Monday, February 4, 2013

PREACHER, GO BACK TO SCHOOL


Stay with me on this one. I'm going somewhere and I don't want to lose you on the way there...

Being a part of our county's education system can be very entertaining. I get a front-row-view of the way our educational elites stumble from one paradigm to the next in search of the fix-all our children desperately need. Less like a pendulum and more like a ball in a racquetball court, our system bounces from theory to theory, practice to practice, focus to focus without landing on any one spot long enough to see its long term effects. When I began as a public school teacher four years ago, everyone was talking about Rigor, Relevance, and Relationship – the three “R's” redefined. The cliché was everywhere and it got old fast. Now nobody uses those three terms together. The phrase went out faster than dolphin shorts. 

Need another example? Mention "phonics" to an educator. Some will respond with a sneer, others with a smile. It all depends on which side of the bounce they were trained.

The new thing, and it's more than a fad, is a set of CORE STANDARDS “bearing down like a freight train on our nation's schools” (to quote my superintendent).

Part of the entertainment comes from watching while the system gets something occasionally right. I have been sitting in a series of professional development meetings at my school and learning all about the coming CORE STANDARDS. Sure, there may be some big picture problems with the move to enforce these on all schools (such as a total loss of local control over a school's curriculum) but right now, I have been applauding what I see.

Stick with me here. This gets good.

One of the focal points of the new standards reads like this: “Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational.”

Wow! “Evidence from text!” Get what this means: the educational elites have discovered that all the efforts to connect students with the text on a relational/emotional level have failed to equip them with what they need most—knowledge! Teachers have focused time and energy on extra-textual elements of reading to the loss of students' ability to comprehend what is actually written.

You know how it works. Students are asked questions that don't need the text for answers. “How did you feel as you read...?” “How do you relate to...?” “Have you ever experienced...?” “How do you think such-and-such made that character feel...” And the end result is sad. Students who have read the book and felt feelings for Phineas or Atticus still don't understand what they have read.

The CORE STANDARDS are attempting to address this by focusing students on—get this—“text dependent questions.” Students are going to be forced to DEAL WITH THE TEXT. I mean, actually understand words and phrases in their correct contexts and with genuine definitions and syntactical (dare I say it?) EXEGESIS! And in today's meeting, the leader showed us a video of students DEALING with a poem from Dr. Seuss. They checked out all the words and started making markings and notes and viola! they had a page of text that looked like Kay Arthur had attacked with all her colored pens at once!

The leader even pointed out that excessive non-text-dependent questions were a waste of precious educational minutes. Yes! So true!

Ok, preacher. Learn what the public schools are learning. Getting people to feel a particular emotional connection to the text of Scripture may be well and good, but in excess, it is a waste of precious sermon time and will not help people comprehend what God's Word really says and means. So please limit the amount of time you spend asking people if they relate to what they have read, or if they have experienced it, or felt it. Get past that pretty quickly and start preaching what it means. Preach grammar and syntax and definition and context and ask text-dependent questions and don't let your congregation escape your “class” without knowledge.

Get it? The schools are. Well, at least for now.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent and hope! Thank you for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would like to hear more about the core curriculum. There are some people worried about it, can you enlighten us as to why?

    ReplyDelete