CategoryChristian Education

Why no honour cords?

McElspeth / Pixabay

Not too long ago at my school, the graduates who had a GPA higher than a 3.6 wore gold chords around their necks at the graduation ceremony.

Ridiculous idea, I know, but we’ve remedied that now.

Some students continue to ask why we discontinued the practice.  They, and sometimes their parents, feel they have worked very hard to earn a good GPA and ought to be recognized as a reward for their effort and persistence.  They think it’s stupid that to abandoned honour cords just to spare the feelings of those who did not earn them.

Here’s what I tell them:

We got rid of the honour cords because they go against the philosophy of our Christian school.

Some people worked very hard to get above a 3.6 GPA, others hardly worked for it at all. And we did not get rid of honour cords to spare anybody's feelings.Click To Tweet

Essential Skills and Unique Gifts

One of the purposes of every school is to develop important skills and abilities.  We want students to have acquired the essential skills by the time they graduate, whether they are naturally gifted with them or not.

But just as important, perhaps more, is we want to help students discover and develop the unique gifts that God has given them.

Some receive a few gifts, others, many.  The number of gifts or their quality has nothing to do with merit.  It’s all grace.  All gifts are free and all gifts are valuable.

Our Father in Heaven gives his children many gifts. Some receive gifts that make them good with people, others make them creative or athletic.  The list is very long.  Some of God’s gifts help students to be very successful academically.

If all gifts come from God why would we honour just the few that help a student to get high marks?

Honour cords do exactly this.

All of the Student

The school is also interested in the growth and development of the whole student.   not just their minds.  Human beings are multifaceted–one whole, many parts.  Jesus names the parts in Mark 12:30-31 (NKJV): heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

The whole student matters to God.  The whole student matters to the parents who send these kids to our school.  The whole student, then, is what the school seeks to nurture and challenge.

If the school’s focus is the whole student, why would we celebrate just one aspect of a students at the graduation ceremony?

Honour cords do exactly this.

All of the Students

We seek to nurture every student.

This is why we offer such a wide variety of programs and extra-curricular activities: Textiles and Mechanics, Art and Music, Sports teams and Drama productions, and this is just the beginning. Yes, and we offer a wide variety of traditionally academic classes, every student is challenged in a lot of different directions.  Students work very hard in all of these areas.

Does it make sense to celebrate just the hard work of some?

We celebrate the hard work of all students, regularly and in many ways.

But we don’t do it at the graduation ceremony.

The graduation ceremony is not about individual recognition.  It is, rather, the celebration of the class as a whole.  The graduation ceremony is a community celebration.  The community gathers, not just to see “their grad” cross the stage, but to celebrate “Our Grads” as we mark this important moment in their lives.

The uniform of caps and gowns appropriately balances the attention on the individuals and the Class of 20– as a whole.

It doesn’t make much sense to add an accessory to the graduation uniform that draws attention to the hard work of just some of the students, honouring just one narrow set of gifts, relating to only one part of the student.

It doesn't make much sense to add an accessory to the graduation uniform that draws attention to the hard work of just some of the students, honouring just one gift, relating to only one aspect of the student. Click To Tweet

This is why we’ve done away with honour cords.

Dystopian Literature and Film: A Christian Perspective

Trixieliko / Pixabay

There has been an increase in the popularity of dystopian fiction, especially in the number of books targeting young adults. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Divergent by Veronica Roth, and The Maze Runner by James Dashner are but a few examples.

Because so many of my students have read these books, I often teach a unit on dystopian literature and film.  In this unit, we read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Some students also read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  Still others read FEED by M. T. Anderson.  We analyze portions of films like Logan’s Run, Bladerunner, Minority Report, Gattaca, Brazil, The Island, and I, Robot.  Students are often inspired to head to our library and check out other books in this genre, including Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Dystopian Literature in a Christian School

I am sure there are many schools in North America that teach a unit like this, but in a Christian school, a particular kind of Christian school, it is taught a little differently.  I organize the unit around the questions, “What aspect of our culture is being critiqued in the novel or film?” and “Are these critiques legitimate?” Through our investigation, students discover that each author/film-maker places a high value on the human being and being human.  The central purpose of each novel/film is to critique the subversion of human value to some other value–some other aspect of creation.

