Children

Silenced


By Rev. Mindi

This past week, allegations of child sexual abuse poured on the internet after Lena Dunham’s memoir came out, in which she describes encounters with her sister. While Dunham denies that abuse took place, the internet swarmed with tweets and blogs either defending or accusing Dunham. 

But it’s not about Dunham. What alarmed me was the high number of people who had their own stories of child sexual abuse by a peer or sibling, someone else who was also a child who abused them. These people shared their stories and were promptly told by others that they did not experience abuse, just “exploration.”

Once again, child abuse is silenced. Victims are told their stories are untrue or do not matter.

As the church, we have heard this story time and again. I was just graduating seminary when the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston broke the news, and one by one other stories across the U.S. made the news. 

Us Protestants, especially those who practice congregational polity, are still silent. And we still have secrets. While we have gotten better about boundary training, background checks, safety procedures—we’ve done a good job of protecting ourselves, but a lousy job of protecting children, let alone listening to them.

A January 2014 Religious News Service article states that 1 out of 4 women and 1 out of 6 men were sexually abused as children, meaning “that our churches are filled with abuse survivors.” But most children never report abuse. The shame associated with child sexual abuse, the feeling that no one will believe them, keeps children silent, along with the fear that the abuse will continue, or be worse. And a myth perpetuated among adults that children will lie about being sexually abused to punish and adult is unfounded. Studies have shown time and again this is simply not true.  But children often feel that no one will believe them, and sadly we have made that belief true.

It’s time to stop the silence about child sexual abuse, especially in the church. We need to address the issue not only in our policies but in providing resources for counseling and support. We need to let people know they are not alone, and that help is available, and that they did nothing to deserve it.

But we also need to be accountable, too. Pastors, youth workers, and other leaders are let go—fired or resign—under allegations of sexual abuse. But often there are no charges filed. Churches do not go to the police very often, preferring instead to restrict someone’s access to children, to pray for the abuser, or to move them along. Perhaps if they did it one time, they won’t do it again. Several studies show that abusers will continue to repeatedly abuse children. In my own denomination, I know of cases of pastors and leaders who were fired, told not to work in a church again—only to go on to a different denomination, and the information not shared and passed on, let alone a criminal report made. Accountability structures for child sexual abuse are severely lacking in many Protestant denominations.

Church, we have failed. We have failed the children who are victims of child sexual abuse, especially in the church. We have reacted by making sure that no adult is left alone with a child, installing windows on Sunday School classroom doors, running criminal background checks—but we have not listened to the victims among us. Churches, all too often, have put the institution first. Take the example of this church in Oklahoma, and all the lengths they went through to protect themselves, instead of the children abused in their midst.

We must do better. First and foremost, let us listen to victims first. Let us listen to their stories, their experiences. We should provide as safe a space as possible for people to share their stories, their hurts, the places where the church has failed them. Secondly, we should act to protect our children not because our insurance policy says so, but because we truly believe that every child is valued and a gift from God—and that means we value their stories and what they tell us. 

Communicating God without Words—A Father’s Thanksgiving Reflection

SEATAC Airplaine.jpg


I spent my first four years of life running around Rosedale, Queens, New York City.  I have many memories of that house and neighborhood, before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut.  I remember the houses being very close together, and I knew where the ice cream truck parked for the night.  I remember one girl playing house and making me her “husband,” but I did not recall she had an identical twin.  I worry I may have unintentionally cheated on my pretend three-year-old “wife.” Most of all, though, I remember the airplanes. Rosedale is located at the end of a runway of JFK International Airport.  It was exciting.  The planes were quite impressive and flew close enough to rumble knick knacks off shelves.  


The God I knew in my childhood was much like these airplanes.  Powerful, impressive, and just beyond my reach, while making me shake in my boots.  Once I moved to Connecticut, I ran around the woods instead of the end of a runway, but I would always stop to see jets flying overhead. I struggled with my relationship with God, for I could only imagine the power and strength and not the vulnerability and love Jesus modeled. God, to me, would come and go with great power, just like those planes. I thought I had left that image of God behind, but it took my son for me to see the Divine in the small, the vulnerable, and see God every day. 


Today, my wife, son, and I live near SeaTac Airport in Seattle, where we see the airplanes often.  I am glad we are not at the end of a runway—we have many knick knacks—but we do get to see the airplanes landing almost every time we leave the neighborhood.  There are times when we take local roads right near the airport and a large airplane flies only yards above our vehicle.  Both my wife and I think it is amazing and I often remember that house in Rosedale. Our five-year-old, A.J., is unimpressed.  


