[Legal disclaimer: I am currently involved in the university teaching world. The school that I serve currently believes very strongly in the process of on-line teaching. Therefore, my comments should be interpreted strictly as my own, and in no way do they reflect the policies or opinions of any employer I have had in the past, or will have in the future.]
I do not think that it would be controversial at all to make that statement that education in the United States is in a crisis mode. It has been for several decades, but it seems to me that the passage of the “No Child Left Behind” act really put the education system in the US in a tailspin. Educators are finally getting the attention of the politicians, and there are some hopeful signs that we can correct the worst of the damage, but I’m not sure but that we have severely handicapped the better part of a generation with our “teaching to pass the standardized test” methods of the past several years.
DOWNWARD TREND #1: However, I see another trend developing, and as bad as NCLB was, I think this one is worse. And it has come not through the edict of congress, but through the evolution (or devolution) of the twin powers of developing technology and political correctness. That trend will ultimately spell the demise of what we refer to as “higher education” in the United States. It affects junior colleges, standard four-year colleges, and graduate programs. That trend is the seemingly unstoppable headlong rush into “on-line” computerized courses where the student has no face to face contact with his or her professor, nor any collegial contact with fellow students.
If you stay current with higher education trends you are no doubt familiar with “Massive Open On-Line Courses” (MOOC) that many universities and colleges are offering. If the university does not offer a MOOC, it is virtually certain that it will offer some or all of its catalog of courses via an on-line option. There are many reasons given for the option to allow on-line courses, but the bottom line is, well, the bottom line.
On-line courses save money, and that is their only benefit. Pious platitudes such as, “it allows the non-traditional student the ability to study and maintain their current position” is just that – a pious platitude. If the courses were limited to only those students who could not physically attend a local university that might be a legitimate argument – but even then I am not going to accept it. And, it is clear that more on-campus students take on-line courses than do off campus students. In the common vernacular, on-line courses are a crock.
From the founding of this nation until just a few decades ago, the attainment of a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degree was the sign of exceptional perseverance, a dedicated work/study habit, and very often of great sacrifice. Our businesses, our corporations, our classrooms, and our courts are full of individuals who bussed tables, served as waitresses/waiters, mowed lawns, washed windows or mopped floors in order to put themselves through a college or university, and they did it by taking night classes or going to school in the day and working at night. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the graduation podium. Instead of a higher education being a tremendous honor and hard-earned accomplishment, it became some kind of a right that should be bestowed on everyone who wanted it. Exit hard work, sacrifice and dedication, enter the privileged class.
I am a part of that generation that felt it was “owed” a higher education. For my graduating class it was assumed that we would be going to a university. And, with very few exceptions, it was assumed our way would be paid by our parents – or with loans we would have to pay back, or by grants and scholarships supplied by someone else. That is just the way our world worked. Several of my classmates in college did have to work their way through school, but at least all of us had to do one thing in common – we had to leave our homes and travel to an on-site university where we had to sit in a class and actually pay attention to the professor.
Now, move the clock forward to the second decade of the 21st century. The right of a higher education has only been strengthened, but a profound shift has occurred in relation to the sacrifice and dedication it takes to obtain that degree. Today’s pitiful little high school graduates do not have to leave home, or even leave their bedrooms, to enter college. And, heaven forbid they actually have to pay for the degree they are supposedly earning. No, the mantra is that we want a full college diploma, but we don’t want to have to actually attend a class or pay full tuition, we want to stare at a computer screen dressed in our jammies and pay a fraction of what it costs to support a brick-and-mortar physical building.
I know I am being snarky. I’m sorry, but this issue is just too important not to express some of my baser emotions. But, intellectually, here is the real rub. education is more than the simple transfer of data from one computer to another computer. Education takes place in the give-and-take and the interaction between instructor and student, and between student and student, and that has always been the strength of a university setting. Students from all different backgrounds and all different belief systems are smashed together in a grand environment in which ideas and concepts and thoughts and issues are discussed in an (ideally) neutral context and out of the whole glorious mess an educated person emerges sometime later. Remove all of the educative environment and all you get is the transfer of a few thousand pixels of information and an isolated individual with no real connection to the instructor or their fellow students.
If costs are truly the issue, there are ways to address that issue. First and foremost would be the elimination of government guaranteed student loans. (Like that will ever happen.) But to cut the education nose off to spite the financial face is simply, in a plain old good English word, stupid.
DOWNWARD TREND #2: Lest I get too long-winded concerning the first issue, I have to address the second disturbing trend I see developing. In the grand and glorious state in which I reside the governor just signed into legislation a bill providing for the largest city to offer high school classes in which the students will be prepared to graduate with, get this, both a high school diploma and an Associate degree. Already many students are graduating from high school having earned enough college credits through dual classes to enter a college or university as a second semester freshman, or in some cases, even a sophomore. I remember as a high school graduate we could earn college credits, but we had to take a college equivalency test administered by a specific college or university to do so!