Dystopian fiction and film is essentially a prophetic genre--it uncovers and condemns idolatry.Click To Tweet

This inversion is the essence of the Biblical notion of idolatry.  Human beings have value because they are created in the image of God.  Humanity has been placed at the top of creation and given the responsibility to take care of it.  When God is replaced by some good thing he created, humanity too is replaced from its position above all that was created.  Idol worship always degrades humanity.  Thus, this unit is actually an exploration of the Biblical teachings on human identity and value, and idolatry.

The creators of dystopian literature and film are proclaiming the evil of sacrificing humanity to our cultural idols:

  • the idols of power (1984)
  • pleasure (Logan’s Run and Brave New World)
  • technology (Bladerunner and Feed),
  • genetic perfection (Gattaca),
  • a longer life (The Island), etc.

The presence and popularity of these narratives are encouraging.  They indicate that there still is a large segment of our society that accepts the premise of human value.

I will rue the day when dystopian literature and film are no longer popular--it will mean that we've stepped off the edge.Click To Tweet

Truth and Poetry

Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

The first discussion we have in the English 12 Poetry Unit is about truth.

Too many people consider poetry to be something that exists on a continuum between fluff and falsehood. This drives us Humanities types batty. Many hold to the mistaken idea that a thing is true if it is factual.  And thus, since poetry isn’t usually factual, it isn’t usually  true.

Just because poetry isn’t factual does not mean poetry isn’t true.Click To Tweet

Whoa-ness of Eagles

Perrine’s Literature, a textbook we used to use, talks about the difference between encyclopedic facts of eagles with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Eagle” to make the point that poetry offers a different experience than do facts.

A lot more can be made of this comparison.

I have my students collect a bunch of facts about bald eagles and we fill a whiteboard with them. Here’s a sample of what they find:

  • The female bald eagle is 35 to 37 inches, slightly larger than the male.
  • Wingspan ranges from 72 to 90 inches.
  • Bald eagles can fly to an altitude of 10,000 feet. During level flight, they can achieve speeds of about 48 to 55 km per hour.
  • The beak, talons, and feathers are made of keratin.
  • Bald eagles have 7,000 feathers.
  • Wild bald eagles may live as long as thirty years.
  • Lifting power is about 4 pounds.
  • All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight.
  • Once paired, bald eagles remain together until one dies.
  • Bald eagles lay from one to three eggs at a time.

These items gleaned from online encyclopedias are factual and they are true.

Then we look at Tennyson’s poem.

THE EAGLE

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

In this simple, six-line poem, Tennyson attempts to communicate that eagles are, in a word, awesome. But awesome doesn’t really capture it, nor does formidable or magnificent.

When I was 8 or so, I went with my class to a bird sanctuary. After viewing crows, seagulls and owls recovering from various injuries, I came face-to-face with a bald eagle—close up! It looked at me, and then looked away. I was awed by his size, his talons, his beak, his eyes—I remember my reaction; I whispered, “Whoa!”

Tennyson attempts to communicate the “whoa-ness” of eagles.

Beyond the facts

We fill another whiteboard with notes about of Tennyson’s poem, unpacking the figurative language, sound devices, imagery, and allusions. In the words and between the lines of this poem, readers experience the power and strength of this majestic bird as it is metaphorically compared to a wise and solitary king whose power is absolute.

I ask my students which is truer—the list of facts on the first whiteboard or the poem that we’ve annotated on the second. Many, perhaps most, confidently say the list of facts is “truer.” Some are uncertain. Eventually, someone calls out, “both are true but in different ways.

There we go!

“The Eagle” communicates a truth about eagles that go beyond the encyclopedic facts. A truth that is best communicated with poetry. Our culture has been resistant to this broader understanding of truth for a long time, to its detriment.

How much of the Bible becomes inaccessible when we reduce truth to fact?Click To Tweet

Things get even more interesting when I suggest, in line with C. S. Lewis in Abolition of Man, that “whoa-ness” is a quality inherent to the eagle, and not just a description of my subjective reaction to it. I’ll spare you the details, but this is often an enlightening discussion.

The next poem we look at is A. E. Houseman’s “Is My Team Ploughing,” a conversation between a dead man and his still-living friend. I ask my class, is this a true poem? This time, less than half say, “No.” Some are still uncertain.

But many, reflecting on the central idea of the poem, declare it to be true.

What We Can Learn from the Dress Code

Photo by Rhii Photography on Unsplash

As the weather turns warmer, I again hear of some student displeasure with the dress code–this sentiment is as cyclical as the seasons.  Because it is ridiculous that a school should have no dress code at all, I am tempted to tease that we should just adopt school uniforms?  I’d not be serious with this suggestion; I oppose this move because dress codes teach us some very important things.

