The End of the Lectern
I feel rather undressed without a lectern in a classroom or without a good solid pulpit in a church. (Do not give me a music stand! These contraptions cannot even support the weight of a good-sized Bible.) This affection for the lectern is not merely an idiosyncrasy on my part (I hope). The solid object from which a teacher or preacher speaks serves as the anchor for one’s notes, books, and articles. It provides a center point for engaging the class with the voice and the documents. Without a lectern, one loses this point of focus and gravity. One is reduced to standing directly in front of the class, perhaps holding one’s notes in one’s hand and grabbing a book off to the side once in a while. It is not good.
Of course, the lectern is disappearing because of the domination of the computer in teaching. People are punching keys and producing PowerPoint presentations. The teacher, her words, and her documents are left behind. But I do not use these means to my ends simply because they would not serve them. The teaching of philosophy is necessarily oriented toward words, written and spoken. Most philosophical concepts are not amenable to presentation in images—outside of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” but even there, the abstract concepts are more significant than a nifty graphic (in full color or even animation) of the prisoners, the cave, the fire, the images on the wall, and so on.
The end of the lectern—in the sense of telos—is to concentrate thought through lecture and discussion at a fixed point. It provides a grounding or bearing for one’s prepared material. Of course, the object itself does not insure that ratiocination will break out like a happy contagion throughout the class. Yet there is a philosophy of pedagogy built into the lectern. Behind it should stand a person who should be there, who is at home there, who has studied well in preparation (Titus 2:7-8), who wants to teach, and who is thereby authorized to stand at the center of attention in order to initiate, stimulate, and orchestrate philosophical thought in his or her students. The teacher stands behind an object on which are placed texts, notes, or articles. The one teaching is the one who has learned, and who takes those objects of learning with her into the classroom, not as incidental items, but as favored artifacts of inscribed thought.
But the end of the lectern—in the sense of its extinction or endangerment—makes all of the educational sensibilities just discussed more difficult to engender. What does it say about our culture’s view of pedagogy, authority, truth, rationality, and personality? I suggest we need a bully pulpit to advocate for the return of the lectern.