Real Live Prof

I live in East Texas. It has been the second dry, hot summer in as many years. Now it is September, but the heat keeps coming. I have really felt it this summer as I have worked outside most days. I would start at daylight, and work until noon. I would come home exhausted, change out of sweat-drenched clothes, eat lunch, and rest. If I still had work to do, I would go back out in the evening. It was still very hot, but evening and shadows and shade were also coming and comforting. Now I look at the 10 day forecast and I am not encouraged. Yet I know that eventually it will get cooler, and even cold. I am eagerly waiting for that day. (By the way, I have learned to pray for rain like a farmer, or, at least, a fisherman).

My Favorite fishing place: down from 5 acres to 1/2 acre this summer

My favorite fishing place: down from 5 acres to 1/2 acre this summer

Karl Marx wrote in 1843 that “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” (A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).  By using the term “opium”, he meant that religion has the effect of anesthesia upon the religious in that it makes us “dead” to our current bad political situations and instead gives us a heaven to look forward to. If you are focused on heaven, he reasoned, you will never take seriously the exploitive conditions here on earth that you could fix through political revolution (i.e. worker’s paradise, and communist utopia).

Dear Karl, it is true that as a Christian, I am very much looking forward to heaven. Jesus tells me I will be with him and I will have a new body. He is preparing me a place, and preparing me for that place. I will see my family again. A few years later, I fully expect to walk out on my lawn, pick up the paper, and read the 10,000 year weather forecast: Sunny and clear, high of 75, low of 65.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, said it this way, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that. the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

So, finally Karl, as the summer and heat and dry drag on, I am called to hope, which I think you would have to admit is very revolutionary. But my hope is too small if I only hope for cooler temps and a little rain. It is a much better and bigger hope if I groan with creation and look to God to right the wrongs of global warming and global warring against the things of God.

 

 

Essential Intellectual Traits

Essential Traits
A few weeks ago we had a guest speaker at my church. I found his sermon inspiring and stimulating. It made me think. After church I go to Sunday dinner with my buddies from church. Bob is a retired professor and a long time friend. He and I chatted about the sermon and how much we enjoyed the intellectual stimulation. Our buddies thought we were nuts. They said the sermon zipped right over their heads and they didn’t enjoy the references to the Greek meanings of the scripture. Now, my buddies are smart folks. I don’t hang out with dummies. Most are retired and most have some college work, if not a degree, but they are all smart. I was confused. I just put it down to “different strokes for different folks.” I then started thinking about what Bob and I have in common that our buddies didn’t have. Bob and I are scientists and enjoy facts and insights. We are used to finding the minute details that are necessary to complete the whole picture. We revel in details. As I told you, my buddies are smart but they are not scientists and do not think like a scientist.

As I thought about what I would write today I remembered that I asked you if you thought that Jesus exhibited the intellectual standards that I had listed from www.criticalthinking.org. I also wrote about how evangelicals fear critical thinking because it means the powers that be lose their hold over the people. Another reason Evangelicals fear critical thinking is that they are afraid to question their own beliefs. What if those beliefs are wrong? How do you know if your beliefs are right or wrong? Questions…you must question your beliefs in order to understand those beliefs and WHY you believe them. These questions utilize what www.criticalthinking.org call essential intellectual traits. Here are the essential intellectual traits and their counter traits.

Intellectual humility vs. intellectual arrogance
Intellectual courage vs. intellectual cowardice
Intellectual empathy vs. intellectual narrow-mindedness
Intellectual autonomy vs. intellectual conformity
Intellectual Integrity vs. intellectual hypocrisy
Intellectual perseverance vs. intellectual laziness
Confidence in reason vs. distrust of reason/evidence
Fair-mindedness vs. intellectual unfairness

Over the next few weeks I will explore these traits and their counter traits and how Jesus exhibited each trait. I also want to challenge my evangelical family to serious consider if they are truly of “one mind” with Christ if they are not exhibiting these traits. My Sunday dinner buddies would not enjoy this discussion, except for Bob. I hope you will find the next few weeks stimulating and thoughtful.

