As a teacher, Ted Ward valued and practiced holistic inquiry into truth, learning in community, and responsible service (not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake). He was one of the chief influences on my life.
A Different View of Education: I will not forget my first seminar as a new doctoral student with Ted. My notion of a teacher was that of a “sage” and I thought of a good student as one who passively receives wisdom. When I saw other seminar participants engaging passionately with the material and with each other, I quickly realized that I was experiencing a totally new model of learning. I thought, “I’d better say something or Ted will wonder why he accepted me into the doctoral program.” I blurted out something and Ted immediately responded with care. He then commended me for my contribution. I felt as though Ted was holding my hand, allaying my fears and inviting me to contribute to the marketplace of ideas. That day, I found my voice!2
Teaching is enabling others to discover truth for themselves. A teacher guides toward resources and facilitates the birth of ideas. In Ted’s seminars, we would read texts in advance and come prepared to engage. Working in small groups, we would critique and debate ideas. It was not uncommon for the class to develop new paradigms and models.
Ted was a prolific author and he required us to be familiar with precedent literature in the field. However, for Ted, knowledge is found not only in textbooks, but also in life experiences. He often encouraged “reflective praxis” (an action-reflection feedback loop), and believed that examined experience leads to wisdom. Many in the doctoral program had significant years in ministry and Ted encouraged maintaining a dialectic between what we read and our life experiences.
Ted developed the “rail fence” model while at Michigan State University. In this model, knowledge and experience form the top and bottom rails of the fence. From his research on effective professional development, he found that the best programs were those that integrated learning (knowledge) with the actual life situations of learners. We recognized this model in Ted’s seminars.
Most adults are “self-motivated” learners. They seek immediate application and prefer “transformational learning” in contrast to the “informational learning” of younger learners.3 Ted often reminded us that learners’ questions and contexts are a window to their needs.
Once I met a missionary on furlough in Chicago after several years in an African country. When he found out that I was studying with Ted, he touched my shoulder many times (as though I was a precious commodity). He told me that Ted was one of the most amazing teachers he had ever met. He described a conference in Africa where, before saying anything, Ted had asked the missionaries what issues and challenges they were facing. After hearing them out, he gave his presentation. The missionary told me he had never met a teacher who was so courageous.
Education in Community: Another critical value evident in Ted’s pedagogy is “community.” Trinitarian theology and the Church as Body of Christ are critical foundations in Ted’s educational philosophy. For Ted, education cannot take place without a good relationship between instructor and learners. We used first names with him and other professors in the doctoral program. He reminded us that we were colleagues in learning and ministry.
Ted and Margaret invited the doctoral students to their home at the beginning of the semester. Every faculty member in the program would be there (with spouses if married). Ted reiterated the values of the program and we would get to know each over dessert and coffee. Friendships with our professors and colleagues persisted long after we graduated.
Ted cared for us. We were treated as his brothers and sisters, and he would do whatever he could to help us succeed. I will not forget a time when I was stuck in my data analysis for my doctoral thesis and could not proceed. I called Ted and asked if I could consult with him at his home. When I arrived, he had a cup of coffee for me, and he spent about an hour reviewing and clarifying my issues, with suggestions for a way forward. I told him later, “Ted, coming to see you is like visiting the doctor’s office. Even though I still have my problem, I am already feeling much better.” He laughed.
As a learning community, we at Trinity engaged in collaborative learning. Ted expected us to help one another. He encouraged major joint projects, and we regularly shared resources and ideas. Ted criticized Christian higher education for its solitary nature – students would often study and research on their own. However, ministry is most often a team effort. Ted warned that if we had not learned collaborative work, it could lead to disastrous results in life and ministry.
One important room in the doctoral wing at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School was the “doctoral reading room” set aside for our doctoral student community. We often ate lunch together and continued our seminar discussions there, sharing ideas for research projects and socializing.
Integrated Learning Pursuits: The third value I learned from Ted is the integration of theology and social science in a holistic search for truth. Ted famously said that oftentimes, “Christian education is neither.” It is not “Christian” when teachers unwittingly embrace practices that may be antithetical to biblical principles of teaching; it is not “educational” because many teachers are ignorant of sound educational theory.
One of Ted’s favorite passages is Psalm 19, which speaks of God’s self-revelation in the Word and in the world. With his conviction that “all truth is part of God’s truth,” Ted modeled a holistic search for truth. He rejected a “sacred-secular” division in the academy and encouraged us to find links between internal (disciplinary) and external (broader) truths, which both belong to God.
Given that all truth is God’s truth, there needs to be as great a concern in “rightly dividing the general revelation” as in “rightly dividing the Word.” The world is much more truth-oriented toward the things [of general revelation] with which we are most casual, and so we often violate “their truth” while promoting “our truth.” We don’t get growth and honor God by mishandling the truth that he has revealed. We can’t manipulate, suppress or be casual about truth in either domain.4
Ted would often begin a seminar with a meditation on Scripture – reflecting not as a Bible scholar, but as an educator and social scientist. If we were discussing educational philosophy, he would inquire into Christ’s model of teaching and the theology of the human person. If we were learning about leadership, he would look at the biblical principles governing leadership. If discussing human growth and development, Ted would bring insights from developmental psychology, but he would also offer a theological critique. Ted brought ethnographic research into our doctoral program, fully convinced that pastors, educators and missionaries needed those tools to exegete culture.
I like to think that I am carrying on Ted’s legacy – his values and practices – in my own teaching.5 He taught me to always remember that students are people made in the image of God and are to be respected for their rationality, creativity, and rich life experiences. Teaching is to enable learners to develop their own framework of intellectual commitments, so they can judge among
2 David Tracy (1987) notes that theological education involves “genuine conversation” with “hard rules” that include speaking and defending one’s ideas,
3 Sharan Merriam et al., Learning in Adulthood (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 130.
4 Ted Ward, “Ethnographic Research Methods,” (Deerfield, IL: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), 1993.
5 For a detailed description of how I structure and teach my classes, see Yau Man Siew, “Fostering Community and a Culture of Learning in Seminary Classrooms: A Personal Journey,” Christian Education Journal 3, no. 1 (2006), 79-91.
Merriam, Sharan, Rosemary Caffarella and Lisa Baumgartner. Learning in Adulthood. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006.
Simoniatis, Susan. “Teaching as Conversation” The Scope of Our Art: The Vocation of the Theological Teacher. Ed. L. Gregory Jones and Stephanie Paulsell. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. 99-119.
Tracy, David. Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1987.
Ward, Ted. “Ethnographic Research Methods.” Deerfield, IL: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1993.Lecture.