The cynic and the critical thinker

Earlier in the semester I was asked to teach one of our Learning and Leading courses in the instructor’s absence. The lesson focused on leadership and critical thinking. As the students and I talked about what critical thinking was I was reminded it can be a difficult concept to explain. When I asked students what they thought critical thinking was I was met quite a few puzzled expressions. One brave student ventured a guess… “is it when you think…. critically?” Well, yes… but what does that really mean? Do we automatically doubt everything that we hear? And what’s the difference between our culture’s tendency toward cynicism and critical thinking?

Let’s face it. These days it is hip to be a cynic.

We are bombarded with information day in and day out. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, we are often misinformed and this spurs our disillusionment or distrust for information and the humans who curate it.

Grumpy Cat via Reddit

Grumpy Cat via Reddit

Admittedly, as someone who still makes the argument that sarcasm is a spiritual gift, I am prone to be somewhat of a naysayer. Couple that personality with a job where I frequently talk to students about the types of information they use, how it is created, and often how it can be misleading can lead me even further down the path to cynicism.

But… there is hope for us yet, my fellow recovering cynics.

In their 2007 book titled Unspun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation, authors Jackson & Jamieson put forth one solid rule to evaluating information: “Be skeptical, but not cynical.”

What’s the difference?

Evidence.

From a philosophical standpoint, skepticism holds that the possibility of knowledge is limited. However, today we popularly speak of skepticism in terms that lean toward a looser definition that describes a general questioning attitude. The word skeptic actually comes from the Greek word skeptikos which means to reflect. Developing this questioning attitude is a part of a becoming a critical thinker.

As Jackson & Jamieson  explain, the separating factor between being a skeptic and a cynic when it comes to information is found in the proof. While the cynic automatically assumes that the information he/she has encountered is false, the skeptic simply demands evidence to support the validity of the claims that are made. A cynic – despite their attempts to be perceived as the opposite – is actually in the same boat as the naïve person. Like the gullible person, the cynic has neglected the evidence and falsely assumed they have the answer.

As the great philosopher Stephen Colbert once said in his commencement address at Knox College, “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge.”

The person with a cynical attitude says, “No. I won’t believe it no matter what you say.” A skeptical thinker says, “That’s interesting. Could you show me the evidence for it?”

In teaching our students how to engage with the world, it is imperative that we model practices of skeptical questioning that help us find the truth. In her Psychology Today article, developmental psychologist Dr. Mary Price-Mitchell outlines some of ways that skepticism can be modeled:

  • Challenge claims by asking for evidence.
  • Engage in metacognition. Ask, “What makes you think this way?”
  • Maintain a healthy dose of doubt. Does the argument or claim even seem logical?
  • Play devil’s advocate. For the sake of the argument, try looking at it from the other side.
  • Use both logic and intuition. Don’t rely on just one.
  • Check your bias barometer. Consult multiple sources and ask questions like, “What’s the other side of the story?”
Photo Credit: atomicity via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: atomicity via Compfight cc

When it comes to information literacy, I find the boundary between encouraging students to be skeptics who question information and pushing them over the edge to becoming another member of the cynical masses is sometimes a fine line to walk. Oft quoted Barbara Fister pointed out why information literacy can be a hard sell when it comes to evaluating information: “…we have to make judgments all the time about things that we don’t know first hand and haven’t made our profession. We have to read and we have to winnow and yes, it’s work.” If you’ve ever heard the exasperated huff of a student who has gone from Googling to searching a database for the first time, you know what I’m talking about. She’s right – critical thinking and decision making takes work… but isn’t the truth worth the effort?

What about being a people of faith? Many Christians believe that faith and skepticism or critical thinking are diametrically opposed. I would argue that doubt and questioning are the stones on which we sharpen our faith. When we use our doubts to ask questions–when we are skeptical of the information we encounter–we have an opportunity to find answers that will develop our faith into a richer understanding of God, of the world, and of ourselves. One of my favorite pastoral authors, Tim Keller talks about faith and doubt: “A person’s faith can collapse overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after a long reflection.”

So let’s be positive skeptics. Let’s be thoughtful, inquisitive, reflective critical thinkers who work to reject what is false and embrace what is true. I want to be a person who is able to say “yes.” As we make our way through the information terrain, it seems to me that we could all use a dose of hopeful skepticism.

