This is another post in a series. We’re thinking about how authority and rules (and challenges to those rules) should play out in a Grace-based classroom. Earlier posts are right before this one if you want to catch up.
2. If you refuse to allow criticism or challenge within your classroom/school, you’re painting a huge target that says, “Faith is too fragile for everyday use.”
One aspect of classical education pedagogy that I really appreciate is an understanding that kids go through different stages in their interaction with facts (and with the people who inform them of that information). Your sweet, cuddly elementary school kid will go through a horrific transformation around age 12 and become… DUN DUN DUN … a teenager. (*insert terrifying music here*) The rolled eyes, the sarcasm, the desire never to be seen within 100 feet of one’s parents, the arguing.
I like middle schoolers because they do like to challenge. And they challenge everything: your sock preferences, the weather, your reason for assigning the rest of a grammar exercise on a Wednesday night because that’s just how it worked out. (“But we never had Wednesday homework LAST YEAR!”)
One of the hallmarks of NCS upper school life has been a consistent practice among the faculty of treating the upper school students with the respect one gives adults, but not expecting them to live up to that standard of maturity. Kids are kids. But they’re becoming adults, and we need to move in that direction rapidly. They have questions, and most of the time at NCS, those questions reflect a legitimate desire to know and understand (rather than to rebel or undermine).
So we explain things a lot. Nothing is off-limits in my theology, practice, rulebook, subject matter. I don’t assign work without having a specific purpose for the task. While I might not always explain why I assign what I do, I always can (and do when asked). I know what I’m teaching, why I put it in the curriculum, and why it’s beneficial. The stuff that I couldn’t justify, I changed.
Sometimes that means my classroom rules are inconsistent with the policies of another teacher. That’s a great opportunity to teach “Not all people want the same thing, and you need to find out what’s expected of you by the person in charge” — a wonderful life skill. So I don’t particularly care for “answer in complete sentences” on my tests because I find it annoying to read a bunch of extra words that have nothing to do with the actual answer. I wrote the question; I don’t need you to remind me what I asked. Other teachers want short answers written into complete sentences. Great. Knock yourselves out. I don’t need to change for their sake, and I certainly don’t expect them to adopt my policy. And every student I’ve ever taught has rapidly picked up on the differences among classes.
So what does this have to do with Faith?
When you aren’t willing to rise to the challenge, many people will assume you are afraid to engage their criticisms or that you do not have a valid reason for your position.
Think about it. You stop by the local magistrate to pay your speeding ticket and the lady behind the desk says, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept credit or debit cards. Did you bring cash or a check?” And we adults trudge back to our cars and drive down the road to find an ATM, cursing the local government using colorful adjectives. We assume the government policy makers are idiots. Who doesn’t take a credit/debit card in 2012? The traffic court. Why? I don’t know. South Carolina lawmakers have never impressed me with any sense of intelligence. There’s no reason they CAN’T change their policy…but they don’t.
Why do we expect kids to obey or believe without giving them justifiable cause?
Now, if you’ve put in the hours necessary to build a relationship with that kid; if you know them — really, truly know them — and have acted graciously toward them; if you love them in actions rather than in words alone, then a lot of teens will take your words to heart. You don’t have to offer a geometric or theological or philosophical proof for why you won’t let the kids go walking down to the gas station by themselves. If he knows you usually have good reasons for what you ask, the boy won’t backtalk you when you yell “GET DOWN!” just before a football slams into his head on the playground.
But you have to build that trust.
The Christian Faith is a reasonable, justifiable, warranted belief. (Thank you, Al Plantinga.) God doesn’t strip us of our inquisitiveness and rational thought (part of the imago Dei IMHO).
Look at the Psalms. David (and the other psalmists) hit God with some rough questions. Why are the bad guys winning? Why am I suffering if I didn’t do anything wrong? Have You forgotten Your promises? Why do bad men abuse weak people? Don’t you feel ashamed for letting me look bad, God, in front of my — I mean, YOUR — enemies?
Instead of being afraid of challenges, questions, and hard topics, embrace them.
If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Research it. Find an expert. Search the Scriptures. Get answers.
If you can’t justify your rule biblically, if it’s a rule that makes life convenient for adults, or if it’s not serving a clear, obvious purpose in your setting (one that extends from loving God or loving neighbor)– maybe the rule should go?
Up next — what about true rebellion?
Cross-posted to Teaching Redemptively