Sunday, July 4, 2021

Finding Our Balance

 The first elements of Teaching for Transformation that we learned in our training were "Deep Hope" and "Storyline".  

The "Deep Hope" is effectively a mission statement for our classroom--the "why" or "so-what" of the subject at hand; what we hope students will have taken away from our class when all is said and done.  

We used the idea of 60-60-60 several times during Teaching for Transformation training: what do students need to know for 60 minutes (long enough to complete a given lesson or activity in class)? 

What do students need to know for 60 days (long enough to complete a unit of study, or a major assessment in a particular course)? 

And, what do students need to know for 60 years--what do we hope will stick with them long after they've left our classroom?  

The deep hope challenges teachers to think on that 60-year level and articulate that hope to the students.  Here is my deep hope for Humanities 11, my blended U.S. History and English class:

It is my hope that each of you will grow to be compassionate agents of change who glorify God by discerning wisdom from foolishness, noticing the needs of others in a broken world, and then pursuing justice, both in word and deed, engaging and navigating complexities and tensions between various perspectives.

The "Storyline", by contrast, is a pithy tagline inviting students to live and engage in the major narrative framing your class.  TfT training focuses a lot on the idea of competing narratives and stories, and what makes a Christian narrative distinctive in the midst of so many other stories.  The storyline needs to be applicable in the day-to-day, the here-and-now; after all, it's a distillation of what we as teachers, and our students are actually doing in our class.  For the past two school-years, I tried out the storyline "Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly with God", drawing on Micah 6:8.  While I still absolutely believe that these are important goals, and while I am committed to giving my students opportunities to practice these things in my class, they are more the destination than the journey.  On a day-to-day basis, I simply was not referring back to this storyline, and if I had, it would not have been organic, save as a constant reminder of "here's why we're doing this."

So what is the storyline in my Humanities class?  What have I actually been inviting my students to do on a regular basis?  I realized in February of this year that what I kept coming back to in every unit and nearly every lesson was the idea of "navigating complexities and tensions" from my deep hope.  This is intimately tied to the goal of pursuing justice, but has much more bearing on what actually happens in the walls of my classroom.  My storyline is--has always been (though I didn't realize it)--Finding Our Balance.

As students quickly realize, justice is not easily defined, and there are indeed competing narratives about what justice is or isn't in our world today.  Is justice primarily about promoting individual liberties?  Fairness?  The "greater good"?  The toppling of oppressive power structures?  

If mishpat--the Hebrew word for "rectifying justice" that shows up frequently in Scripture--is defined as "giving people their due as image-bearers", what does that mean in practice?  How do the major competing narratives about justice gel or clash with this definition?

Or consider another tension that comes up in my Humanities class, individualism and paternalism.  What does it mean to love our neighbors?  Is leaving them entirely to their own devices loving?  Is taking the reins from them and telling them what to do and how to do it loving?

Or the tension between government and civil society: at what point should government get involved in addressing an issue in society, and at what level of government?  How much autonomy should the institutions of civil society have in addressing issues?

Or what about the tension between socialization and agency?  To what extent are we the products of culture, society, upbringing?  Are these forces more powerful than our will and ability to chart our own course?

The list could go on.  The reality is, my Humanities course is heavy with these tensions, and actively wrestling with these tensions is crucial to being a good justice-seeker.  

Sometimes, wrestling with a tension will mean seeking the middle path between two extremes, but not always.

Sometimes, wrestling with a tension will mean synthesizing differing perspectives, but not always.

Sometimes, wrestling with a tension will mean picking one side to the absolute exclusion of the other, but not always.

Always, wrestling with a tension will mean figuring out what values and principles will provide us with a firm foundation to stand on as we question, wonder, and engage in a world that seems to shift and shake beneath our feet. 

These tensions are nothing new; they've always been present in my Humanities curriculum.  What will be different this year is that I will be repeatedly, insistently inviting my students to find their balance by facing these tensions head-on, not shying away from them or pretending they are not there. 

As I look ahead to summer curriculum work, I'm excited and energized by the possibilities that embracing this storyline will open up!

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