Misinformed

Let me begin by saying that I have tried to avoid this topic. Honestly, I haven’t wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole. That said, it is a part of the world we live in, and as a librarian it comes up frequently in my daily conversations.

Information can get you into trouble.

Better said, misinformation can get you into big trouble.

Recent headlines only further testify to the fact that our society still recognizes that value of truth and reacts strongly to a perceived or real violation of trust. For me, the timeline of misinformation leading up to post unfolded like this:

And that’s just what’s happened in the news that I observed within the last two weeks.

Let’s face it. None of us likes to think that we’ve been misinformed… perhaps even lied to.

The sheer quantity and speed that information comes at us makes it difficult to know what or who to believe. We have a constant stream of information flowing at us all day every day if we let it. Gone are the days when you rushed home to catch the 6 o’clock news or stayed up to watch the 10 o’clock broadcast. We have information coming at us from everywhere… all. day. long.

Photo Credit: adstarkel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: adstarkel via Compfight cc

Despite our best efforts, knowing whether or not we should trust an information source can be tricky. Those of us who have been trained to be skeptical and critically think about information have a better chance of adequately evaluating a source. It’s for this reason that in nearly every class that I’m asked teach information literacy concepts, I make it a point to talk about the Information Cycle. If we can understand the process that occurred for the information to get to us, we should have a better chance at evaluating its level of reliability.

When I talk to students about evaluating sources they can usually tell me something about the types of sources they might encounter. They know different types of news sources and can give you examples of magazines that they think tend to be more trustworthy than others. Students are well aware of the bias that can exist in news sources. In any given class I can expect that someone will throw out the term “bias in the media.” That being said, student contributions tend to slow down when I start asking questions about peer-reviewed journals and the scholarly publishing process. While they may have been asked to find a journal article in the past, most of them don’t have a firm grasp of why these sources are valued above other options. Once they have an understanding of the process for creating different sources, students are better equipped to navigate the information landscape.

Knowing where the information came from and the creation process that it underwent to get to you is a key element in being able to evaluate how trustworthy a source may be. You have to have an understanding of what went into producing the information and what the purpose of that information is to be able to judge its validity.

The brand new ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education talks about information reliability in terms of authority:

Frame 1: Authority is Constructed and Contextual:

“Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required.”

Can I trust this information? Is this from a reputable source? What was the author’s purpose in creating this information? As we encounter new data in this information deluge it is vitally important that we think critically about where it came from in order to determine its reliability. After all, part of our call to the truth involves making sure that what we share, what we retell, and what believe is in fact the truth – so far as we can tell.

EDP

You Should Do Shakespeare! (or… How We Choose Our Season)

Once, after a performance of a contemporary play, a patron told me, “You should do Shakespeare.”

Sometimes it’s hard to find the grace to respond with kindness when I’d rather be banging my head against a wall.  Repeatedly.  Then I remind myself… they don’t know the whole story.

ScriptsChoosing a production season for any theatre, whether professional or educational, is a painstaking process.  We can agonize over it for months before we commit to next year’s work, essentially because there are several criteria that guide our selection of a play.

I’d like to share those with you.

1. Is the cast size consistent with the talent in the department?

It is folly to choose a show we have no hopes of casting.  Though our productions are open to the entire student body, we have found that only those who have a deep love for the theatre are willing to commit to the demanding schedule required of any show.  This limits the size of the cast and, as a result, the type of shows we can do.

2. Does the production have academic and thematic merit?

We are a university committed to the intellectual growth of our students.  If we say we want them to think critically, then the material must demand intellectual inquiry through skillful storytelling and ask the participants thought-provoking questions regarding the content.  Wrestling with great literature helps our students think and problem solve beyond everyday expectations.

3. Has the play been recognized for excellence?

This is closely tied to #2.  Usually those plays that have been popularized through strong word-of-mouth reviews, legitimate awards, or favorable critiques provide the richest academic and artistic challenges.

4. Will the demands of the show exceed our budget or workforce?

Selecting the wrong show can sabotage an entire department in one of two ways: we can break the bank by committing to a play that demands too much of our budget or we can break our backs by selecting an overly ambitious show that will drain our workforce.  With a season of at least four shows, we must find a healthy and economically sound balance.

5. Will the experience stretch, challenge, and grow our students (both on stage and behind the scenes) in a way that prepares them for professional or graduate-level academic work?