That Sense of Urgency

I’m a cancer survivor.  My doctors still shake their heads in amazement.  I’m not supposed to be here.  But God had other plans—and in October, my wife, Sharon, and I will celebrate six years of remission.   

Having cancer changed how I look at life.  It left me with a sense of urgency.  It even changed what I did for a living. 

For some time, I’d been pursuing a career in college administration.  But sitting in a chemo infusion room every three weeks for a year prompted me to reflect on a lot of things—including my career.  And after some long talks with Sharon and my oncologist, I retired from administration so I could return to the classroom.  God made me a teacher.  It’s what I love.     

I’d forgotten, though, the peaks and valleys of teaching.  I had forgotten that the classroom is both exhilarating and discouraging.  I had forgotten what a roller coaster ride it can be. 

Some of my students dread my required classes.  They fear not only failing my class, but also failing themselves and all those who believe in them.  For other students, my classes are merely an unwelcome obstacle standing in the way of their diploma.  And I’d forgotten that some students, even the better ones, don’t always read the assignments.  A colleague from another university says, “You can assign all you want, they aren’t going to read it.”

I recall the first time I was faced with a significant instance of student apathy that resulted in several F’s (a long time ago when I was a graduate teaching assistant).  I sat in my mentor’s office with my head down, feeling like a failure.  “Did you really think you could save them all?” he asked.  “Yes,” I said.

The truth is, I still hope to inspire all of my students.  But, realistically, I know that there are some I won’t connect with.  I recall an honors class (not this semester!) when a student came with a drop slip.  I was surprised because she was such an excellent student, and I loved having her in the class.  When I asked her why she was dropping, she said, “I don’t like the class—It’s just not working for me.”

I also know that there are students who will fall away and who will fail.  But I am still hopeful and I truly believe that, more often than not, students are looking for an excuse to succeed—they are looking for someone to inspire them. 

I think my expectations are probably more realistic now.  But they’re still high.  For me.  For my students. 

And I hope my sense of urgency rubs off on them. 

When you live on this side of cancer, there’s so much more at stake it seems.  Life is fragile.  Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow.  And I have my students for a semester—just 15 weeks.  A mist. A vapor. So much like life.  What will they take away from this experience, I wonder—intellectually and spiritually?     

In a mere 15 weeks, how can I teach them to write skillfully and read diligently and think critically?  How can I reveal to them that the discipline of faith and the discipline of learning and scholarship intersect in a profound and rational way?  And how can I model for them a life built on Jesus and His love and grace? So little time.

My wife and I pray and trust that my remission is permanent—that the cancer never returns.  But I still look behind me—over my shoulder.  And sometimes I think I can hear it—walking fast, with a purpose, coming to overtake me.  That urgency is never far from me. 

And so I teach.  And I invest in the lives of my students.  And I pray that something sticks along the way.  Even if it is just my attitude—my love for Jesus, my love for my discipline, my love for students, and my conviction that one class can make a difference. 

15 weeks—just a vapor.  But this reality forces me to live in the present—to treasure each day—each class with my students. 

So I live with a sense of urgency—in all areas of my life—as a believer and husband and teacher.  

I know God still does miracles.  He is doing one in my life.  I pray He does one in my classroom. 

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine...” (Ephesians 3:20a).  

 

 

The Thinking Church

Why are so many young people in America leaving the Church? church-sign-antigay--300x210

A wide array of answers have been suggested lately. The Barna research group conducted eight national studies with teenagers, young adults, youth ministers and pastors in order to shed light on the issue. They found that young adults in the millennial generation find churches to be overprotective, shallow, antagonistic to science, inadequate in their teaching on sexuality, too exclusive, and unfriendly to those who doubt. Millennials themselves have expressed their own perspective, identifying the church’s hostility towards homosexuals to be the main reason that young adults leave the church (see the recent, overwhelming response to “An open letter to the church” blog post from Dannika Nash).

It is hard for those of us in the older generations to understand such harsh criticism. Sure, the church has its problems, but we have experienced it as a place of comfort and belonging, of worship and love. How can there be such a discrepancy between our experience and theirs and, more importantly, what does the younger generation need that the church is not giving them?

