Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why I Teach!, or My Desire to See the End of High School Education

My "Job"
I am a High School teacher.  I teach History and Bible at a small Christian school in southern California.  I absolutely love it.  As far as I know, there is no better job in the world.  I am able to be an integral part in so many minds, at such a formative age.  To see these minds grow and learn to glorify the Creator is a true joy in life.

The job is not without its issues however.  Many students do not care as I care.  They do not find interest in Thoreau or Chaucer, revolution after revolution: French, Glorious or Industrial, mitochondria or rough ER, physics: theoretical or applied.  Many do not see the joy of debating the ideas of existentialism versus nihilism, and they thus do not see the connection between the two.  Even when it comes to knowing the God of the universe, they do not share my enthusiasm for delving deep into the great mystery, to know Him better, and thus to understand ourselves in deeper and truer ways, to find true beauty before all other beauty, and to learn to love the good and the true.

The Problem
Sometimes the students only sleep through class, if not literally, then at least mindlessly.  These students hurt my heart, because they are missing out.
Those students, however, do not nearly make me as sad as the student who finds their only motivation to learn is to "get an 'A.'"  This student does well in class, maybe too well.  When they have graduated, they will have earned all the awards, but not learned who they are.  They might be looking toward getting that "good job," but they have no love of learning.  They might find a way to make a lot of money, but the pursuit will not make them satisfied.

I hate grades!  I hate to give them, I hate to get them.  But I'm told I have to give them.  They do not make sense to me.  Isn't the education I give supposed to help a student discover themselves, and find true joy (or at least the classical idea of happiness)?  How do these grades motivate the student to delve into their own psyche, or even soul, and investigate what makes them tick?  How do grades help them communicate with God?

Grades give an artificial barometer of a student's progress. They give us something to reach, something which will not satisfy.   When you get the 'A' there is always someone smarter than you.  Or even if not someone smarter than you, another school has someone else smarter than you.  Or even if you are the smartest, there will always be another 'A' to reach.  When will this satisfy?

A Broken System
Our whole system of education seems broken.  From the very beginning, we tell students they need to go to school to get into a "good" college.  They may ask, "Why?"  To which we respond, to get a "good" job. "Why?"  To support your family.  "Why?"  So, they can get a "good" education.  Uh, oh, the cycle begins again.

I think our students are asking the wrong questions.  Instead of asking "why," they should be asking "what."  What do the teachers mean when they say "'good' education?" Or job?  Does making money seem all that good?  Is making money enough to satisfy?  I know too many people with money or "good" jobs to know these are not sufficient roads to happiness, as well-traveled as they may be.

When did a liberal arts education become about making money?  I seem to remember Universities developing to try to make sense of the world.  They were looking to find the Unity in the Diversity.  This means a liberal arts education was not a means to an end, but instead an end in itself.  It was about finding one's place in the world, and living a full, well-rounded human life.  This full life would lead to happiness, because we would be living in harmony with our purpose.

Why I Seek to End High School Education
High school education today is involuntary, and, it seems to me, it gives promises it cannot keep.  Now, realize, I do not actually want all HSE to end.  I just would love to see us stop lying to ourselves about it.  HSE makes promises it cannot keep, we tell you an "A" will make you happy, or the right college will make your life right, but they will not.

Instead, I would love to foster a love for learning, in all its glory.  This would mean a student who does not enjoy history, would not have to take my class.  I am now walking on thin ice, because most students do not enjoy history.  This could mean my job would no longer be needed, because no students signed up for my class.  I feel it would be worth the risk.  Let me give you one example why:

I had a student who typifies my struggle with our educational system.  He was extremely bright, exceedingly polite, exorbitantly astute, and enormously motivated.  However, if I engaged him in a conversation of any real depth, he was candid about his motives and perceptions.  "I just need the 'A'" or "Why does this matter to me?" are typical of the statements and questions he made.  He was pressured by the system (and his parents) to learn things in which he saw no value.  Unfortunately, this means he memorized trivia, and never learned any lessons and therefore never grew.  (Coincidently, his parents seemed to act this same way, and although fairly wealthy, they were no closer to living happy or satisfied lives. Interestingly, they were the ones always pushing for extra credit.)

This is akin to the student who asks the calculus teacher, "I'm not gonna be a rocket scientist, when will this show up in my life?"  This is a student working for a paycheck, before a paycheck is even reachable.

What makes us think the student will suddenly find satisfaction when they reach the workplace?  Many are the drones who work to find a paycheck, but never find happiness.  These drones do not work for honey, but instead the weekend.

My Solution (A Work in Progress)
I propose we seek to help students find out who they are, not memorize trivia.  This requires several things:
1. It requires teachers who love what they do.  They are not in the career for the paycheck, but instead to mold minds into harmony with their purpose.
2. It requires less emphasis on grades, especially from parents.  Grades are wonderful for measuring your memorization, yet horrible for measuring a life well-lived.
3. It requires a knowledge of the one true God.  All knowledge finds its home in the Creator, thus any system of education which does not find its center in God will not fill any heart.
4. It requires us to let students have more responsibility at an earlier age.  Students whose lives are forced upon them by parents and teachers do not have time to think deeply about who they are.  To truly learn one's desires and inner workings requires the ability to make mistakes and learn from them.  I know of way too many students who are allowed to stay a Toys 'R' Us kid well into their 20s and sometimes even 30s.  How do we expect them to grow up if we don't baby them?
5. It requires lots and lots of time.  The education I propose is based around relationships.  Unfortunately, this is much more time consuming than trivia and thus most people would rather be lazy.
6. It requires lots and lots of prayer.