Now, either high school students today are just light years ahead of where we were thirty years ago, or something is seriously flawed about this system. Believe me, I grade papers produced by college sophomores, juniors and seniors. I have students who cannot compose a coherent English sentence, let alone a college level paragraph, or heaven forbid, and entire 10 page paper.
So, you are going to tell me that a high school graduate has learned everything he or she needs to know in order to graduate from high school and an additional two years of college studies to earn an Associate degree? Really? Really? I get to see the results of all our educational political correctness, and believe me, it is depressing. But it is NOT just me. Every instructor I talk to has the same experience. We are producing the most highly credentialed uneducated graduates ever in the history of this country.
Hey, Governor Martinez – I have an idea. Let’s just give every kindergarten graduate a full four-year Bachelor’s degree and cut the whole elementary, middle school and high school stuff out. That would save us a ton of money!
What is the solution to this madness? I really do not know. Maybe society will devolve so that spelling, the construction of a coherent sentence and the ability to perform fundamental math equations will no longer be necessary. Maybe with voice activated computer systems the human brain will shrink to the point that none of this will matter. Maybe when we fill our heads with hip-hop mush and utterly lose the ability to read Plato and Aristotle and Shakespeare and Thoreau we will no longer be aware of what we are missing. Maybe then it will be of no consequence at all.
But for some of us still alive it matters very much. And when I have a paper turned in with eloquent phraseology, perfect spelling and genuinely creative thinking, there is a little glimmer of hope that possibly the concept of education will not die after all.
I can only hope.
I am in the midst of working through a text-book that I (hopefully) will be using in a class this fall on the subject of interpreting Scripture. The book is entitled, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. So far I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Book and I really hope that I have enough students to teach the class. Perhaps in the future I will write a more in-depth review, but I came across a very helpful distinction the other day and I wanted to share it, and if by sharing it more people are interested in reading the book then so much the better.
To begin, let me use a situation from real life. In my work as a minister I have come across many people who are honestly, but hopelessly, lost when it comes to the concept of interpreting Scripture. They have heard so many sermons and so many classes in which the preacher or teacher says something like, “we do not interpret Scripture, we just read Scripture,” or “we interpret Scripture literally, other religions invent methods of interpretation to support their man-made ideas.” So, many church members blithely go about their business thinking either that they do not ever join in the process of interpreting the Bible, or they assume, because they have been told repeatedly that they do so, that they interpret the Bible in a “pure” and literal sense.
One poor soul is so convinced of this that every time he reads the book of Revelation after an election he has to completely re-establish his interpretation because the identity of his anti-Christ has changed. In a small way if it were not so sad it would be comical. But it is not comical at all – it is very, very sad.
To be perfectly blunt: it is impossible to interpret the Bible in a “pure” literal sense. To use just one simple illustration, if everyone was to do so, after the first sin involving the use of sight a person would have to pluck out their right eye, and after the second sin involving sight they would have to pluck out their left eye. After the first sin involving a hand or a finger the person would have to chop off their right hand, and after the second sin they would have to chop off their left hand (Matthew 5:27-30). Now, how many church members do you see who have plucked out one eye, let alone both? How many have cut off one hand, let alone both? And yet are they going to suggest they have NEVER sinned with their eyes or their hands? What about gossips? Would it not be a “literal” application that a gossip would have to cut their tongue out? Hmmm.
Or take Jesus’ description of himself. Taken literally, we should look for a great big huge gate to descend from the clouds when Jesus returns. Oops, make that a grape-vine. Oops, make that a loaf of bread. Oops, make that a valiant warrior riding a white horse. Rats. I just cannot keep all those literal descriptions straight.
The point is when we attempt to interpret the Bible literally we get into all kinds of silly messes. And I have not even touched the hem of the garment that is called the Apocalypse. While I will not for a moment deny that the Bible is true and faithful in its message, I will argue that the writers of the books of the Bible used a wide variety of writing styles and techniques and we must be aware of those styles and techniques or we will distort and even negate the ultimate truth of the Bible.
Here is where the authors of the book Grasping God’s Word have hit on a timely phrase. They correctly point out that we should not attempt to interpret the Bible according to its literal meaning but according to its literary meaning. So, if we are reading poetry we understand that God is not literally a shepherd, but that there are several aspects of a shepherd that can be applied to our God. Jesus is not literally a door or a gate, but that image suggests something about the person and work of Jesus that we need to think seriously about. Jesus can use hyperbole (exaggeration) and irony (sarcasm’s weaker cousin) and we do not need to believe that the Pharisees were literally a bunch of snakes.