Though A.J. must hear and see these large airplanes—at a friend’s home that is in the flight path he will cover his ears when the older louder ones pass overhead—my son stays in his own little world, which apparently has little interest in these loud, powerful, colorful, fast, airplanes.  He is much more interested in the texture of various plants, the repetitive sound of his own voice (called echolalia), jumping, trees, and the alphabet. A.J. lives with autism, and so my wife and I do as well.


I continue to point out the airplanes to my son, not knowing if he cares.  I wonder how he will remember these days, because he does not often use words to communicate.  He will probably remember specific trees, for it is clear that he looks at the tree in entirety, often even proclaiming aloud, “Tree,” to new ones. When I see an airplane impressively fly overhead and my son is not interested, I am reminded how different my job is as a parent of a child with an invisible disability, because I am able to recall being able to run with the older children at his age and be involved in their activities and trouble, but A.J. does not engage with other children.  I notice that he is generally happy, but I mourn most that I don’t have the boy to share airplanes, play ball, or joke with.  I have to adapt, but at times I simply want to cry that my son at five still does not call me “papa,” but I don’t for it would be selfish of me.  


Every parent can say “this is not what I signed up for.” Honestly, I know neurotypical children who I would have a very hard time watching, let alone living with.  There are some things about having a son with autism that are actually advantageous.  When we play with toys in the store, he always puts them back before we leave.  He never talks back, which I observe is the greatest difficulty with most kindergarten children, especially when it comes to negotiations. However, he is still not toilet trained and is above the weight limit of any changing tables. He does not understand the need to communicate.  He has been trained to ask for a few things he desires greatly, via a communication board, such as tickles, deep pressure, back rubs, and pizza. He knows many nouns and actually understands many of our directions and commands; but he currently has no desire or ability to communicate his needs, wants or thoughts.  This is frustrating. 


Before my son, I had two dogs that were very happy and received a lot of my love.  One was a Labrador Retriever-Rottweiler mix, named Manchester, who was very energetic, gentle, smart, and obedient. Not only did he know simple commands, he was smart enough to understand complex sentences.  He would perk up at certain words like out, food, couch, ball, walk, vet, car, and would figure out what was happening.  People were impressed with how much he could understand and how well he listened.  We would often go to parks together and even walk around the small New England towns we lived.  It was wonderful dog/person relationship.  Manchester had his routines. He communicated in his own way, by a nudge, a grunt, or by jumping when excited.  


My son communicates much like Manchester. Manchester nudged and whined when he wanted something to eat. So does, A.J.  I share my experiences with this canine and my son, because to the outsider, the relationship must seem quite similar. Those who do not have a child like A.J. need some way to understand how different life is in my house.  Comparing my son to other children, especially children without a disability, is unfair, but people do that constantly.  As a result, they either see my son as less than other children, or else excuse his peculiar behavior by say things like “all children do that.” A.J. does certainly some things like a typical five-year-old, such as wanting candy, but much of his behavior is closer to that of a typical 18-month-old, not a five-year-old. Most people do not want to see that A.J. has a disability, and they say things with good intentions, but it is clear they are avoiding the reality of his vulnerability, because they do not want to face their own.  


My wife and I have had some great progress using communication boards with A.J., we encourage him to sing songs, and we often hear things he enjoys because of his echolalia. So far, other children have loved A.J. and enjoy his energy.  Sometimes they ask why he doesn’t talk, but generally, they seem fine with it.  At times, I have observed some kids making fun of A.J. for still wearing a diaper.  Luckily, he doesn’t understand teasing yet, but it saddens me that other parents must have modeled such behavior, and my son will always be vulnerable to such teasing.


With A.J., I must constantly think about containment. A.J. will run or slink away if his interest is not held.  Shopping is a chore even without a child, but now that A.J. does not fit in the cart it is nearly impossible to go grocery shopping with him. At a large gathering one time, he snuck out from the children’s program and was found many yards away. Worse still is his lack of awareness around cars.  I must have a hand or be ready to grab him at any moment.  My wife and I have considered one of those backpacks with a leash, but it does not help teach him the awareness that can only be learned by holding a hand.  We model everything as best we can. We move together more on routine and simple clear words, “stop, come here, juice” and a few others.  Often I narrate what he is doing and keep saying things like, “Look an airplane.” I have been told this will eventually help him.  


While many of the therapies seem more like tricks and training, there is so much joy and exploration my son has.  Though he has trouble with communication, he still adds to the conversation.  He does not suffer, but he does need special assistance so we can know more about his gifts.  He also has developed humor, from tickling, to the scene of Snoopy wrestling with the chair on the Thanksgiving special. I look forward to more jokes and laughter in our home.


