My Thanks

by David Crabtree


As you know, I have stepped down as president of Gutenberg College. This will be a big change for me. I have been at Gutenberg a long time, and I suspect there will be days when I am out and about and I will be suddenly stricken with panic thinking I should be teaching a class right now.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to a number of people who have contributed to Gutenberg in a wide variety of ways over a long period of time and have made it possible for the college to come into being and accomplish what it has accomplished.

First, I would like to thank our donors and supporters. Gutenberg could not exist without the generous and faithful support of its donors. Some of our donors have given regularly for decades now. I appreciate very much what you have done. There has also been prayer, moral support, and volunteer labor. All of these things are more important than is generally recognized. Those kinds of support are particularly helpful during times when morale is flagging, and we have had some such times.

Second, I would like to thank our students, both past and present. One of the things that attracted me to the idea of Gutenberg was that it was so well suited to my understanding of what it means to be a teacher. Before Gutenberg came into existence, this organization existed as McKenzie Study Center. Many of the courses offered by McKenzie Study Center were designed for the Christian community of Eugene-Springfield. They were generally offered without cost to the participants and were nine or ten weeks in duration. Students felt free to attend as many or as few of the individual class sessions as they wanted, and often the number of students in any given class would be higher at the start of the quarter and then gradually decrease as the quarter progressed. In that setting, I felt like every class was a performance. I had to be entertaining or else people wouldn’t come back the next week. But I was not made to be a performer, and I did not like that kind of pressure.

I once heard Sting of the Police, when he was working on a collaborative project with some jazz musicians, talk about the difference between playing rock music and playing jazz. He said that when you are playing rock music you have to come out blazing hot from the first note. When you are playing jazz you work up to a crescendo over several minutes. Given that difference, I am not a rock teacher; I am a jazz teacher. I like to teach in the context of a relationship, where, over time, I can get to know the student and the student can get to know me, and together we can improve our skills and knowledge of the subject at hand.

When I teach, it is a very symbiotic relationship. I feed off the energy and interest of the students. When I can sense that the students are interested in the topic, that energizes me. So the thought of teaching in an environment where the thing that brings us together is a genuine love of learning has always been attractive to me.

Gutenberg has provided that kind of opportunity. That is not to say that students come to Gutenberg with a genuine love of learning. They come with some level of curiosity and interest, but they are not ready to deal with the questions of human existence with the gravity and profundity that such questions require. However, over the course of four years, most students go through a steady progression from mild interest to greater interest to sensing the life changing nature of what is being discussed. And as they go through this progression, you can see the change in their faces. You see their faces light up and then get increasingly brighter. I love teaching in that kind of setting; teaching ceases to be a performance and becomes something more akin to fellowship. Over the years there have been many students whose faces lit up. I am especially thankful that they chose to come to Gutenberg and that I had the privilege of working with them.    (continued)

Third, I would like to thank the retiring members of the board of Governors of Gutenberg College. They have had the ultimate responsibility of oversight of this institution. They have been my “boss”; they are the ones to whom I had to answer. They have provided me with valuable advice and counsel over a long period of time. We have worked through many very difficult decisions together, and they have always been very supportive and encouraging to me personally. It is unusual to find a group of men who are so principled. I would not have been able to do my job without them.

And finally, I would like to thank the tutors. As I have said many times, and as I continue to believe, the tutors are the heart of Gutenberg College. The tutors are what make Gutenberg so impactful. The tutors are the ones who interact with students on a day-to-day basis, and the way that they interact with the students creates the environment which is so distinctive. Our tutors have two qualities that are of critical importance. First, they understand that teaching our students is not a job; it is a calling and a privilege. Second, they understand that students are more than “valued customers.” They are people with souls. And a soul is a precious and mysterious thing. As such, it must be treated with respect, gentleness, and humility. Our tutors understand this and do this well. I would like to thank them for many years of doing Gutenberg with me.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the labor of two of our tutors, who are also stepping down at this time.

Dick Booster has had two of the hardest and most thankless assignments in Gutenberg. He has served as a tutor teaching Classical Greek and also as vice president.

Few people recognize the unique challenges that are faced when teaching Greek in the Gutenberg curriculum. In a typical college, students only take Classical Greek if they choose to do so. And if they get started learning Greek and then decide that they don’t want to continue, they just drop the course. As a result, the Greek classes are only populated with students who have aptitude and interest in learning Greek.

At Gutenberg, every student must take two years of Classical Greek whether he or she has aptitude and interest or not. So not only must the tutor figure out how to bring along those with little aptitude or interest, he must also deal with the fact that he will have students who are gifted with respect to languages and those who are not in the same classroom. This creates a very difficult set of challenges.

Furthermore, the Greek courses are unique in our curriculum, in that they require the students to learn new material on a daily basis over a two-year period. If they do not do their work regularly and faithfully, they will not succeed in learning Greek. There is no other course in the Gutenberg curriculum that requires so much discipline on the part of the student. This is one of the reasons I think Greek is such an important part of the Gutenberg education. It has therefore fallen to Dick to be the disciplinarian and to hold students responsible for doing the day-to-day learning.

On the administrative side, Dick has been our vice president, charged with the task of keeping track of our money. One would think that with so little, that would be an easy job. But he was required to keep track of both the money we had and the money we didn’t have—and there has been lots of that.

Keeping the books was not Dick’s first choice of ways to spend his time. But we needed someone to do it, and Dick accepted the task. He taught himself how to do what needed to be done, and he did it very competently. I am very grateful for his years of faithful and selfless service.

The other tutor who is stepping down at this time is Jack Crabtree. Jack has made a huge contribution to Gutenberg College. He has the gift of being able to present very clear explanations of very difficult issues. He is also capable of very nuanced thinking, and our students have learned a lot by interacting with him on a wide range of issues, but his knowledge of philosophy is particularly impressive.

Jack has two qualities as a tutor that particularly stand out in my mind. First, he is great at answering questions. I remember way back to a course on biblical exegesis that he taught in California. He would give a lecture, and then at the end he would open the class up for questions. That was the best part of the class. He was so good at answering questions that people would come just for that part of the class. He is even good at answering bad questions. If someone asks a clumsy or ill-formed question, he is able to answer it in such a way that people come away thinking it was a great question.

Jack has also been extremely available with his time for students. He has always been very willing to go out to coffee with anyone at anytime to talk about anything. Many students have taken him up on this availability. And I have marveled at the fact that Jack was always the last one to leave second discussion on Friday afternoons. He would stay until the last student asked the last question. Jack’s contribution to Gutenberg has been enormous. I am very grateful for all he has done.

I wish Chris Swanson, Gutenberg’s new president, and those working with him on the transition team well. I hope they will be able to get Gutenberg on firm financial footing, so that it can continue operations on into the future. And I hope the next year goes well for students and staff.

God be with you.

 

Copyright September 2016 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

David Crabtree