Advantages of School Uniforms

I will concede that school uniforms have some advantages:

  1. Uniforms instill a sense of professionalism, imitating the business-dress of their possible futures.
  2. They eliminate the hassle of trying to find outfits that meet the dress code and are also in style.
  3. They are cheaper in the long run.
  4. They act as a socioeconomic equalizer.
  5. They eliminate dress codes, that can, given the sexualization of women in our culture, unfairly target girls.

The main reason I am against school uniforms is that, although some learning may improve, a lot of other important things are not learned by the uniformed scholar–things pertaining to Freedom.

Let Freedom Reign

Our culture is obsessed with Freedom.

  • We celebrate it at our sporting events.
  • Our television shows explore themes surrounding freedom, often presenting negative caricatures of traditional authorities, limiters of freedom.
  • Most television talk shows take every possible freedom as an absolute good.
  • The TV news is full of stories about conflicts about freedom, and it is obvious that if you are not on the side of freedom, you are going to lose the argument.
  • In popular movies, one of the defining qualities of the bad guy is often that he/she is a suppressor of freedom.
  • Politicians can win majorities to their positions if they can ground them in Freedom.
  • Remembrance Day used to commemorate the Armistice that brought WWI to a close, but now it seems it is all about the Freedom that was won in that war.
  • Originally established to remember those who died while serving in the U.S. military, the language of Freedom dominates Memorial Day celebrations.
  • The internet, in its very form, perpetuates the values of unrestricted freedom.

It should come as no surprise that some students bristle at the idea of restricting their choice in school attire.  They have been raised in this freedom obsessed culture, bombarded with the idea that Freedom is The Ultimate.  Freedom is the standard by which we judge between good and evil.  Furthermore, starting sometime in adolescence, human beings begin the natural process of moving out from under the authority of parents.  This can lead to the natural assertion of personal freedoms against any form of authority– including that of their school.  Combine this natural adolescent impulse toward freedom with our particular cultural obsession and you ought not to be surprised when the cry “Freedom!” erupts from some junior William Wallace, especially in the spring.

I oppose school uniforms because, in order to learn how to navigate the world dominated by Freedom worship, our children need to be given freedom.  They need to have freedom to make decisions about what they wear so they can come up against the limits of freedom, for freedom can only be good if it is limited.  Without limits, it becomes a terrible and demanding deity.

Students need the freedom to make decisions about what they wear so they can come up against the limits of freedom, for freedom is only good when limited. Without limits, it becomes a terrible and demanding deity. Click To Tweet

What’s Wrong With Wearing A Hat?

Some students want to wear a hat to school.  We happen to be in a time where hats are an important accessory in youth culture, but hats break the dress code.  When asked to remove the hat, some ask, “What’s wrong with wearing a hat?”  There is nothing wrong with wearing a hat, but it is, sometimes, improper to wear a hat.  The reason we don’t wear hats indoors in some public places like churches, restaurants, and schools has to do with propriety.  Propriety is the quality of conforming to conventionally accepted standards of behavior or morals.  It has long been the case in our culture that hats are to be worn only outside.

Standards of propriety are relative.  They change according to place or time.  In some cultures, propriety dictates that head coverings must be worn indoors.  Ours just happens to be one in which it is traditionally expected that one removes one’s hat when entering a building.  Students naturally counter this argument by saying that times have changed, and I am holding on to an outdated convention–propriety has moved on.

I respond by saying that this convention is certainly no longer part of teen sub-culture, but propriety is not dictated by teen sub-culture, but culture as a whole.  Even here it might be fading, but it is not yet gone.

Removing hats indoors is no longer part of teen sub-culture, but propriety is not dictated by teen sub-culture, but culture as a whole. Even here it might be fading, but it is not yet gone.Click To Tweet

Why we need a dress code

or Why you can’t wear a hat in school

There is something much more important at play within the dress code’s prohibition on hats.  It is that we are holding ourselves to an external standard.  The specific standard is not as important as the idea that such communal standards exist.  They exist, and they put limits on some personal freedoms, (a heretical move in our cultural context).

The “no-hat rule” is particularly effective in teaching middle and lower high school students the vital lesson that some personal freedoms are subordinate to community standards.  This norm runs contrary to the teen sub-culture.  Propriety cannot be meaningfully taught where there is no tension between student sub-culture and the culture at large.  If we were to restrict only coon-skin caps and platform shoes, the important lessons of propriety would remain unlearned.

