Educating by Example: A Tribute to Dr. Lehman

Written by Avery Lacey

On a Saturday night during finals week, fifty students crammed into an off-campus house to honor the beloved Dr. Jeffrey Lehman, who taught his last semester at Hillsdale College the spring of 2019 and will assume the position of Professor of Humanities and Philosophy within the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts at the University of Dallas.

Dr. Lehman taught in the education department, but his expertise spans the disciplines. He teaches classes on Augustine, Plato, the quadrivium, and the philosophy of education. His teaching style is unique: each student completes a rigorous reading list and then comes to class ready to discuss. Dr. Lehman guides the conversation but refrains from lecture.

“[This Socratic style] engages the whole person by providing an occasion for active, attentive pursuit of the true, good, and beautiful through the give-and-take of philosophic conversation,” he said. A discussion-based class fosters a sense of discovery and wonder, accomplishing the most important job of a teacher, “to assist students in learning how to learn for themselves.”

It is Dr. Lehman’s character, though, that makes him particularly beloved by his students. “His whole life reflects the principles and convictions that are central to his classes,” said Natalie Taylor, ’19, who was inspired to pursue teaching after several classes with Dr. Lehman.

Helen Potter, ’20, found Dr. Lehman’s unique emphasis on kindness during seminar discussion compelling. “Dr. Lehman is simply one of the kindest people I have encountered. He inspired me to be a better student because I knew that he truly wanted me to grow as a person as a result of learning the material.”

Dr. Lehman exudes a sense of love to all students simply because they exist, not because of their ideas or accomplishments. This unconditional support gives students the freedom to take chances and fully express their thoughts.

“He makes me believe that I have something worthwhile to say,” said Joe Toates, ’20, regarding the writing process. “And so, all of a sudden I’m not so much concerned with the assignment as I am communicating my ideas well, which always produces better work anyway.”

By welcoming students into his home, helping them investigate favorite topics more deeply, and even praying for them, Dr. Lehman shows an interest in his students as real people. Lehman said, “I have enjoyed having students over to my home for visits of all sorts—study sessions for exams, ‘Trivial and Quadrivial Pursuit’ nights, dinners, movie nights, and holiday celebrations (especially Easter, always with a mandatory egg hunt).”

Dr. Lehman is thankful for his six years at Hillsdale and particularly grateful for relationships with Dr. David Whalen, Dr. Daniel Coupland, Dr. Benjamin Beier, and his many students. He treasured the chance to witness “students’ growth and maturity in understanding, confidence, humility, and charity.”

“My favorite memory,” Lehman said, “happened not long ago—the last time I taught Augustine the Teacher. While reading Augustine’s On the Trinity in class, we came upon a passage where the translator rendered what would more literally be ‘the way of charity’ as ‘Charity Street.’ It became a running joke in the class, and at the end of the semester the students pitched in to get me a ‘Charity St.’ street sign. I will never forget that delightful section of students and will display my street sign with pride in my office at the University of Dallas.”

Dr. Lehman looks forward to teaching seminarians, expanding his work on the classical quadrivium, and further developing his online liberal education resource guide, the Arts of Liberty Project. He will be missed around campus, but his legacy lives on in those students whose understanding of education is forever changed, and especially in those who will go on to teach and pass the gift of education they received to the next generation.


Avery LaceyAvery Lacey, ’20, studies philosophy, politics, and economics at Hillsdale. She avoids doing homework by volunteering, talking with friends, or determinedly hanging out at Baw Beese, no matter the temperature.


Published in September 2019