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One of the most poignant images from the recent Boston Marathon bombing was 8 year -old Martin Richard’s sign. The bombing was the largest of several stories of hurt in the month of April. People deeply hurt by gun violence were testifying in front of Congress. A video surfaced at Rutgers University showing a coach hurting players by his physical actions and harmful words directed at his players. It struck me that Martin, by his sign, was not only hoping for an absence of pain by his choice of his first four words, but also a pro-active state of peacefulness by his next. If we seek peace, we must not simply embrace it as an abstract concept, but consider how peace may be attained in our daily lives and at what cost.
Mulling over all these events, I found myself wrestling with the situation of the fired coach and what implications it might have for all those who seek to nurture faith in students. I found myself wondering about how we define the line he crossed. I am a sports fan and regularly see coaches display intensity, passion, and anger – how similar are they to the Rutgers coach and where is the line of unacceptability drawn? As I considered this I began to think of not just coaches, but teachers and other adults who work with kids. Where does “helping and discipline” turn into hurting? Does it just have to do with volume or is quiet sarcasm to control and manipulate kids just as deadly? Is sarcasm ever acceptable in working with kids or is it a lazy way for an adult to maintain control, to be cool with the cool kids, to keep the classroom pecking order intact so that equilibrium and order can be maintained – at whatever cost?
I also wondered how some adults who refrain from using any objectionable methods with youth get stellar results year after year. The ones we should be emulating are the best coaches and teachers who demonstrate by word and deed that they truly see the person in front of them as an image-bearer of the God of heaven and earth and therefore worthy of the same respect they would expect to receive! They do not need to shout at or put down a student in front of the peers of the student or later in front of their own peers. They seek to build up students, and in return, the students are secure in the love of the teacher. Students will take and even seek correction and advice from them. Why do some teachers and coaches get not only results but respect and lifelong admiration from those in their charge? And why do we put up with anything less if we are truly serious about emulating Jesus and living out our school missions?
My belief is that in Christian education we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard – we seek to serve the Prince of Peace who says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Our children’s faith is nurtured or discouraged by the words and actions of adults around them – it will take courage for us to confront each other if we see hurting happening by an adult – but it is what we are called to as children of God working with God’s children.
(Fifth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)
Are we fogging the mirror? The statement,“We believe all children are made in the image of God,” has powerful consequences that I invite you to think about related to this aspect of flourishing. Are the ways we teach our students encouraging them to be more creative and divergent thinkers and therefore increasing their flourishing? A flourishing student is certainly one who demonstrates a developed sense of thinking divergently and creatively about problems and solutions. How can this capability be developed and enhanced over the course of a student’s educational experience? One of the things that we grieve in the process of the education of children is the loss of creativity. In his well-known video, Sir Ken Robinson alludes to the book, Breakpoints and Beyond ,and a test of creativity. The gist of this study, and his point, is that creativity diminishes each year from kindergarten forward. Robinson wryly suggests that the common denominator in life for children is that they have attended school. A sad commentary!
Robinson is not alone in his concerns. In a recent blog post entitled “My Son is 8. He is a Maker,” professor Scott McLeod, writes about his 8 year old son, lamenting that the process of “making” is getting squashed out of his son’s life by school. Others who have had a similar personal experience share their stories in the comments to this post. I especially was touched by the woman writing about her 16 year old daughter’s experiences and the comment by a teacher who is attempting to teach her AP English class creatively.
School has wounded some learners and damaged their creativity and divergent thinking. In fact, wounds of creativity are one of the several types of wounds listed by author Kirsten Olson in her book Wounded by School. This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.
As Christians, we believe that each person bears God’s image and that we reflect his goodness, beauty, and creativity. I have asked the question previously in this blog: “If we ‘kill creativity’ through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?” This is a very sobering thought!
We have an unprecedented array of both technological tools and global awareness/opportunities today as we work with students. In his new book, Brain Gain – Marc Prensky, best known for his “digital native, digital immigrant” language, argues that technology actually complements and frees the mind for greater creativity. It is up to us as teachers and administrators to build an encouraging environment/opportunities, give permission/encourage students, and create a culture of expectation for creative work.
A word about standards and creativity – they are not in opposition to each other – it is not an either/or scenario. In the McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) paper Five Things That Make the Biggest Difference in Schools, Bryan Goodwin suggests: “Standards should not be the ends of education, but rather the beginning, the platform for creativity, innovation, and personalization.” As we now recognize, creativity is at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how perfect that the highest thing we can do is to image our creator’s creativity!
Some creativity links for you to explore:
What would happen if we “Let Kids Rule the School”?
Creative cities are happy cities – towns where learning is held highly and creative work is valued.
A creative young maker demonstrating creative things kids can do: Sylvia
Curriculum of Creativity – a compilation of ideas.
What might be done to produce different learning environments that stimulate creativity?
Will Richardson blog post: “How do we help our students establish themselves as a “node” in a broad, global network of creativity and learning? Shouldn’t that be one of the fundamental questions that drives our work in schools right now?”
Video creation - by Rushton Hurley – Next Vista for Learning - five minute videos created by students about things to be learned, global study and service.
Careful – this video is just for fun, but you may recognize something you have said to stifle creativity: “Anti-creativity checklist” created by Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.
And to close, some wonderful creative student efforts happening at two of our CSI schools in Canada:
Toronto District – Unique Programs
Abbotsford Christian – Student Showcase
Wow – it’s the end of the year already – 2012 has flown by! It is time for a number of hopefully helpful, inspirational, or intriguing goodies that I like to share with you. Enjoy the collection and in the spirit of Christmas pass on to others what you think they may find helpful!
Let’s start out with some science:
One of David Mulder’s science education students at Dordt College – Amber VanderVeen – has put together an online resource website. Thanks, Amber and Dave!
One of the science teachers at Lansing (MI) Christian, Omar Bjarki, made me aware recently of a YouTube channel called Minute Physics. Here you will find fascinating topics relating to physics explained in a matter of minutes. Great for your class or your own learning! Thanks, Omar!
I recently overheard a middle school science teacher raving about the Forensic Science Unit on this middle school teacher science site.
I am always on the lookout for new ways to encourage reading. This caught my eye – 8 Free IPad Apps for Young Learners.
I have mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy so many more times than I thought ever likely when I first learned it! Here is a nicely explained version of the latest taxonomy including the creating aspect.
I am seeing a lot more blogging activity by principals, teachers and students, which is encouraging! See what the best bloggers are doing – here are the latest Edublog 2012 awards for various types of blogs that have been deemed to be the very best!
What could we learn from Finland? I blogged about this in September 2012 and here is an interesting selection of some of the differences: 26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System.
Provocative Dept.#1: Are we paying attention to what our students are saying? Are we asking them what they think about how they are learning? They may be saying: “I hate school, but I love learning!” Check out what the kids are saying in these videos.
Provocative Dept. #2: What would schools look like if we were organized around the idea of students as empowered, passionate, interested, self-directed learners? Here is a quick summary and current critique by a high school sophomore at a Tedx youth event.
Blended learning – want to know more? Here is a very helpful report from FSG (a non-profit consulting and research company) entitled: Blended Learning in Practice: Case Studies from Leading Schools.
Are any of your teachers using Learnist.com? “It’s like a Pinterest for education, as it allows users to collect web resources and add them to “Learnboards” to educate an audience about a particular subject.” – Hauna Zaich, Edutopia.
The end of higher education as we know it? Here’s a good short article on the impact of the rise of MOOC’s!
Are badges a better way for kids to show what they know? Here are six frames to help us understand badges’ potential for showing student learning inside and outside of school. Also – Learn “Why a Badge is Better than an A+”.
40 Predictions for the Future – an excellent list by Tom Vander Ark.
If Pinterest is new to you, you should check out the neat way resources are organized. Here is a really helpful Pinterest site by New Tech that is dealing with educational topics.
