Monthly Archives: April 2013

Flourishing: The desire to act morally and ethically across all aspects of life

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

(Seventh in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

The global/local news landscape offers up to us almost daily examples of moral and ethical failure. As Christians, we may be more disappointed than shocked because we understand the fallen nature of humanity and the fact that we cannot escape brokenness – the line dividing good and evil runs down the center of each of our hearts. Yet our faith, in the power of a risen Christ redeeming humanity and his creation, inspires us to not stay in despair over this brokenness, but to continue to work toward shalom and restoration. We remind ourselves that each human being is made in God’s likeness, and challenge our students to live lives of obedience and faithfulness, to be like Christ.

It is this challenge to students that I want to focus on. In the process of attempting to teach our students the desire to act morally and ethically we are essentially showing them what goodness looks, acts, and smells like – “a more perfect way” – and asking them to internalize and live out that goodness. It is not just about “being good,” and it is not enough to just not disobey.  We need to show them that following Christ is an above and beyond/different way of living and to call them to that “foolishness” Christ asks of us (Matthew 5, I Corinthians 1:21ff).

Many students each day are taught to “be good” in schools around the world, yet only some are given spiritual foundations as to why they should “be good.” Just being “good for goodness sake” or for personal gain as in good grades-good scholarships-good college-good job-good life thinking will only be so effective when push comes to shove in life situations that students will encounter. The tests and trials of life in big and small situations will reveal what they really believe and their actions will reveal their worldview. The latter part of the saying “Time heals wounds and wounds heels” reflects how we so often see careers and reputations undone through moral and ethical failings – research tells us it is hard to end our careers well. Moral and ethical failings are often the result of pride (“It can’t happen to me because I am above it all”) or laziness (“I can cut this corner or treat someone this way and get away with it”) or magical thinking  (“It won’t happen to me or I won’t get caught”). Lack of discipline, lack of courage, and lack of character development all contribute to these failings. If I do not really regard others as image-bearers worthy of my love because of my desire to show Christ’s love, it is more likely that I will not see the need for ethical and moral behavior toward them. My best behavior done through my own power, if not directed toward worship, is more likely to simply increase my pride and self-reliance. If we do not encourage our students to see their behavior as connected or disconnected to foundational spiritual belief, it is not as likely that their lives will translate into obedience, humility, kindness, love, and other fruits of the Spirit.

How can we specifically work toward this outcome of a flourishing student? The aspect of adult modeling moral and ethical behavior looms large.  We create classroom and school cultures where the desire to live morally and ethically can thrive or be discouraged. We must start with our own hearts, motives and worldview – as adults are we demonstrating spiritual obedience simply out of fear of judgment or out of true love for others and a desire to love God and to do the right thing? Bill Hybels’ book: Who You Are When Nobody’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise gives us an immediate challenge just from the title and is a great resource to work through with students or your own children.  We need to both share and examine difficulties in this area and encourage good choices by students. It may be helpful with middle and high school students to make use of dilemmas and case studies so that moral and ethical principles can be applied to real life situations. A book such as Rozema and VanderArk’s No Easy Answers – Making Good Decisions in an Anything Goes World or CSI’s Exploring Ethics texts are very helpful tools.

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“No more hurting people – Peace”

Martin RichardOne 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.

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Helping students connect the dots

EXtAaetXXZ0G0Ny7q0wKo_ZzCxE_ETynDvgwHfKE7TQI am excited to share with you an exciting project that I learned about recently. Beaver County Christian High has, for nearly twenty years, been taking the time to help senior students connect the dots via a special three-day unit entitled What Difference Does It Make? Alumni of the school are asked to deliver a case study, a time from their life when their worldview made a difference in the way they lived. They share with students the circumstances of a particular situation and then ask students to ponder what they would do. After a time the adult presenters share what and why they did what they did.

The alumni represent a broad spectrum of fields – for example this year’s group featured the following professions: architecture, homemaking, culinary arts, anti-terror, social services, media, psychology, veterinary school, athletics, mission work, research, Border Patrol, professor, sports medicine, contractor, film sound editing, conference organizing, and nursing. Presenters shared the challenges of working in faith neutral/negative environments, sharing their faith, facing dilemmas in decisions, setting priorities, caring and praying for people, and doing all to the glory of God in every way.

B2XzjXKBafxLCKDkcc4Y81bj2SIA1435dGpG9VUoZYQPrincipal Doug Carson noted that he “was very pleased with the unit” and that it reminded everyone “of the fundamental reason we are in Christian education – we want to help students develop a way to look at all of life from a biblical perspective. We saw our graduates actually doing that! What an encouragement!” Director of Recruitment and Advancement Rose McChesney added: “Our school’s tag line is ‘Biblically Grounded for Life’ and I believe we faithfully strive for this. This unit specifically drew attention to our Christian worldview, and how that impacts everything – including our futures. Our natural tendency is to be very focused on ourselves, our needs, our day, our friends, our projects, our responsibilities, etc. I thought the content was so powerful. And for alumni, products of the same system our students are in, to be able to speak into their lives about the big world out there, and the many ways that Christians are needed, and how they can prepare themselves now, had such potential to impact their lives.”

This year’s special unit for students had I John 3:16-18 which concludes with these words: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Kudos to the staff at Beaver County for organizing these meaningful interactions for students to help them connect learning, faith, and life – showing what love in action, in real life looks like!

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, student outcomes