Propriety is about submission to something bigger than oneself.  This is difficult for some adolescents who can’t conceive of anything more important than themselves. The cultural worship of Freedom exacerbates this attitude.  Conveniently, those that most need to learn the principles of propriety identify themselves by bucking most violently against the conventions of propriety.

The 'no-hat rule' is particularly effective in teaching middle and lower high school students the vital lesson that some personal freedoms are subordinate to community standards.Click To Tweet

Students who desperately want to wear their hats in class point out that some adults, too, wear hats indoors.  Yes, there are some adults who, working outside all day, neglect to take their hat off when they come indoors.  This is not the same thing as donning a hat for a day which will be spent entirely indoors.  Other adults wear hats because they have not outgrown adolescent rebellion and/or believe that personal Freedom is ultimate.  These are not a justification for students wearing hats; they are, rather, representative of the very idea we are trying to counter.

In the case of adults sporting caps indoors, it is appropriate to be gracious, but this is not a luxury we can extend to our students.  We cannot turn a blind eye, for we bear the responsibility to move our students through adolescence and to challenge the supremacy of personal freedom.

Rituals of Submission

You can tell students things, and they might learn a little.  You can show them something, and they will learn a little better.  Students learn even better when they teach something. And better still if they do something.  But they will learn best of all if they do something with regularity.  In the morning ritual of getting dressed for school, students practice the idea that there are some things that are more important than personal freedom.  They practice submitting to an authority external to the self.

We want students to grow into adults who understand that personal freedom is a good thing, but not The Ultimate Thing.  Without a dress code, students are in danger of graduating with the idea that freedom is God.  The lessons inherent in the dress code, not just the no-hat-rule, if learned well will lead to their flourishing, and that of society as well.  A school with uniforms does not have the opportunity to teach this important lesson.

Most students have no problem with the dress code, and for those who do, the disagreement is usually the typical adolescent desire for personal freedom.  By the time most students reach their last year of high school, they have little issue with the school’s limits on clothing freedoms.  Perhaps this is because they have grown up a little, and no longer need to define themselves against authority figures, but it might also be a result of daily practice making decisions that balance personal freedom and social responsibility.

Are students prepared for university?

 

Wokandapix / Pixabay

Education has changed.  I’m teaching differently.  Student’s are learning differently.

How well do the new approaches to learning and teaching prepare students for university?

Back in the Day

When I first started teaching Literature 12 there were provincial exams.  These were content focussed.  One of the purposes of the exam was to ensure students were prepared for the rigors of university.  There was a prescribed reading list of over 40 literary works from the literary canon extending from Beowulf to a poem by Margaret Atwood.  Students were also required to understand over 100 literary terms and devices.  Back in those days, I did a lot of talking and students took copious notes.

Given that the exam scores would be used to rank students against other students, schools against other schools, teachers against other teachers, exam performance mattered a great deal on many levels.

So we worked very hard on exam preparation.  Students created very detailed study sheets on each of the literary works on the prescribed reading list.  These were collated into large packets and students spent hours reviewing this material.  At the end of the process, they knew a lot, and my students generally did very well on the Provincial English Literature exam.

“Nowadays”

I still teach Lit 12, but I do so very differently.  My class looks much more like a graduate seminar than a lecture hall.  Students discuss and unpack the literary works, rather than listen to me tell them what they would notice if they were as smart as I was.

Through this dialogue, students analyze, synthesize, evaluate, propose, inquire, challenge, concede, admire and they connect the ideas they encounter to life and society.  After we talk, we write.  They use their laptops for this task.  Sometimes they journal, other times they write an academic essay or a personal narrative; we mix it up.

My assessment has changed as well.  We no longer end the year with an exam.  We end the year with presentations–students explore a topic of their choice making connections literature, often beyond the material we worked over the course of the semester.

Are students today as knowledgeable as in the days of yore?

Last year, I dusted off an old provincial exam, one of the same exams for which I used to work so hard to prepare my students.  We didn’t review the material in class–students didn’t create review sheets for each other, and they didn’t study for it.  I passed it out one day and they wrote it.

I used to mark the Literature 12 exam, so the marks students got on this test were valid.  I was surprised that their scores were significantly higher than those of students of similar ability from 2 decades ago.  I realize this observation is anecdotal and does not meet the standards of a proper study, but I am convinced of the results.

