Archive | October, 2017

Thinking about middle-schoolers, moral choices, and truth

29 Oct

 

The topic of the workshop focused on advisory programs run by many middle schools.  Ideally, no more than 6-10 students are assigned to a teacher who mentors these 11-to-14-year-olds during the turbulent years of their early adolescence.

Two skills the presenters emphasized as crucial for the development of youth were a) developing perspective and b) managing one’s emotions.  The overall premise was that social-emotional awareness and strengthening were foundational to and preceded academic success.

One or two barely perceptible groans slipped out of from among us attendees as the co-presenters ‘invited’ participants to leave their chairs and come forward to experience an activity designed to broaden perspective.

Here’s the scenario:  You’re on your way to work and you get into a minor traffic accident with another vehicle. Clearly, it’s the other driver’s fault.  She turns out to be a 95-year-old lady who pleads with you to ‘just exchange insurance information’ and NOT call the police.  For she is sure her license will be revoked.  Fortunately, no one is hurt, but your bumper is damaged.  What do you do?

We were directed to move to one side of the room or the other.  Those who would call the police stepped to the left and those who heeded the elderly woman’s plea chose the right.  As I stepped leftward, some of the others called out in jest, “heartless!”

The facilitator then called for a volunteer from the ‘compassionate’ side to explain his decision.  And then someone from the ‘cold-hearted’ side (my labeling) was invited to respond empathetically to the reasoning just articulated.

“I have an elderly dad and I know how significant it is to lose this last vestige of independence!” flowed one person’s reasoning.  Surely a compelling reason NOT to turn in this driver.

When it was the turn of someone on my side, one gal mentioned that although no one was hurt THIS time, someone very likely might be injured or even killed next time.  An equally compelling reason, for surely that elderly driver would not want to injure or kill someone.  A burden like that would be FAR worse than growing more dependent on others for help with running errands.

This activity was eye-opening and reinforced the notion that sincere people have very good reasons for their decisions.  I don’t dispute that at all.  But what the facilitators presented as the goal of the exercise caused me to ponder a possible unintended consequence, hence this post.

One of the gals reminded us of how middle-schoolers tend toward concrete, black and white reasoning.  The middle school years are when they need to learn that there are shades of grey.   She continued to say, “This is all part of growing more aware of differing perspectives, which grows compassion and empathy toward others.”

I completely agree that we must be open to the reality that others don’t think like we do.  And to expect the world to draw the same conclusions as I do is naive and self-centered.  Yet, I did wonder if our young teens might be led to the following kind of thinking:

  • Recognizing differing viewpoints means everyone has a ‘valid’ reason for why he or she thinks the way they do. (And ‘valid’ as a concept is often taken to mean ‘true’)
  • In fact, as long as I have a reason for what I am doing, this grounding is sufficient to stop YOU from telling me I’m wrong.
  • And if I am right and you are right, then maybe there is no such thing as ultimate rightness or wrongness.

Now are those conclusions what we want our young people to hold?  That just because we build an understandable and ‘reason’-able foundation for how we think and choose a course of action, no one can call us out on our decision?  I don’t think so.

For example: Not confronting a friend when you notice her cheating on a test  (or not telling the teacher confidentially) might be the choice you make as a student BECAUSE you think you could lose your friend. And that reasoning might be ‘valid’ because your guiding principle is to do anything to maintain a friendship. But the choice you have selected IS wrong.

Do you think it is plausible that if young teens are trained to acknowledge possible perspectives, they might ALSO think that there are possible ‘truths’, all of which emerge from one’s ideas of what matters most?

We might be aiming to grow our students from that pre-adolescent view that all of life is binary, but there are indeed some things that ARE binary.  The law of non-contradiction backs that up.  A and non-A cannot both be true in the same way at the same time.

I’m not going to assume that the workshop presenters do NOT believe that some absolute truths do exist.  I am pointing out that we as educators and parents must be careful as we train the next generation to think clearly.  Yes, training in recognizing others’ perspectives IS important.  But we must not neglect to teach our kids that some decisions ARE right or wrong because some absolutes do exist.   A challenging endeavor, no doubt, in a culture where few ground values in God.

Language Clarity or Confusion? The Protestant Reformation

10 Oct
October 2017 has arrived and along with it another century’s culminating celebration of the birth of the Protestant Reformation.  Books, articles, conferences, and tours have focused on educating and further reforming our generation of believers who are 500 years closer to Jesus’ return.
My favorite British podcast, ‘Unbelievable’ hosted by Justin Brierley recently featured a polite conversation between a nominal Protestant-turned-believing Catholic and a religiously-raised Catholic who embraced historical and Biblical Protestantism.  Speaking with restraint, both sincerely believe their church’s doctrine and did indeed explain their beliefs with clarity.
My curiosity mounted as I waited to learn what compelled the current Catholic to hold to what appears to me as false teaching.  At first, he ticked off what my reformed denomination holds is true:
  • We are saved by grace alone, through Christ alone
  • Jesus alone saves; our works don’t earn us salvation
  • Salvation is a gift of God, even the faith to believe God is a gift
So far…..so good. But then came the ‘hic’, the point of diversion:
  •     We must ‘cooperate’ with God’s grace.
Voilà!  Here is one place where historic, Biblical Protestantism parts company with Rome and her teachings.  What in the heck does ‘cooperate’ mean and how is that a gift or good news?
I imagine a spectrum, a continuing line of required effort.  On one end the energy to be expended is minimal:  “Don’t hinder,  interfere with or try to block God’s work”
Moving along the COOPERATION line I picture the next bit of advice: “Actively work with God!”
Passing that polite but not yet desperate midpoint, the pleas for greater exertion and more good works grow insistent: “If you don’t join in, God won’t be able to succeed in placing you in His eternal presence!”
Really?  Does the Catholic Church actually think we dependent, derivative, created beings have the power to thwart Almighty God’s purpose?
Cooperating with God’s grace sounds nice, non-threatening and civilized.  But as a concept that Catholic leaders use to teach and encourage their followers, it misleads millions about God.
Words matter.  Especially about eternal issues.  Either God saves us and our forever destination depends solely on Him as the Bible teaches OR we have a key role to play in the outcome. This is how the issue must be framed.  By the way, this hypothetical proposition is called a Disjunctive Proposition.  In the way I believe this argument must be framed, either the first disjunct is true or the 2nd one.  They both cannot be true.
Whatever degree of human effort the Catholic Church teaches is necessary for salvation, this idea that one must ‘cooperate with God’s grace’ continues to mislead generations toward eternal separation from God.  Words can be cruel albeit comforting in their confusion.  And the Bible teaches that God will judge teachers harshly who have twisted His word.
Since words matter and can have eternal consequences, let us as logic lovers be careful in how we use God’s gift of language.