Monday, January 23, 2006

Do Education Experts Lead Us--Or the Opposite?

Hello from the road, everybody. I'm currently in South Carolina on a recreational tour of this most interesting, and warm, state. Posting will be a bit sporadic this week. It will resume en force next week. No series for the time being, though I've got some cooking. Today we're thinking about educational philosophies: to accept or not to accept?

One of the more interesting debates I've had in recent times came in a class on leadership I took a little while back. In the class, my professor argued that people today are conditioned to pay little sustained attention to, well, anything. According to "experts" that he cited, people can only pay attention to a lecturer/speaker for about twenty minutes before they need a break or switch in activity. He used this data to argue that Sunday School classes in churches ought to be discussion-oriented, particularly for people (he noted his wife) who cannot pay attention for long periods of time. His data-fueled educational philosophy, that people can't long stand lectures, drove the way he organized his church curriculum.

As with much of conventional thinking, I would surmise that there is an element of truth here. People today do struggle to stay attentive. We all know why. We do little activity these days that requires sustained, unbroken attention. Mirroring the tv we love so well, we flit from place to place, writing an email here, changing our laundry there, watching a show in between, talking on the phone for ten minutes, and then repeating the whole cycle. At work, or in school, we begin a task, discover it more difficult than we thought, and so switch to another. Then it's time for a meeting, then it's lunch, then we take a call, and so on. We're not just hyperactive with the remote control. We're hyper with our very lives.

All of which does pose a challenge for the church pastors, the elders, who are responsible for drafting curriculum and teaching lessons that engage their congregation. The church teachers do not receive blank-slated listeners when they open the Bible to teach. They teach a people who are continually being conditioned by their world and who thus have their own peculiar struggles and challenges impeding the comprehension and activation of truth. Knowing this, though, are leaders to give way to the culture? Are they to acquiesce to the demands of a jitterbug mind and unfocused intellect? Or, are they to lead the way in helping such devices of learning to focus? This is not a throw-away question. All over the country, and indeed the world, churches are structuring their services according to a postmodern attention span. Is this right? Tomorrow, consumed offers an answer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Question and a Comment

Hey buddy.

First, if you are in South Carolina, why aren't you coming to North Carolina to visit us? : ) You have some 'splainin' to do.

Second, you are right about the experts. They don't know everything. Take for instance the field of international relations, an empirical "social science". I just finished a graduate field seminar in this field in which we read the very best that has been published in the field for the last fifty years. Every article was, not according to me but according to my professors who are themselves from two divergent schools of IR though, chock full of huge problems. Even in the very few research findings that have held up under scrutiny (for instance, the finding that democracies don't fight each other) have a major problem: no one can really agree about causation.

This should come as no surprise, especially in the social sciences. That social science experts are often wrong (or, when right, can't explain why) points to the difficulty of understanding man.

On one hand, the Christian worldview supports some of the assumptions a social scientists must make: for instance, that humans are a distinct and separate kind with natures that will remain constant. If we could be one thing today and another tomorrow, what would be the point of generalizing about man? His nature might be different tomorrow.

On the other hand, the Christian worldview rejects the possibility of studying men like worms or willows (which are, in their own right, incredibly perplexing). We love, we contemplate, we choose, we are creative, we worship. These things do not lend themselves easily to large-N studies, as they say in the business, unless reductionistic half-truths are what you're after.

Social science can be redeemed, to be sure. Two marks of a healthy expert would be humility regarding his enterprise itself and honesty about the fallibility of his findings.

Keegan C.

7:50 PM  

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