Monday, January 29, 2007

Lesson 17: Friendship in the book of Ruth

I would like to say that we talked about the book of Ruth on Sunday, but that would be not quite true.

The ten-minute intro activity we had planned ended up taking about half an hour. Amanda was pretty wound up again this week, and she just seemed unable to focus on anything. Lachlan was the only other kid in the class, and she fed off of that energy. It got really out of hand.

The activity was to do a timeline of one's life, listing one's best friends during one's life and a few qualities that one liked about that person. If you're only nine, it shouldn't take that long, right? Well, no, unless you start over four times and stop and look at your neighbor's timeline and say, "Who's that? What does that mean?" instead of doing your own work. The girls also extended their lines into the future, predicting that they would be "friends" with Zac Efron. Of course, stupid me, I made the mistake of asking who that was, which slowed the process down even further. Amanda also did things that I think of as really little-kid behaviors, like reaching for the colored pencils and banging her hand on the table and grunting, instead of asking Lachlan to pass them to her.

Due to all the chaos, the actual Bible lesson was incredible: The Book of Ruth, in five minutes. Thank goodness the story isn't very complicated. I felt like I was in the Reduced Shakespeare Company...I've modified the teen girl class to be more Bible than random activity, despite the fact that the curriculum I've been using does the opposite. We were pretty good at making sure the 3rd and 4th grade class was mostly Bible...but this week!

Amanda used to be a really well-behaved kid, but the past few weeks, she's just been nuts. Yesterday, we had to ask her four times--in succession--to sit down and be quiet. I don't know what happened, because we used to have no trouble at all with her. It's possible that she's just getting to where she feels comfortable with us, so she doesn't think she needs to behave well. I also know that her family is going through some weird stuff right now; her parents are either divorced or in that process, and it's not going well for the kids. Maybe she's just going crazy in reaction to the craziness in her own life. When my parents were going through their separation and subsequent divorce, I know that my brother got pretty crazy. I was older and could just not be home as much, but he was stuck--he was about Amanda's age, too, come to think of it. Neither of us were getting much discipline at that time, either. I started hanging out with JC and his family, who have a pretty high standard of behavior. His mother had no more qualms about letting me know when she was "very disappointed in [me]" than if I were one of her own children. She was my discipline during that time. My brother, on the other hand, really enjoyed not having anyone tell him what to do. Maybe Amanda needs a little structure.

Or maybe she just has been shy with us until now. Maybe before, she wasn't being well-behaved, she was being frightened. Maybe she really doesn't know how one ought to behave during Sunday school, and was just behaving well by accident!

I'm concerned, too, that it will affect her relationships with the other kids. The boys already just roll their eyes when she starts to act up. Lachlan will giggle at first, but she definitely sees that this behavior is not conducive to a good Bible class, and after a while, she gets sick of it too. When the kids stop having friends at church, the families leave. I don't want to see that happen here. Amanda needs the church, maybe more than any of them.

After Sunday evening services, I talked with Leah, who is a mom of four (three boys, one girl), and who taught the third and fourth grade class before we took over. "I don't know what to do," I said. "I was hoping you might have some ideas." Leah was great--she always helps me see the world a little more clearly. She reminded me of some really basic things that I was forgetting--like, it's possible that Amanda doesn't know how to act. She also agreed with me that Amanda's mom has too much going on to be bothered about this unless it becomes a serious problem. Leah asked me if I thought Amanda was trying to anger me, or if she's just not good with the self control thing. That took me a minute--but I've seen other kids (David is a good example!) act up just to get me mad. Those kids I can handle--I don't get mad at them. Easy. They get bored. I can see in their eyes that that is what they are trying to do. Amanda isn't doing that. She seems to act from impulses that she doesn't understand. Her behavior is not malicious, it's just uncontrolled. Leah suggested making a poster with a few basic rules for our class and hanging it where the kids can see it. These wouldn't be new rules, they would just be the rules that one would expect would be understood. Things like--Don't interrupt other people. Stay in your seat unless your teacher asks you to get out of it. Ask for things nicely. Then we can remind her of the rules more directly.

I also think I'm going to bring in an egg timer and say, "This is a ten-minute activity." I'll warn them at two minutes, and at one. Maybe the very concrete time limit will be a help to the concentration.

The whole thing really is easier with more kids, too, maybe because they feel more like this is class and less like, it's hang-out time.

JC's older sister, Konni, told us that Amanda reminded her a lot of herself when she was that age, so when JC called his mom last night, he asked how Konni's teachers had handled her. Apparently, Konni was always pretty well-behaved at church; she had been brought up with a strong set of expectations for how one acts in church, and had internalized them by the time she was ten. Also, as JC pointed out, one of Konni's early Sunday school teachers was her grandmother--a lady who doesn't take any flack from anyone. Ever. She probably got a very good education in how one ought to behave at about five years old.

