I am starting this year by asking students to change one of the most important liturgies of the classroom—what they call me. As David Smith has taught us, if we want to engage in Christian teaching, we need to interrogate all of our classroom liturgies through a Christian perspective. In this age of identity, the most important thing we do is identify ourselves. Thus, I am hoping to change the identity students use to identify me. Rather than my professional titles, I am asking them to use an identity revealed in scripture (Col. 1:2) and utilized most often in the black church. Here is the e-mail I sent to students on the first day of class:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am writing a somewhat odd e-mail, but it relates directly to Christian education and what I hope to accomplish this semester. In light of recent events and numerous conversations, I have increasingly come to the conviction that helping students understand each other’s primary identities is one of the most important things we do. Soviet educators understood this point and required everyone to call each other “Tovarisch” or “Comrade” (i.e., we are all equal comrades in the socialist revolution). Rather than a national identity, however, I think learning how to have the Christian identity shape our other identities is one of the most important things we do. Consequently, I’m going to ask you to learn a new habit when you use my name. Instead of Dr. Glanzer, I would encourage you to call me, “Brother Perry” (i.e., we are all brothers and sisters in Christ—Col. 1:2).
Interestingly, this is a practice the black church uses to encourage a kind of equality in Christ. The doctor and janitor, the young and the old, the wealthy and the poor are all sisters and brothers in Christ. Unlike the woke mob, I will not force this change upon you, and if anyone feels uncomfortable calling me “Brother Perry” for various reasons (e.g., my real brother bullied me all the time or my ethnic/southern cultural upbringing makes this seem disrespectful), please feel free to use Dr. Glanzer. However, I would encourage you to think through that discomfort and interrogate your past identity influences to see whether certain fallen elements determine your comfort level with using that phrase. It will feel odd at first, but I think that oddness and discomfort will be a helpful pedagogical reminder of who we really are, first and foremost. It also is an identity that should not just be contemplated and used in church.
Of course, if you come to discuss a grade, just because I am first and foremost Brother Perry, please remember I am also still Dr. Glanzer. It’s just not my most important identity. In fact, remembering who you are in Christ should help with grading, because it reminds you that no matter whether you have achieved or fallen short of the standards for excellence established in the class, your ultimate worth is not derived from that evaluation.
Grace and Peace,
I have spent years resisting trying this practice due to my comfort of living in the more hierarchical professional story. I like having some professional distance with students, especially when it comes to grades. Thus, even though at casual University of Southern California I used to call my professors by their first name, I tended to let my largely Southern students call me Professor or Doctor Glanzer. I now realize I want them to see me as more than a professor, and first and foremost as a fellow brother in Christ.
For more on Christian teaching see:
On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom
by: David I. Smith
The Outrageous Idea of Christian Teaching
by: Perry L. Glanzer & Nathan F. Alleman
The Integration of Christian Theological Traditions into the Classroom: A Survey of CCCU Faculty
A CSR Article by: By Nathan F. Alleman, Perry L. Glanzer and David S. Guthrie