Students should experience a wide range of genres, forms, and styles from across history to better understand the discipline.  We must also prepare our students for the real world by engaging them with the work out there now.  They are challenged to make bold choices, take risks, engage their faith, and set their boundaries.  It’s not all black and white, and our students must know how to dialogue about their limits in a profession that won’t necessarily sympathize with them.

6. Does the play reflect the faith and values of the institution?

This question is best answered by our Theatre Arts and Christian Worldview statement found on our website and in our programs.  In short, we absolutely want to maintain the integrity and mission of our university.  We love to discuss the redemptive, cautionary, or unresolved conflicts found in the work we do.  As a result, we often schedule talkback sessions after particular performances to help answer the difficult questions.  Our goal is to balance the needs of our students with the expectations of our patrons.

7. Is it something we personally want to work on for 6-9 months?

That’s about how long we spend on any one show, often overlapping the various needs as the schedule demands.  While one show is in performance, another is being designed, while another is being researched and conceptualized.  If we aren’t passionate about the work we have chosen, the end product will suffer.

2014-15 Production Season

2014-15 Production Season

I love Shakespeare’s work and would welcome the opportunity to produce any one of his histories, comedies, tragedies, or romances if we can do the play justice.  However, large cast sizes, multiple male roles, few female opportunities, lengthy run times, multiple sets, iambic pentameter (with numerous variations), difficult thematic content, and some of the most beloved stories ever told make his work a significant challenge for a department of our size.

So we work to grow.  We try hard to recruit top-tier students.  We train them in voice and movement, acting and design, analysis and history.  We build our stock of period clothing, weapons, and props.  We dream big and problem solve within the limitations of our facilities.  We press on in the hopes that one day we will do Shakespeare.

But until that time comes, we strive to meet the immediate needs of the department in a way that gives students opportunities that are just as rich and rewarding.  Maybe it will be Miller, Ruhl, Brecht, Molière, or Sondheim, but it will be just as worthy.

TEL

On Information Literacy

In my first blog this semester I mentioned that one of the things I’m still discovering is how the library and more specifically, information literacy, fits into the idea of faith & learning. As an institution we focus many of our discussions around how to integrate faith and learning in a way that engages students and equips them to make the connections between our disciplines, the world they live in, and their Christian faith. That discussion often brings me to the question – where do faith and information literacy intersect? Or, why in the world do I think it is so important to teach this stuff to our students?

First, I should probably define information literacy for those of you who aren’t immersed in the topic like I am on a daily basis. What is information literacy? The term “information literacy” was actually coined in 1974 by the then president of the Information Industry Association, Paul G. Zurkowski. He began by defining information this way:

“Information is not knowledge; it is concepts or ideas which enter a person’s field of perception, are evaluated and assimilated reinforcing or changing the individual’s concept of reality and/or ability to act. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so information is in the mind of the user.”

From there, Zurkowski puts forth the idea that an information literate is a person who is “trained in the application of information resource to their work.” His assertion was that while most Americans were literate by 1974 (meaning they could read and write), fewer than one-sixth of the population could be considered information literate – able to understand the value of information and use it to meet their needs. We’ve come a long way with the concept of information literacy since then, but for the most part, this still seems to get at the heart of the issue.

Photo Credit: verbeeldingskr8 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: verbeeldingskr8 via Compfight cc

I think most of us would agree with the notion that a person wouldn’t be fully educated unless they could be considered information literate. When a student graduates from the university, he or she needs to have the ability to continue learning on their own outside of a classroom setting. If they don’t know how to locate information, interact with it, evaluate it, and use it to inform their own thinking, how will they ever learn anything beyond what they learned at the ripe old age of 23?

We have not educated the whole student unless we have taught them how to interact with information.

But where does our faith fit in? Is the way we interact with information important to our faith somehow?

Of course it is.

Bill Badke – one of my librarian heroes who also happens to be one of the people who talk about information literacy in light of faith -  explains the intersection of faith and information literacy like this:

“In the world of Christian Higher Education our passion for information literacy – teaching students how to do research well – arises from the fact that we are a faith of the Word. The very concept of the Word, of Jesus Christ the Word, as well the Word of God tells us that we have bedrock on which we can base the growth of knowledge… The very means by which our minds are created to explore and to want to move forward provides us with the opportunity to really make our world a better place. Whatever research [we’re doing] is to advance our understanding of God’s world, of God’s truth, [and] to discover things that we didn’t know were there before. Because of that, student research becomes a significant factor in their education. How are they going to advance their world if they don’t know how to seek and find the truth?

