What can writers learn from hockey players?

A great article about what writing teachers can learn from street hockey games: that over-engineering lessons takes not only the fun out of students’ learning, it robs students of the freedom and responsibility to own their own learning:

I’m starting to think that my assignments are over-engineered.

Source: The Benefits of Disorganized Learning | Just Visiting by John Warner

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It’s not actually about "triggers"

The Atlantic ran a piece last week that’s sure to be controversial. The columnist focused on the rise among college faculty (though I’m sure this is happening in high schools too) of labeling syllabi with “trigger warnings” and offering students exemptions from material they find potentially, personally difficult to handle.

“Empathetically Correct is the new Politically Correct” (The Atlantic)

While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.

I understand the tension between pulling students into material that’s difficult, material they otherwise would not choose for themselves.  I’ve seen Story work its transforming power in the hearts of students pummeled by their personal tragedies — abuse, neglect, rape, broken relationships, suicide, depression.   I’ve also seen students start to shut down during a classroom discussion because I wasn’t paying enough attention or thinking ahead about how their interpersonal stories might mix with the literature to create a toxic environment.

The classroom should be challenging, enriching, even uncomfortable at times — but also safe, nurturing, and caring.

I wonder if one of the mechanisms at work is that high school teachers spend many more hours with their students, so they tend to be more naturally aware of “triggers,” while higher ed faculty (especially when they’re teaching underclassmen) may have very little knowledge of the individuals who make up their classes.

My struggling students were all Christian school kids in a place where we emphasized the Gospel, Grace, and dealing with the world head-on (not hiding from it). I saw my role as teacher to know my students well enough that I hoped I could divert a discussion before it truly became a trigger.

 The foundation of teacher-student relationship formed the basis of a learning community that could actually work through tragedy rather than just tiptoeing around it.

Perhaps higher education fails to nurture a similar connection between the average underaged and her professors. In smaller colleges, professors can build those bridges and make quick adjustments rather than having to list out every potential “threat.” They can judge whether a student is actually being pushed over the edge vs students taking an offered excuse to avoid the difficult. But I can’t imagine a 50-student English lecture class having that level of relationship.

The old saying warns, “If you only own a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I don’t want to imply that all problems can be solved by building relationships.  But some could be averted.

We make rules and politics because we try to use procedures to fix what are essentially human problems.  We’re all broken.  The problem isn’t so much the trigger; it’s the need for humans to live within nurturing, caring communities where their brokenness can be healed, not condemned or exploited or — just as bad — ignored.

The Call to Higher Mercy

Doing Much Ado About Nothing as a faculty play and teaching it to my English classes has provoked a lot of great discussions lately.

Recently, my junior/senior AP students were discussing the crisis point in the play where Claudio chooses to defame Hero publicly at the altar for being unfaithful to him (so he thinks, thanks to Don John’s deception).

I asked my students whether Claudio had the “right” to defame and reject Hero for her “infidelity.”

Ironically, Claudio focuses his attack on Hero’s immorality (not a betrayal of their relationship) …. yet he is truly immoral to attack Hero and her family in such a public forum as their wedding ceremony. Our school (tries) to live by Matthew 18 – begin all conflict resolution by first talking in private to the person who has wronged you. All my students recognized Claudio’s error straight off.

But setting aside for the moment Claudio’s mishandling of the situation — would a “better” man have taken a different course than rejection?

Our discussion quickly moved into the uncomfortable realm of the personal: When facing betrayal, we all whip out the knife. Mercy goes out the window, and we claim the moral high ground. The betrayer deserves no mercy. Take no prisoners. Kill them all.

We all shifted awkwardly in our chairs when considering real-life applications:
–Can trust be “rebuilt,” or are some sins “too big” to actually forgive?
–Is marriage more than love and sex?
–Can we honestly tell people on one hand “God will forgive any sin,” yet set young people up for failure by making virginity such an idol? Once someone has lost it, they might as well just keep sleeping around…. the prize has been lost.That’s a natural conclusion from our practical theology.
–Would you marry a girl/guy who had already lost their virginity — and repented? Whew. That was a tough one….
Our talk finally made its way to the book of Hosea. The story is famous — To illustrate Israel’s horrible infidelity, God ordered His prophet Hosea to marry a woman prone to adultery (at best …or perhaps a straight-up prostitute). Predictably, Gomer cheated on Hosea … left him …. he took her back, somehow. God made His point — He’d been taking Israel back countless times.

We all read Hosea, nod, and say, “Yes. That’s right. I hate it when people betray my love. But, praise be to God, I am big enough to offer mercy.”

How we have missed the point!

I am the prostitute in that story.
I am the whore.
God takes me back, again and again and again.
I sin, and He forgives. I do it again; He forgives. Repeat…

I asked my students if they have walked long enough yet with God to get a glimpse of that truth.
The pious answer is “yes,” but one or two brave souls were willing to admit they weren’t there yet.

My friends, we are all Claudios.