A few years ago, my husband and I bought an electric coffee percolator. We usually make a potful in the late morning, and spend our “coffee break” together before going back to whatever we’re working on. I had thought for awhile that it might be nice (and a bit Mitfordish) to grind our own beans, so when we saw not one but three different electric grinders at the thrift store, we picked out one that looked clean and sturdy. It even came in its original box, which we thought was a good sign.
However, packaging isn’t everything.
We bought a bag of coffee beans, watched someone’s “unboxing” video online, and prepared to grind. We plugged it in, the motor ran, and a few of the beans got a bit chewed up, but it obviously wasn’t working properly. Did we have one of the parts in upside down? Was anything jamming the works? No, everything seemed fine. My husband, ever ready with the screwdriver, took the thing apart, and he saw the problem: the drive shaft was broken, so the grinding burrs wouldn’t turn. It didn’t matter how clean or new it looked, what kind of coffee we used, or for what grind we set it. Without that main connection, the machine was useless. My husband snipped off the cord (those often come in handy) and put the rest aside as e-waste.
Is there an educational metaphor in a broken grinder? In a Herbartian view of education, we might ourselves be viewed as machines in need of replacement parts. Should we say that students (or other people) who lack drive are useless, and, worse, unrepairable? Perhaps yes to the first, but no to the second. Since we hold to a more organic view of the mind, we can also take confidence in the work of the Spirit that strengthens both our “drive” and our ability to connect, to see and form relationships.