And so that’s where I’ve ended up so far in my quest for discovering where information literacy begins to intersect with who we are as Christians. I have explained it to students like this: If we are called to be people of the truth, then shouldn’t we make sure that what we are reading, saying, and contributing to the conversation is actually truth? Scripture frequently warns us against bearing false witness. It seems that the ethical use of information should be a factor in the conversations we have, the research we conduct, and the stories we tell.

What does information literacy look like in 2015?

For starters, it is crucial that we recognize our need for information – honestly, sometimes that is the biggest hurdle. So much of the time we have already made up our mind about something before we’ve even really stopped to ask a question. From there, we need to know how to find that information – how is it created? where is it kept? how do I get to it? Then when we find it we need to be able to think critically about it. We need to evaluate the information that we encounter to determine its reliability and relevancy to our question. Finally, we need to be able to use the information that we’ve gathered to inform our ideas and influence our decisions.

"The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction — how to teach himself."

Paraphrase of Alvin Toffer’s citation of psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy in Toffer’s 1970 book titled “Future Shock”

If learning is about exploring God’s creation, about discovering new truths, about making the world a better place; then information literacy and faith don’t just occasionally cross paths — they are interwoven. When I teach students about information, I try to make it about more than just how to work database xyz or a demo of the library catalog. The concept that I’m actually trying to teach them is the deep structure of how information works so that they can use it for themselves in the future. As an instruction librarian, my part in the kingdom work includes helping students develop information literacy competencies so that they can continue to advance our understanding of the world. Hopefully, the way that we use information plays a role in the larger story of redemption. I think Gordon T. Smith summed it up nicely when he said,

“Few things are as redemptive as an honest exploration of truth.”

EDP

Where’s My Death Scene? (or… The Value of Theatre)

When I was a little girl, I often found myself digging through my mother’s closet and drawers to create what I termed “old-timey” clothes.  My mother’s fashion sense was not in any way “old timey”—but her nightgowns could be layered and belted on my frame to resemble the great robes of eighteenth-century royalty.  It fascinated me that people from long ago did not attire themselves as we did in the early 1980s, and I wanted to explore that with my own “designs” and imagination.

I was also a pretty voracious reader.  After reading Little Women (the abridged version) as a third grader, I would spend hours in my room reenacting scenes from Meg’s life.  Not long after, I was orchestrating talent shows and made-up plays from the living room with neighborhood children.  Yes, I was *that* kid.

After one particular living-room performance, which idealistically I believed EVERYONE would want to be a part of, I found myself near tears because one of my friends had categorically refused to participate.  I now understand that she had stage fright, but that didn’t (and still doesn’t) exist in my genetic make-up.  To heap insult upon injury, my mother pulled me aside for a scolding.  My offense?  I had invited the neighborhood into our home without warning and the house was a mess.  Oops.

So it was time to redirect my energies.  My mother happened upon an ad in the paper for a local children’s theatre.  Their production for the summer?  Little Women.  Did I want to audition?  (She had to explain to me what an audition was first.)  Ummm, YES!  And while disappointed to learn I was too young to play Meg, I did receive the part of Beth.  The rest is history.

Beth in Little Women

“Beth” in Little Women

There are two interesting segues to this story.  The first is that the adaptation of Little Women we performed was “cleaned up.”  Spoiler alert.  In this version, nobody died.  Imagine my ten-year-old brain trying to conceive why anybody would want to change a word of Louisa May Alcott’s literary masterpiece.  Where is my death scene?!?!  Everybody should grieve Beth’s sacrifice, illness, and loss!  It was unconscionable.  Eventually, however, I adjusted to the new approach, but it rang false.  I couldn’t articulate it then, but I know today that theatre was/is a way to wrestle with the difficulties of life.  That it was and is necessary to explore grief, love, doubt, inequality, and suffering through art.

The other branch to this story is providential.  Just a few months prior to my audition for Little Women, I heard the gospel presented in church—for what was probably the thousandth time—in a way that finally hit me.

My Sunday-School teacher was a rather rotund, middle-aged man named Buddy.  Buddy was unassuming, humble, and full of kindness.  And I liked him because he didn’t condescend to us.  There was no baby-talk.  There were no silly voices or exaggerated tales.  We were fourth and fifth graders together.  We were the highest echelon of elementary students.  Top dogs.  Almost adults.  And he spoke to us with the gravest sincerity, and his words sunk in deep.

