Madeleine L’Engle on Teaching

Madeline L’Engle (November 29, 1918 – September 6, 2007), Wrinkle In Time author and Ohio State writer-in-residence, with some good words for teachers and students, ministers and congregations, parents and children; maybe most of us:

The best way to guide children without coercion is to be ourselves. Sometimes we can fool adults about what we are; it’s not so easy with children; they’re going to see through us, no matter how elaborate our defenses. But this is one reason they’re so exciting to work with; their vision is still clear.

Phillips Brooks said that “preaching is truth mediated by personality.” Surely one can substitute teaching for preaching. It’s what makes teaching and preaching and writing an activity of a human being instead of a machine.

One morning in Ohio someone brought up the separation of church and state, and the fact that hymns and prayers are now forbidden in public schools….

“But,” I found myself saying, “you will find that you cannot help teaching children your own religion, whatever it is. If you are an athiest, that wil be clear to them, even if you think you’re teaching nothing but social studies. If a belief in God motivates your life, the children are going to know that, too, whether you ever mention God or not. If you are more interested in money than anything else, that’s not going to escape them. You’ve got to accept the fact that you are basically not teaching a subject, you are teaching children. Subjects can probably be better taught by machines than by you. But if we teach our children only by machines, what will we get? Little machines. They need you, you as persons.” And I quoted Emerson: “What you are speaks so loudly over your head that I cannot hear what you say.”

L’Engle with her granddaughters, 1976 (NPR)

So I know, with a sense of responsibility that hits me with a cold fist in the pit of my stomach, that what I am is going to make more difference to my own children and those I talk to and teach than anything I tell them.

A Circle of Quiet, 155-156


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