P.S.-- A Side Benefit, Avoiding Alex Trebek Syndrome
My dad loves Jeopardy.  I have to admit, I enjoy the show as well.  However, I have real problems with Alex Trebek and others like him.  I call these people 'smug memorizers.'  Alex is always so condescending to people who get wrong answers, because Jeopardy is a results driven show.  In a Jeopardy world, there is no room for growth, because we are only as good as our last correct answer. Thus, those who do not have the answers are looked down upon.

But a world in which we spend our time in relationship, and thus we find our worth in our growth and treatment of others as an act of worship to our Father, avoids the 'smug memorizers' which keep people trapped into boxes in which they do not fit.

Here is a link to a person who thinks somewhat similarly to me:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Quick Post: Jesus as Savior for All in the Birth Narratives

 Evidence of the Birth of Christ as Precursor to Saving the World

It is impossible to read through the narrative of the birth of Christ without seeing it was intended for Jesus to be the savior of the whole world, not only the Jews.  It is clear throughout the narrative that Jesus was going to be the Messiah, although many times it seems that he is only the savior for the Jews.  Verses such as Luke 1:32-33, 46-55, 68-69, 71, 74, 77, 2:38, and Matthew 1:21-23, and 2:6 all point to a savior of the Jews coming to earth, and that Jesus was this savior.
However, it is also clear this salvation was not only for the Jews.  In Luke 2:8-20, the angels announce the birth of Jesus, commenting in verses 10 and 11 that Jesus was/is a source of “great joy which shall be for all the people” for he was born “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  The angels then sing in verse 14, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Coupled with the above verse we can see that Jesus would be peace for all who were saved.  It is also telling, that peace with our fellow man follows after God is pleased and glorified.
Later, a man named Simeon tells of the salvation of the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, in Luke 2:29-32.  This shows the salvation was not reserved for the Jews, but instead for all that would please God, which we find out later in the Gospels happens by trusting in Jesus as savior.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In the Fullness of Time-- Christ's Impeccable Timing

One of the themes of the NT narrative is the idea that Christ arrived on the scene just at the right time.  He wasn't too early, he wasn't late.  Instead, he came when the world was ready, even ripe, for the truth he brought.  This idea can be found in the NT in passages such as Mark 1:15, Gal 4:4, Eph 1:10, 1 Tim 2:6, and Titus 1:3.

When one studies the historical context surrounding the entrance of Christ, we find indeed, the best possible time for the entrance of the incarnated Son of God was around AD 3-4.

There are 3 main reasons for this.

The World was Prepared Politically
Since the "known world" was conquered by the Romans, the world was politically stable enough to receive Christ.  The Romans had enforced a peace enabling Jesus to carry out his ministry, and subsequently the peace also enabled the spread of the Gospel.

Many people had immigrated to the cities, where ideas were being exchanged freely in the melting pot of the cultures.  This meant Jesus would be heard in the cities as another voice.  Thus many nations would quickly hear about the teachings of Christ.

Not to be overlooked, the Romans also established an extensive system of roads.  These roads made it possible for easier travel between cities.  It also helped the authorities enforce laws and thus reduce thievery of travelers.

All in all Rome created a safe haven for the spread of  the Gospel.

The World was Prepared Intellectually
When Alexander the Great had conquered the "world" he did something very beneficial to the ministry of Christ.  Having died in 323 B.C. Alexander left the world more "greek" than it was before he had conquered it.  One of his goals was to make the world "greek," and as such, he had soldiers marry native women, and teach all of the people the Greek language.  Also, the Old Testament was translated into the Greek by 280 B.C. As such, when Jesus arrived the people had a common language to communicate their ideas.  Jesus probably spoke Aramaic most often, but a common language meant his life and ideas could be communicated easily.

Philosophically, the world was also ready for the person of Christ.  Greek philosophy had taught a few positive things which helped whet the people's appetite for Jesus of Nazareth.  Socrates taught about morality, Plato taught about a soul and an immaterial realm, and Aristotle argued for the existence of a "prime mover" or God.  All of these things impacted the world positively for Christ.

On the other hand, philosophy had not met the needs the people had.  Regular Joes did not find fulfillment in philosophy, it was a system for the elite, strong, and affluent.  It did not make any promises to people who understood their sin, and were looking for love and redemption.

Lastly, the Greeks had also shown the world that not every religion would cut it.  The religion of the Greeks and Romans had failed the people in so many ways.  They offered a polytheism with vengeful, spiteful, egotistical gods that seemed to rather hurt people than help them.  If one of these gods said they loved you, you would cower or run for fear of rape (Zeus was especially known for his lust for mortal women)!  These gods did not meet man's needs.  Instead this type of religion made the masses hunger for something much more satisfying to their needs and intellectual capacities.

The World was Prepared Religiously
The Jews had sufficiently kept the ideas of Judaism in a way as to be able to share them with the world.  They had preserved monotheism.  They had given the world the Old Testament in the common language of the time, and had developed an extensive system of worship throughout the known world.  This led to many gentiles embracing Judaism in the synagogues.  The influence of these synagogues was important in preparing the world for Christ.

Christ's Impeccable Timing
Jesus came to this earth when just the right circumstances came together to maximize his impact on this world, thus changing the face of Western Civilization, and consequently the whole world.  His life ignited a world-wide movement, spreading like wild-fire.  We need to continue preaching the Gospel, waiting for his perfect timing when he comes again.