I find it no coincidence that, after meeting Jesus, I should be introduced to the world of theatre.  I wouldn’t understand the connection between the two for years, even as I hungrily gobbled up every theatre opportunity that presented itself, but that fact was that God was preparing me, shaping me, using me as He designed me to be: an artist who is compelled to create in the image of her Creator—obliged to create in an effort to explore, to connect, to relate, to entertain, and to educate.

This brings me to the crux of this post.  An acquaintance of mine queried last year, “What really is the purpose of theatre at a small, liberal arts school?”  Or, we might ask, “What is the value of theatre anywhere?”  What does it do?  What should it do?  The debate is as old as theatre itself.  And there are (generally) two camps that the arguments fall into: theatre as entertainment and theatre as instruction.  Theatre should delight!  Theatre should inform!  Well, yes.  And yes.

There are those who want escapist entertainment that doesn’t require much thought.  They want to be awed by the spectacle and roll with the laughter.  Theatre should be equal parts romance, poetic justice, and action.  It should allow them to set aside their own concerns for a few hours, and delight in the trials and triumphs of some other life.

Then there are those who want to be challenged by something new, who want their perspective challenged, who want to examine the tough subjects through the intimate setting of theatre.  They carry the story with them beyond the curtain call and into the days and weeks ahead, turning it over in their mind and wrestling with it in their conversations.

The best theatre, in my opinion, does both.  It explores relevant topics or stories in a way that captures the audience’s imagination and heart.  It inspires discussion at the very least.  It never bores.  It demands examination and change.  It emboldens and encourages.  It lifts and it humbles.  It heals and it hurts.  Therein lies its purpose and its value.  And I know of no other way to bring so many diverse topics and so many different people together in one collaborative, cathartic event than the theatre.  And to me… that has great worth.

TEL

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander…

Watch this Video : http://youtu.be/8H48vMYu1J0

Hillsong United – Oceans (Where my feet may fail)

” Spirit Lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Whenever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

in the presence of the Savior

I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise

My soul will rest in your embrace

For I am yours and you are mine”

This past Sunday I was introduced to this praise and worship song. I remember thinking back to lifeguard training. We would tread water for 20 minutes straight with our hands above the water in-order to get our lifeguard certification. We started with 5 minutes, then we trained for 10 minutes. Eventually, we mastered 20 minutes. This skill was required and needed for life saving purposes. If I was drowning, I would want a lifeguard that could tread for as long as needed.

This reflective process has taught me that we set standards, we prepare our students for what we know they will need, and we implement strategies to help them succeed. But in reality, we can only prepare them for so much. So much more learning must take place through life experiences and outside of class assessment.

At this time in the semester, I see many of the students treading water with their head just above water. I challenge my students to cherish these moments. Let God use these moments to prepare them for the road of life ahead. To one day be the leader that is teaching others. My hope is that these moments they share at this university will help them to dig deeper in their faith. My hope is that God will take the moments and use them to draw closer to him.

My challenge to myself is the same. I am in my own journey of “treading water” and I know God is going to lead me to a deeper place in my faith. He is going to stretch my abilities and give me the ‘required skills needed’ to make a difference.***


Podcast Update

I have been tracking the progress of the students viewing the podcast prior to class. Six out of 16 students are viewing the chapter podcast prior to or after class.  In addition, the same 6 are completing all assignments whereas the other 10 are just not. Conclusions: if students do not turn in assignments, they are also not likely to read, listen to the podcasts, or come prepared to class.

In order to increase in-class participation, I started posting the discussion questions from the podcast/reading materials the day prior to class and individually assigning them to a question. Most everyone in class shows up with the answer for their question. This has helped in-class discussion and has given the more introverted students time to prepare to speak in-front of other students. It has also facilitated deeper discussion when the student are prepared to talk about the topics.

Although this process has not been perfect or easy, the process has provided opportunities for students to be responsible and mature learners. These opportunities are crucial for developing critical thinking in higher education.

In summary, I will continue to provide opportunities that facilitate in-class discussion and develops critical thinking opportunities. Today it may involve a podcast, tomorrow it may involve video conferencing or some other type of teaching method.