The strange thing is, as I see it, that we do this with the most obvious examples (Ps. 23, Matt. 5) but when it comes to more complex issues we want to revert back to “literal only.” Thus, when Paul exclaims, “Don’t you have houses to eat in?” (1 Cor. 11:22) he must mean that eating food at a church assembly is forever condemned. Except, in the first century the overwhelming evidence is that the Christians met together in homes! There simply was no “church building” to ban the use of communal meals. If Paul was banning the use of eating in places of assembly, he was therefore banning the eating of food in houses, the very thing that he appears to command in 1 Cor. 11:22! If we take every statement in the letters of Paul literally we move from the sublime to the absurd in a heartbeat!
I really do not blame many people for the confusion they experience when they come to difficult passages and for the helplessness they feel in trying to make sense of the verses. Many preachers and teachers – who should have known far better – have led these people into a black hole. Those who teach and preach today need to work remedially to untangle the web of deceit that has already been spun, and we need to preach and teach and model healthy, biblical forms of interpretation. That means, unfortunately, that bad theology needs to be exposed and, if needed, forcefully refuted. But all things must be done in love.
And, never forget my Undeniable Truth for Theological Reflection #1. All interpreters must come to the Bible in an attitude of humility. We may have an incorrect grasp on a biblical truth, so let us be careful about surgically removing a splinter from someone’s eye when we have a 2×4 in our own eye.
That’s a figure of speech, folks.
I think I have posted on this before, but if I did I can’t find it. (Just one of the benefits of a fading memory, being able to hide your own easter eggs is the other.) But I am struck by a profound and disturbing paradox: many people want to “prove” beyond any shadow of a doubt that their God exists, without understanding that the minute they do it (if they are able to do so) they cease to have God at all. If a being can be reduced to the barest essentials of having been “proven,” it ceases to be what the Bible says of God. I wish more people would understand this. The whole attempt to “prove” the existence of God is nothing more than a highly sophisticated attempt to reduce God to something that we can control – it is the most elegant form of idolatry that exists. If we “prove” God, we in essence become God, because only God can know enough to prove his own existence.
I am aware of all the various arguments of the existence of “a” God, and some are quite fascinating and some are even (to my mind) quite convincing. But they by no means “prove” that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob exists, or that Jesus was resurrected from the tomb. What those arguments lead to is a firm conviction that a being must exist that is vastly superior to man. But humans throughout the centuries have created a whole pantheon of gods that explain that particular understanding.
In my understanding, what separates a biblical faith from a “faithless” attempt to prove God is that a person of faith is willing to live in such a way that transcends the limits of human understanding. A person of faith is not opposed to science – he or she should love and follow the path of the sciences where ever they lead. But a person of faith transcends the limits of those sciences. Archeology is a great tool, so is anthropology, astronomy, chemistry and comparative anatomy. They all have tremendous secrets to tell us about the human life. But they cannot teach us about the human soul, and the human striving to know its creator. For that we must turn to the Bible, and to understand the Bible we must possess faith, not a Ph.D. in thermodynamics or microbiology.
Just my two cent worth, but I really wish many Christian would tone down the rhetoric about “proving” the existence of God. Quite frankly, I do not want my God to be so small that he can be proved. At that point I no longer would have to get out of the boat or roll back the stone. All I need to do would be to buy a book, read it, and presto-chango – God would be indisputably within my grasp and control.
As tempting as that may sound, no thanks. I want my God to be bigger than me, bigger than my favorite theologian (Bonhoeffer and Lewis combined) and bigger than my favorite scientist. While God might reveal himself to me in the most mundane of situations, he must always remain transcendent – or he simply becomes my pet.
(Continuing my series of reviews and comments about the 21st annual Wheaton Theology Conference, titled “Bonhoeffer- Christ and Culture” held this past April in Chicago.)
The second lecture on the opening day of the Bonhoeffer conference was given by Dr. Keith Johnson titled, “Bonhoeffer and the End of the Christian Academy.” Dr. Johnson made three significant points.
The first is that Christ is the basis and criterion of all the reality of the world. The Christian academy, if it is to be true to its calling, must see everything in a Christological lens. We are not to try to figure out how everything “fits together,” we are to obey Christ.
The second point is that the Christian academy is intrinsically connected to the church. As an institution, an academy cannot be “Christian” in the sense that it does not receive the sacraments. However, the academy is comprised of Christian individuals, and so they bear a responsibility to the world, just as the church has a responsibility to the world.
