them to learn than if they were on their own.

Eventually, I came to realize that my issue was not with the word, “teacher,” but with all the negative connotations I had attached to it. I saw that the ego had been using my judgments about the role of teacher as a clever way to keep me from accepting my calling to that role. Accepting it wasn’t being special; being special was judging the role of teacher and setting myself above teachers, just as I accused them of setting themselves above their pupils! It appeared that it was noble of me to reject the teaching model, but I realized that it was just a smokescreen; for underlying that was my real fear of accepting this calling and what that would mean.

The Course gave new meaning to the concept of teacher for me. I came to see that the Course’s teacher is one who follows Jesus as his or her teacher and shares Jesus’ teachings as faithfully as possible from his or her deeper understanding and experience. This teacher guides students and pupils along the path he or she has found, points out the way to them, and leads them to the point of being teachers themselves. Since I was being called to fulfill this role, it was arrogant of me to refuse it, under the guise of being “noble.” Accepting the Course’s view of teaching and my calling to the role allowed me to heal my issues with the teaching model, as well as my personal issues around my being a teacher.

A pupil once gave me a plaque on which was written the Robert Frost quote, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” I used to pride myself on being an awakener and a facilitator and not a teacher, yet over the years I came to see that they are not mutually exclusive. A good Course teacher is an awakener and a facilitator; that is, one who helps awaken others to the truth and helps make the process of reaching it easier. He or she is also—-as George Bernard Shaw once said when asked about being a teacher–“a fellow-traveller of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead-ahead of myself as well as you.”

Time and time again I’ve heard how people felt frustrated in their study groups because the group seemed to go nowhere. There was lots of discussion, and people felt good about having a forum for sharing their opinions, but no one really learned very much, and those who did want to go deeper weren’t able to.

I think this happens because the group leader may have a genuine desire to be inclusive, but he or she also has an ambivalence and hidden resistance toward actually leading. Out of this can come what I see as the “anything goes,” “it’s all good” approach. Whatever anyone says a certain passage means is accepted, based on the idea that “we all are students and teachers to each other,” and,  “since the Holy Spirit is in all of us equally, we can trust Him to tell us what it means. If we see different meanings in this passage, they all must be right in some way.”

In taking this approach, it may look as if the group leader is being respectful, inclusive, and egalitarian; after all, wasn’t Jesus like that? Well, yes, he was, but he was also a teacher, a leader. Imagine what would have happened if he had said to his disciples, “How about you teaching the multitude today? Tell them whatever you think the truth is. It’s all good.” Or: “Teach them what you think about sin and guilt, or about what God’s law is, or about who you really are.” He taught them and trained them as well as he could and then, when he felt they were ready, he sent them out to teach the truth as he had taught it to them. Imagine him sending them out and saying, “Here are my teachings; do with them what you will. Interpret them however you want.”

It’s the same with us. Through his Course, he is giving us his teachings and training us to become teachers in our own right. So, our job as teachers is to stop trying to justify our refusal of the role to which we are called. We must stop–under the guise of wanting to be egalitarian and inclusive–resisting and hiding out from our special function. It’s just another form of the ego’s face of innocence. There’s nothing inherently wrong or special about admitting that you have more understanding and experience with the Course and that you feel called to share that with others. To say, “Actually, what the Course says about that is…” is not disrespectful–it’s responsible! If we are to help prevent Jesus’ teachings being misunderstood and distorted, as were his biblical teachings, and if we’re to help build a tradition faithful to his teachings, we must be willing to take a stand for those teachings through fully accepting our role as teachers and leaders.

I’ve covered a lot of ground in this first teacher’s blog. I hope that it helps you reflect on your own attitude toward being a Course teacher and leader. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts, reactions, and experience, and to continuing the discussion.