We do not work out of an economy of deficit, but one of gift.  That is, each person adds to the conversation with their unique gifts.  This doesn’t mean that disabilities aren't difficult; they are. But they are made even more difficult when neurotypical people see those living with disabilities as a drain on resources; as a deficit.  


A.J. does not have a disability in order to be a life lesson for me, or others, nor is he one of the “least of these.”  We all learn from our children.  What I’ve learned from my son who lives with autism, is how terrified others are of the vulnerability they observe in him.  Most people do not want to admit that A.J. is different. They try to avoid treating him in a patronizing way or they choose to see his difference as a life lesson.  They rather say, “It’s ok” or “He will be fine,” or they start a story with, “I know someone with autism…” People do not want to deal with their own vulnerability, so they avoid seeing A.J.’s disability.

 
I want to share A.J.’s exciting gifts of energy, humor, exploration, letters, counting, (in English and Choctaw), and cuteness, but also share the frustration and difficulty of having autism.  This is why I shared the odd thought I often have, that my son reminds me of my old dog. It is difficult for me as a father, and yes I believe we will progress pass this stage of communication, but we will never remove autism from our reality.  No pity needed, though it does require some special accommodations.  When we look at all people for their gifts and not their deficits, we see accommodations as important for all of us so we can include everyone.   We all benefit and we need to invite everyone to this vulnerability.


I have intellectually talked about a God that is present and interconnected with everyone; I know I have preached it many times.  However, since my son was born I truly had to learn it through my whole being, right down to my heart.  I do not know all of A.J.’s gifts yet, but he has encouraged me to see my own gifts, rather than my deficits.  In my heart I held the image of God as powerful and unattainable, and thus I saw God often only when I felt guilt or shame, when I saw myself as a deficit.  I now see God in the dirt and trees through A.J.’s obvious vulnerability.  No longer does God fly past and make me tremble, I am rooted among all of God’s children and creation, rooted and interconnected by the dirt and mud puddles that reflect my own gifts.


So when the airplanes fly overhead years from now, I am hopeful my son will be able to say, “Look an airplane.”  Even if he does not say it in words, I am sure he will recall the love of his mother and father and understand the Divine is closest in the rooted trees that are vulnerable to drought, wind, and humanity, interconnected through the dirt they all share, no matter their ability. 

 

 

J.C. & A.J. visiting Big Tree in 2012

J.C. & A.J. visiting Big Tree in 2012

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

RECLAIMING EDUCATION

an expanded and updated version of an article that first appeared inEncounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of 1)..the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2)..the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual. ......................................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

The Good News is about being the Kingdom of God here and now. The Good News does not oppose the Empire. The Good News is constantly engaged in non-violently replacing the Empire with the Kingdom of God. To that end, having only a well-defined theology of love, grace, compassion, justice, hospitality, generosity, and service is not enough. The true measure is how that theology is lived and shared and how it imbues and informs the life of the disciple. The Good News is not about yearning for or being promised a future and distant post-mortal eternal reward as payment for a temporary existence marked by guilt-ridden culturally-acceptable behavior and tightly-held xenophobic beliefs. The Good News is about being and proclaiming and provoking the Kingdom of God here and now in all aspects of our lives. One such aspect is education, especially public K-12 education.

THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

What Is Not Education? Education is not for the betterment of the local economy, the gross national product, or the global society. Education is not about transforming, unifying, or homogenizing society. Education is not a solution for the problems of society – neither problems that are persistent and universal nor problems that are uniquely contemporary. Education is not about providing competent trained workers for future employment. Education does not transform students into either an intellectual natural resource or a pool of human capital – these concepts have no basis or existence in reality. Education is not the means by which we can gain a national economic competitive edge over other nations. Education is not about preparing students for college. It is not an event in some imaginary ongoing international academic competition. Acquiring an education from a public school system is not an act of consumerism (Bracey 2008) because public education is not a product, not a business, not a manufacturing process, and not an industry. Neither competence in passing a specific test nor receiving narrowly focused training qualifies as an education (Houston 2007).

Such purposes and goals are wrong. Such purposes and goals cause a destructive mutation of the education process. Such purposes and goals subject children to treatment that must be labeled and rejected for what it is – criminally coercive and abusive.

The Six Purposes and Obligations of Education First, the most important obligation of any education system is to recognize that each child is a unique individual – there is no such thing as a standard child (Rakow 2008). Any system that has any other primary obligation is neither about nor providing education. The uniqueness of each child requires unique accommodations. Instead of forcing a child into a predetermined or standardized schedule and set of expectations, we have an obligation to adapt to each child’s unique set of capabilities, boundaries, and rate of development. To do otherwise is counter-productive, if not harmful. Children are who they uniquely are. Children are not who we want them to be or who we think they are. Children are not indistinguishable widgets on an education assembly line (Johnson 2006).