JC's mom also pointed out that we are rather young to be teaching this age group--people our age really should be teaching very little kids, or high school. The seven-to-twelve age range is the most challenging, in her experience. I imagine she's probably right. We might try switching to the very little kids at some point--they're cute as all get out, and they're young enough to still be impressed by the idea that they get to go to class, just like the big kids. At our church, the teen class switches teachers almost weekly, and the topic of discussion is set by the youth minister. I really like the relative autonomy we have teaching the 3rd and 4th graders, and I like seeing them every week, so that we don't have to get used to each other all over again. It's also (not surprisingingly!) really difficult to find teachers for this age group. And I've taught our teens before--they're not a whole lot better. Fewer discipline problems, maybe, but no more focus.

Kids this age are very vulnerable, too. It's a crucial age in terms of their development--we focus so much on baptism for kids who are closer to that age, but most studies show that if kids don't have a personal religious imperative by the time they are ten, they're unlikely to ever develop one. In my job, I've recently discovered that my passion and my calling must have something to do with serving children who are vulnerable, underserved, and ignored. I can't say a whole lot more about my job, due to a nondisclosure agreement I signed, but let's just say, I've been doing some development recently on a product that would help kids who are seriously struggling, and I've never loved my job more. I've never had that feeling of, "YES, this is what I need to be doing," more than I have while working on that project. My heroes, growing up, were Dr. Seuss, Walt Disney, Raffi, and Jim Henson. Jim Henson was the first person whose death really affected me; I remember my parents telling me about that. I was seven. Not long ago, I was thinking about these heroes, and I realized that the thing they all have in common is that they used their amazing talents to serve children. Dr. Seuss was resposible for killing the Dick-and-Jane brainless readers that American children had suffered with for years--and it was a mercy killing if there ever was one. Disney practically invented children's entertainment. Raffi respected kids enough to give them some real music--music their parents wouldn't mind listening to. And Henson? Sesame Street now educates children in 120 countries around the world. In some of those countries, it's the only education those children will ever get.

I want to be like my heroes. This project at work is part of it, but so is teaching Sunday school, teaching a grade that no one really wants to teach. I can't say JC and I succeed every week, but we try every week, and surely that counts for something. If he decides to go teach the teens, that's ok. I can do this on my own--though I like having him with me! He seems to be called more and more lately to work with the teens, and that's great. I think he's going to volunteer to teach the boys on the nights when I teach the girls--see how he likes it... :) He thinks the 3rd and 4th graders are a piece of work...but he hasn't spent much time yet with the teen boys!

JC's mom is right. This is a rough age group to teach. But I've been prepared for this--when I worked for AmeriCorps, doing literacy education, I worked with this age group. Those kids make our Sunday school class look like angels. To get into this program, the kids had to be in one of several risk groups--LD, BD, ADHD, low-income, ESL. One of them actually put me in the hospital (it was an accident...but still...)! And yet, I felt like I was really making a difference. When I was there in the trenches, working with them every day, I thought I was getting nowhere. But when I came up for air, after the whole thing was over, I realized how much progress I had made. The kid who put me in the hospital came in with the lowest literacy skills I thought possible for a fifth-grader. He was literally on a first-grade level. He hated journal time, but I made him do it, just like everyone else. One day, I asked the kids to write about their pets, and he wrote about a dog that had died a few months before. After that, he loved journal time--and every day, he wrote something different about this dog! Other kids improved a whole grade level in only six weeks. I ran into one of them almost a year later at a grocery store, and she remembered me. It's little things, but this week, when both Amanda and Lachlan remembered from two weeks ago how many books of the Bible are named after women, and which ones those were...that felt neat. And Lachlan was really excited about getting the maps out this week, even though we didn't draw on them at all, we just used them to talk about Naomi's journey from Judah to Moab and back. That was really cool.

I never knew what Brandi was talking about when she said she received her call, until now. Some days (mostly Sunday afternoons), I wish it could have been something a little easier....


Anonymous said...

perhaps the reason modern christian education isn't working is because children today have a hard time believing in hokey out-dated religions based off of a man that was crusified and never really resurected and moses and abraham who may have never existed. come on, this is the 21st century. science dominates over blind faith and rightly so.

Alisha said...

