Teaching students not to fear

Excellent read:

It may be that some people inside higher education think students aren’t ready for college because they don’t know what they should know. Or students don’t come with the abilities we think they should already have. Or they don’t know how to learn. Or they can’t think critically. Or they don’t know correct grammar. Or they don’t know how to manage their time. All that may be true, but I believe none of it is going to be repaired if we don’t help them learn how to stop fearing questions, themselves and others.

None of our concerns about student readiness for college are ever going to be resolved if we don’t help students learn how to stop fearing questions, themselves and others, writes Laurence Musgrove.

Source: The importance of teaching students not to fear (essay)

The most helpful concept I’ve discovered in her teachings is “bodhichitta,” the ongoing consciousness of those who have developed the fearlessness necessary to extend compassion to one’s self so that it might be extended to others.

Chodron defines bodhichitta as the ready mind and compassionate heart capable of overcoming the fears we feel toward ourselves and others that often result in aggression, prejudice, despair and even indifference. According to her, those who dedicate themselves to training in bodhichitta are called “bodhisattvas or warriors — not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire. Training in the middle of the fire can mean that warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering. It also refers to their willingness to cut through personal reactivity and self-deception, to their dedication to uncovering the basic energy of bodhichitta.”

(emphasis mine)

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Schools and Rules: Channeling the challenge

This is another post in a series.  We’re thinking about how authority and rules (and challenges to those rules) should play out in a Grace-based classroom.  Earlier posts are right before this one if you want to catch up.

2. If you refuse to allow criticism or challenge within your classroom/school, you’re painting a huge target that says, “Faith is too fragile for everyday use.” 


One aspect of classical education pedagogy that I really appreciate is an understanding that kids go through different stages in their interaction with facts (and with the people who inform them of that information).  Your sweet, cuddly elementary school kid will go through a horrific transformation around age 12 and become… DUN DUN DUN … a teenager. (*insert terrifying music here*)  The rolled eyes, the sarcasm, the desire never to be seen within 100 feet of one’s parents, the arguing.

The arguing.

I like middle schoolers because they do like to challenge. And they challenge everything: your sock preferences, the weather, your reason for assigning the rest of a grammar exercise on a Wednesday night because that’s just how it worked out. (“But we never had Wednesday homework LAST YEAR!”)

One of the hallmarks of NCS upper school life has been a consistent practice among the faculty of treating the upper school students with the respect one gives adults, but not expecting them to live up to that standard of maturity. Kids are kids. But they’re becoming adults, and we need to move in that direction rapidly. They have questions, and most of the time at NCS, those questions reflect a legitimate desire to know and understand (rather than to rebel or undermine).

So we explain things a lot.  Nothing is off-limits in my theology, practice, rulebook, subject matter. I don’t assign work without having a specific purpose for the task. While I might not always explain why I assign what I do, I always can (and do when asked). I know what I’m teaching, why I put it in the curriculum, and why it’s beneficial.  The stuff that I couldn’t justify, I changed.

Sometimes that means my classroom rules are inconsistent with the policies of another teacher. That’s a great opportunity to teach “Not all people want the same thing, and you need to find out what’s expected of you by the person in charge” — a wonderful life skill. So I don’t particularly care for “answer in complete sentences” on my tests because I find it annoying to read a bunch of extra words that have nothing to do with the actual answer. I wrote the question; I don’t need you to remind me what I asked. Other teachers want short answers written into complete sentences. Great. Knock yourselves out.  I don’t need to change for their sake, and I certainly don’t expect them to adopt my policy. And every student I’ve ever taught has rapidly picked up on the differences among classes.

So what does this have to do with Faith?


When you aren’t willing to rise to the challenge, many people will assume you are afraid to engage their criticisms or that you do not have a valid reason for your position.  

Think about it.  You stop by the local magistrate to pay your speeding ticket and the lady behind the desk says, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept credit or debit cards. Did you bring cash or a check?” And we adults trudge back to our cars and drive down the road to find an ATM, cursing the local government using colorful adjectives. We assume the government policy makers are idiots. Who doesn’t take a credit/debit card in 2012? The traffic court. Why? I don’t know. South Carolina lawmakers have never impressed me with any sense of intelligence. There’s no reason they CAN’T change their policy…but they don’t.