My students know the literature better now than they did when learning was primarily focussed on content rather than projects and discussions.  With the new approach to learning, students are performing better on exams designed to measure university preparedness.

The beauty is, they don’t just know the content–they have a much broader and deeper understanding of the literature than they used to.   They can talk about it and bring it into dialogue with other artistic expressions and with life and society.  They are better readers and thinkers and moviegoers.  Almost all are reporting great success in university classes.

But not all reports are positive.  One of my students excitedly entered her Literature course at the local university this fall and dropped it after only a few classes.  It was clear to her that, in this particular university class, the study of her favourite high school subject would primarily involve transferring what she heard in a lecture onto an exam paper at the end of the term.  There is no doubt in my mind that she could have passed this course with an A.  Many of my less gifted students frequently do.

Do modern instructional techniques prepare students for university?

My little experiments show that if students are expected to know the material well, then they are well prepared for university.  If their university courses will expect them to be able to analyze and synthesize information and concepts, they are ready.  If they are expected to evaluate ideas; to challenge assumptions and be able to recognize a strong argument and concede, they are ready.  If they are expected to communicate clearly and effectively, both verbally and in various written forms, they are ready and very well prepared for university.

If, on the other hand, they are expected to passively listen to a professor talk for hours, collecting information and transfer this information onto an examination paper at the end of the term, then perhaps my students are ill-prepared for university.

Does anyone really want me to change my approach to teaching literature?

If students are expected to passively listen to a professor talk for hours, collecting information that will be transferred onto an examination paper, then students are ill-prepared for university.Click To Tweet

Laptops in the Classroom

As a teacher with a classroom full of laptops, I had to read the article in my Twitter feed entitled–“Ban the Laptops, Yes.”   This article by Mark Bauerlein cites a study that appeared in Education Next, under the title “Should Professors Ban Laptops?” which suggests that the implementation of classroom technologies, such as laptops, may be detrimental to student learning.

The results were striking—

and disappointing for people who believe

that better classroom technology and implementation

will produce higher student achievement.

I was troubled and confused–troubled because last year the high school at which I teach required every student to come to school with a laptop, confused because, from my experience, laptops are improving student learning.

I read a little further.  The article explains, “The decisive measure was performance by students on the final exam.” Ah, there it is.

I was no longer troubled or confused.

It is clear from the study that the classrooms wherein laptops are causing the problems are the ones in which professors are lecturing and students are taking notes.  In this context, exams are a measurement of how well a student transfers the content of the lecture to the examination paper.  The study shows that technology interferes with this simple process because when students “update social-media sites, order takeout, and watch YouTube videos during lectures.”  It is easy to see why the study concludes that “unrestricted laptop use reduced students’ exam scores.”

This all leaves me with a few questions:

Why are laptops a detriment to student learning, but an indispensable tool for the professors who deliver the lectures, and research and publish their papers, articles, and books?  In the so-called, “real world” personal computers and other digital devices are used by adults all the time–presumably because they are effective tools for accomplishing important tasks. Is it simply that adults are more mature and therefore better able to resist the temptation to watch Youtube videos?

Or is it because the work that adults are doing is relevant and the results really matter, and because the work is challenging, requiring creativity and critical thinking?

Is it because it’s personal–involving the whole person–the unique gifts and abilities of the adult individual?  Or is it because it’s interpersonal, involving collaboration with others?

Is it because it’s complex, varied–interdisciplinary?

Or is it because the responsibility for the success and failure of our efforts rests heavily on our shoulders?

Perhaps the problem is not the laptops, but a pedagogy that lacks all of the things that keep adults motivated to do good work.

In my grade 9 humanities class, we are studying World War I.  One of the students’ tasks is to produce several documentary videos telling the story of the First World War–the causes, key figures and events, and the effects.  Their laptops are vital tools in this project.  They research their topics using the internet.  They write and edit the script for their documentary film using a word processor.  They find out how to properly cite their sources using online resources.  They record their scripts, then create and edit videos on their laptops.  In the process, they give and receive feedback as to how to improve their documentaries.  They then share these videos on a social media platform so that others may learn from their work.  The use of technology isn’t to make learning about WW1 more fun, nor is it a distraction from the learning.  It is a vital tool in the process of completing a complex project where students learn, not only about World War 1 but about research, primary and secondary sources, how to discern internet sources, documentary script writing, plagiarism, providing feedback, voice recording, video editing, and a lot more.