The last point Dr. Johnson made is a combination of the first two points. The Christian academy is in and for the church as the church is in and for the world. Just as the church is to “die” for the world, the Christian academy is to “die” for the church. (Thus, the title for his lecture!). The Christian academy must equip the church to both stand against the world and also must show the church how God is working in the world in “new and exciting ways.” By Biblical example, Dr. Johnson used the precedent of Acts 15 in which the church realized that God was speaking in a new way, not just capitulating to culture. In conclusion, Dr. Johnson pointed out that the church must hold the academy accountable – to be honest to the Word – while the academy must challenge the church to engage the world.
I know that in a movement as diverse and the Churches of Christ/Christian Church/Disciples of Christ it is impossible to make a generic statement that is universally applicable. But I could not help but wish that our college and university administrators were present for this lecture. If I may make a sweeping generalization that is true to some extent in every situation, although not as pervasive in some as it is in others, it would be this: the colleges and universities associated with the American Restoration Movement have forsaken their calling to be Christian academies. Now, let me unpack that statement, and if the truth fits, let it fit, and if it does not, then simply ignore it.
First, “our” Christian colleges and universities sold a large portion of their souls many years ago when they started accepting Federal assistance. This meant that they had to start abiding by federal standards, in greater or lesser degrees, and as Jesus the apostles all stated, you cannot serve God and the kingdom of this world in equal proportions. I know that many students were able to attend a Christian university or college based on this federal assistance. But the cost in terms of spirituality has been severe.
Second, “our” universities and colleges have surrendered their focus on Christ and the Bible. Some still require that students take a course in the Bible every semester, but many do not. Some allow a course in marriage and family planning to be substituted for a course in the text. Now, I am all for helping young people understand the importance of marriage and the family. But if we are going to be a people of the book we must study the book! Many colleges and universities have reduced or eliminated the daily chapel worship experience. That was one of THE defining aspects of my four years at ACU. I still remember certain chapel devotional talks. When an administration agrees to reduce or substitute other assemblies in place of daily worship, the focus on Christ is lost. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.
Third, it is obvious by looking at the web sites of our Christian colleges and universities that the top two primary values of the institutions are athletics and academics. “We are in the top _______ (fill in the blank) of highest rated universities” trumpet the ads. “Our teams won ________ (fill in the blank) championships last year!” “We are #1 in our conference!”
You would think Jesus died on the cross wearing Nike cleats.
Why do our colleges and universities spend so much money on NCAA or NAIA sports? I am not just talking about hundreds, or maybe thousands of dollars. I am talking about hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Well, those sports generate a lot of money for the school” you respond. Oh? Where is that money spent? On Bibles? On mission trips? On spiritual retreats? NO, NO, and NO. It is spent on more athletics. On salaries for growing administrative staffs. On salaries for coaches and assistant coaches and compliance officers and tutors and tape and uniforms and buildings and more tape and video cameras and weight rooms and some more tape and bandages. When I was at ACU my professors were using the same chalkboards that had been in the classroom for probably 50 years, but you can bet the football team had the latest technical equipment and the finest weight room that the school could afford.
You see, it is all about priorities. And I will flatly challenge any college or university administrator to explain to me how spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an NCAA division I or II athletic program advances the cause of Christ. Colleges and universities have expensive athletic programs for one purpose and one purpose only. They advance the prestige of the school. The school gets to fly its banner a little higher. And, if a team is successful enough to reach a national audience, there you go – more money for the trustees to spend. We need a new gym, after all and Division I is just so much more impressive than Division II.
Once upon a time our colleges (I doubt we had any accredited universities back then) were very closely connected with our congregations. That day was virtually gone by the time I entered school, and it is a distant memory now. The presidents of our schools used to be preachers. Now the only men who are considered for presidential appointments are money-raising gurus. I am NOT saying they are bad men. I am saying that the focus of our colleges and universities has changed. We do not look for spiritual giants to lead our Christian academies any more. We look for successful businessmen and proven administrators. The question is not, “Is this man a man of God?” but it has become, “How much money can this man raise?”
I don’t know if the church stopped holding our Christian academies accountable (shame on the church), or whether the Christian academies simply decided they were big enough without the church and did not need the church any more (shame on the institutions). But as I see it, and I have been a minister and a member of the church for almost three decades since graduating from a Christian university, there is a HUGE disconnect between our Christian academies and the local congregations. The university is now a multi-million dollar entity, and there simply is no need for the church.
We used to have Bible lectureships to feed and encourage ministers and congregational leaders. Now we have “conversations” that are designed to prove to the evangelical world that we are finally one of them. Our lectureships used to highlight men who had been in the pulpit for many years, and who were capable of actually preaching to the audience. Now esoteric lectures are delivered by effete academicians and those who only speak to and listen to each other. Our lectureships used to be opportunities for our young ministers to hear and learn from our wiser elders. Now, a speaker older that 40 is rare, and one older than 50 is almost non-existent. Gray hair has been replace by the goatee. Rehoboam was not the last person to glorify the folly of youth.