-LM

Top Ten ways to avoid misreading and misleading

Teaching is a difficult and risky business.Bashaw

Of course there is great joy involved in exposing students to new facts, interesting discoveries, and life-altering truths. But when all is said and done, when students leave your class armed with knowledge that may fuel their actions and guide their thoughts for years to come, the scary question lingers, “Was my teaching true?”

James is quite aware of the difficult nature of teaching when he warns in James 3:1-2:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.

I imagine that James could have been thinking about his own position of leadership in the Jerusalem church, aware that he had made mistakes in his teaching and his example. Despite the wisdom he showed during the Jerusalem Council in recognizing God’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 15), he also realized his example (both the good and bad parts) affected many early Christ-followers. If he struggled with the practical acceptance of Gentiles in the church, his brothers and sisters in Jerusalem would see that and be affected.

James’ warning about the dangers of teaching is especially appropriate for those of us who teach biblical truths–the pastor in the pulpit, the Bible study leader, the Christian blogger, the Scriptures professor, or any teacher who integrates faith and biblical teaching into her discipline.

Because it is so easy for us to misread and mislead.

It happens to the best of us. All you have to do is follow the blog posts on Facebook to realize that well-meaning and well-respected teachers of the Bible regularly misrepresent what the Bible actually teaches. Dave Ramsey, the financial guru who helps Christians manage their finances, has recently been criticized because his “biblical principles” of money management contradict the biblical message about wealth and poverty. Infamous Famous pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church has ignited so many blog and article wars with his controversial teaching (especially regarding the subject of women in the Bible and the Church) that a Google search for “Mark Driscoll AND wrong” turns up over a million hits. Even teachers and pastors who have some important, helpful things to say sometimes fall into the trap of irresponsibly interpreting Scripture. And for some reason, it is the bad readings of Scripture that always seem to spread faster and farther than the accurate ones.

So we must be careful teachers of Scripture. It is difficult to interpret the Bible responsibly  and faithfully but we who teach the Bible must take that task seriously and try to minimize misreading and misleading as best we can. In my ongoing quest to become a responsible interpreter and teacher of the Bible, I have learned some important lessons (mostly the hard way!) about reading, interpreting, and teaching the Bible.

Here are my top ten ways to avoid misreading the Bible and misleading others:

1) Know yourself. It is important to be aware of your own biases and preconceived ideas when you interpret Scripture. Everyone comes to the Bible with prejudices, formed by nationality, economic status, ethnicity, families of origin, church tradition, experiences, etc. Being aware of these biases helps to curb assumptions and forces an interpreter to consider that his or her view may be pre-formed rather than based on Scripture.

2) Read a passage in its literary context. When someone studies a verse or a passage it is important to read the verses and paragraphs before and after that passage to understand what is going on. The best practice is to also be aware of the message of an entire book so that it is easier to understand the purpose of an individual passage in the overarching story or letter. [as a side note it is also helpful to know the genres of the Bible and read according to genre]

2) Know the history. Interpreting a passage well requires knowledge of the social and historical context in which that text was written. For example, it is important to know that Revelation was written in a first-century Greco-Roman context and that the first readers of the book were experiencing persecution and were being tempted to worship the emperor rather than God. Such information helps us make better sense of the emphasis on worshiping God, the images of judgment for persecutors, and the firm warnings to repent.

3) Be aware that  all translation involves interpretation. Most words in the original Hebrew and Greek of the Scriptures do not have exact counterparts in English. For this reason, many translations of words and concepts are close but not perfect interpretations. It is dangerous to base a belief or teaching on one word (say the word “head” in Ephesians 5:23) when our word for head in English has many connotations that the Greek did not have.

4) Recognize the distance between the world of the Bible and our world. When reading ancient literature like the Bible it is important to ask, “What did this mean to them?” and then gauge what differences exist between the world of the Bible and our world. This one of the most foundational skills required in biblical interpretation. A great resource that focuses on finding the meaning of a biblical text in “their” world before interpreting it in “our” world is Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. All biblical interpreters should read a book (or books!) on practical hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) before attempting to teach the Bible in a formal setting.

5) Know the whole story. Reading the Bible should not be like eating at a buffet. We don’t get to choose what to accept and what not to accept. The Bible is like a many-course meal, with each part served in preparation for the next. We have to read the whole story, know the whole message, in order to fully appreciate and understand the individual parts.

6) Be open to being wrong. Given that every interpreter has preconceived ideas about the Bible, and given that there is always more to learn about the history and literature of the ancient world, it is vital that we resist becoming dogmatic about our interpretations. Even the most brilliant of theologians and most devoted of pastors change their minds about Scripture as they study more and live more.

