The Influence of Good School Teachers

The History Changers are Often Made by School Teachers

CS Lewis

I was surprised to learn that CS Lewis hated school. He struggled intensely with the boarding school environment (he likened it to a concentration camp and a learning factory). He only really began to find genuine delight in learning when his father finally gave in and provided private tutoring for him.

One particular tutor, William Kirkpatrick, helped Lewis love both the classics and the power of logic. And, although both tutor and student were atheists at the time, this powerful blend of literary discovery and persistent logic produced in Lewis a love of learning that blossomed into an avalanche of brilliant lectures, sermons, radio programmes, novels and books which have helped steer multitudes to faith in Christ.

Martin Luther at school

I was likewise surprised on reviewing Kittleson’s superb biography of Martin Luther to find a similar pattern. Bad teaching, or teaching methods – which produced nothing in the life of a future history-maker – followed by good teaching, or rather an encouraging teacher, which catapulted Luther’s academic career forward.

This delight in learning and logic, was brought to bear upon Luther’s own discoveries in the New Testament, and then in his massive literary output, and the influence that followed.

Of his earlier education Kittleson writes:
‘The methods used by his teachers were consistently condemned as ‘barbaric’ by great educators such as Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Coercion and ridicule were chief among their techniques. Any child caught speaking German (the goal was to teach them in Latin) was beaten with a rod. The one who had done least well in the morning was required to wear a dunce’s cap and was addressed as an ass all afternoon.

Demerits were then added up for the week, and each student went home with one more caning to make the accounts balance.’ (Kittleson, Luther the Reformer, IVP p.37)

Luther hated it. Just like Lewis centuries later.

But all was to change. Luther was moved to a school in Eisenach. There ‘He found a teacher who could awaken his imagination while sharpening his mind. In his case the teacher was the headmaster of the school, one John Trebonius, whom Luther later praised as a gifted man.

Trebonius certainly must have instilled a very different atmosphere in this school from what prevailed at Mansfield, for there Luther also struck up a lifelong friendship with a teacher named Wiegand Geldennupf.

These men were more than figures of authority…As Luther now neared the end of his studies in Latin school, he could give speeches and write essays and poetry. He could also read some of the ancient authors…

The great pleasure he derived from these studies showed later in his life as he sat down to translate Aesop’s Fables into German and insisted that everyone must be a student of the classics and of history.’ (ibid p.39)

You and I may not be familiar with the names of Trebonius or Geldennupf or Kirkpatrick but they were the human catalysts that awakened the genius in their students.

When you see a skillful school teacher
When you see a school teacher, tutor or professor skilled in their work, helping to awaken a delight in learning in their students, take a moment to encourage them in the important work they are doing.

Who knows what great reformer might arise, or what great apologist might emerge to help steer a generation to grace, once God has intervened to redeem their skills and desires.

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

To check some of the differences between Martin Luther and John Calvin click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides


4 thoughts on “The Influence of Good School Teachers

  1. Mike Taylor December 22, 2012 / 11:28 pm

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that Lewis didn’t like school; rather, that he didn’t like the the specific school that he was sent to. (He calls it by the alias “Wyvern” in Surprised by Joy; it was actually Wynyard School in Watford.) He had good reason to dislike it: the headmaster who made the place so miserable was subsequently diagnosed as insane.

    To Lewis’s credit, he doesn’t seem to have allowed this horrible experience to negatively colour his perceptions of schools in general, and has a lot to say about their positive side in many of his essays.

  2. Lex Loizides December 23, 2012 / 1:40 pm

    Thanks for your comment Mike.
    I think, however, most readers would understand that it’s obvious that Lewis’s feelings about school were in connection with his own experience of it, and therefore the specific schools he attended.
    The point of the post is not that schools are a bad idea (after all, Luther was the driving force behind general education for all children in Germany and Lewis spent his life as an educator), but that great teachers have the opportunity to inspire whereas not-so-great teachers can seriously stifle potential.
    As an aside, Lewis didn’t merely attend one school before being privately tutored by Kirkpatrick, but Wynard (for 9 months), Campbell College in Belfast (for only 3 months) and thirdly, Cherbourg House in Malvern (again only lasting 9 months) before his father finally gave in and Kirkpatrick entered the Lewis story. I hope that helps clarify things.
    I intend to write a review of AN Wilson’s biography of Lewis – highly readable but very unsatisfying in many ways.

  3. Mike Taylor December 23, 2012 / 5:34 pm

    “The point of the post is not that schools are a bad idea.”

    No indeed! I’m sure no-one read it as saying that!

    I’ll be interested in what you have to say about the A. N. Wilson biography. I’ve not read it, and hesitate to spend good money on what turn out to be a mere hatchet-job.

  4. Simon Virgo November 1, 2016 / 9:37 pm

    Hi Lex! I hope you’re well. I’ve just read through your whole series of articles on Luther, which have been very enjoyable, as I’m in the early stages of preparing one or two lessons on the Reformation for my students at the secondary school where I’m teaching. Fitting that I should finish on this article, which has brought me great encouragement.

    Thanks so much for writing these posts; what a joy it’s been to read them. Almost feels like I’ve spent the last hour or so across the table from you. Wish I had!

    Every blessing,
    Simon (Virgo)

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