Dr. Johnson’s speech had an ironic twist in the title. I wonder, if in just one significant way, the Churches of Christ are not witnessing the “end” of our Christian academies. It is certainly not the meaning Dr. Johnson intended. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would certainly not approve.
The only question that matters is whether Jesus would approve of the direction our academies are heading. It is a question to consider, at the very least.
I just spent well over an hour writing a book review, and upon further review, had to delete 80 % of it. It was just all wrong. Now I am mentally fried and frustrated and I am going to have to turn my ‘puter off and go take a nap. Who knows when the review will be finished. Arrrrgh.
I was told a long, long time ago that the toughest part of writing is in the editing. When we write something we are just so proud of it – I mean, it did come from our brain so it has to be perfect right? Problem is, very few writers have that ability to create publishable quality material on the first attempt. It takes cutting and re-writing and editing and more cutting and more re-writing. Writing would be a wonderful profession if it were not so cotton-picking difficult. I probably should edit out “cotton-picking” but I am tired of hitting the “Del” button.
This post has relatively little connection to flying through the fog. Except that every once in a while even the best pilots have to “go missed” and wave off a bad approach and set up for another one. In pilot speak, “going missed” is the equivalent to the writer’s “Delete” key. The really good pilots rarely use it, but every approach plate as a section dedicated to the procedure a pilot has to fly if he or she cannot land on the initial approach. Sometimes it’s the weather that gets worse, sometimes the airport has a problem, and sometimes the pilot just makes a mistake so critical that it is important to quit while you are ahead, go around and try again.
Today I had one of those major “missed approach” days. It kills me because I lost time, got hugely frustrated with a project that I really truly love, and now I need to set up again and try to figure out when I am going to get this project “on the ground.”
Oh well, all is not lost. I was able to salvage most of the opening paragraph.
The “Delete” key. You can’t live with it, you can’t live without it. I just wish I did not have to use it so often.
Update: as of 10:00 pm local time, after a long nap and a good supper, I was able to write the book review. It took me another two hours and a colossal number of hits on the “delete” button, but it is “in the can” as the old saying goes. Ahhh. Now on to a blissful night’s sleep.
I was going to begin this post with the stereotypical plea that, “I don’t want to be accused as being a Luddite, but…” and then it occurred to me – maybe I do. Maybe being a Luddite at the right time and for the right reason is not something to be ashamed of, but is in fact something to be proud of and something to pursue. So, call me a Luddite if you wish…if I am guilty I shall wear the badge proudly.
The issue upon which I opine this wonderfully rainy day is the growing (and virtually irrepressible) movement towards on-line courses in colleges and universities. What started out as an interesting experiment has now grown into a full-fledged growth industry. And, in the minds and hearts of us fully committed Luddites, that will, and is even now resulting in, a travesty of sorts as it relates to education at the highest levels.
Education is a major passion of my life. As my mom relates it, I have always loved learning, and I have always had a special relationship with my teachers. Not all of them have been equally skilled, but each has had a unique impact on my life. I have experienced life as a student in elementary, high school, as an under graduate college student, as a graduate student, and now as a participant in a doctoral program. I have also been a “vocational” student, first as a student pilot, then as a applicant for a commercial pilot certificate, and then as a flight instructor applicant. I have served on the other side of the lectern as well; first as a graduate assistant, then as a flight instructor, and now as an instructor in religion in a state university. Learning is in my DNA. And at every step, from my first grade teacher through the director of my last Doctor of Ministry special project has been a teacher, a mentor, a guide: in some cases someone who literally slapped me with a stick.
But now, with the advent of the computer and email and FaceBook and Skype and many other on-line learning tools the teacher is becoming irrelevant, meaningless, replaceable with the click of a mouse. Too harsh you say? I think not. I can see the handwriting on the wall, and at least to this knuckle dragging Troglodyte, the future does not look encouraging for the role of the classroom teacher.
In my view the process of education is not simply the transference of a bit of knowledge from one intellect into another. That is aptly described in the well worn definition of a lecture: “The process of transferring a professor’s notes to a student’s notes without passing through the brain of either.” Heaven knows we don’t need any more of that kind of education. But, I really do not call that education. Education is transcendent. Education involves not only the intellect, but the emotions and the body as well. The process of education is not complete until there is a mutual transformation that occurs between teacher and student, mentor and disciple.
And I will state emphatically and without reservation that transformation cannot occur unless there is a genuine “presence” involved – and that means the presence of a teacher/mentor and student/disciple.