Several months ago,in a much-discussed CNN blog post, Rachel Held Evans suggested that what millennials (herself included) need from the church is authentic worship, theological substance, an end to the culture wars, a truce between faith and science, a moratorium on divisive politics, and a challenge to live holy and sacrificial lives like Christ.

I want to suggest that all of these needs can be expressed in one foundational need: The younger generation needs a thinking church.

For most of the church’s history, the leaders of the church–pastors, priests, and other clergy–were the most educated people of their times. Even into the twentieth century, it was common for pastors to read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and to have attended the most prestigious schools on earth. Today, we study the sermons and letters of preachers from the past to learn from the clarity of their thought and the beauty of their prose.

However, in the last century, key movements swept across the landscape of the church and changed it drastically. The holiness movement, the first and second Great Awakening, the growth of the charismatic church, the birth of evangelicalism, and the rise of fundamentalism all shifted the focus away from matters of the head to focus on the importance of the heart. With these movements, the church began to seek revival rather than research, to value the work of the Spirit rather than the work of the scholar, to emphasize the importance of conversion and morality over education and tradition. These were all welcome and important changes and they could have enacted a healthy balance in the church.

But as is common with the human practice of religion, we went too far. Churches that emphasized the Holy Spirit became suspicious of seminary and theological education. Churches that valued the Scriptures above all else began to exalt the Bible to a place of idolatry, worshipping the literal words of its pages rather than the living message it conveyed. Churches that centered their services on fear-inducing sermons of the hellfire and brimstone type started to lose the practices of reflective worship and repentant prayer, of intellectual inquiry and cultural engagement.

And so the scales tipped. Suddenly, churches were not encouraging Christians to be educated and articulate, to study science and literature and art along with Scripture, or to search for deep, thoughtful answers to the world’s most pressing problems. Instead, churches began to discourage difficult questions and academic interaction with the world. They felt challenged by—and consequently became hostile to—new ideas, new technology, and new ways of thinking, speaking, and ministering. The chasm I described in my earlier posts began to grow–that chasm between the intellectual pursuit of God exemplified by the pastors of the 19th and 20th century (also by Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17!) and the religious practice of the 21st century church characterized by fear of scholarship and distrust of the academy.

When the younger generation looks at the church of today, they realize that as the church, we might feel passionately, protest loudly, and correct indiscriminately, but we do not think deeply. And at the end of the day, our young people need A THINKING CHURCH.

A THINKING CHURCH would be able to converse with the fields of science and literature and business and  education, to find truth in them and speak truth to them as well;

A THINKING CHURCH would interact with culture and the arts, infusing more creativity in its worship and more cultural relevance in its message medium;

A THINKING CHURCH would train its people in apologetics, the art of defending the faith with articulation and compassion;

A THINKING CHURCH would be willing to talk with people who are from different backgrounds—whether different religions or cultures—to  learn from other beliefs while remaining firm in the tenets of their own faith;

A THINKING CHURCH would be eager to discuss answers to the difficult theological questions that many millennials ask, like:

  • How does the message of the Bible fit with the principles of science?
  • How can so many Christians read the Bible and come up with different interpretations?
  • How can I love my neighbor (who may have different beliefs from me) while remaining strong in the ethical teachings of Scripture?
  • How can a sovereign God of love allow so much evil in this world?;

A THINKING CHURCH would be prepared to offer compassion and support to those who doubt, who find themselves stuck at the uncomfortable intersection of faith and reason;

A THINKING CHURCH would be willing to change, ready to grow, and open to admitting when they were wrong.

Critical Thinking at Church picWhat the millennials really need is for the church of history, with its intellectual prowess and curiosity about the world, to meet the churches of today, with their passion for Scripture and ethics and service and Spirit. They need to see the body of Christ, in action, engaging soul and heart and strength and mind in order to change the world with the love of God.

Are we, as the church of today, ready to become the thinking church that our young people so desperately need and, if so, how do we do it?