What is the correlation between socio-economic status and achievement? An oft debated topic thoughtfully dealt with by Grant Wiggins.
I got a kick out of this picture of the technology available in the 1980’s (see right) that is now all contained in our smartphones – amazing!
If you enjoyed my blog post on World Class Learners by Yong Zhao or would like to know more, here is a link to a 9 minute audio entitled World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.
Great info about the value of education and teachers in this report A Dozen Economic Facts by The Hamilton Project, part of the Brookings Institution.
Dr. Todd Hall has been doing some amazing research on the spiritual lives of Christian college students – here is an overview. I encouraged schools to consider using his Spiritual Transformation Inventory in 2007- – if any of you are using it I would love to hear from you!
I leave you with some good humor: “O Fortuna – bring more tuna” – this is what happens when we don’t understand the words – you will not ever hear this piece of music again without these images popping into your head – have a wonderful Christmas break!
One of the best new books that I have been recommending to others recently is Yong Zhao’s book: World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Why do I like this book so much? Here are five reasons.
1. Our current state – Zhao makes a compelling case for our loss of creativity among students (it gets worse the more we educate students!) and points to curriculum narrowing and the latest school reform efforts. He demonstrates that there is an inverse relationship between entrepreneurship scores and international test scores – in other words some of the countries scoring best on the PISA tests are showing a low level of entrepreneurship among students. He argues that, due to curriculum narrowing with NCLB, time for the arts, music physical education, and even science has been decreased, resulting in a marginalized curriculum. With a global job shift underway, entrepreneurial skills are more needed than ever – and we are not preparing students for this changed world.
2. The myth of superior Chinese education – Zhao points out that while we have been trying to learn how countries such as Singapore, Korea, and China get superior international test scores, they have been trying to learn how the United States remains the hotbed of innovation. He asks: “Why does the United States remain the world’s innovation hub despite its long history of poor standing in international education assessments? Where did all the creative entrepreneurs come from?’ His answer is that China has been even better than the U.S. at killing the creative spirit. For example, the preeminence, and I would add, idolatry of, the national college entrance exams in Far Eastern countries, locks and dooms students to limited life opportunities and are one of the major factors behind the despair, depression, and high suicide rates of youth in these countries.
3. Changing the paradigm – simply put, is schooling about narrowing down human diversity into a set of desirable skills for employment or about celebrating human diversity (individual, cultural, and economic differences) toward enhancing and expanding talents? Traditional education will only get us so far – we need to be paying attention to education that is child centered, that recognizes the gifts and needs of each learner, capitalizes on their strengths, and gives them the freedom to sharpen their talents and expand their opportunities.
4. Product oriented learning – citing past examples of student oriented learning and recent engagement (or should I say student disengagement) data, Zhao believes that “freedom to learn and authentic student leadership” constitute the first fundamental principle of the new education paradigm we need for the 21st century.” Therefore, school must have environments that have a broad range of experiences for students, promote personalized learning, are flexible, and involve students as decision makers. He goes on to examine various product oriented learning environments and shows how project based learning is making a difference for students and exemplifies the design principles he suggests.
5. Global, world-class education – in order for schools to develop entrepreneurs, they must move beyond their physical boundaries and engage with others around the world to network and solve problems. I appreciated his specific examples of schools doing this. In order for students to be global entrepreneurs they must develop their cultural intelligence in order to effectively network. Zhao closes by giving us this helpful summary – we must pay attention to the “what” (student passions, interests, creativity); the “how” (problems, products, caring about people’s needs); and the “where” (global perspectives, partners, and competencies.)
The ideas expressed in this book would fit well with a transformational and Christian approach to education. I highly recommend that our schools (teachers, administrators, and boards) read and discuss this book and then consider what it means for their school’s mission and vision moving into the future.
The day had come! As I sat down at my desk I realized the nest was empty. The last robin had left the nest and was sitting down below the nest under the deck rafters. It looked unready for the next step, tufts of feather fluff hanging off all parts of its body. I noticed also that the mother had not abandoned it, but kept bringing food to it on a regular basis. I wondered how long the life of this baby might last given predators and its seeming inability to find its own food. It finally moved into the grass area and began to give a few tentative hops, emulating the movement of its mother. Its wings were not any more ready to fly than the two sets of five gosling babies further away in the yard, but they certainly appeared more robust and capable of defending themselves.
I began to think about the love/care that God built into these bird creatures, and thought about the fact that this is how God has made them – they, not being capable of rational thought, simply act in what we would call blind faith. Certainly deciding to conceive and raise children is an act of faith. We cannot see what the future holds for any of us in the next few minutes or hours of our lives, yet we must, like the robin parent, just move ahead with life, as we cannot wrap our minds around what might happen next. We also know that if we cage our young, they will never develop the wing strength to soar.
We have opportunities to work with “short-winged” and “fluffy-feathered” ones every day. We are teaching them how to not only survive but thrive in a world where they will be a distinct minority in terms of their worldview. As evidence, I submit Kenda Dean’s recent estimate in her book Almost Christian that only 8% of youth have “a creed to believe, a community to belong to, a call to live out, and a hope to hold on to.” Barna’s estimates from his research suggest that only 3% of those ages 18-41 hold a biblical worldview. When we see these numbers it may make us desire to protect and shelter our students even more – but like the parent robin, our best contribution may be modeling a vibrant faith and faithful way of living, so that the remnant of youth that we have opportunity to work with may be seeing the world clearly, being challenged to apply the Gospel, and to be the prophetic and faithful Daniels/Danielles of this coming generation.
I would like to share two resources that merit attention and may be helpful in nurturing faith with students.
The story of Corrie Ten Boom is one that some of us may be familiar with – a Christian woman in the Netherlands who hid Jews from persecution during the Holocaust. I learned about a resource related to this story from former Rehoboth Executive Director, Ron Polinder, who happened to sit down on a flight next to Susan Sandager, an actor who presents a one-woman dramatization called Time with Corrie. The informational brochure and contact information can be found here: Corrie Ten Boom -SandagerBrochure-7 copy. I believe with Ron that “Corrie’s story is one that we and our children and grandchildren and students should never forget–it is an important message . . .” There is much that our students can gain from the stories of heroes of faith such as Corrie that is instructive and inspirational for their own lives. The sharing of narratives and faith stories is one of the best ways that we can encourage faith in our students.
Kiva is a way to help connect people through lending to reduce poverty in the world. Individuals or organizations can lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. The Kiva website indicates that there has been about $300 million dollars lent by 739,477 lenders since 2005 and that the repayment rate has been 98.94%! This seems amazing! Kiva does this work through 147 field partners and 450 volunteers in 61 countries around the world.
What is compelling to me about Kiva is that it is giving a hand up, as opposed to a hand out. If a class or classroom were to collect money, select a project, and connect with an individual, not only that individual could be helped, but the money could be reused next year with another class. Or ideally, if each class were to raise funds, there could be additional people helped each year due to the repaid money and the new funds. There are currently over 1,070 school teams lending money. The leading team is a school from Honolulu that has lent over $118,650! They have made it part of their senior capstone project. I’d love to see one of our Christian schools at the top of the leader board – what a great way to engage our kids globally!
(Thanks to my friend Mary Beth Pollema, Spanish teacher at Central Minnesota Christian School, for sharing this blog post.)
Let’s face it—social networking is here to stay! Though some people would argue that it encourages poor spelling and improper capitalization and punctuation habits, recent studies are showing that all the texting, tweeting, blogging, posting, etc. that students are doing is not “dumbing them down”, but is actually contributing to them becoming more literate and fluent in their writing. The point is– they’re reading and writing. And thanks to social networking it’s quite possible that they’re doing it more now than ever before. As a language arts teacher, I can get behind that and even be excited about it because I believe there are ways to use social networking tools to enhance education and I have even had some positive experiences in my classroom with blogs, wikis and Twitter.
