Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tensions in Education

As an educator and a product of the American educational system, I have an interest in what we are doing, where we are going, and what we are trying to accomplish. Looking on the web at various universities and graduate programs, I read about strategic visions and again run up against the "education as product" issue. Granted, we have to make our goals clear, they must be clear to us, but the goals I am seeing sound more like production than development of people.

Along a parallel line in my mind, I am asking questions about how Christians should be and are "doing" education. We have so many Christian colleges and universities with varying degrees of academic excellence and spiritual discipline. The more I think about these things, questions bubble up:

Can an institution be "Christian"? This troubles me because it labels the product, e.g. a "Christian education." What is it that precisely makes it Christian? What do Christians do differently? (Let's talk about this later, but I suspect that it has more to do with required chapel, curfews, dress codes and media regulations than education.)

Where is excellence in Christian education? Where is excellence in our faith? What does excellence have to do, if anything, with how we teach or train young people. (Not our Christian young people, but any young people.)

As Christians we are called to love one another and our enemies. Where does that fit with excellence? If we are developing young minds, are love and striving for excellence mutually compatible?

If our goal is to be among the faithful, how do we find the balance in the educational world? We serve Love and we serve Truth. Those are not exclusive one of the other. But how does it mesh with competition and perfectionism?

These are a few of the ideas that surface when I meditate on what we as educators are striving to accomplish. Any thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

a day in the Ivory Tower

Today has been different. I sat by the fireplace in McConn (IWU's cafe), drank coffee and talked with young people serious about what they wanted to do and serious about their dreams. They are not all confident and certain, but they are passionate and engaged. They are in an institution which is educating them. I'm thinking about that.

Is education a commodity which can be bought and sold? Am I an idealist to think that an education is something that comes through hard work and personal effort? Something which requires asking difficult questions. Something which involves listening to those you disagree with, reading books that make you uncomfortable. Something which reaches deep into you and touches the living soul of you and challenges you to do the impossible.

Somehow, it appears that our culture has turned education into a product. Don't get me wrong, I was in a marvelous setting today: I saw young people sitting around working on their computers, reading, socializing, debating, being serious (and sometimes silly). It was perfect for a 21st century version of "The Aeropagus". I heard hard questions, icons shattered, and genuine heartfelt desire to learn and grow.

But within this fertile context, the structure was muddied with required classes, evaluations and assessments, drudge assignments, and a lack of sense of the intrinsic value. Education is being confused with codified, quantified packets of information, handed out, masticated and regurgitated. Education is being choked by training in a way of thought rather than how to think.

But these young people are seeing that their education is theirs to grasp. More than grades and notes and evaluations. More than what a panel of people somewhere deemed part of the basic requirements. And they are going to make changes, I hope. So much depends on a return to genuine love of learning.

Friday, February 17, 2012

par for the course

Suffering is not par for the course. It is the course.
This is not something we want to hear, but I am seeing it every day.

This trip has been amazing and so far we've only gone from Texas to Canada and down to Michigan. Only three weeks into a ten week sojourn. It has encouraged and challenged me. My friends have reminded me of the important things in life. Much as I'd like to give names, that might be invasive. So I will use hebrew letters to identify those who have ministered to me.

Aleph is recuperating from the ravages of chemo and accepting this second bout of cancer with grace and gratitude. Bet, her mother, is as joyful and full of laughter as ever; mindful of the precariousness of life, delighting in its robustness. The hospital stays and uncertainties are not dragging them down. Visiting them is a genuine "upper." Sure we talk about cancer, but we also revel in a son's amazing healing, an exotic eastern wedding, an upcoming grand/great-grandchild. God is honored.

Gimel deals with the effect of addiction in her family. Despite her own weaknesses, she presses on--encouraging all around her and keeping laughter close to the surface. Dalet and daughter are finding wholeness despite the loss of a beloved spouse; daughter is seeking to reach young people struggling with pain. Her tattoo is eloquent: the wrist slash ending in a heart. Jesus is pleased.

Hei is recovering from an invasive heart stimulation, but more aware of the needs and concerns of those she prays for daily. Her heart overflows with compassion. Vav has sons needing to make the right choices, but wisely chooses to allow them to make their choices and pray for them. Saying, "I told you so" would be easy. Watching them deal with consequences is so hard. The Body of Christ is strengthened.

Zayin is paying debts racked up by her deceased mother. Although her deceased ex-mother-in-law left a legacy, none came to her or her children. The injustice of this outrages me, but she says she is doing it to honor her mother. She harbors no bitterness about being left out of the other inheritance. Christ is smiling. Holy Spirit is given a situation to bring glory to God.

Het is caring for her Alzheimer's afflicted mother in law. At great personal and financial cost, she and her husband are taking up the slack from other siblings unwilling to help. Her own parents need more support and care which she struggles to give them. She is a source of encouragement to her sons as they see her example. The church is strengthened.

There are more that I hope to mention. But they are just a reminder of all those suffering, taking on of responsibility, doing the right thing which is the hard thing--being faithful disciples. Eternal realities are being tapped in this life. We are all heading on a course. The choices we make here are setting our direction. When we let suffering guide us into wisdom, the course is safe.

Suffering isn't par for the course. It is the course.