7) Read the opinions of Christians who disagree with you. There is great value in listening to and reading interpreters who differ from you. If you are an evangelical conservative, make it a practice to read the works of liberal theologians or Catholic scholars. If you are a Baptist preacher, listen to sermons from Pentecostal pastors and Episcopalian priests. If you are an egalitarian, read complementarians (no matter how angry they may make you!). If you are a Calvinist, read Arminians. Willingness to learn from others has no down side. Such practice can show you new ways to look at a passage, help you strengthen your own views, or open your mind to a new perspective or a new truth.

8) Use words like “probably” and “likely” instead of “definitely” and “without a doubt.” In light of #6 and #7, it is a good idea for teachers to keep their language open to possibility. First, it lets students know that interpreting the Bible well is a process, one that will not end until we no longer see through a glass darkly. Second, in the age of blogs and podcasts, what you teach may be on record for ever; it is always better to leave room for growth and change rather than creating a situation in which you may have to blatantly contradict yourself in ten years.

9) Read other literature. Read ancient literature and Victorian novels and contemporary fiction and poetry and essays and biographies. Read other literature because it makes you a better reader and interpreter of the Bible, which contains some of the most complex and beautiful literature in history.

10) Pray daily and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to truth. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:26, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” If the apostles, who witnessed Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, who were immersed in his teaching and love and truth, if even these were going to need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind them, don’t you think we lowly teachers of Scripture need it too?

jgb

 

 

 

Collegiality

// Collegiality:

the cooperative relationship of colleagues

One of the best lessons I have learned through this reflection process is to learn from others. Other professors in my department and outside of my department have extended wisdom, and support at times when I needed it.

I used to think that I encountered “unique” issues and situations. I have learned through this reflection experience that we can learn a lot from talking to each other.

It is not weakness to seek others for advice… it is wise to seek those who have the experience and knowledge.

This past week I was approached by a student about a moral/ethical question. I gave her advice, but I could see that it was difficult for her to take the advice because of her current life experiences (don’t worry it wasn’t anything bad or life threatening… it was minor and won’t really make a difference one way or another).  But, the best thing about this encounter is that I saw myself in her. I saw that sometimes I ask advice from more experienced faculty, and sometimes I have a hard time understanding that advice.

I grew a lot from this encounter. It showed me that I can learn a lot from others if I just take the time to understand that my colleagues have that advice to offer. I understand that I am in my own growth process as a professor and that it may be at a different place than other people. AND that’s okay…

I can see myself maturing as a person and as a professional. I don’t do things the same way I did my first year of teaching. In five years, I probably won’t teach the same way I am teaching now. There is nothing wrong with what I am doing now but I hope to learn and to grow.

I am grateful that I am surrounded by co-workers that work together. I hope to continue to grow from using a collaborative approach to evaluate my actions a professor. I plan to be that peer or mentor support to future faculty.

We are stronger when we work together and when we learn from each other.

lm

 

Discipleship in Christian Education

makingdisciples

Disciple:

a:  one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another
b:  one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts
c:  a convinced adherent of a school or individual


Student’s see professors through a very narrow perspective;  life experiences thus far. They can only compare you to their previous experiences, and they are at the mercy of their current situation. Their perspective influences how they interact with you ,and how they expect you to interact with them.

For instance, at the beginning of the semester I always have a few students that cannot understand why I won’t take late work. They fuss and complain, not getting them any closer to me accepting their late work. By the end of the semester, I don’t have any students kicking and screaming about late work because this is the new ‘norm’ in their perspective.

I think it is important for me to understand and consider why students behave the way they do. They behave this way because, at some point, this behavior got them what they wanted and it was reinforced.  This brings me to my next reflection….

Recently, I had a student that sent me a text to landline message. This type of message occurs when the student decides to send a text message to my office phone rather than calling my office phone.

I was checking my voicemail one day this week and this is what it said in a robot computer voice…

“Hey Dr. McRee. This is (student’s name). I am sorry I missed class. I slept straight through my alarm. I was wondering what all I missed today.”

At first glance, this looks like the student is really trying to get the information from class. However….. After I emailed her back telling her to come to my office to go over what she missed, she did not come to my office. I plan to explain to her in detail that I appreciate her reaching out, but that her efforts were minimal. Technology cannot replace your personal work ethic and follow through.