My favorite tool with my freshmen English class is Blogger. I haven’t always known how to use this application. In fact, I haven’t always been an English teacher—I’m a Spanish teacher who writes as a hobby. But in my first year of teaching at my current school, I found that tucked in among the various Spanish classes on my schedule was a lone English 9 class. My administrator asked me to focus on teaching writing. Not a problem, I thought, I love to write! But it was a definite challenge that year because I found that very few of my students shared my passion for writing. Yes, they did a lot of writing for me and some of it was of good quality, but I could tell they didn’t enjoy it. And when they handed in their final drafts to be read by me–their audience of one—as far as they were concerned, the assignment was done.
I knew I needed to try to build some enthusiasm for the task of writing so I integrated Blogger the very next school year with my new batch of freshmen. The shift in my students’ attitudes towards writing has been dramatically positive though the writing assignments have generally remained the same. With Blogger, my students now have an online platform through which to share their writing with others and to respond to the writing of their peers. I believe this gives them a whole new impetus for writing since we all have an innate desire to have our voice be heard and our words be read.
Blogging helps to foster critical thinking, evaluation and creativity skills. Students not only learn to write, but also to design a blogspot in their own customized style and to provide constructive criticism via posts on their classmates’ blogspots. Even after the final drafts are published the students are reading their classmates’ writings and responding to them and this is happening both during class time AND outside of class time—simply because they like to interact online I have found that blogger.com is a wonderful tool to teach writing. And best yet—it’s completely free and easy to use! (I hope to write more about wikis and educational uses for Twitter in future posts.)
We have reached the finish line for this year! I hope you have enjoyed reading Nurturing Faith. I keep a number of files of ideas to use when writing this blog and I still have a variety of interesting things that I would like to share with you below. Enjoy!
15 provocative things to read
Grand Rapids Christian High did an “old fashioned social network” and found it had unexpected results! Read about their “sharing wall.”
Want better student engagement in your class? See 7 Solutions for Educators Who Want 21st Century Students to Tune In.
The limits of standardized testing are well articulated by this AP student.
With increasing technology use, what is the role of the teacher – are they a dispensable algorithm or indispensable artist?
Helpful summary of how technology impacts the brain.
Can you get kids to talk about what you want them to discuss using backchanneling?
Take this 10 question quiz to see if you are a tech savvy teacher.
McREL says there are 5 things that make the biggest difference in schools.
A great resource site for new teachers divided by levels.
Best sites to check out how to use iPads in education.
Three reports that you should take a look at:
The-Rise-of-K-12-Blended-Learning – produced by Innosight Institute – it has very helpful explanations of blended learning models and gives 40 profiles of schools implementing new models.
The 2011-Horizon-Report-K12 “examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative expression within the environment of pre-college education.surface significant trends and challenges and to identify a wide array of potential technologies for the report. “
The Story is a unique chronological version of the Bible written by Max Lucado and produced by Zondervan with a focus on God’s story to his people throughout history. CSI will be making this resource and accompanying materials available to schools – contact Bible specialist Kent Ezell (email@example.com) at CSI for more info. He has been blogging on this resource here and here.
RADCAB: Your Vehicle for Information Evaluation is a book written by Calvin Christian (Minnesota) teacher Karen Christensson that is designed to help upper elementary and middle school kids think critically about information online. The acronym RADCAB stands for six important concepts for evaluating information.
Book: 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn – eds. Bellanca and Brandt, Solution Tree, 2010.
Book: 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers: The Truth on Raising Teenagers from Parents Who Have Been There - the latest from Walt Mueller.
Your continued learning
In my speaking lately I have been encouraging schools to consider the power of PLN’s – Personal Learning Networks. If you are not familiar with the term or want to learn more, I suggest that you start here and here.
If you haven’t checked out Twitter, read why I am excited about it here and then get started!
Have a wonderful summer!
Yours for continued learning,
Following NPR’s Andy Carvin on Twitter the past month has meant an almost continuous stream of “retweets” of those in the action in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and other hotspots. The tweets have been raw, unedited, emotionally wrenching, and urgent. They impacted my thinking and my prayer life. Yet was that an appropriate response? Should I somehow do more?
I recently read an article that commented on the fact that donations for the crisis in Japan were running behind those of the earlier crisis in Haiti and with Katrina. The experts suggested that we perceived a greater need in Haiti based on a lesser self-sufficiency. They also mentioned that the needs were more clearly articulated in the Haiti and Katrina crises. Is it then perceived neediness, need articulation, or does the location of the crisis make a difference?
In our digitally connected world, on what basis do we decide which crisis to pay attention to and use for teaching purposes? Has our technology outstripped our ability to respond empathetically? How do we avoid a generalized dulling of our ability to feel our neighbor’s pain? Who is our neighbor and how can I possibly respond to all of my neighbors? Which neighbors do I pay attention to? These are questions that I believe are important to discuss with our colleagues and fellow staff members.
For those of you who don’t have the time to read an article (!) – some hopefully interesting stuff!
Marketing your school – great resources/videos
A series of six short videos produced by Covenant Christian in Sydney
Discover Christian Schools – excellent advocacy site
Have you seen Mustard Seed’s new documentary video?
I like this:
Learning is fun department
Here is a very cool country comparison site – compare any two countries in the world.
For all you futurists out there – 100 Things to Watch in 2011 – thanks to Rex Miller for sharing this via Twitter.
What books are you reading with your faculties or on your own and finding helpful? Please leave a title in the comments section – see link to comments up by the beginning of this post. Thanks!
I have sung in many choirs with different directors over the years and without fail, and regardless of the skill level of the choir, each director has encouraged the choir members to articulate more clearly. Bottom line, even though the choir members have spent hours learning the notes, phrasing, intonation, timing, and expression, if they don’t articulate the words carefully, they are failing to communicate. Singers may be aware of the importance of clear enunciation and even have the desire to communicate the message, but articulation requires sustained, focused, and passionate energy to succeed.
According to David Kinnaman and Barna Research, teens are not articulating their faith with clarity. Even though kids like the concept of being Christian, the researchers are finding that kids are having less conversations about what they believe. What is more surprising is that among Protestant teens, the Barna study states “they are more likely to pray, go to worship services, read the Bible and attend youth group meetings than were Protestant-affiliated teens a dozen years ago.” It appears that our kids have bought the idea that we are to inclusive and not offend anyone – even when it comes to our deepest convictions of faith. Where would they get this idea?
Christian Smith, in his impressive Soul Searching study of 13-17 year old students, tells us that we get what we are – in other words, our kids are emulating our behavior. In a recent study by the Christian Reformed Church (the church out of which many CSI schools were born), the devotional habits of adults are in serious decline. For example, the percentage of families having daily devotions has declined from 60% in 1992 to 43% in 2007. If we don’t engage in regular spiritual disciplines, how can we expect our kids to? If they don’t see us sharing our faith with others, how can we expect that they will?
In a video clip I use in workshops, the avowed atheist entertainer, Penn Jillette, speaks about an encounter with a businessman who gave him a New Testament after a performance. Penn respected that gesture and believes that everyone who feels strongly about their faith should be proselytizing. He likens the lack of sharing one’s faith to seeing a truck bearing down on someone and not trying to push them out of the way. In other words if you believe that a person is going to hell and you have a way to save them, but don’t tell them, you are acting as if you hate them.
Are we teaching kids how to have conversations about Jesus? Are we modeling that for them in our own lives?
A new word I really like: “Complexipacity – the cognitive skills necessary for dealing with complexity, including systemic thinking, creativity, collaboration, problem solving, contextual learning, and cyber-literacy.” – David Pearce Snyder in Futurist magazine.