The quality of an industrial product can be measured. An industrial process begins with specified and consistent raw materials that meet the requirements of the process. Then, in accordance with a pre-designed detailed plan, the raw materials are incrementally transformed into a finished product. At each step of the transformation process, there are standards that must be met for the process to continue and, eventually, successfully produce the expected final product. The continuous process is constantly producing identical finished products. Each finished product, within very tight tolerances, must meet specifications or be rejected. A specific quantifiable result is expected and each finished product must meet all predetermined expectations with a high degree of measurable precision. The metrics and processes used in industry and business to measure and achieve and control quality cannot and must not be applied to education. Students are not a raw material. There are no rejects. There cannot be a pre-specified final product. Education is not an industrial process.

A successful education can not be measured collectively. It can be measured only individually and only independent of the results and achievements of others. The education process is not a series of assembly-line increments occurring at fixed intervals at controllable rates with repeated predictable results. Education does not yield a predetermined finished product. The success of an education is not measured by how well it matches blueprint specifications. The success of an education is not measured by how well an individual can recall and repeat what has been learned. The success of an education is measured by how well an individual extends and expands and enriches what has been learned and uses what has been learned to solve problems and create solutions, to create new knowledge and new art. The end result of education cannot be designed or mapped. Education cannot use an unchanging collective blueprint expecting to manufacture identical results. Indeed, the end results of education must not be identical or even uniform. The end result of education is controlled by the unique internal, changing and maturing qualities of the individual student and not by any external expectations, designs, or controls. Education is a process of assisting individual intellectual growth, the discovery of personal strengths and talents, and the maturation of the person as an individual and a social being – a process that does not end with graduation from high school or college. Education has no end result - there is no final product, there is no finished inventory.

Education is only a part of an ongoing life-long process. Training and regimentation and indoctrination are used to make people more nearly identical in some skill or behavior or response or thought. Education is about enriching the natural uniqueness of each person (Houston 2007). Education increases diversity, differentiation, and variability among individuals and decreases uniformity and conformity (Eisner 2001). The sole focus of an education system is the individual child – not parents, not colleges, not corporations, not government, not society, not the economy, and not the future of any other single or group entity. The future is always and inescapably unpredictable, indiscernible, and unknowable - the future does not yet exist. It is irresponsibly presumptuous for any adult to choose a future for a child or to preemptively limit the future of a child. The whole spectrum of future possibilities of each child belongs only and entirely to that child.

Second, an education system has an obligation to discover the talents and strengths of each child, then nurture each child’s confidence in and mastery of those talents and strengths, and provide the opportunities and resources necessary for each child to concentrate and focus on their talents and strengths, explore them in-depth (Eisner 2001) and nurture them to their fullest potential - as chosen and desired by the child.

Third, an education system has an obligation to allow, encourage, and protect generous amounts of unstructured time for a child to engage in child-initiated child-organized freely-chosen play, to explore, and to be creative in serious thought and fanciful imagination – both in solitude and in cooperation with other children. (Bergen & Frombert 2009) (Chmelynski 2006) (Elkind 2001 p. xvii) (Ginsburg 2007) (Jacobson 2008) (Satcher 2005) “Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development.” (Ginsburg 2007 p. 183)

Fourth, an education system has an obligation to promote within each child a constant self-awareness and self-knowledge and an independent personality, intellect, voice, and initiative. Education encourages a questioning spirit and stifles blind acceptance. The goal of education is to facilitate the acquisition by each child the capability for logical reasoning and evaluation, and the skills for: locating and gathering information, problem-solving, making plans and setting priorities, cooperating with a group without being subservient to the group, sharing knowledge and skills, and being able to earn respect in other cultures while being respectful toward those other cultures (Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 301).

Fifth, the purpose of an education is to provide each child with the widest exposure to the best of human knowledge in all disciplines; and the widest variety of the best artistic descriptions and expressions of humanity and the human experience; and to provide ample opportunity to experience, understand, and appreciate the natural environment and learn good stewardship of natural resources.

Sixth, a successful education assists each child in acquiring the intellectual and social tools to traverse the world, retaining at least a cautious, if not enthusiastic, curiosity and become a person who is open to, and even desires, continuous life-long learning. Education enables learning. At its best, education inspires a joy for learning (Rakow 2008). Education does not subvert learning to a test score, a hurdle, an obstacle to be conquered, or just another difficult life passage that just has to be endured (Eisner 2001).