Am I a bad professor for telling her this? Has no one ever told her this? A number of questions run through my head. I ask fellow professors and they agree that she could improve her professional interaction.

Which brings up another question… How do we as professors help shape our students in ways that are not grade related?

I was at an ETBU leadership workshop ( Breakfast with Fred ) earlier this semester and this was one of the proposed questions. So, I asked my students if they think that I help them develop in the ways listed below. These 10 items were published in a journal article as the “Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace”

  1. Integrity
  2. Communication
  3. Courtesy
  4. Responsibility
  5. Interpersonal skills
  6. Positive attitude
  7. Professionalism
  8. Flexibility
  9. Teamwork skills
  10. Work ethic

I personally could only pick out three that I could actually attach a grade to the “soft skill”. BUT, to my surprise… My students justified how I was able to teach them all the 10 skills without always assigning a grade to each of them. We had an honest conversation and it was interesting to see their perspective. I was shocked and told them I was very flattered… I told them that many times I don’t feel like I am able to breakthrough with some of these skills because of the dynamics of grading in higher education. I ensured them that these skills are needed in the real world, but that sometimes I am unsure of how successful I am at implementing them in the classroom.

So, as I reflect back on the TEXT to LANDLINE situation, I can see clearly that this is an opportunity to disciple this student. Interactions such as these do not always lead to a quantified grade, but they do shape the future leaders & graduates of ETBU.

My goals moving forward are to change the perspective of my students early on. To consider where they are, understand why they are the way that they are, and provide support for them to get to the behavior they need. To take situations on a student-by-student basis, and see what they need from me to mature. It is important to disciple our students… even if it means giving them feedback in ways not related to their grades.

LM

Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 453-465. doi:10.1177/1080569912460400

Learning Styles & the Perfect Teacher

As we embark on this “Midterm” week, I am faced with students who are performing well, who could perform better, and who are currently under performing. At this point in the semester, I tend to evaluate my students grades, my performance in the classroom, and any other factors that might be helpful or hinder the process. I have come up with two lessons I have learned from this time of reflection.

Lesson 1: Learning styles and the maturity of the student.

I believe it is important to understand and teach to a variety of learning styles. I find that some students with hate group work while others believe it is the only way they truly learn. I am ok with that and I teach using a variety of different methods in my courses. However, I have encountered a new dynamic in teaching…Teaching students how to mature intellectually in their junior and senior year of college. I find that many students get stuck in the “Dualism” stage and never mature past memorizing facts, taking notes, and “studying for the test”.

Learning styles are a great way to start evaluating your teaching, but the bigger question is … is your teaching style maturing your students’ learning on the comprehension and critical thinking levels.

This is a struggle for me right now, because it seems that my students are fighting my attempts to help mature them in learning the material on a deeper level. Give them a multiple choice question and they can answer it. Give them the same question in a short essay response… they freeze up and don’t know how to express their “memorized” knowledge using a real life example. They experience a disconnect from the knowledge/comprehension level to application level.

I know this is “growing” pains. I know it is part of the process.  I know I can continue to do more essay practice questions & open discussion. It’s a painful process at this point in the semester (for me and for them).  But this is what I believe is important for them.

Blooms Taxonomy of Cognitive Levels would say that my F’s are at the knowledge stage, C’s & D’s are at the Comprehension stage, and the A’s and B’s are at the Application stage.

Lesson 2: The perfect teacher syndrome

It is imperative that we focus on meeting the needs of our students. I believe that we can learn from each interaction within each course and develop teaching strategies specific to the class. However, I do not believe that we can become the perfect teacher for every student. For example, I have done several group discussion activities. Half the class loves it and the other half is irritated at this type of learning process. I change it up the next time and another (different type) of complaint is given. You cant please everyone, but I do believe that you can be aware and evaluate each situation.

I have reflected on what qualities that help me be a better teacher, or those qualities I admire in other people. I believe a level of each of these attributes are needed to be the ideal teacher.

  • Maturity is needed as a teacher to endure the ebbs and flows of the classroom.
  • Humility is needed to be willing to change or accept something is not working.
  • Caring is needed in order to want to meet student needs.
  • Effort is needed to try new assignments.
  • Passion is needed to stay interested in what you are teaching.
  • Patience is needed to give any change an opportunity to be effective.
  • Confidence is needed to be an effective leader.