Life Lessons… what I wish I could tell my students

If I could write a letter to my students, this is what it would say.

Photo Credit: symphony of love via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: symphony of love via Compfight cc

1. God is preparing you… so be a good steward of your education.

Learning is a responsibility… not just a grade. God gives us opportunities to learn, and we should do this to the best of our ability. Once you get out of college, you pay your bills based on the money you bring in not the grade you get from a teacher. Treat your studies like a job. Practice now, because you will learn soon enough that your job won’t fail you or give you a ‘zero’ for not doing your work. They will fire you.

Test, quizzes, writing assignments, and projects are designed to track your learning progress. Use these experiences to guide you throughout your educational experience. It is your responsibility to learn. Communicate with your teachers when you are having difficulty learning. We are here to help.

2. Attitude is everything
I would rather work with someone that is less talented with a great attitude, than with someone that is super talented with a poor attitude. Work on your attitude. Learn from your bad attitude days and find ways to change your attitude.

Photo Credit: anitakhart via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: anitakhart via Compfight cc

3. Life is not easy.. don’t make excuses & stop whining
If life was easy… everyone would be good at it… only the successful rise to the top. Successful people have the same life issues as unsuccessful people. However, successful people learn how to overcome their difficulties. They strive longer and harder for success.

Think about your grandparents. What have they overcome for you and your family to have the opportunities that you have today? If you slack up today, how are you affecting your own future, and the future generations? Work hard. Don’t make excuses. Get the job done. You will see the fruits of your labor (good or bad).

4. No one ever truly knows their own potential… so don’t sell you self-short.

Dream big. I am only the person I am today because people saw potential in me. They encouraged me. However, I have had my fair share of non-supporters in my life. They didn’t believe in me, and at times I thought I wasn’t going to amount to much. I found out the hard way… no one truly knows your full potential.

Start with small successes. Let each success prepare you for your next opportunity. Seek out challenges and you will get stronger. You will grow from each experience.

Find other people that are successful in your chosen profession. Get to know their life story. Connect with these people early in life, and you will find that many people work hard to get to the top.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

5. Rules are generally safe boundaries… Embrace them.

Don’t touch the hot stove. Literally… don’t touch it. We can easily see why this rule is valid and important. The rules of life are not always that clear in why we should or should not follow them. For example, I have a no cell phone policy in my class. The reason I don’t allow cell phones is because you generally should not be playing with your cell phone in a professional setting. If you play with it during a meeting, you could be perceived as unprofessional or disrespectful. So why practice this bad behavior in college? I could go on and on with examples. The point is… when you encounter a rule about life, relationships, finances, ect. .. Just know that this is God’s way of protecting you. Embrace them.

This letter is not specifically for my students. It is more of a reflection of my own experiences and the lessons I have learned the hard way. I know my students may not understand this even if I told them… but I wish I would have learned these lessons the easy way.

Fear of Reason

I usually read 2 or 3 books at a time. Currently I am reading a book by Mark A Noll titled Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. It is short but dense. Noll’s previous book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, bemoans the anti-intellectual culture of the evangelical congregation. In Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Noll argues that the Christian faith lays the foundation for intellectual advancement and critical thinking at its finest. If this be true then WHY are most evangelicals terrified of intellectual advancement?

In the first 3 centuries of Christianity the believers were faced with confronting the Greco-Roman intellectual scrutiny. These early believers had to know the Hebrew Scriptures intimately as well as the Hellenic culture of intellectualism. The apologists were well educated and equipped to debate the finer points of the Christian faith and the polytheistic beliefs of the day. This is why God needed Saul to become Paul. God needed Paul to debate the Hellenic cultural standards. Read Paul’s letters. He is addressing the Hellenic culture not the Hebrew culture. Jesus addressed the Hebrew culture and mastered any and all intellectual arguments brought to Him. Once Christianity came into favor with the Roman Empire then the power base shifted from Hellenic culture to a merger which became what we call the Western civilization culture. During this time power shifted to the head of the Roman Catholic Church from the Roman emperors. Education shifted from the middle – privileged class to the clergy. Knowledge is power and the powers that be at that time (and our time) did not want the average person to be knowledgeable. People who are knowledgeable are capable of critical thinking and making their own decisions. There is less power for the big dogs when the little dogs know fact from fiction.