Defenders of on-line education will, of course, argue that there IS a teacher-student relationship. I argue that relationship is only fragmentary at best, and is fictitious at worst.
First, a concession. If education is to be defined simply as the transference of a body of knowledge from one set of notes to another, then on-line teaching may have a place. Perhaps in the most elementary of classes, where there would be very little dialogue between teacher and student anyway a case could be made that on-line learning has a role to play. I would still argue that these situations are few and far between. There is simply too much involved in the education process that cannot be transmitted across DSL lines, even with HD digital cameras and video conferencing software.
However, as a student I learned as much, if not more, from the INTERACTION with my teachers and professors as I did from their lectures or assignments. My high school English teacher punctuated her displeasure with our efforts with the emphatic clicking of her (very long) fingernails on her desk. Dr. Lemoine Lewis became so animated when speaking of the early church fathers that it seemed he was transported back to Jerusalem or Antioch, even though he was lecturing right in front of me. The rich humor of Dr. Everett Ferguson’s witty asides informed me not only of the vastness of his knowledge, but of his impeccable ability to apply that knowledge to the modern ecclesiological scene. Dr. Bill Humble taught me of the value of loving my research topic in a way that no downloaded YouTube video or inter-active chat room session ever could. And, as an instructor, I have learned the value of noticing a student’s frown, a hopeless sigh, a resigned closing of a text-book, or an excited arching of an eyebrow when a confusing subject suddenly becomes clear.
In short, although I may have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century world of on-line education, I shall do so only with the most vociferous of objections. My Lilliputian resistance may ultimately prove futile, but I shall not go down quietly.
In conclusion, and almost as an aside, I feel I should mention what (in my mind, anyway) is driving this headlong rush into digitized ignorance – money. It is pure, red-white-and-blue American capitalism. On-line courses are less expensive for colleges and universities to fund, and they are less expensive for the student. So we make excuses about how advantageous these courses are, how they make distance learning possible, how they expand the reach of the college classroom, etc ad nauseaum, and we pocket the profit. If you doubt me then let us make a little wager. Let us increase the cost of on-line classes so that it is more expensive for the college or university, so that it would be more expensive for the student to enroll, and so that the instructor would get paid significantly less for teaching the class. Now – where would on-line education go?
In my fully convinced Luddite mind we in academia are selling our institutional birthright for a bowl of economic soup. We have an obligation not only to provide an education, but primarily to instill in our student what an education really involves. We do not exist simply to transmit knowledge. A book is all that is necessary for that, thank you very much. Education is about the expansion of the entirety of the process of becoming a human being. Education is at its core about transformation. And, education is at its core transcendent. Immediacy and frugality are unworthy substitutions for transformation and transcendence.
Thus endeth the rantings of a Luddite.
I seem to remember discussing this issue in a previous post, but that is the advantage of working with a mind with as small a memory bank as mine has. No matter how many times you recycle a worn-out topic, it always seems fresh and invigorating.
I don’t want to be gauche, But, have you ever known someone who was fairly intelligent, but who was convinced that he/she was far more intelligent than she/he really was? I don’t mean the person who is simply opinionated, I mean the person who is obnoxiously self-assured. And, sadly, their assurance is woefully misplaced? How do you deal with individuals such as that?
My complaint de jour is with those individuals who want to make it sound like they are more intelligent than they really are, so they spice up their talks with a few foreign phrases. These days Latin seems to be making a comeback, although French and German are solid standbys. Sometimes it is truly obvious that the person does not know what they are talking about, but sometimes they honestly do know what they are talking about, they just want to emphasize that fact. Oy vey. I mean, really.
Just one example among many: it seems everyone these days is utterly captivated with the missio Dei. You cannot open a magazine or log onto Twitter without reading the latest and greatest installment on or about the missio Dei. It would appear that if the average church member would ever get plugged into the missio Dei all of our moral, ethical, legal and most important, missiological problems would be over. In my recent search for a new ministry position I even read an on-line job posting where the new preacher was expected to further the missio Dei in the community. I was truly impressed. Bewildered, but impressed.
But, with all due respect, with all the talk about the missio Dei, I wonder if we have lost sight of the mission of God. I understand how easy it would be to do that. I mean, the missio Dei is so, well, magisterial. The mission of God, by comparison, is just so pedestrian. I pity the poor preacher who submitted a resume to the above congregation but who only wanted to further the mission of God in the world. He would probably not even get an interview.
All this discussion reminds me of a joke once told by Jim McGuiggan. It seems a small rural town in Ireland was hosting a traveling culinary expert. The fancy chef was teaching the local housewives how to separate egg yolks. “First, take a highly sharpened kitchen implement and gently perforate the apex of the egg. Repeat the procedure on the basal protuberance. Gently aspirate into the upper aperture to separate the albumen from the yolk.” At that point one of the housewives turned to another and comment, “Well, I’ll be. And to think that for years I been pokin’ a hole on both ends of an egg and a blowin’ on it.”
