Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Getting it in Gear



I spend a lot of time wondering if I'm making a difference in the world, in people's lives. I was raised really believing that my gifts would ever matter. My parents taught me that the point of my life should be to help other people. And then I think about my friend Rachael, who is in the Peace Corps, serving people on an island so small, you can't even find it with Google Earth. Alex, serving in the worst part of LA with Teach for America. And me? Safe little nine to five desk job.

Sometimes I really kick myself over that. JC and I are in the process of buying a house and I keep thinking about the people who don't have any shelter at all. The sea levels are rising, and I remember the people who live on tiny islands--the poorest people in the world, lacking resources to cope with the planet's changes. And what am I doing?

Really, I don't know.

I teach Sunday school, and I try to tell myself that that matters. Maybe it does. I miss Rob--he would talk me out of this funk in about thirty seconds, and make me feel (rightfully) embarrassed for being in it in the first place.

The more I teach, the more I realize how education is a moral issue. I don't just mean whether or not children will be taught evolutionary biology--in fact, I mean everything but that. Without teaching our children the humanities, can we expect them to understand the Bible? The Bible is a social document--it does not exist in isolation from culture and history.

My teen girls were shocked to learn that George W's dad was president too. That we were fighting in Iraq fifteen years ago, give or take. That the Romans who were living in Israel during Jesus' day weren't exactly welcome. One of them enjoyed class last week because she learned a new word: "Pacifism."

The kids in my Sunday school don't know words like "anxious" or "cease." They're in the third grade. Did I know those words then? I honestly don't remember, but I'm guessing I did, when we were in Iraq the last time.

I had to explain to my teen girls how taxes work, because great big chunks of Jesus' teachings don't make much sense without the basic principals of taxation.

We have to teach math so that parables about stewardship make sense, so the enormity of the temple can be comprehended (David said in class on Sunday: "Is it as big as two Super WalMarts?" :) Pretty close, I think).

If we don't teach geography, how can we talk about the Israelites wandering in the desert (and how can we wonder how they could possibly have wandered for forty years in a desert so small???), Paul's missionary journeys, the spread of Christianity through Europe and Africa?

Without science, do the gazillion metaphors and parables about farming make any sense?

Without critical thinking skills, can one ever make a true case for one's faith when confronted?

Religious education in America is failing; secular education in America is failing. Christians have long been upset about the whole mess because it meant that their own individual kids weren't learning the skills they needed to get into decent colleges and get good jobs. They should be upset that education makes deeper faith, and children--in the church and out-- are losing.

Enough whining from me.
Seriously, enough.


  • By the end of May, I will have put together my list of materials from the library of congress and made at least one research day there.
  • I'm going to resume interviewing people about their own religious education--it doesn't have to be Sunday school. It doesn't have to stem from childhood. I just want to know what you had to learn and how you had to learn it. If I haven't interviewed you yet, leave a comment or shoot me an email and we can have a discussion.
  • I'm also going to get a little crazy and email famous Christians. Who knows, I might get an interview with someone.
  • I'm going to dig through the piles of curricula I've got around and review them--maybe I'll find something that doesn't make me want to scream.
  • I'm going to consider this my mission, for the time being, and take it seriously as such. I will teach children to think, to ask tough questions, and to search for their own answers. I will do this, not just with the four to six children in my class, but with as many as I can reach. Maybe Rob is right, and I'm writing a book. Or maybe I'm just nuts. At the very least, I hope this blog sparks some discussion about what religious education is and what it should be.

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