So, one reason evangelicals are afraid of intellectual pursuits is that it takes power away from the leaders and puts power into the hands of the population. A second reason most evangelicals are afraid of intellectual pursuit is that it promotes critical thinking. Knowledgeable people ask questions, lots and lots of questions.
o What’s the purpose?
o Where did you get that information?
o What is the problem?
o What is the goal?
o How did you come to that conclusion?
o Is the reasoning logical?
o What assumptions are being made?
o What are the consequences?
o Who does this profit?
Promoting critical thinking skills means promoting intellectual standards which leads to a higher level of thinking. A thinking people learn how to reason through questions using intellectual standards: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic and fairness. A thinking people then begin to exhibit the traits of the intellect: humility, courage, empathy, autonomy, integrity, perseverance, reason, and fair-mindedness. The powers that be then lose more power.

Ever wonder why the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted Jesus dead? It had less to do with His claim to be the Christ than the fact that He challenged their authority and thus their power over the people. He was teaching the people to think for themselves rather than blindly follow the Pharisees and Sadducees. He was diminishing their power base. Do you think Jesus exhibited the intellectual traits listed above?

Real Live Prof

Funny thing happened in Social Psychology last week…it turns out that social psychologist are very interested in the effect that other people and situations have on us. They have even given it a catchy name: The ABC Triad. ”A” stands for Affect or how we feel inside. “B” stands for behavior or what we do. Finally, “C” stands for cognition, or more simply, what we think about as we are doing something.  CaptureCharacterWe might use the Triad to try to understand horrific behavior such as how seemingly normal American soldiers could get caught up in the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003. Were they simply following orders or were they morally bankrupt? We want to know how such a thing could happen and so we are faced with either blaming the torture (“Behavior”) on the soldiers (“Affect”) or the situation (“Cognition”).  Oddly, when we do something wonderful and awe-inspiring, we are very willing to take the credit.  For example, if students make an “A” on an exam then it is because they studied hard. If they failed an exam, it was obviously the Prof’s fault for making it so crazy hard. (Conversely, if all students pass an exam, it is our fault for not making it harder. If they all fail, then it is their fault and they should have studied much harder.) We often find ourselves between blaming and boasting.

After talking about the Triad, I asked the class about the Christian idea of character (doing the right thing, even if no one is looking). How would character fit into the Triad? We came up with the ABCC Quad. Developing Biblical, Christ-like character allows us to more accurately assess the situation (peer pressure, convenience, or no one is looking, etc), our own feelings about the situation (which are often faulty and self-centered), and then to act rightly and do the right thing, despite the situation and my feelings.

 Maybe I should have made the exam a little easier… 

The Chasm, part 2: The People of the Chasm

In my last post, I lamented the wide chasm that separates the church and the “academy” (biblical scholars and their scholarship), a separation I have noticed since the beginning of my theological education and that I am consistently reminded of as I teach New Testament to college students in the Bible belt. In an attempt to transform my fruitless complaints into conversation, I want to use my next couple of posts delve deeper into the chasm and discuss the people who contribute to the chasm, the problems or symptoms that result from the chasm, and the possible solutions we can work toward to eliminate the chasm.

The People of the Chasm:

Are you kidding me?

