Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kenny in Heaven: The Individual and God.

First, before going into this topic, I need to link the other two blog posts that have similar thoughts. That way, I can mention it without going into detail:

As I've reread my blogs, I keep going back to the idea that, as I see the people walking into the churches in the area, I see herds of cattle that seem not to be interested in the lessons that they would learn, but rather the social aspect of the hour, or maybe they walk along the same paths that they traveled as a kid, doing so for years but not really knowing why, accepting that they had always gone to church, and that to not do so would be unfathomable. And the questions they are asked are the same, and the answers they give are the same, and nothing is learned. My stepdad, for all his faults, always asked us upon returning from church, "What did you learn today?" I was always annoyed with that question... but I think that was the reason for asking it. Because the answer is "nothing." It frustrated me that I would go to the church and walk out the same as I came in, with no new revelations about the nature of God or of my relationship with Him. My stepdad, especially towards the end of his life, saw that not going to church was as beneficial as going to a church which taught you nothing. And while his reasons for not going to church were ones of self-esteem (he had his teeth pulled, too.), it should not be for others that you appear in Church, but rather for yourself, for the continuation of a journey towards understanding of eternity, of God, of the progress toward the greater good (Aristotle).

So as I was thinking of this blog entry, I went back to a verse that my stepdad always quoted, Hebrews 11:6:
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (KJV, bold emphasis added)
I totally question those who went to the church I went to earlier in my life, whether they were actually diligently doing anything. It is as if, satisfied with the walls of beliefs that they had constructed (or had constructed for them) as children, they were quite willing to believe that there was nothing else. Comforted and sheltered by those teachings as a child, they had no real reason to learn anything else as it pertains to their spiritual beliefs. So they went into adulthood, college, real life, marriage...etc... believing the same things they did as they were children, allowing nothing of life events to change it. And while, if the teachings were sound, this is acceptable, I think there's something to be said for finding those beliefs on your own, seeking (diligently) and understanding the relationship between God and man as individual thinkers. Would God, with me standing before him, be pleased that I had learned nothing all my life than the lessons that someone had taught me when I was in Kindergarten, and then applying (or not) those lessons during my life, had learned nothing? Would it be better to struggle up that mountain to reach the pinnacle and see the heavens by ourselves, and appreciate them that much more, rather than being taken up in a carriage built by our parents and family and not feel the bumps in the road and the sweat and blood as we climb ourselves up to the apex? I would think that God would want to be proud of us for the lives that we have lived, and not that he had been the God of a herd of cattle that believed unquestioningly and chewed on the cud that we were fed. Is it not better for us to step off the road traveled so often by our elders and climb the mountain ourselves?

The most obvious example of this occurs in the Amish practice of rumspringa, which is usually just a relaxing of rules because of adolescence, with the full knowledge that an adult can only join the church and be baptized of his own free will. It is an appropriate exercise, with some communities even letting Amish teenagers visit "the real world" and see what it actually looks like. (As an off topic mention, Neal Stephenson uses the same idea in his science fiction tome Anathem. Excellent book!)From Wikipedia sources, most teens that participate in this "discovery" period actually return to the Amish community and join the church, rejecting the freedoms and temptations they found in the outside world. In other words, they come home.

A friend of mine that is now in the cold, frozen tundra of Bangor, ME, once said that, in raising her child, that she raised him with all the knowledge and morals that she knew to give him, and then she let him go, hoping that it was enough. I think it was. Letting go, to let the children of our time find their own paths, that is the greatest gift parents can give their children today. Yes, they need discipline, and structure, and guidance, but there comes a point when they have learned all that they can learn, that the parent has to have faith that their child will eventually return to the beliefs they were brought up with. When they leave the nest, to use another metaphor, they will fall, but only until the wind picks them up and they spread their wings. Then anything is possible. Proverbs 22:6 :
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (NIV)
Note, it's "when he is old," so the Bible gives people room to question, to explore, to discover. It's also proven that, given time, those same people will come back to approximately the beliefs in which they were raised, but wiser because they will have reached it themselves.

