On Being an Educator

This essay is in two parts, in order of importance. The first and most significant is about obligation, then within the bounds of those constraints, the second part is about vision.


First, last, and always, I am a product of the Creator God, and by calling and choice His servant. As Creator, God has and exercises rights of ownership, which I accept without qualification. He is God; I am not. God has the right to tell me what I must and must not do, and I must obey to the best of my God-given knowledge and ability. I defer to some other place and time an analysis of how I can know what God commands. It is sufficient here to announce that priority.

Within the freedom I have in God's Son, Jesus Christ, I am also a natural-born citizen of the United States of America, and by God's command I accept not only my rights but also my obligations wholeheartedly, subject only to the limits placed on me by God's higher Law. This means that I obey the law of the land in letter and spirit, the small as well as the large. Not only do I eschew treason, murder, and theft, I also drive within the posted speed limits and pay all taxes due in full and on time, to the best of my knowledge and belief. Sometimes my compliance with the law annoys other, less civic-minded citizens, but there is usually a middle ground with room for both my conscience and their autonomy.

When I am in a relationship of paid employment, God's Law and the law of the land both specify certain moral and fiduciary responsibilities, which I accept wholeheartedly. Subject to God's Law and the law of the land, I serve the agenda of my employer to the best of my understanding and belief. There is a problem when my employer fails to communicate its agenda clearly, or ambiguously promotes a public posture at odds with its true corporate agenda. If I can discern the corporate agenda, I will try to serve that. In the more common circumstance that the public posture conforms to the law while the true company policy does not, and I am unable to comply with the higher laws while serving the true agenda, I will serve the public version. However, this is not a viable long-term employment situation, and I will actively seek other employment (if I'm not fired first). Such employers really don't want me, and I don't want to be there, and we both know it.


Subject to the limitations in which God has placed me, I see education as a God-given obligation and opportunity to pass on to the next generation the insights and wisdom we have accumulated through age and study. God gave each of us a mind with trillions of neurons capable of reason and analysis, and I find no greater joy than seeing another person light up with understanding. Knowledge serves reason. Computers can store information, but only people can think. My educational goal is to encourage people to reason, to analyze and evaluate information, and not merely to repeat uncritically what they see or hear.

I do this informally in the documentation I prepare with the software I write. I do it intentionally by the software tools I create for other users. And when in a formal classroom setting, I design the presentation to stimulate and encourage in the students thoughtful analysis of ideas rather than rote memorization of facts and formulas.

Thinking is hard work, and students do not often volunteer for the task. My aim is not to be liked, but to be respected -- especially ten years later. The greatest compliment I have received as a teacher was, "He is tough, but you learn..."

In a formal classroom situation, most often I am not the highest authority. I seek and relish academic situations where this my vision aligns positively with the corporate agenda of the institution hosting the class. I will, as noted above, comply with other corporate requirements, but "in the best of all possible worlds" I can find some way to serve both the corporate agenda and my own adacemic vision. The world is a big place, and this is usually possible with a little (ahem) creative thought.

Tom Pittman
2007 October 3

A secular version of this same essay can be seen here