Students are not passive; they are active and motivated to complete a project of high quality–they don’t have time to check in on their social media accounts.  For a student passively listening to a lecture, it’s almost impossible to resist the lure of the distractions.

What is the problem here?  Are the laptops the issue?

If your primary task as a teacher is to cover content and communicate information, and if your students are passively listening and taking notes, then this study shows that it is important that you “should draw back, return to pencil and paper and chalkboards.”

But if your students transform, rather than transfer information; if the boundaries between your classroom and the “real world” are blurry; if what your students are learning will have relevance 30 years beyond the exam. . .

then bring in the laptops!

 

Big Questions and Deep Questions

Who ask the questions in your classroom? If the teachers had answered our questions when we were in high school, we’d have a better understanding of our world today.

Here is the studio version of a speech I made at an educational event, Learning Revolution.

Big Questions from Abbotsford Christian School on Vimeo.

In this inspiring “RevIt Up” talk, Trent DeJong describes one way in which a Learning Revolution may come about if educators would consider “deep questions” with their students. With examples from his own experience and a clever sense of humour, Trent is sure to make you think about how we can authentically engage the next generation of students.

 

Is Atheism a Religion?

Free-Photos / Pixabay

I recently read an article in which the author insisted that public funds not go to support religious schools. The rhetoric in this article was very much in the “us” versus “them” vein. In essence, “their” views, those of the religious, are tainted with the irrational and divisive forces of faith or belief common to all religions, unlike “our” rational and unifying position which is free from dangerous subjectivity.

In the comment section someone agreed saying:

Religious indoctrination of children is nothing less than abuse, and ought not to be allowed let alone publicly funded.

No child is raised without “religious” indoctrination

What this commenter does not understand is that there is no way to raise a child without “religious” indoctrination.

Modern rationalism or postmodern relativism, which dominate much of western education are inherently “religious.” So to is atheism.  Consequently, public schools are, in essence, are engaged in religious education–religious indoctrination, if you will.

I said as much in my response to above comment. To which another commenter objected saying:

Atheism is not a religion for the same reason that bald is not a hair colour.

He is right, baldness is not a hair color, but it is a hair style.

Two Meanings of “Religious”

There are two ways in which one might use the term “religious.” In one sense, atheism is not a religion.  When we define religious in terms of rituals and believing in spiritual beings, then atheism is not a religion for the same reason baldness is not a hair colour.

But in another very important sense, atheism is religious. The term can also refer to the guiding principles that one accepts by faith, that shape ones reality, and around which one organizes ones life.

These guiding principles are revealed in how one might answer fundamental questions about reality. Not everyone is aware of their own answers to these questions, but their lives testify to having answered them one way or another.

  • Does life have meaning? If so, what is it?
  • Does human life have value? If so, why?
  • Do we have a purpose? If so why?
  • Does the universe have a purpose?
  • Is the universe friendly, hostile or indifferent?
  • What’s wrong with the world?
  • What is the solution to what is wrong with the world?
  • Is there a God or gods?

Every human being lives out their answer to these questions. Interestingly, many people proclaim an answer to a question, but live out another answer. The answers, stated or lived, are religious. They are religious in that they cannot be proven; they are accepted by faith.

The Faith of Atheist

The atheist believes that there is no God on the same grounds that a theists believes that there is.  Both do so by faith; neither can know it to be so.

One may chose not to use the term religious to describe this category, but it doesn’t get atheism out of the category, whatever you call it.

Baldness is not a hair colour, but it is a hair style. Atheism does not engage in religious activities that arise out of a belief in a God, but they do make unverifiable claims about reality based on faith.

There is no way we can have an a-religious education, so the government will always be funding religious education. The question now remains, which religions will they fund.

From Routine to Ritual: Classroom Attendance

 

stevepb / Pixabay

So I was thinking of a routine I might turn into a ritual, as per my last post.

A school routine . . .

Attendance!  In every class, I take attendance.  This routine is so routine, there’s probably no one who doesn’t know how this works.  The teacher goes down the alphabetical list, calling out student names and the students say, “Here,” when they hear their name.  It’s a routine; it exists for no other reason that its purpose, and it’s executed quickly and efficiently.

I was thinking that, rather than every student saying the same thing, “Here,” why not have then each reply with something unique?  In my first class, I asked them to reply with their favourite colour when I called their name.  Attendance took a little longer, but the break from routine generated some excitement.

