“Sage-on-the-Sage” or “Guide-on-the-Side”

This post has been a long time in the making, so long in fact that it should be amazing. I kid. Life just got in the way.

The debate between the title characters, “sage” and “guide”, is not new. Every cohort of education students learns the theory and jargon in the introductory classes. Nearly everyone has a pronounced opinion, one way or the other. Routinely, news programs bring word of the latest and greatest idea to transform education. What it all boils down to the facts, the cliché that is the title of this post sums up the two basic opinions.

This topic has been on my mind because of the one class I am taking in residence this semester, the last class I will take in residence at Bob Jones. For the sake of anonymity I’m going to leave out as many specific details as possible though anyone familiar with the BJU history faculty will know of whom I speak.

I’ll start with a little background on me as a student. In class, I’m perfectly content to listen to a lecture for an entire class period while taking notes. I’m not much for interaction (or varying types of activities) though I see the benefits. When it comes to papers and projects–anything done for a grade–I’m a perfectionist. I want to get it right the first time. Combine that desire with the relative ease and anonymity of email and you get a student who rarely hesitates to pepper the professor with any questions that arise while completing an assignment.

For the most part, this has been a successful technique for me. I don’t ask the professors to hand the answers to me on a platter. Rather, I ask for a bit more scaffolding.

My current professor is of the mold that I thought I left behind in high school. Nearly all of those teachers justified their methods by saying something like “in college, they won’t give you the notes. You’ll have to come up with them on your own. I’m helping you prepare.” Imagine my surprise freshman year and beyond. I digress.

Speaking in general terms, the “sage” takes a hands off approach. He gives lectures and grades papers. He directs students away from him and back to their notes so that they will learn how to hunt and discover the knowledge on their own. In the animal world, he would be the bird who pushes its young out of the nest. The young bird learns to fly, or else.

The “guide” takes a hands on approach. He circulates throughout the classroom, asking for student contributions to discussions. He welcomes all questions no matter what rabbit trail lies ahead. He focuses on understanding the concept rather than the details. Perhaps, the animal comparison in this case would be humans themselves, carrying for their children far beyond the length of time any other animal does.

The project that prompted this post has long been completed and handed in. (It has been graded but I have not gotten it back to look it over.) The project was a case brief. I have no experience with legal documents, unless hearing them talked about on TV counts. (Obviously, it does not.) As I worked through the given outline, I came across a few things that I did not understand or was unsure about. I, then, compiled a list of questions and sent them to the professor via email. The response? She answered my formatting question but otherwise directed me to the class bibliography.

As much as I disagreed with her tactics, I knew it would do me no good to press the issue. Thus, I chose to approach a subsequent question with cautious wording, hoping for a tiny nudge in the right direction. I had no luck. The explanation I received for her less than helpful response? Historians are supposed to be good detectives. I’m preparing you for PhD work. (That is a paraphrase, of course.)

I say all this to say, I now lean towards the guide on the side approach. If I end up teaching history on the college level, I want to be a professor who welcomes questions and also knows how to ask the right ones too, the ones that make the students think and deepen both their understanding and ability.


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