Group #1: “PLAIN SENSE” CHRISTIANS

These are the devout believers in local churches who can quote Bible verses (out of context), list the books of the New Testament in order, and proof-text better than an inspirational greeting card company. Although many in this group truly desire to understand what the Bible says, they know (or care) little about the literary themes and historical contexts of the Bible, the major doctrines of Christianity, the principles behind responsible biblical interpretation, or even the overarching “big story” the Scriptures are telling. Often, individuals in this group become confident that their interpretation is the only right interpretation of scripture, that their reading, the “literal” or “plain sense” reading, is the only way to read the Bible. This group is suspicious and even fearful of theological education, telling young ministers things like, “Don’t go off to seminary unless you want to lose your faith!,” or, “You do not need anything but a Bible and the Spirit to interpret God’s Word.” Of course, I affirm that the Holy Spirit can speak to any reader of Scripture, regardless of their education or background; however, we all need to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is sometimes a hard task and we would all do it better if we did it as a well-equipped, well-informed body of Christ rather than individuals who confuse Bible knowledge with Bible understanding. When we fail to grasp the complex beauty and depth of the biblical literature, reducing it instead to folksy advice and empty platitudes, the true message of Gospel can be obscured or misapplied in a way that hurts others.

Group #2: OUT-OF-TOUCH INTELLECTUALS:

These are the well-educated Bible scholars who have studied the Scriptures for decades, have a good grasp of its background and content, and have the skills necessary to do responsible biblical interpretation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this group spends little time teaching people in the churches what they know, instead choosing to write specialist books on specialist topics with specialist vocabulary that no one in a typical church would ever want to read, even if they could. This group is on the other side of the chasm from group #1, although occasionally a few of its members will lay bricks to start the bridge to the other side (the scholar-pastors).

Bible Scholars

Group #3: PROBLEMATIC PASTORS

These are the pastors, both educated and uneducated, who do not take the time to prepare themselves and their people for the challenge of reading and applying the Bible. Pastors could be the largest part of the construction crew to build a bridge over the chasm, but many instead contribute to it. Some do not realize how much time it takes to study and compose a biblically-sound sermon. Some cannot accept that although the Spirit does speak, hearing the Spirit well takes time, thought, and preparation. Some were not properly trained in biblical interpretation, so may need to humble themselves and seek more education. Whatever the problem might be, it is not a solely personal problem because it affects the people in the church who trust and rely on the exegesis and wisdom of their preachers. Although it is true that pastoring is a hard, time-consuming job with high demands, it must be so because the people in group #1 need to be guided to participate in the chasm solution instead of being part of the problem. We who are pastors and teachers must strive for excellence because people depend on us.

OTHER GROUPS?

Have I missed any groups that contribute to the chasm? I would like to hear from you. Leave a Comment.

NEXT WEEK…the problems the chasm creates in our church and society.

21st Century Cowboy

Before I thought about being a doctor or an archeologist, I wanted to be a cowboy.  I found my first pair of cowboy boots under the Christmas tree when I was six.  They were black.  The shafts were turquoise.  Loved those boots.

My heroes were Roy Rogers and John Wayne.  The Lone Ranger too.  Something about the horses they rode.  Something about the wide open spaces.  Something about the cattle, and the campfire and the chuck wagon and sleeping under a night sky full of stars.   And, of course, there was always the struggle between good and evil.

It was pretty clear back then.  The good guys and bad guys were easy to tell apart.

One of my favorite movies is Tombstone.  And my favorite scene is when Wyatt Earp and his two brothers along with Doc Holiday are walking down that dusty street side by side.  They’re headed for the OK Corral.  And bad guys are waiting for them.

Is there gonna be a fight?  You bet.  But are the good guys gonna win?   Of course.

I miss the old Westerns where the bad guys wore black hats and the music always let you know when trouble was coming.

Real life can be much more complicated.  But I remind my students that – just like in an old western – there are still things worth fighting for – things worth standing for.

Jesus – and His message of redemption and sacrifice and love – is one of those things.  I cling to this doctrinal truth – that Jesus is the Son of God who died for my sins, so I could become His child – a child of the King.  And because He died for me, I take up my cross and follow Him.  I die to myself so that I can become more and more like Jesus – so that I can wrap my arms around more and more of Him every day.

As a teacher, I want my students to succeed academically.  I want them to work hard.  I want them to understand that by entering into the life of the university, they have become members of a vibrant academic community.

But, within this community, I want them to find a place where they can grow spiritually.  I want them to know that faith and learning can coexist – that all knowledge is a gift from God.  Daniel and his three friends in Babylon realized this when God gave them “an unusual aptitude for learning the literature and science of the age” (1:17).  And when Paul celebrates the vastness of God in Romans, he lifts his voice and sings, “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (11:33).