“Silo thinking by discipline area doesn’t help kids deal with complex situations.” (author of quote unknown.) Sounds like Christian schools should be leading the way in non-silo thinking since we believe all things cohere in Christ – right?
“What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” George Bernard Shaw
From the book: The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social-Network sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future by S. Craig Watkins. Besides winning the longest subtitle award, here are some interesting comments and facts from the book:
- You thought you knew what CPA meant: “An unintended consequence of young kid’s adoption of digital media is that fast entertainment and continual partial attention (CPA) are invading our nation’s schools.”
- Comment on student texting – 42% of the teens in a Harris Interactive online panel indicated they could text blindfolded!
- Countering the idea that technology disengages kids from reality: “…more young voters than older voters reported attending a campaign event…a larger percentage of Americans under the age of thirty voted than at anytime since 1972…turnout was between 52 and 53 percent…the reversal of a near quarter-of-a-century trend…Obama won young voter by 34 points (as opposed to Gore in 2000 by 2 points, Kerry by seven points in 2004.)
Instead of playing “Devil’s Advocate” consider being an “Angel’s Advocate” – list three good ideas about a new idea first, then address your concerns. – Marci Segal in Futurist magazine.
“Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy
“For most of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.” – John Ortberg
In my city of Holland, Michigan, where the annual celebration of Tulip Time celebrates our Dutch beginnings, I was startled to learn recently that fifty-one percent of young people, aged eighteen and under, are Hispanic. What’s happening in Holland is being replicated across North America, in rural areas, cities and towns.
We’re been hearing it and reading about it for years: North America is becoming increasingly multicultural. Some schools, such as those in urban centers and along the coasts, have experienced a steady rise in the number of non-North American students for some time, and have added staff and programs to help them adjust and become full members of the school community (English as a Second Language programs, tutors, new admissions policies for International students, school to school partnerships, immersion language programs.
A number of schools have added out-of-country short-term mission trips to their programs, where students and staff spend a week on projects (often building) through programs such as the Hands program offered and facilitated by World Wide Christian Schools. Other schools, such as Fraser Valley Christian High School and Zeeland Christian School have developed partnerships with schools in other countries.
But many schools have found their attempts to work interculturally to be like building a bridge as they walk on it. They want to find ways to welcome the strangers and to equip their students and faculty to be sensitive to the needs of these new, often non-English speaking members, but it’s often discouraging work and the bridges don’t lead anywhere (as we discovered with the trendy workshops on “diversity training” that proliferated for a decade or more).
Now there’s a wonderful new resource for all schools and churches interested in a deeper, better way to imagine intercultural learning from a biblical, Reformed world view.
In his recent book Learning From the Stranger (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009), David Smith makes a detailed biblical argument that “hospitality, humility, and hearing belong together.” “If they part ways, then the idea of hospitality easily becomes a new form of condescension in which I am always the host and the other is my needy guest.” At its best, intercultural encounters move us from learning about others to learning from them and finally to learning with them.
Smith, from Britain, teaching German at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has thought for a long time about “the need for a framework for thinking in Christian terms about learning other languages and cultures in a way that takes seriously learning from the stranger.” (p. 149) In the seven chapters of the book he lays out such a framework and attempts to ground it theologically in scripture, looking in great detail at the story of the nomad Abraham’s fears and failures, Jesus’ challenges to the teacher of law to learn to obey scripture from an outsider, a Samaritan, and finally at the birth of the early church at Pentecost.
Learning from the Stranger articulates what “culture” is, and discusses the ways in which our cultural differences affect our perceptions and our behavior. His analysis and his stories resonate because virtually none of us interacts exclusively with people who look, talk, behave, and think like we do in our culturally interconnected world.
To be Christian, Smith argues, means first, “that on theological grounds, …to profess Christian faith implies a willingness to grow together with fellow believers whose ethnicities, languages, and cultures are different from my own….to be Christian is to imitate Christ’s open-armed embrace of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, barbarian, Scythian, African, European, Latino, Asian. To be Christian is, furthermore, not to reserve for oneself the role of host, the one who sets the table, but to learn to see Christ in others, to receive correction from them, to be joined to them, to learn from the stranger.” (p. 145, 146).
Smith’s insights into the biblical story are supported by his experiences as a teacher of German language and culture, his experiences as a stranger to North American culture, and his wide travels around the globe. He persuasively argues that learning other languages and cultures is a task for everyone, not just those who hope to serve as cross-cultural missionaries.
I highly recommend this book to any person or organization who is looking for a biblically grounded way to think about the growing multicultural nature of our lives and our work. It’s a challenging, and very helpful book that points us in the right direction as we struggle to understand what it means to “love our neighbor.”
If there is one book about kids that you should consider reading in the next few months, I would recommend that you dive into NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. The authors take a chapter each to explore ten subjects related to kids, analyze the related research, and present conclusions that challenge conventional thinking. Chapter topics include praise, sleep, race, lying, kindergarten, siblings, teen rebellion, self-control, playing with others, and infant language skills.
The conclusions in this book should provoke healthy and productive discussion among K-12 teaching faculty at school or church, parenting groups, or husbands and wives. The authors have done a great service in synthesizing a wide range of research, field interview material, and resources into an enjoyable and readable book that will appeal to a wide range of adults who work with and nurture children and youth.
Some of you may have enjoyed the previous Did You Know videos . . . well enjoyed is probably not the correct word – let’s see – jolted by them might be more appropriate. They are a helpful visual compilation of the kinds of rapid change happening in our world that has relevance to educators and others.
Here is the latest in the Did You Know series, highlighting media convergence.
In case you missed the first video and remixed versions of that video, the most recent version of the original video is the 3.0 version below.
Parents, dealing with the ups and downs of their adolescent child, may ask themselves: “What should I be expecting as normal with my child in adolescence?” In his latest book, The Space Between: A Parent’s Guide to Teenage Development, Walt Mueller approaches the topic with realistic and spiritually grounded optimism, the heart of an experienced parent, and the mind of someone who has dedicated himself to the topic over a 30 plus year career. He starts with some fundamental perspectives/truths and then moves through teenage changes physically, socially, intellectually, emotionally, and morally/spiritually. I especially appreciated his concise summaries of teens using Tim Keller’s categories related to identity formation – sexual partners, academic or athletic achievement, money and possessions, pleasure/gratification/comfort, relationships and approval, noble causes, and religion and morality. Packed with helpful quotes and up to date information on areas such as brain research, I found the book to be very accessible and at 120 pages a reasonable length for the intended parent audience. I bring it to your attention because I think it is a helpful tool for both parents and staff members at Christian middle and high schools.
(Recently you received the February Christian School Teacher that referenced the opportunity that worship teams from CSI high schools had to attend the recent Calvin Institute of Worship Symposium. Thanks to Gale Tien, from our CSI office, who shares this report of the day’s activities.)
On January 23, 2009, I had the privilege to participate in the Calvin College Symposium on Worship. My role was to be an observer at the day-long gathering of nearly 25 Christian High School Worship/Chapel Committees. This group of nearly 150 students, teachers, and administrators from across North America, was brought together to discuss the role of worship in Christian high schools and to explore best practices in this area. It was inspiring to see more than one hundred high school students gathered to discuss and explore the role of worship in Christian high schools. It was a blessing to hear so many of these students express their love for Jesus and their desire for their classmates to come to love Jesus more dearly.
The day began in corporate worship with the larger group of symposium attendees. The Fine Arts Center on the Campus was nearly filled with people from around the globe. The multi-age, multi-denominational, multi-ethnic, multi-race, multi-worship style group and the worship that occurred set a beautiful tone for the remainder of the day. My prayer is that the high school students, some of whom were at times critical of their church worship experiences, gained a sense of how wonderful multi-generational worship can be. A consistent “thread” of their criticism related to worship with older people who don’t share the same taste in music or worship style. I pray that an added blessing for the high school students was the multi-cultural element of the opening worship.