What is an Educator? There is no such thing as “teaching” or a “teacher.” There is no way any “teacher” can force knowledge into the mind of a student who is not present, willing, and engaged. There is no research that demonstrates a humane teaching method that is so universally efficient, effective, and largely and continuously successful that the teacher using the method can be held accountable for the results regardless of the participation and attitude of the student (Ediger 2007). In the way the word is commonly used, there is no such thing as “teaching.” There is only learning – a life-long, complex and multi-dimensional, internal individual process unique to each person (Crain 2008)(Driscoll 2005 p. 2)(Johnson 2006). No matter the education or years of experience, the hours of lesson preparation, the quality and intensity and creativity of the lesson presentation – nothing is learned until the student “gets it” (Driscoll 2005 p. 22) – a task and process over which the educator has no control and for which no educator and no school can be held accountable. There is no such thing as teaching that forcibly, controllably, and measurably inserts knowledge or skills into a student. There is only learning.

Well documented are the many ways in which children, starting at birth or earlier, learn on their own (Crain 2005, pp. 143-145) – for example: object permanence (even though mother is out of sight, mother still exists) (Crain 2005 pp. 120-121, 310-312), eye-hand coordination, vocabulary and grammar (Crain 2005 pp. 69-70, 349-359), walking – to name a few. There is no evidence that this internal ability to learn solitarily is ever replaced or largely supplanted by an external process. A normal healthy person never releases or loses the ability to learn. Learning is solely a capability and responsibility of the individual student. Learning is only in the internal cognitive domain of the individual student. It is the student who has to acquire, retain, and integrate new knowledge. It is the student who either assimilates the new knowledge within his or her existing knowledge set or it is the student who must accommodate the new knowledge by redefining or reorganizing his or her existing knowledge set (Crain 2005 p. 115)(Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 303). Regardless of how the new knowledge is integrated, all of it happens only within the mind of the student – and only if the student is capable – and only if the student makes it happen.

Educators who are well-qualified, caring, and dedicated are critically important and absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the purposes and obligations of education. Educators are knowledge experts and instructional presenters and trainers and facilitators and guides and mentors and motivators (Bartholomew 2007). An educator is the catalyst that makes learning easier (Merkle 2008) and “more intense and lasting” (Smyth 2005). The traditional concept that an educator can – somehow or in any way – shove knowledge into the mind of a student is false and invalid to the point of being knee-slapping gut-busting laughing-out-loud ludicrous. The true role of the educator is to be an astute observer of each student’s level of mastery, make note of what specific difficulties a student had in obtaining that level of mastery, assess the student’s preparedness and receptiveness for new knowledge, and choose the appropriate methodology for either reenforcement of knowledge currently being learned or progressing to learning new knowledge (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240)(Ediger 2007). A good educator is: a responsive coach, an enthusiastic cheerleader for student efforts and achievements, a servant-leader (Greenleaf 2008), an efficient and effective manager and provider of classroom assets, subject-knowledgeable, available, accessible, affirming, supportive, a gentle guide for the first learning step and for each transition to the next level of learning (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240), manages an age-appropriate richly-stimulating learning environment, and provides an atmosphere of joy (McReynolds 2008). It is not about teaching, it is about reaching.

Educators cannot be held accountable for what students learn. Educators can be held accountable for their professional behavior and use of best practices – just like any other licensed professional. Education is not a technical trade. As a profession, education is built upon personal expertise in concepts and rules and expertise in observing and analyzing how those concepts and rules can best be applied to each student. As a profession, education cannot be constrained to predefined sequences and timelines or inescapably bound by externally chosen tasks. As a professional, an educator must have the liberty to take advantage of new tools, new methods, spontaneous opportunities for object lessons or meaningful tangents, or to initiate a new activity – even on the spur of the moment. Professional accountability sets high standards for personal conduct and for the quality of the service delivered. As long as those standards are met, it is the personal expertise of the individual professional that determines which methods are to be used to fulfill their professional obligations. Implicit within professional accountability is trust and freedom, not blame and control. “While you can beat people into submission, you can’t beat them into greatness” (Houston, 2007, p. 747).

SUMMARY Education has an obligation to recognize at all times the unique state of developmental readiness of each individual child, the universal necessity for play, and to protect and enable the right of each child to have a life and future of their own choosing that aligns with their unique strengths, talents, and interests. The purpose of education is to enable the widest and most diverse possibilities for the future of each child. It is only the unique strengths, talents, and interests of the individual child that should limit possibilities or choose a specific path.

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