In my other classes, I asked other predictable questions:

  • What is your favourite food?
  • Who is your favourite villain?
  • What is your dream job?

The next day:

  • Who would you like to have coffee with?
  • What’s one book you’d want on a desert island?
  • In which historical period would you like to live?

Then we got a little more creative:

  • Which political or cultural figure would you like to hit with a pie in the face, or give a carnation?
  • What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?
  • What job would you never want?
  • What is your “spirit” animal? No, your “spirit” kitchen appliance?
  • What do you do when you are really sad (one word)?
  • One word, your most t embarrassing moment?
  • What movie would you like to be in, as which character?
  • What stupid superpower would you like to have?
  • What is a characteristic of one of your parents you hope you never acquire?
  • In my English classes I can ask, in which dystopian world would you rather live?
The routine of classroom attendance, can be transformed into a ritual that creates community and transforms the individuals in it. Click To Tweet

Norms

Interestingly, these questions generated a lot of excited chatter.  So much that it made it almost impossible to get to the end of the class list.  So we worked on some normative behaviours–“norms” that would improve the ritual.  I asked the students for their ideas and they came up with a good list.

  1. Don’t tell your answer to your neighbour until your name is called.
  2. Look at the person whose name is called so you can hear their contribution.
  3. Respond quickly and positively.
  4. Don’t forget to ask Mr. DeJong his answer.

Rituals mean something beyond the activity itself.  What I like about this attendance ritual is that it sets the tone for the rest of the class.

  • It’s fun and creative.
  • This fun and creativity is focused and contained.
  • This ritual celebrates the uniqueness of each individual as well as the importance of the communal context;
  • the value of each contribution, and contributor, is reinforced by the norm of respectful listening.
  • Everyone gets a voice; everyone’s voice is respected.

These “meanings” are at the core of what I am trying to teach in all of my classes–this “mindless ritual” is helping me to do it.

If you have any other suggestions for “Attendance Questions” please send them in the comment section.  I will be needing about 100 of them.

Conversation with a Textbook

Pathways-Banner

You won’t believe what this textbook said.

This is a conversation I had with a few pages of the new edition of  “Pathways,” a Social Studies textbook used in grade 8 classes.  The section was called “Religion and Civilizations.”

Me: Since you are written for use in public schools, it must be a little dicey when you talk about religion given that you are supposed to remain neutral on this sort of thing.  What do you see as the relationship between religion and civilization? 

Pathways:  “Religion is an important aspect of civilization.  In many civilizations, both in the past and in the present, religious beliefs are one way a civilization defines and describes itself.  Religion also influences people’s values and actions.” 

Me: I see.  And why do we study religion in grade 8?

Pathways: “Learning about different religions allows us to understand the civilizations to which these religions belonged.”

Me: That shouldn’t upset too many people, but as a religious person myself, I’d consider this a bit of a limited view.  Religion is more than a means by which we understand others, but I guess you’re limited in how much you can say about religion and still maintain your neutrality.   Tell me, what is your view on why we have religions in the first place?

Pathways:  “Human beings have always asked what we call ‘big questions.’  You have probably asked them, too.”

Me: Yes, I love the big questions.  That’s one of the reasons I like to blog.  But just to make sure we’re on the same page, what do you mean by big questions?

Pathways: What happens to me after I die? What is the difference between right and wrong? Why am I here? Why do bad things happen? How was all this created?

Me: Yes, these are pretty much the same as my questions.  I’ve heard them called worldview questions, and you are right; everyone asks them and everyone answers them (whether they admit it or not).  So what do these “big questions” have to do with why religion exists?

Pathways: “Human beings like to have answers to their questions.  Having answers make us feel more secure.” 

Me: Whoa! I might be jumping ahead here, but are you one of those people who think that the function of religion is to create a feeling–a feeling of security?   A safety blanket for the weak?  I’ve heard some ardent atheists call it a crutch for those who can’t face “reality.”   Aren’t you supposed to be neutral on issues of faith?  I mean, it is a pretty low view of religion, isn’t it?  I mean, most religious people understand that any security they may feel is merely a by-product of the more important search for truth and meaning–religion itself is actually a product of this search.   I understand I’m not being neutral either, but I don’t think it’s possible.  Is there no sense in which the big questions that religion answers might be rooted in a search for objective truth?

Pathways:  “[T]hese big questions cannot be answered the same way ordinary questions can be.”

