Saturday, April 02, 2011

When a kid sneezes in your face....

I think it's sort of cool to quote Latin phrases. It makes me feel erudite and scholarly. One of my favorite phrases is used frequently by our old friend Saint Thomas Aquinas: Quidquid recepitur ad modum recipientis recipitur. If you happen not to be up on your Latin, it translates into something like "Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver."

What the heck?

Think about it. Have you ever had the experience of a student or child doing something very playfully and you, being in a good mood, play along with it? Your reception of the student's actions or the child's behavior is inflected and shaped by your mood. If you are in the mood to play, you may countenance a tremendous amount of silliness. Just yesterday, for instance, my students kidnapped my stuffed cat and hid clues all around the building. Being in a good mood (it was Friday, after all, and I had plans to go out with friends after work), I was more than happy to play along. Even when one of the students, violating all notions of personal space, sneezed in my face I wasn't terribly bothered. My good mood shaped the way I received his actions. Indeed, I actually managed to laugh it off as I wiped 1,000,000,000 germs off of my face and resigned myself to the fact that, in the wake of walking pneumonia, I'll probably get a cold thanks to this kid. 

What, though, if I had been cranky? Disaster. The very same gesture that had been interpreted well could have been interpreted poorly: my mood would have shaped my reception of this gesture. Instead of enjoying the game, a bad mood or a headache would have made it a terrible hassle; rather than laughing off the sneeze, I could have berated the student. Not for nothing, had I been in the wrong sort of mood I might well have wiped the floor with the kid! 

A single gesture, two wildly divergent interpretations. Whatever we receive is received according our mode of reception. Our mode is very much influenced by our mood/education/experience/disposition/maturity/etc.  This does not deny that we can know the world outside of us, but it does indicated that we add something to the world as we experience it.

As a teacher, I am becoming more and more aware that my teaching is, very often, effective only to the extent that the kids are willing to receive it. I find more and more frequently that I'm forced to come up with creative ways of engaging students on their level in order to demonstrate (1) why faith and religion are credible and (2) why both are relevant. This is no easy task, to be sure, but I'm committed to finding ways to make sure that what they receive from me somehow sticks, that it meets the receiver with enough force to make an impact. Quidquid recepitur ad modum recipientis recipitur...I'm learning that teaching isn't a performance but, rather, a relationship between student and teacher each of whom stands to gain much by understanding the other.
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