(I feel I should add a bit of confession, lest it seem that the high school students were the only ones who learned and grew from the time of corporate worship. When the main speaker, Craig Barnes began talking, I noticed someone “talking” in a low voice in the row behind me. I began to feel my blood pressure rise as I anticipated having to deal with this distraction during Barnes’ comments. When I turned to give a disapproving “look” at the person who was talking, I realized it was an interpreter who was translating for a number of non-English speaking attendees. A wave of guilt caused me to sheepishly turn back around when I realized that what was taking place was a wonderful situation similar to what is described in Acts 2. I offered a “bullet prayer” asking God to forgive me for my myopia. I felt God’s forgiveness immediately and returned to experiencing a wonderful day.)
Following the corporate worship, the high school students, teachers, and administrators moved into a separate time to consider the role of worship in a Christian high school.
Ron Rienstra set an excellent context for the remainder of the day. He did a remarkable job of presenting substantive and theoretical ideas in a way that the group could digest and process these ideas. Ron provided so many wonderful ideas and thoughts. (I felt like I was being asked to “take a sip out of fire hydrant”.) I thought one of Ron’s greatest contributions to the day was the challenge to “find the fine line” between acknowledging the need for passion and emotion in worship, but not allowing worship to only be passion and emotion. I loved the quote that Ron referenced that “God does not always ‘move’ us . . . and all that ‘moves’ us is not always from God.” I also appreciated exploring the concept that worship includes three aspects; all of life, what happens on Sunday morning, and the intimate sense of God’s presence. I strongly agreed with his comment/quote about how people who report that Sunday worship is uninspiring often come to realize that the problem is not with their Sunday worship. Rather, there is no connection between their “Sunday worship” and their “all of life” worship. It was great to hear and see that the young people at my table understood and embraced Ron’s presentation on the Complexity of Worship.
Following Ron Rienstra’s presentation, Jack Postma and Sharon Veltema of Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, Michigan, presented the role and implementation of chapel/worship at Unity Christian High School. Chapel/worship plays a large and frequent role at the school. Jack and Sharon described the history and progression of the plan, the philosophical foundation for worship at Unity, as well as practical advice for the other schools.
Following a “networking” lunch, which afforded attendees the opportunity to discuss and dialogue with other participants, the group moved into the afternoon session. The teachers and administrators gathered to discuss topics pertinent to high school leaders. The students participated in a rotation of three workshops. The topics were: Music and High School Worship, The Spoken Word (Prayers and Scripture Reading) and High School Worship, and The Visual Arts (Dance, Drama, and Use of Media) and High School Worship. The workshops were led by Calvin College students who are Worship Apprentices. Each sectional included a discussion of the philosophy and role of each area, as well as practical advice about implementing each of the areas. I was very impressed with the sincerity and maturity of the Calvin College Worship Apprentices.
Following this rotation of worships, the entire group; students, teachers, and administrators, gathered for a closing session, led by Bob Keeley. This closing session served the dual purpose of putting “closure” on some of the topics of the day but also allowed for some new thoughts and “next time” topics to be introduced. The most significant “next time” topic in my opinion (and a consensus expressed in the group discussion also) is to explore the role and interaction between the church and school regarding worship.
I left the symposium inspired and thankful. I was inspired to see the passion and fervor of the high school students and the adults that accompanied the students. It was so wonderful to see the students’ love for the Lord and desire to include expanded worship in their school. I was thankful for the work of John Witvliet, Bob Keeley, and the Worship Institute staff among others, who organized the gathering. I strongly commend the organizers of the day and would urge that there be a “next meeting”. I would suggest if at all possible it be a “cohort” type gathering and bring back as many of the young people who were at this first meeting to hear how the day impacted them and influenced worship at their school. Along with these returning students, new students should also be encouraged to join.
(Post contributed by Nathan Siebenga, Vice Principal of Student Life at Hamilton District High School, Hamilton, Ontario – thanks Nathan for sharing!)
Three grade 10 boys leave campus property to go and get some treats at the “Hasty Market”. Running a little late on their way back to school, they come across two garbage bags of leaves. One boy thinks nothing of the bags as he is more worried about the trouble for being late. Another wonders where the leaves came from originally. The last boy has an idea. “Hey, let’s take these to school and fill the downstairs bathroom with them!”
“Huh?” says the one boy. “What … ah, okay, whatever?” says the other.
Now motivated and marching faster, the boys take the bags of leaves back to school. Being late for the first afternoon class meant there were very few people in the hallway, so they slipped in the side door avoiding the main-office. Once in the bathroom, they emptied the bags everywhere leaving it with a different smell. With hearts pounding, the boys got rid of the garbage bags above the ceiling tiles and prepared their get away. They peer down both hallways to see that the coast is clear and then proceed to step out into the hall. They enter the main office with their veins coursing with adrenaline. Trying to keep straight faces they ask for late slips. Warily the receptionist behind the counter asks, “What happened?” “We had to leave” one of the boys says, putting the other two into stitches. The receptionist hands out the 3 late slips and ponders the event by making a mental note.
Minutes later a distraught student comes into the office to share with reception that there are leaves all over the bathroom. “Did you hear that, Mr. VanPrincin?” the receptionist calls to the Vice Principal of Students, who was already eagerly standing with nobility in the doorway of his office. After some inquiry by the vice principal the receptionist shares the earlier interaction with the three lads who “had to leave” and their response to this. Mr. VanPrinicin assures the receptionist and the distraught young lad that he will take care of it from here.
Later that day, Mr. VanPrincin calls down the three boys to his office and we all know what happens next. Or do we?
In this time of advent we often read the Christmas story. The Gospel of John articulates how Christ is the Word and how the Word became flesh and he was full of Grace and Truth. Restorative Justice* is a philosophical approach to discipline that is a shift from traditional punitive responses to misdemeanors and discipline cases. In a world that is pushing towards “zero tolerance” for any misconduct at school, restorative justice suggests a shift in this thinking. The shift of restorative justice does not exclude individuals, but rather includes, and surrounds, the involved parties with their community in a process that looks at the harm that was caused. Its focus is on the needs of the victim and the offender as a way of making the community right again.
This philosophical shift for discipline in schools is right. It is not easy and there are obstacles, but it is right. It is right because at the heart of restorative practices is the pursuit of Truth while offering Grace.
The latest news from this past year involving our great North American pastime:
- Wondering how many more times we need to be reminded about the switch from analog to digital before February? One would think that something really important, such as Jesus’ return was happening, as often as we have been reminded! The latest in awareness building techniques: scrolling “Important Announcement” banners at the bottom of the TV screen with this earth-shaking reminder.
- Gotta’ have it all the time and in all places: free public restrooms operated by the Charmin toilet paper company in Times Square during the upcoming Christmas season will have flat screen TV’s. Charmin promises “tourists will feel like kings before making their royal flushes.” (Associated Press, GR Press, 11.28.08)
- Unhappy people watch more TV – up to an extra 5.6 hours per week compared to happier people, who spend more time socializing, reading, and participating in religious activities, according to a study of 40,000 people aged 18 to 64. Lead study author and sociologist John Robinson from the University of Maryland states: “It could be that watching television makes you unhappy, but there is also the question of whether people who are unhappy turn to television as a way to ward off their unhappiness.” (Donna St. George, Washington Post as quoted in G.R. Press, 11.28.08)
- Children who watched more than 3 hours of television per day between ages 5 and 11 had more attention problems as teenagers, as noted by a long-term study of over 1,000 children in New Zealand and published in Pediatrics journal. (Washington Post, as cited in Grand Rapids Press, 11.13.07)
- Boys’ (ages 8-18) use of time – 6.5 hours per day with media; therefore boys spend about 45.5 hours a week total – more than a full time job! (Boys Should be Boys by Meg Meeker, M.D.)