Why do we expect kids to obey or believe without giving them justifiable cause?

Now, if you’ve put in the hours necessary to build a relationship with that kid; if you know them — really, truly know them — and have acted graciously toward them; if you love them in actions rather than in words alone, then a lot of teens will take your words to heart. You don’t have to offer a geometric or theological or philosophical proof for why you won’t let the kids go walking down to the gas station by themselves.  If he knows you usually have good reasons for what you ask, the boy won’t backtalk you when you yell “GET DOWN!” just before a football slams into his head on the playground.

But you have to build that trust.

The Christian Faith is a reasonable, justifiable, warranted belief. (Thank you, Al Plantinga.) God doesn’t strip us of our inquisitiveness and rational thought (part of the imago Dei IMHO).
Look at the Psalms. David (and the other psalmists) hit God with some rough questions. Why are the bad guys winning? Why am I suffering if I didn’t do anything wrong? Have You forgotten Your promises? Why do bad men abuse weak people? Don’t you feel ashamed for letting me look bad, God, in front of my — I mean, YOUR — enemies? 


Instead of being afraid of challenges, questions, and hard topics, embrace them.

If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Research it. Find an expert. Search the Scriptures. Get answers.

If you can’t justify your rule biblically, if it’s a rule that makes life convenient for adults, or if it’s not serving a clear, obvious purpose in your setting (one that extends from loving God or loving neighbor)– maybe the rule should go?

Up next — so, what about true rebellion?

Cross-posted to my personal blog

Doubting

Over Christmas my wife shared with me an article that I know is true, but it is good to see someone else put it in print. The gist of it is this: Young people tend to abandon their faith if they grow up in an environment that refuses to let them question that faith. If their parents, pastors, and teachers act defensive, shut them down, or even attack them when they try to raise doubts, they were compliant at home but left the faith once they grew up.

 Conversely, young people who were allowed to doubt, question,  and discuss the teachings of their faith tend to retain it as adults. If their parents, pastors, and teachers were honest about problems, open to criticism, and made it safe for kids to raise hard questions, those kids respected them and, through them, the faith they embrace. These kids may be more vocal about their doubts, but when they have  faith it is real and solid, not a sham to avoid conflict.
Inspired, I asked my high school Bible class to answer, anonymously, these four questions:
1. What is the best reason to doubt the Christian faith? 
2. What is the reason you most want to be a lifelong Christian? 
3. Why are many Christians hypocrites? 
4. What one question about the faith do you most want answered?
To my surprise, the majority answer to Question 1 was the lack of evidence supporting the Bible or personal faith. Answers to Question 2 revolved around wanting to be loved and not wanting to go to Hell.
Question 3 brought a variety of answers, such as the need to feel better by condemning others, fear of losing community, and simple emulation—most Christians they know are hypocrites so it must be the right way.
Half the answers to question 4 either restated concerns about the lack of evidence or raised some issue about the goodness of God. The other half were unique, some highly personal.
These answers support the article in at least one way, that is to show that your children have serious, thoughtful questions about the faith. It is foolish to squelch those questions or to pretend that they have easy answers. Trust that God is strong enough to handle doubts and loving enough to resolve them in His time.

Dabney, On Education … and a Question

This isn’t a long read, though the sentences have the density of fruitcake. 🙂

WORLD Magazine: Dabney’s Day
It’s a long, interesting quote about the inability of a state-run, public school system to educate in a true sense of the word, as long as that state-run system cannot offer a Christian perspective as the foundation of the education.

Here is his final paragraph (of the quoted passage):

“But farther: Why do people wish the State to interfere in educating? Because she has the power, the revenues to do it better. Then, unless her intervention is to be a cheat, her secularized teaching must be some very impressive thing. Then its impression, which is to be non-Christian, according to the theory, will be too preponderant in the youth’s soul, to be counterpoised by the feebler inculcation of the seventh day. The natural heart is carnal, and leans to the secular and away from the gospel truths…. In a word, to the successful pupil under an efficient teacher, the school is his world. Make that godless, and his life is made godless.

Agree? Disagree?

Does Dabney’s argument actually support the mission of Christian teachers to “redeem” the public system one classroom at a time?