Parents don't want their children to fail. They don't want to see their children go through the pain of discovering what is right and wrong through heartbreak, through pain, through jail time. And that's understandable. But sometimes, it's necessary, even valuable, because lessons are learned better that way. I sometimes think that we live in a society where failure is not even to be felt, from the economy, to sports, to grades on tests....but that's another blog.

One thing I don't understand is the Christian communities insistence in making us seem so bad. Yes we sinned...yes, we've come short of the glory of God.... but there's something to be said in experiencing the joy of Christianity, of striving to be the best people we can be, instead of wallowing in self-pity. Even the most covered song in the world, "Amazing Grace," reminds us that we're all wretches. And the thing is, after a while, I don't want to sing that line anymore. I mean, we are children of God, we have to want to be like God. We want God to be proud of us, not constantly reminding us of how original sinny we are. That's why He sent Jesus. And everyone says in sermons how rotten they are, it just doesn't gel with what I think God would want for us.

If you look at my Facebook profile, you'll see, under Religious Views, the word "Libertarian." This means that, while I might go to one church or another, or not, I will pursue my relationship with God on my own. Martin Luther believed that each individual could develop their own relationship with God, and he developed the Protestant denomination around that principle. This is, at its very core, what Christianity is all about. All the rest of the stuff, like not being able to dance, and giving to the church, and the politicizing of the Christian faith when it comes to our government...etc... all that means very little. I will live my life as I think God would approve of, based on my knowledge of the Bible. If I am wrong, then he can correct me in Heaven. That is what His grace is all about. It's self-regulation, based upon the beliefs that are inside me, not about following the laws of this church or that. And it's certainly not about showing others that I am a Christian or not, but rather that my relationship with God is known to Him, and me.

[Well, not the best blog, but it's needed to glue the first two blogs into this series. Better next time.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kenny Saved by the Bell: The Individual at School.

Above all, when we look at the episodes of South Park, especially the ones that are most controversial (see my blog earlier), it is obvious that Butters, or Kenny, or Cartman, or any of the others continually question the status quo around them. The established rules of society are unquestioned, until Matt Stone and Trey Parker do so in a hilarious and sarcastic way. The series has been banned in some places in Russia, and I'm sure have been banned from many households in America. Society has long kept those who question the world around them at arms length. Skeptics are those who question the rules of society, who evaluate the reasoning behind them, and often, as Jonathan Swift or Lewis Carroll did, write bitingly funny works of literature exposing the paradoxes of the cultures around them. Thus we have, in "A Modest Proposal," a quite serious argument to eat the 8-year-olds of the Irish poor, as they are being squeezed out of all other treasures through taxes and other rules.

Obviously, the powers that be have no wish to have people stabbing 95 Theses on the doors of the government, or of the church (nowadays it would be published at blogs). Therefore, the same characteristics that promote individuality would be the ones that society (the church, the school) would want to squash. Because different thoughts would be detrimental to the people who are currently in power. Thankfully, in America, such thoughts and questions are asked openly, what with the 1st Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech (that statement alone would take a blog of much length, but I'll let it pass.) However, in order to express those thoughts, one must first have to learn how to form the questions and base his or her opinions upon facts and theories. Thus one way to control skeptics and other thinkers is to control the education system so that everyone is taught equally, and taught in such a way that it is hard to form opinions and question those that are educating the students. In a similar manner, I have found it extremely hard to have any kind of philosophical or theological conversation in the churches I have attended, as anything that would be looked as questionable would be considered sinful. I want to look at, in this blog (and probably the next), the way in which education should work in this country, and also why questioning the church is vital for a person's spiritual growth.

I've often wondered, in my days since I taught, what happened to some of the students I saw struggling through the day. There was one student, last name Price, who did no homework, was a constant disruption in class, and probably should have been expelled long before he got to my class (probably through social promotions.) But I noticed that he did have skill, intelligence, the open eyes that signal some fire burning inside them. But as Prometheus brought that fire, I couldn't help but think that somehow, our school was trying to squelch it. I heard stories of his abilities, how he could easily take apart a lawn mower, repair it, and put it back together, with the skill of an expert mechanic. I've seen other students, who, while they couldn't understand or deal with reading assignments and abstract math problems, could draw wondrous pictures of images in their head. While student teaching at NW High in Macon, I had the students draw a picture of what they thought Grendel would look like. I had one student, who, while he failed miserably on English assignments, drew a monster that I'd substitute for Grendel from then on. I will accept that it is partially their fault that they have not learned how to become educated in audio or visual manners, I often wonder how we have failed in developing the talents of these individuals.