- Alarming statistic that likely hasn’t improved: the top TV show choice among kids 9-12 in 2005 was . . . Desperate Housewives - “a “satire” in which suicide is glorified and slutty married women commit adultery with their gardeners . . . (this show) continues to be one of the current top rated shows that make a complete mockery of the sanctity of marriage.” (As quoted from: http://www.nykola.com)
- A three-year Rand Corporation study is the first of its kind to link sexy TV shows and teen pregnancy.
- Media use may impact sleep quantity and quality of children – see this link.
- Our addiction to media consumption: 9.5 hours a day: TV – 3 hours, Internet – 90 minutes, radio – 30 minutes, radio – 2.5 hours, recorded music – 85 minutes, magazines – 15 minutes, reading a book – 3 minutes. (Why We Hate Us by Dick Meyer.) Obviously the book reading figure is disconcerting. To quote Mark Twain on book reading: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
- An encouraging sign: parents are setting greater restrictions on TV watching and reading more to kids than in 1994, according to the 2004 U.S. census. For 3-5 year olds, 68% had TV watching rules, 71% of 6-11 year olds, and 47% of 12-17 year olds. (Grand Rapids Press, 11.1.07) Of course one could argue that the content of TV has also deteriorated in ten years, thus making it an easier choice. Also one could wonder why 100% of kids don’t have TV watching rules, especially at the younger ages.
- In a study released December 2, 2008 by the National Institutes of Health and Yale University, researchers found that 80% of all studies done on media since 1980 show a negative connection between health and media use. Reviewed were studies that measured media effects on obesity, tobacco, drug and alcohol use, sexual behavior, low academic achievement and ADHD.
How much more evidence do we need before we start changing our habits? There is increasing evidence that kids want to spend more time with parents, but some parents seem intent on making other choices. Do we lack the will, the spiritual discipline to limit TV? Is TV consuming our souls and contributing to sucking the life out of us?
(Feel free to copy all or part of this post to send on to parents in a newsletter – just please acknowledge the source.)
As the workshop at Timothy Christian in Barrie, Ontario was breaking up, word came that Brandon’s body had been found. Brandon Crisp, a slight fifteen-year-old who had been missing since October 13, had left his home near Barrie, Ontario after his parents removed his Xbox privileges. Brandon’s favorite program was “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” In this simulation, players act out missions as U.S. Marines or British SAS members.
Ironically, in our workshop that day, we had been considering the pressures of culture and the faith development of youth ages 9-18. We had focused some time in particular on trends of concern that are emerging around boys and factors related to school achievement and faith development. In the area of video games, the negative evidence around the use of violent video games is starting to mount – Sax (Boys Adrift) points to research indicating that playing violent video games are more destructive than watching violent media. The pattern is familiar: boys begin spending more and more time with the game, and less and less time doing the typical boy things – playing with friends, engaging in physical activities/sports, and playing online games for hours at a time. Social circles shrink as the addiction increases and the connections shift to online game players. A recent McLean’s article reported: “While he had few friends in Barrie, his Xbox had a list of 200 people whom he played “Call of Duty” with online. Judged too small to keep up in hockey, the shy but competitive teenager found respect and success in the video game world, where he played on “clans” or “online teams.”
A predominant theme in recent years among those who write about youth faith nurture is that of our youth experiencing abandonment by adults. Our kids seek to belong, to matter somewhere. Note that the online video world refers to kids belonging to “clans.” Brandon’s father commented in the police station: “When I took his Xbox away, I took away his identity.” Are we rooting our kids in the identity expressed in the Heidelburg Catechism Q & A 1 – “I am not my own but belong, in body and soul, in life and death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ?” Where are our kids forming deep ties and finding their sense of belonging?
As Jesus pointed out in Luke 6:41, our natural human tendency is to point out the brokenness in others, yet ignore our own brokenness. We repeatedly fall prey to the temptations of pride as we set ourselves apart from others in ways that make us appear we have it “more together.”
There is probably nowhere a greater need for the balance between standing for truth and practicing grace than in dealing lovingly with issues of sexual orientation in our schools. At a recent CSI Critical Issues Forum held at Trinity Christian College, Christian educators grappled with the issues around student sexual orientation. A key question in our discussion became: how can we care well for both individuals and our community in these situations which can be so uncomfortable for those involved and so divisive within our communities?
Attendees at the workshop acknowledged that all of us experience brokenness in our sexuality, originally intended as a good gift from God. It is difficult to even discuss these issues at times. We recognized that for some students sexual orientation is not a choice, but that we play key roles in helping students deal with their own questions, confusion, anger, grief around this topic, as well as helping them deal with family and church relationships. Most of all, we play a key nurturing role as we encourage kids by helping them make choices related to their sexuality as they live out their faith in obedience to Christ, and in the context of Christian community. How can we “be Jesus” to them?
(If you are a member school and are interested in learning more about this topic, please visit our Member Community Center to view student guidelines and information submitted by other schools.)
It’s not often that I finish a book and write in the back of it: “Every high school and college student should read this – don’t underestimate what can happen!” This was the case as I completed Tom Sine’s latest book, The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time.
In case you are not familiar with Tom, he is a speaker, author, theologian, and futurist who helps us look at the relationships between the shifting broader culture and the changing church. He has a prophetic gift and uses it to suggest best ways to respond to the future, identifying creative and cutting edge expressions of Christian faithfulness. This summer I reread some material that he wrote over 20 years ago and I was amazed by how “spot on” he was in his predictions, and how many things that he anticipated had come true. What I also appreciate about Tom’s writing is that he can be prophetic, which can be downright depressing and seriously challenging, yet reflect the hope that, as Christians, we have through Jesus Christ.
In this book he gives a helpful look at the four streams of emerging, missional, mosaic, and monastic church movements and their key players. He leads the reader through the current myths of our post 9/11 global culture and gives a Christian response. In his section on the global rich, vulnerable middle, imperiled poor, and western poor he paints clear pictures of the need and helps us ponder a Christian response to these global challenges. In the final section of the book he identifies creative “new conspirators” and challenges us to reflect biblical, rather than cultural values. I am pleased that he mentions one of our CSI schools, Mustard Seed School in Hoboken, New Jersey in this light: “. . . we also need more of these private Christian schools that empower the urban young” (page 184.)
This is a book that should be read by students and their teachers. With helpful and thought-provoking starter questions at the end of each chapter, this would also be a great book for adult study groups to read and discuss. A more complete and very helpful review of this book can be found at Byron Borger’s wonderful Hearts and Minds Books site.
I am delighted to be able to share with you access to a terrific resource for free! Gloria and Julia Stronks, a mother and daughter team, have put together a wonderful new book entitled Families Living in the Fabric of Faithfulness. They are making this book available via PDF download so that it can be accessed by parents and teachers in Africa, India, and other countries around the world who might not be able to afford the cost of the book and expensive shipping.
Gloria is a well-known educator from Calvin College now working with Worldwide Christian Schools and her daughter Julia is an attorney and professor of political science at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA. Although both are previously published authors, they decided to make this work accessible for all. What a terrific gift to so many around the world!
Here is a description of the book in the words of the authors:
This book is written for Christians who believe that while we live on this earth we are responsible to live in ways that reflect God’s love and concern for justice. It presents ideas and suggestions from committed Christian parents and children, all of whom are struggling to connect the way they live with the deepest commitments of their hearts.
