Retooling: Education Reform In Our Churches?


The 21st Century Retooling of the Church – Part XXXVI

As a public school teacher it hit me this week that No Child Left Behind is killing the creativity of the American student from “experiencing” life and true learning.  We “teach about” subjects, so that they can reiterate correct answers on standardized tests which supposedly judge our worth and effectiveness as educators, but we do not allow the students to “experience” subjects any more.  I am teaching a poetry unit, being pressured by the Administration to teach about “figurative language” because it will be on the P.S.S.A. Test and is a State Standard, so I have vocabulary tests, worksheets, and reading assignments because the P.S.S.A. Test, oops, Assessment, is only TWO weeks away! I must get this material “in” before testing time.  In TWO weeks my students should be able to “reiterate”, “spew forth” the knowledge I gave them “about” figurative language, but in the process they never “experienced” it.  Due to the deadline, we didn’t have time for that!  We must get over all the State Standards prior to testing, for the results supposedly measuring their “Yearly Progress” in an effort to make EVERY student “Proficient”, no matter what academic ability they possess.

This week I had a “monkey wrench” thrown into my fast track of P.S.S.A. data driven lessons; my cousin, Greg Bachman, came in to my classroom, read his original “Poems My Cat Wrote”, explaining that shy people are great poets because they look inward, middle-schoolers are great poets because they know conflict, peer pressure, the power of relationships, topics the general population can relate to, reinforcing that everyone has a poem; they just need to write it down.  Students were fascinated as a poet “shared his personal stories” through the point of view of his cat in his poems, giving practical tips on how to “daydream” in school effectively (a novel concept), and then being “released” to experience the power of allowing that “daydream” to flow onto paper as their own unique poem. They EXPERIENCED Poetry! Not only that, they were “allowed” to daydream in school, something they already did, but to do it in a non-destructive manner. These “daydreamers” became focused because of “experiencing” the lesson.

The shy student blossomed producing powerful similes, majestic metaphors, awesome alliterations, creative forms of onomatopoeia, words that rhymed at the end of the line or in the middle, poems that followed form or broke “free” in verse.  Students, who did not have to recite the definitions of “figurative language” terms, produced figurative language in and through creative forms of poetry.  The P.S.S.A. Tests on Reading or Writing do not have sections for displaying one’s “creative experiences” through the application of figurative language, opting only for multiple-choice questions in an attempt to identify or interpret them.

The Church is not too far away from that model too!  Sermons professionally and formally teach “about” topics; Sunday School lessons basically do the same only through a layman. We talk about topics like “forgiveness”, “prayer”, “loving your neighbor”, the “Cross”, “redemption”, “salvation”, “sanctification”, etc. usually reiterating or spewing scripture passage after scripture passage to “justify” our “knowledge” of the topic so that it appears “Biblically based”.  But after the sermon or class, how many of our students can reiterate or re-spew those scriptures back to us without reading their notes if they took any?  The so called “Bible” teacher hopes their students will “apply” the head knowledge, scripture driven, lesson just taught, but never has a tool for measuring the success or failure of the lesson.  As a teacher we feel good if the lesson is well organized, scripture supported, well presented, and what appears to be well received by our passive listeners who never move and often never flinch when in their chairs.

I propose that the 21st Century Church has to retool the way it looks at teaching and being a teacher.  We have taught “about” Jesus way too long!  We have taught “about” the Bible way too long! WE NEED TO EXPERIENCE JESUS, EXPERIENCE THE BIBLE!  We need to make the “historical” Jesus the “current” Jesus in my life.  We need to make the written word, the Bible, the living word, the Rhema word!  If our sermons or teachings do not allow our students or parishioners to “experience life in Jesus”, then “we have sinned”, for we have missed the mark! As powerful as reciting scripture is, if all our students, parishioners, can do is spew scripture mechanically but do not “live out” or “experience” those scriptures in their own lives, we have missed the mark. 

Americans are quick to judge the public schools as “failing schools” because of the results on “standardized tests” while “failing” to realized they are killing the creative spirit, the work ethic, the power of problem solving, the spirit and drive to excel that made America great, opting to only focus on the lower end of the bar to make “every student proficient” by what ever date.  Maybe we should also label most American church as “failing churches” because they are killing, or at least minimizing, the desire, nurture, and development of their common believers to “experience” their faith in Jesus, opting for the Western civilizations view of intellectual, academic, education of knowing “about” something rather than “experiencing” something.

I know my students will do well now on their P.S.S.A. test in figurative language, thanks to Greg Bachman, because they have now “experienced” it, “owned” it in their personal lives, and that ownership and experience will translate into the “knowing” the right answers on their test.  As a Church, we need to “experience” our personal faith in Jesus and own up to it before we can even understand corporately what it means to be the body of Christ. As the 21st Century Church, we need to “experience” Jesus, the Rhema living Word, instead of just reciting the Logos written Word individually and corporately.  We need to quit talking “to” people about Jesus, but allow them to “experience” Jesus! That is the Church’s challenge as teachers for today!