1. Science and religion each have their place in helping us understand God's universe. I became a Christian because of a chemistry class I took in high school. Before I saw the incredible, and unnecessary, beauty in the structures of very small things, I had no reason to believe in a creator. I have a hard time seeing science and religion as mutually exclusive ways of dealing with reality. Religion is not about the things that science can prove to us. Religion is about everything else. Sometimes science and religion support each other, but that corroboration is not the point of either of them.
2. Kids don’t believe in science either. In our lesson about the Trinity, when we pointed out that the water was turning into gas, one kid said, “So you mean if I inhaled that, it would kill me?” He’s a fourth grader, and he thought the third state of matter was … gasoline. That’s right, these kids are joining the 21st century with a push for solid, provable, knowledge.
3. Lots of scientists come to religion through studying science, particularly those who study things, like particle physics, that take some faith anyway.
4. The kids in our class believe in God. They have a relationship with God. They just haven’t yet learned that part of a relationship has to do with getting to understand someone’s back story—in this case, the Bible.
5. Science is faith-based. Why does gravity work? Here’s a wild one for you. No one knows. Gravity is actually talked about, in scientific circles, as a “theory.” But you believe it will continue to work, don’t you? You’re probably right. But because we don’t know why it works, it might some day stop or change, and we could never predict that. Our architecture, our way of walking, our cars, are all based on a belief in something that no one can prove is any more than a collective construct. It might dissolve tomorrow.
6. Abraham and Moses may never have existed. Ok. And on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. What’s your point? It’s not about Abraham and Moses, it’s about God. It’s about some instruction about faith, submission, or courage that God intends us to get. It’s another thread in the rich story of God’s relationship to His people. And if the individuals never existed? Fine. That doesn’t hurt my faith. I don’t worship those individuals.
7. Just for the record, I believe in evolution. Because I think that God can think ahead well enough to set the right conditions in place to make whatever he wanted to happen, happen, on whatever time frame he felt like using. I don’t believe that my faith is helped or damaged by believing one way or another.
8. You can write off Christ’s resurrection as much as you want to. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. He was seen by many witnesses after the fact. I recommend Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, or, if you’re up to a more scholarly and independent approach, a Bible with good footnotes. The whole fulfilling just about every messianic prophecy ever thing is pretty mind-boggling when you think about it. Or you could just write the whole thing off without doing any research into the subject. Because I don’t know who you are, I have not the slightest idea whether you have or not.
9. Welcome to the 21st century. Scientists have invented this amazing thing called “spell check.” For the truly old-fashioned, there are also many excellent guides to proper English grammar.
10. If you’d like to email me to continue this discussion, please feel free to do so. I’m adding an “email to me” link on the blog. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

ok, you've got me on the spelling and grammar and you're right about me being puppy dog, but for the record, gravity is a force created by the rate of the earths rotation through space. this is why we are able to measure the gravity on other planets.

JC said...

When did this become a blog about physics? I'm pretty sure the general theme of discussion here is educating children about religion. Specifically educating children that choose to study the subject.
However, if we are discussing physics, I should make a few corrections, as you are both wrong on a few points about gravity. First, certain aspects of the Theory of Gravitation are proven, both by observation and mathematics, as summed up by Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation. Secondly, gravity has NOTHING to do with rotation, forces produced by the rotation of an object are refered to as Centrifugal (pushing objects away from the center of rotation) and Centripidal (pulling objects towards the center of rotation) forces. Gravitational force is entirely a function of the mass of the objects involved and the distance between.

JC said...

Rather, not that gravity has nothing to do with rotation, but rather rotation does not produce or determine gravity. The opposite however, can be argued for. Gravity tends to cause masses within a body to sink and mass deficits to rise, thus allowing changing masses within the body to minutely alter its momentum. Creating enough momentum to initiate rotation of a body the size of planet requires an outside gravitational force however (such as the convieniently located star and satelites found within our solar system).
A property of solid planets or natural satellites that are in synchronous rotation with the rotation of the central body is that they often exhibit librations due to the ellipticity of the orbital motion and their nonsphericity. This librational motion is generally very small but it can be used as a diagnostic for the body's internal structure (i.e., core size and physical state) because fluid material present in the planet's core responds differently to the irregular rotational motion than the solid mantle surrounding it. This libration can also be detected in the gravity field and the topography as variations in the rotation rate of static models of these two fields.

JC said...

While I'm sad to admit it, many other self-proclaimed "Christians" do tend to disregard the importance of the scientific discoveries man has made. However, very few of the people who have made those discoveries can disregard the importance of a creator-being. The universal laws we believe we have proven have to have some origination. There complexities are greater than coincidence could possibly explain.
Thus, the majority of scientists in the world, while they may reject organized religion (since much of organized religion has rejected them in the past) come at some point in their careers to admit that there *must* be some form of intelligence guiding the developement of the universe. Even the "Christian-hated" originator of the Theory of Evolution, Charles Darwin, was a Christian himself, and a strong believer in God's creation.