Sometimes you just cannot beat simplicity.
I wonder why certain individuals do not ever quite seem to understand a person’s life situation, but will spend endless hours discussing the sitz im leben of some poor homeless waif. The discussion of a super-human individual just comes across more esoteric if we change the subject to an uber mensch. I wanted to apply for one position but was saddened to learn that the company wanted a curriculum vitae and all I had prepared was a resume. I am just such a hopeless persona non grata.
Maybe someone out there in cyber-space will be able to clue me in here. I hope so. I would really like to join in with the missio Dei.
I just read where Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, has passed away at the age of 82. Being a lover of all things aviation this news hit me particularly hard. There is just something about a human being flying to the moon and back that captivates me, and I am truly sorry that we have decided that it is not important to push the limits of our own skill anymore.
In addition to being the first man to walk on the moon, Armstrong was a quiet hero. He immediately stepped out of the spotlights. As one article I read reported, many faulted him for remaining so quiet. However, the space program is not about one man, it never was. One of Armstrong’s fellow astronauts said that there were many who were physically capable of performing what Armstrong accomplished, but perhaps he was the only one with the emotional strength to live through the following media attention the way he did.
As I reminisce about the flight that truly changed almost everything about our modern world, I wonder how many people today could accomplish what Neil Armstrong accomplished with as little self-congratulation. He was a remarkable team player. He understood that it was not only his two flight mates, but also the dozens of other astronauts as well as the hundreds of technicians in Florida and Houston that made his flight possible. Also, he knew of the series of flights that would follow his and expand on the accomplishments of Apollo 11.
Armstrong’s overall silence makes his words even more powerful. He was one of many who strongly defended the decision to return to the moon, and he bitterly criticized President Obama’s decision to cancel the next moon landing. When someone who is normally reticent about speaking out on matters of public interest speaks with the clarity and the force that Armstrong did you have to take notice. The difference in leadership quality between Obama and Armstrong is stunning. Armstrong accomplished what many dream about but few have the talent to achieve. His humility in the face of his notoriety is all the more remarkable.
America is losing its heros such as Armstrong in greater and greater numbers these days, and I’m not sure that there is anyone “in the wings” so to speak to replace them. It’s not that we do not have anyone accomplishing notable deeds, but the focus then becomes all about them. Case in point – just months after the super secret mission to rid the world of Osama bin Laden a former SEAL team member writes a book about the mission. What used to be unthought of has now become reality – a special forces member writes a book to bring glory, if not to himself and his team, at least to the mission itself. Will this jeopardize the lives of future special forces team members? Who knows. But I cannot see any good coming from it. And it is in such stark contrast to the history of the special forces and their team members. Maybe it is a sign of things to come. If so, it is a sad comment on the nature of those who seek to serve their country in these elite force teams.
With the passing of Neil Armstrong our astronaut hero corp is certainly diminishing. Let us continue to honor these great Americans who risked so much in a peacetime effort to expand mankind’s knowledge and capability. May we all aspire to live our lives in the same kind of pursuit of peaceful means to make our home on this earth just a little more livable.
(Note: an earlier edition of this post erroneously made mention that John Glenn had also passed away. I don’t know how that came to my mind – but I was certainly wrong and glad to report that Sen. Glenn is still alive and well.)
It begins when we are very young. We ask a question and someone laughs at us. Or we ask a question and someone tells us we have asked a stupid question. Or we are told there are no stupid questions, so we ask a question and the non-verbal response lets us know right away that the teacher or whoever truly does believe that we asked a stupid question. Or, we asked a question and the person in charge got the impression we did not know what we were doing, so they took our job away, or we did not get the promotion, or we found our responsibilities curtailed. It does not take long in our culture today to break someone of the habit of asking questions. There is probably no place on earth that is more devoid of honest, soul-searching questions than a Bible class or other assembly. A person might be willing to ask a question of fact (assuming there is a sense of safety in doing so), but rarely will a person ask a question that reveals any serious doubt or insecurity inherent in the person asking the question.
That is really a sad commentary on how we view questions, and the importance of questions in developing a healthy faith. Read through the gospels, for example, and take note of how many times Jesus is approached with questions. They represent not necessarily questions of fact (although many of the questions appear on the surface to be questions of fact), but the majority of the questions penetrate much deeper than just “yes/no” type of questions. Our gospel accounts would be significantly shorter if Jesus had responded to every question with a “what a stupid question” kind of response.