Over the course of the last seven years, the authors interviewed many young adults about their attempts to live with intentionality in the fabric of God’s faithfulness, to use the phrase from Steven Garber’s fine book. They also interviewed the parents of these young people in an attempt to understand the kind of parenting that was part of what led their adult children to their decisions for just living. They interviewed seventh and eighth grade students from Christian families to determine their concerns and fears.
Drawing from these interviews and the scholarly works of others, the authors present ideas about how to live with gratitude, how to develop critical thinking and intelligence in children, and how to encourage ourselves and others to work for justice in a world that is broken but redeemed.
Here is a copy of the table of contents:
A recent magazine article prompted me to take a few minutes and jot down things that my parents did to nurture my faith – a good exercise and one that led me to a renewed sense of gratitude, especially now that I am looking back with adult eyes. I realized with fresh eyes all the little things they did daily and the big commitments they had made as a couple raising a family of four. The numbered items below are not exhaustive or in rank order, but rather simply list some of the more important aspects of how they nurtured my faith.
- Faith through tough times – farming itself is an act of faith that is further complicated by the unpredictable. Natural disasters, droughts and floods, unexpected losses of livestock, machinery repairs and costs, and health problems are just some of the problems faced – yet I saw a strong faith demonstrated by my parents in God’s providence and blessing.
- Commitment to their marriage – it never entered my mind as a child that my parents would leave each other, even though they had some pretty good arguments from time to time.
- Respect for creation – animals and plants were treated with care, yet each in their rightful place as compared to humans.
- Christian education K-16 – my parents were the first in their families to enroll their children in Christian day school education and took significant criticism for that decision from their families. Their hard work to get schools established in our small community remains an inspiration to me today.
- Church participation – attendance at services was regular as clockwork and participation in available groups and classes not a matter for negotiation by us children.
- Eating meals together coupled with spiritual disciplines– regular Bible reading and prayer three times a day – sometimes it seemed too much, but I do appreciate the foundational knowledge that I now have as a result.
- Always helping neighbors and sharing – my mom was always sharing from our garden and bringing food, Dad lent tools and time, and listened to hurting people on his egg route into some very high poverty areas.
- Finances – tithing and Christian education – my parents always made it clear to us that church donations and school tuition came first, and then we lived on the rest, no matter how little or much that may have been from month to month.
- Encouraged my gifts – my mom did a lot of my chores so I could participate in sports and drama. My parents were always at every performance if possible.
- Loved those with special needs – having Joe over for Sunday dinner and watching him eat was not necessarily pleasant for us kids but showed us our parent’s heart for those with special needs. Their regular Sunday afternoon visits to a home for developmentally disabled adults modeled Christ’s love. My mom still continues these singing, prayer, and Bible study visits with the residents today at the age of 88.
I encourage you to look back on your own life and consider how your faith was nurtured. Sometimes the things that at first appear mundane are very significant in nurturing and modeling the kind of faith we desire in our youth.
We seem to live in a very child centered culture in North America. However, some sociologists suggest that our culture, that values strength and self-sufficiency and that rejects human weakness and vulnerability, is one that fosters indifference or contempt for children. Bunge, (in The Child in Christian Thought), suggests that our popular literature “tends to depict infants and young children as pure and innocent beings whom we adore and teenagers as hidden and dark creatures whom we must fear.” I would suggest that we, as participants in this culture, also underestimate the significance of children’s spiritual experiences. What do I mean?
Spiritual development seems to parallel language development in some ways. We know that children’s early nonsense sounds and imitations of the language they hear around them is a necessary step on the path to speaking coherently in words at first, then sentences. I believe that children’s spiritual development is similar to language development – much more is happening than we can know. If we only base our judgments of children’s spiritual development on what they verbalize back to us, then we are missing a complete picture of the child’s faith life. While we cannot have the kinds of discussions around conceptual and abstract worldview issues with younger children that we can have with teens or college age students, that fact does not mean that the development of worldview is not happening in younger children. They, like babies with speech development, simply cannot cognitize or articulate what they perceive, but worldview is being formed nonetheless. The fact remains that those, who over the course of history have studied when children are spiritually formed, recognize that by age 14 most of the work has been completed, i.e. children’s spiritual identities have been largely formed by this point in their lives.
Children often have a more limited range of foods that are acceptable to their taste buds. We might say their sense of taste is more acute – as we age we eat a wider variety of foods, possibly due to the dulling of our taste buds. I wonder if the same isn’t true with children’s and adult’s spiritual “taste buds”? Jesus suggests that we need an innocent and wholly dependent “living in this moment” faith like little children – unhindered by the skepticism that life has imposed, a complete dependence born of a lack of self sufficiency, and a complete sense of trust in the Father. Those of us who have worked with children are aware of the blessing of clarity and sense of the kind of “seeing” that young children can bring – stopping us in our tracks to wonder about God. Their spiritual sensitivity is a gift to us, part of our being “reborn” to see the beauty of Christ in all things.
Girls by many measures are doing better in today’s world than boys, according to statistics related to academic achievement levels, college attendance rates, professional and career opportunities, or even crime/death rates. There is one notable exception, which Carol Liebau contends in her new book Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America Too!). She believes that the area of sex “is a minefield more challenging, difficult, and pressure-filled than ever before” for girls. She shares some very frank and brutally honest examples of sexual misconduct in our schools and society that she backs up with voluminous research. Here are some examples from the research cited in the book:
- Between 1943 and 1999, the age of first intercourse among those sampled, dropped from nineteen to fifteen for females. During that time period, the number of sexually active young women grew from 13 to 47 percent. As of 2005, 46% of high school girls surveyed had engaged in intercourse.
- Between 1969 and 1993 the percentage of female teens and young adults having oral sex went from 42 to 71 percent. More recent figures estimate that 54% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have engaged in oral sex.
- 12% of females approved of premarital sex in 1943, by 1999 73% did. 61% of girls aged 15-19 agreed or strongly agreed that it was all right for unmarried 18 year olds to have sex if they had strong affection for each other.
- “Hooking up” or “friends with benefits” – reportedly half of adolescents are having sex in a casual relationship or with someone who is “just a friend.” More than one third of sexually active teens have had sexual intercourse with someone who they were not dating.
- It is estimated that the average 12 year-old girl is exposed to about 280 sexy images in the course of a day. The Parent’s Television Council estimates that in reality based shows there are 3.9 instances of sexual content per hour with some shows nearing 7 scenes with sexual content.
- 77% of prime time shows include sexual content and the sexual content in general has doubled in less than a decade.
- Teens watching TV away from their families had a rate of intercourse 3-6 times higher than those who watched with their families.
- The age of children first viewing pornography has dropped due to the Internet. 90% of kids between 8 and 16 were exposed through online access.
Liebau points out that while there is more information available than ever, the most significant deficit is that the overwhelming majority of information on the Internet and in the media is presented without any moral, ethical, or religious context. She points out that in our postmodern culture there is no value judgment made – all answers are presented as equally valid. In line with the title of her book, she is concerned that the only answer, sexual restraint and premarital virginity, is portrayed by culture as “out of vogue” and “prudish”. Youth are encouraged to do “what is right for you.”
The author points out four key developments in our culture that have created a problematic culture of sex for girls:
- The elevation of self-expression over self-restraint: feeling justified in indulging impulses without restraint.
- The privatization of religion and sexual morality: “…the marginalization of religious faith in public debate and the identification of chastity as nothing but a religious issue have one result: The pro-sex messages directed at young girls go largely unchallenged…rebuttal is limited to adverse health or economic consequences of giving too much too soon. And such arguments are woefully incomplete.”
- The rise of moral relativism and the death of shame: “…there’s no objective criterion…different ways and different truths…are entitled to equal respect…the primary evil becomes exercising judgment about the behavior of others.”
- The advent of the “cool mom”: Moms who want to be “buddies” give their children minimal or no supervision and treat them as little adults. Girls are left to decide by themselves what morals they will base their decisions upon because the mom has abdicated her role.
