While debates rage about cuts to school funding, performance-based pay for teachers and the value of a humanities degree over a technical degree, USM Professor of Philosophy Jeremiah Conway’s new book cuts through the rhetoric to the heart of the matter: how teaching transforms the lives of students and teachers.
“The Alchemy of Teaching: The Transformation of Lives” now available from Sentient Publications, should be a required reading in all introductory college courses according to a USM senior. Each of Conway’s seven chapters are devoted to a particular student—the gifted transfer student who dissolves in tears during a discussion about Plato’s “Republic”; the shy student unable to find anything at all to say about Dicken’s “Hard Times” finally coming through at the last moment with a powerful presentation; the senior citizen determined to finish her semester after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor—who were influenced by Conway and have influenced the way he teaches.
Author and educator Parker J. Palmer wrote, “This book is for teachers at all levels who are hungry to be reminded that teaching is a privilege and lives are at stake in it, students who want an education that is more than job training, and all who are concerned with the educator’s role in developing the whole person.”
Conway did not write a how-to-teach text. Rather, he reminds readers why one becomes a teacher or a student. He warns about, “the decay of teaching into sheer habit, the living death of merely going through the motions,” while admitting, “… moments of real teaching often resemble debacles.” Each of his chapters ends inspirationally with the student, the class and Conway himself witnesses to magical classroom experiences. He argues that all teachers need to do more than merely instruct and need to challenge, create interest, give attention, and encourage students to push themselves beyond their limits. The emotional exchange between teachers and students that results is essential for the attainment he describes. An education is more than the storage of information, it is, “the transformation of lives.”
Conway is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern Maine where he is a multiple recipient of the university’s Outstanding Teaching Award. He also has published extensively on philosophy, teaching, and his experiences with students. He is a resident of Portland.
USM’s Portland Bookstore will celebrate the release of Conway’s book with a reading and book signing from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 21. The event is free and open to the public. For more information about the reading, call Barbara Kelly at 207-780-4072.