As a minister I felt this issue creates one of the major short-comings of our modern concept of the sermon. It is all one-way communication. At least it is in the predominantly white, middle class, mid-level high church in which I grew up. (Mid level because we were certainly not liturgical, but eschewed Pentecostalism with a fervor.) Many has been the time that I have been listening to a sermon and I really, really wanted to raise my hand and blurt out, “You don’t really mean what you just said, do you?” but I have felt just the slightest bit uneasy in doing so. Or maybe just an innocent, “Could you please explain that last point again, you lost me somewhere.” Most of the time by the time the sermon is over we have forgotten our question, or the issue has become so confusing that we lost the whole point and it just did not seem important to pursue at a later time.
I understand the whole “decently and in order” instruction that Paul gave to the Corinthians. But can we not ask and answer questions in a decent and orderly manner? Would it not be advantageous to develop someone’s faith if we stopped our formal sermonic delivery and took the time to explain a confusing thought or stopped to undo a slip of the tongue?
Anyway, the point of this post is not to re-structure the sermon part of our assemblies. The point is that we will never grow or develop our faith if we are unwilling or too fearful to ask questions. We should not surrender our God-given inquisitiveness and desire to learn just because our culture has put a damper on the asking of questions. We need to develop the courage of the early disciples of Jesus and we need to voice our confusion, our doubts, and our fears. In that way we can be taught, encouraged, and strengthened by those who are older, wiser, or who have walked the path that we are just beginning.
So go ahead – ask your question with courage. You will be surprised to find out how many people wanted to ask the very same question, but were afraid to do so.
Tomorrow I begin a brave new direction of my life as a university instructor (albeit part-time). As I have been preparing myself for this career change I have been thinking about the whole concept of teaching and learning. I have been a student most all of my life. I have worked my way through elementary, mid-school, high school, under-graduate college, graduate school, and now doctoral studies. I have earned all of the flight certificates and ratings that I wanted except two (Multi-Engine Instructor, and Airline Transport Pilot). I have attempted to learn how to play the guitar for most of my life. I have taught high school students, adults, and I have trained many students to fly airplanes. I have taught novices how to read Greek and how to fly in the clouds. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the theory of both teaching and learning.
However, throughout all of this I never really sat down and came up with at philosophy of learning or teaching. So, with this rather significant professional shift looming over my head I thought it would be time to attempt to articulate some thoughts about why we teach and why we learn. These are provisional, and just like my 15 Undeniable Truths for Theological Reflection (see appropriate page on this blog), these are subject to change. Here goes (stated in the form of pledges):
1. Whether I teach or study, I will do my absolute very best so that I will honor the God who gave me the intellect and the ability to both study and teach. Anything less is to dishonor my Creator.
2. I will teach and learn not to please myself, my parents, my married partner nor my teachers or students. I will teach and learn for the goal of either imparting greater wisdom, or obtaining greater wisdom. Any other goal subverts the purpose of education. This is true whether the subject is theoretical in nature, or application oriented.
3. Integrity and honesty will form the foundation of my philosophy of education.
4. If I cheat or perform at any level below the best that I can perform on any given subject, I am cheating my teacher, my students, my classmates and ultimately the God who gave me the ability to learn. Earning a grade is not the goal of education; learning is the goal of education. By cheating I diminish the entire educational process.
5. Because the goal of education is to increase the level of wisdom in both myself and my students or fellow-students, I will do everything within my power to help my students or fellow-students in their studies. Although we very often attempt to make it competitive, the process if education is not competitive but communal. By helping others I help myself and everyone involved in the process.
6. I will remember that there will always be someone who performs better than I will perform, and someone who performs less capably than I perform. I cannot be the best in every subject and in every situation, but neither will I be the worst in every subject nor in every situation. I will learn what gifts I have been given and I will learn to excel in those gifts, and I will honor and respect those who have been given other gifts and who can excel in those areas.
7. I will understand that assigning a grade does not mean assigning a measurement on a student’s moral character, and I will understand that when I receive a grade it is not a measure of my moral character. A grade is simply a temporary measure of the attainment of a particular set of theories or skills, and is in no way the final measure of a student’s capability to learn. I will be fair and honest in the assignment of grades, and as a student I will be mature and honest in the acceptance of the grade I have earned; and if there is an honest discrepancy between what I feel I have earned and what I have been assigned, I will deal with the difference in a respectful manner. If a student challenges the grade I have assigned, I will listen to him or her and respond with respect and humility.
Okay, there you have the big seven. Maybe at the end of this semester (or academic year) I will come along and add one or two more. Hey, I started out with only seven undeniable truths for theological reflection, and now I am up to 15. I may write a book on this subject, who knows. Of course, that will be after I get this Doctor of Ministry thing finished!