I appreciate that Liebau closes her book on a positive tone, noting that there are kids and parents who are doing the right things and pointing to a number of concrete programs that are making a difference. This book is a strong call to action and one that is helpful in framing the problem and encouraging good solutions and dialogue.
In our over-sexualized society, this issue needs to be a major focus in terms of our curriculum choices in our schools and our discussion topics with youth (and parents) in our churches. Our girls (and guys) deserve our strong stance and support so that they can be strengthened and encouraged to do the right things, letting the Bible and not the culture guide their actions.
Findings from the largest ever study done of teenage spirituality in the U.S. were reported in the book: Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Denton (see my blog posting of October 11, 2006.) There is a new documentary movie that has come out on the book – see the trailer below.
From the movie jacket: “The movie illustrates some of the major themes and findings of the book, but it also goes behind the book in depicting the inner lives of a sample of American teenagers. Find out what these teenagers really think about God and religion, what their hopes and aspirations are, and what the research says about the effects of religion in their lives.”
Along with the 79 minute movie there is a 20 question study guide put together by Dr. Smith. I believe that this movie could be very helpful in gaining new insights into teens and their religious beliefs whether viewed by school faculties or church adult education classes. Ron Polinder, superintendent at Rehoboth Christian School recently used the video with his faculty and had this to say: ” It is outstanding . . . every Christian high school in the country should view it.” The DVD is available for purchase for $19.95 on Amazon.
From some personal experiences and observation, it appears that the treatment of Christianity at public universities has moved from benign neutrality to open and aggressive opposition. Are students in Christian high schools and churches preparing kids for not only intellectual attacks on faith, but for puerile, vulgar, and God dishonoring language used by professors? How about the dilemma of a student being graded on whether or not such language is used back to the teacher in assignments? How about being ridiculed by fellow students for stating faith beliefs and then having the professor join in the verbal beatdown?
Education delivered in the manner I have described above is not only intellectually dishonest, it is soul demoralizing for students. It is education that seeks to dis-integrate rather than integrate head, heart, and hands. Here is how Niel Nielson, president of Covenant College, contrasts classroom experiences at public and Christian colleges:
Students attend college to learn, and the learning occurs primarily through the interaction with faculty who will inevitably shape how students think and feel about everything. Professors are very bright, very persuasive, and in secular institutions almost always opposed and even hostile to Christian faith. And they want their students to think like they do. Even if professors are not actively attacking Christian faith, they are teaching from a framework that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ, i.e. they are failing to take into account the One by whom all things were created, in whom all things hold together, and under whose authority all things find their unity. Students who study in such settings simply will not learn to think Christianly – unless there is, alongside the “normal” curriculum, some comprehensive and systematic study that demonstrates the preeminence of Jesus Christ and the biblical reality that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), and does so for every academic discipline which the student studies. Unfortunately such parallel study rarely happens, and most campus ministers, gifted as they are, do not have the capabilities to help students deal with the relentless and powerful imprint of sophisticated secular scholarship in all the academic fields.
He goes on to ask the same question that I have often wondered about parents who choose public K-12 education over Christian education:
Why do so many Christians continue to fail to grasp the utterly crucial importance of shaping the mind and the heart in the educational process itself? Many Christian parents, who devote themselves so diligently to caring for their children’s souls, miss the very point of college education, opting instead for short-sighted emphases on university traditions, prestige, and the perceived path to a good job, and launch their children into learning contexts where they are inundated by ways of thinking that the parents undoubtedly abhor but willingly allow to shape their children’s minds and hearts. And perhaps even more important, the children of these Christian parents miss the glorious opportunity, in the educational context, to see how everything in creation fits together under the kingly rule of Jesus.
To read his post, “Christian Education as Preparation for Life” on his blog, please click here. CSI commercial moment ☺ – we look forward to hearing more from Dr. Nielson as one of our keynote speakers at our summer leadership convention this coming summer.
There are at least four significant variables related to family and school experiences that account for two-thirds of differences in state scores of student learning success according to a new report recently released by ETS (Educational Testing Services.) You may also wish to view a New York Times article on the report.
These variables are:
- Single parent families – Thirty-two percent of U.S. children live in single-parent homes, up from 23% in 1980. Forty-four percent of births to women under 30 are out-of-wedlock. 19% of children live in poverty and among black, American Indian/Alaskan native and Hispanic children the figure rises to 33%. The rate for “food insecure” female headed households is triple that for married couple families.
- Hours spent watching TV – comparison of eighth-graders in 45 countries found that U.S. students spend less time reading books for enjoyment — and more time watching television and videos —than students in many other countries. 35% of U.S. 8th graders spent 4 or more hours daily on weekday TV viewing. U.S. teens also spent almost one more hour daily using the Internet than students in other countries, and less time reading for enjoyment or doing jobs at home.
- Hours parents spend reading to kids – By age 4, children of professional families hear 35 million more words than children of parents on welfare. Sixty-two percent of high SES kindergartners are read to every day by their parents, compared to 36 percent of kindergartners from low SES groups.
- Number of school absences – One in five students misses three days or more of school a month. The United States ranked 25th of 45 countries in students’ school attendance.
How could we use this information to help our parents in the nurture of their children?
What ways could our schools or churches reach out in ministry to respond to these needs around us?
It’s a typical reaction in workshops with Christian teachers – I usually get some blank stares and very few hands raised when I ask the question, “How many of you have had any training in student faith development stages?” Most or all hands go up when I ask similar questions about study of Piaget, Erikson, or Kohlberg in their college courses. From these kind of anecdotal experiences, one could conclude that teachers in Christian schools have been well versed in Piaget’s cognitive development theories, Erikson’s psycho-social development stages, and Kohlberg’s moral reasoning thoughts in their college courses, but know very little about research relating to children’s spiritual development. It simply has not usually been part of their training.
Yet, if we see our mission in Christian schools and churches to equip students to transform the world for Christ, shouldn’t we at least have a basic understanding of how religious beliefs develop in adolescents, how children perceive God at various ages, what practices are most effective in working with children, how parental images impact children’s thinking, and even what types of differentiation may be needed to challenge children at different stages? What is our understanding of how children’s faith has been perceived and developed throughout history by church leaders and what recurrent themes and practices may be seen and built on to instruct our experience? (Marcia Bunge’s book, The Child in Christian Thought is an excellent resource here.) What can we learn from contemporary leaders such as Kenda Creasy Dean, Chap Clark, Catherine Stonehouse, Craig Dykstra, and others as to how to best engage adolescents and encourage their faith?
We live in a time when our understanding of child/youth development is still emerging and changing. When we see the seriousness and trust of youthful faith expressed by our children in our Children in Worship settings at church or in worship experiences at Christian schools, we gain respect for the level of faith and engagement with the Spirit that our kids demonstrate. Our level of respect for kid’s capabilities continues to grow when we see them mastering areas such as language acquisition or technological proficiency at very early ages. I hope we are moving toward seeing children as real people, rather than in ways that underestimate or diminish who God has created them to be.
While some would argue we live in a culture that is too child centered, our lack of understanding and desire for study of children in this critical aspect of better understanding faith development may ultimately diminish our effectiveness in nurturing their faith and meeting our missions. We need to demonstrate positive attitudes toward children that will serve to counteract a society that views children as consumers to be manipulated, economic burdens to be endured, or as aliens we must fear in the teen years. If we are taking seriously our responsibility to train teachers in the best discipline knowledge and professional pedagogical practices, then let us also give our teachers working in Christian education the kind of training they need in our colleges and seminaries around how students develop spiritually. In the end it is what matters most.
*(For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?”) If you are interested in seeing all 12 Faith Enhancing Practices modules at once, you can go to the Member Community Center and access them there.