Ultimately, I tell my students, the most important choice we will ever make is what we choose to believe to be true about God.  Is He good?  Is he loving?  Is he relevant?

This is why I teach at a Christ-centered university.  This is why strive to integrate my faith with my discipline.  And even though I’m a teacher, I guess I still fancy myself a cowboy, walking down a dangerous dusty street.  Armed with the power of God.  Shattering darkness.  Shedding light.  Sharing Jesus. 

Some dreams die hard I guess.  Which is why I’ll always own a pair of cowboy boots.

Learning and teaching from an Expectancy Value Theory Viewpoint

The Expectancy Value Theory states that people’s behavior is directly related to their perception or belief in a given objective, and the value they attach to achieving said objective. Basically, people guesstimate the amount/type of work needed to achieve an outcome, and that they have preconceived ideas of how they will feel or what they will accomplish with the effort they provided.

Although this is a Consumer Behavior/ Marketing theory, I will attempt to describe my understanding of learning and teaching from this perspective.

Learners Assumptions: College students are paying customers. Students pay the university for the opportunity to expand their education, and for the opportunity to earn a college diploma. The university has developed curriculum to guide the student through the journey of intellectual maturity as they approach graduation. However, generally speaking, no refund or rebate is given if these objectives are not met. The consumer (college student) may discontinue college all together if the product (college) does not meet their expectations or may take their business elsewhere (go to another college).

It is safe for us to assume that college students have expectations of college. Based on these expectations, students exert the perceived effort to achieve those expectations.

So this got me thinking…..Is this the real difference between a student that reads before coming to class, and those that don’t? Is this the difference between students that come to my office to ask clarification about a test question or ask me to read their rough draft prior to the due date?

IF WE HELP CHANGE student’s perception of how they can be successful in my class or college, can I create an environment that allows them to have greater achievements? (change expectations = change behavior = change outcomes)

Teaching Assumptions: Teachers provide an instructional service that facilitates the educational experience.  Just like the service industry or any company you prefer over another…some are better than others (even if they deliver the same results).  As teachers get to know their student’s learning styles, they adapt their teaching materials and instructional delivery method to serve the students better. In an ideal world, teachers will know exactly how to successfully facilitate learning, and it could be done is a systematic way. However, this is not that simple.

In “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher” , Stephen Brookfield highlights that teachers do not always know what helps or hurts the learning process in their classrooms. He also suggest that Teachers must simply ask questions about the learning process in order to understand what is REALLY going on from the students perspective. For example, Brookfield explains that group activities do not always facilitate learning. Sometimes students are embarrassed to talk amongst their peers, or one peer dominates the conversation. So, just because group activities and discussion are generally good, they may not always facilitate learning.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be using a “critical incident questionnaire” to evaluate how teaching and learning is interacting in my classrooms. I hope to discover what I am doing that helps students learn, and what I am doing that prevents them from engaging like they want to. The end goal is to improve desired behavioral outcomes towards learning, and increase the total value assumption of my class.

Conclusion: Learning and teaching is an interactive process. I believe students think they know what they need to do to be successful in my class. Some demonstrate that well, and it takes very little effort on my part to get them to actively participate in the learning process. I self-identify with this type of learner, and I understand that it is easier for me to teach 20-30 students that are always prepared and contribute to class. However, I see few students that fit into this ideal learner category.

I am confused when I find students unprepared for in-class discussion, a quiz, or are simply playing on their phone during my class. I ask myself… Do they do these things because they think this behavior will make them successful? Did I not tell them my expectations ahead of time? Do they not see value in my class? Do they not feel like they can be successful? Do they know what being a good student means?

These are hard questions to ask… And an even harder question is … Can I change their perceived belief or value that they have of my class? Should I take this responsibility or is this the responsibility of the learner? How do I create an environment that increases the student’s perceived value of my class?

AND.. if I do find a way to increase the learning experience this semester…. Will it work if I do it again next semester?