Me:  “Ordinary” is a bit of a loaded word the way you are using it, it’s it?  Ordinary as in more “factual”?  Just because they cannot be answered in the same way–or are harder to answer–does not mean the answers aren’t true.  Anyway, you were saying something about the difference between big answers and “ordinary” answers?  Can you elucidate?

Pathways: “For example, science tells us that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.  This is based upon creating a hypothesis and then using experiments to discover if our original ideas were correct.  With religion, people have to accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence. “

Me: I’ve noticed your word choice.  Did you know you consistently use the term “us” when speaking of knowing and the word “people” when speaking about believing?  I thought it was interesting how you distance yourself, and, consequently, your readers from the act believing.   Where were we?  Oh yes, you said that ordinary questions are the ones that can be answered empirically and big questions can’t be answered empirically so their answers are non-scientific.  That sounds bad when you put it that way.  Are you implying they are just sorta made up?

Pathways: “In effect, [people] have to accept them based on their beliefs (faith).”

Me:  You are saying that something can’t be” correct,” unless it is proven empirically: with scientific evidence.  That means the only things that can be true are things having to do with the properties, history, and function of matter.  This would make sense, I suppose, if matter was all there is. 

Hold on a minute!  If you think that, you just answered a big question: “Is matter all there is?”  This is not an “ordinary” question, it’s a big question.  You can’t know if you are correct because this answer is based on non-scientific evidence.  If you are going to be answering big questions, I might accuse you of being religious.  Then what would happen to your neutrality? 

But let’s move on.  How do you explain why we have so many different religions?

Pathways: “Different Faiths, Different Answers”

Me: Could you elaborate?

Pathways: “There are many religions in the world, and each one has different answers to the big questions.” 

Me: Which one is right?

Pathways: “Which one is right? No one religion has the ‘right’ answers, because the big questions have no scientifically provable answers.”

Me:  So a religion can only be right if it is scientifically proven to be right?  That’s not very rational, is it?  It’s not even logical.  If all religions are different, some much be getting closer to some “correct” answers than others, even though it can’t be proven “scientifically”; it’s only logical.  Let me ask you this.  Isn’t a religion that teaches to love of one’s neighbours a little closer to the truth than one that teaches it’s OK to kill innocent children?  It’s not scientific proof, but it’s rational; correct in another type category, yes? 

But, I digress.  Your claim to neutrality seems to be a little suspect; you seem to have very clear views as to how we understand the beliefs of others, but you aren’t really admitting when you accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence.  I’m not sure that you are suitable for use in a public school, because you seem to support one set of unscientifically supported beliefs, over all other sets.  My concern is for the students.  What do you say to a grade 8 student who is thinking about the big questions?  I don’t think it would be appropriate to explicitly discourage them from being involved in religion.

Pathways:  In Canada today, there are many different religions.  If you were looking for a religion to belong to, you could find out what different religions say about the big questions.  Then you could choose the religion with the answers you are most comfortable with, or that fit best with what you already think. 

Me: Are you saying it doesn’t really matter what religion someone belongs to? At least you are consistent.   Do you suggest that the choice between religions is to be based on feelings or preexisting ideas?  I understand that you think you are being equally fair to all religions, but you are not really.  I think it’s much more accurate to say you are being equally unfair–degrading all of them.

People aren’t looking for comfort when they ask and answer the big questions, they are looking for truth because they believe they can find it.   Given this, people can’t just shop for a religion as they do for a dress–take the one that fits.  If you are going to respect religion, you must recognize that the individual conforms to religion, not the other way around. Your suggestion as to how to pick a religion is legitimate only if all religion doesn’t really matter, or are equally silly.  

Aren’t you really saying that we ought not to take our religion too seriously?

Pathways:  “Even if you had a different religion than your friends, that probably would not matter too much.  If fact, you could probably learn something from each other.”

Me:  By that statement, it is clear you are advocating religious tolerance.  Good, but your are trying to achieve tolerance by viewing religious beliefs as “not mattering too much.” 

True tolerance is only possible if we take each others beliefs seriously.  Wouldn’t the picture of true tolerance be a materialist, such as yourself, talking with a Christian and a Muslim over a good cup of coffee, disagreeing, but enjoying the company, the conversation, and the coffee all the while respecting the sincerity of each other’s beliefs? 

Wouldn’t this be a better picture to present to grade 8 students? 

© 2019 crossing the line

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