When we take a look at the education system as a whole, we see that students are herded like cattle into a school and taught as closely the same as possible, even while the talented are forsaken and the struggling students are forgotten, placed in broom closets and given ISPs. I would have given anything to see Price taken to a Technical school and taught the intricacies of the mechanical world. He would have (and might still now) make more money than some of the brightest students in his class. And I would give equally to see the truly gifted children taken to higher and higher levels, where their talent would shine forth, instead of languishing in the back of classrooms where teachers repeat things for grade after grade, or teach to some standardized test that means little to the children, and a whole lot to the school systems and their wallets.

Take the educational system that Thoreau used as a teacher in Concord, Mass in the 1830's. Concord Academy used the classroom the world gave them. Thoreau used the tools he had (his father ran a pencil factory) and took the students on trips picking blueberries, from which he no doubt taught as Plato and Socrates did, in the shadows of trees below the city walls of Athens. The children then read the books and did the homework they had to do, only to go on another quest the next day. With the small class size, each student was, hopefully, taught and trained to be the best they could be given their own specific abilities. He despised rote learning and canings for punishment, rather teaching self-regulation as discipline.

We cannot do this with all the children that exist today (the thousands in Conyers alone would make it impossible). But perhaps the time is here to look at public education as not something to be given equally among all pupils, but more individually, to each according to his ability. Why would society think that, putting 1000 children in one building, that they should all learn the same way, getting the same information at the same time all for, supposedly, the same purpose. The idea of the school as some training ground for college is absurd, and should be rejected outright. There are other countries, such as Japan, that teach their children differently, and include the training needed to become successful in today's markets. Here's a proposal that might work:

Each child should be taught similarly until about the 7th or 8th grade, and this differs little from that of today's public schools. During these years, teachers should write down observations about the students and place them in a file (much like they have now), about the strengths and weaknesses of each child. They should be interviewed once every 3 years or so, and those wishes and desires of what they want to do should be noted and encouraged. A child should have his own say so into what path his education should take. At the point of 7th grade, the file should be looked at, along with the child's interviews and the opinions of the parents, and then they should be given options... stay in a college preparatory program, one that would prepare someone for a liberal arts degree... go to a school that would train students for technical and vocational work, much like the Rockdale Career Academy, but supervised by private companies that want to develop and train students in working with cars, computers, graphic design, accounting...etc... or maybe something much different, much like the Academy in Ancient Greece, which would train the literary and philosophical minded students in law, philosophy, liberal arts...etc... And there are others as well... medical school, athletic training, ROTC... as long as there is a private need for those students, and the private industry would invest into the children that are being trained, with instruments and instructors, and, if they are good enough, jobs for the graduates, this would be an excellent way to develop the kinesthetic learner into someone who would be truly successful in their lives. Learn with your hands, mold the knowledge with your fingers, create as God created, breathe life into the lifeless. I would so enjoy seeing the children of this country develop themselves into a force that no other country could compete with. And the advances and the technological breakthroughs that would result of this. Truly amazing!! The world would turn upside down, all because of the training of the individual, not the herding of the masses.

We cannot answer a child's soul until they ask "why?" And if they are punished for questioning the world they live in, then learning becomes a punishment. The most brilliant child in the world, one with bright, hungry eyes, asking their parents every question in the world, doesn't that make you want to lift them up so that they can bask in the realm of knowledge and wisdom and become the best person that they can be? But if we ignore them, talking on our cell phone and leaving the teaching up to those who are barely able to survive (today's modern teachers), then have we not failed in raising the children we have borne? They were brought into the world to achieve what no other human could, whatever that may be. We should do whatever it takes to enable our children to learn and grow and flourish, to reach the limits of what they can conceive, and then to keep on going.