Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Problems of the Safety Net: A call for the betterment of our christian education institute

The Problems of the Safety Net: 
A call for the betterment of our christian education institute 

I applaud Moody's decision to remove the requirement aspect from next year’s mission conference. It was a bold step, but one I am sure is of the Lord. I now urge them to continue with this philosophy of giving students freedom to make the right decisions on our own if they want to make Moody a place of serious Christian education where students can grow. I was reading recently and came upon this quote:

“Learner Maturity Education is the encouragement of a maturing process. Education at Moody promotes increasingly greater responsibility on the part of students for their learning. We recognize that students will not be under our instruction indefinitely. Therefore, a Moody education is designed to develop mature learners who are able to continue their development after graduation (Colossians 1:28-29). ” (emphasis mine)

That's from the “education mission” found on Moody's website under “education distinctives.” It's labeled as one of the four “essential elements” of education. This is part of what makes Moody distinct from other schools. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. Maturing and becoming responsible as Christians is highly important for students, and the school should do everything we can to cultivate the process. But as I look around at how things are done, I ask, is Moody holding true to this great goal?



What I see is that instead of cultivating growth and maturity, the school is instead trying to play the parent to the students. Moody is aiming to lay the foundation for them and lead them by the hand.A Moody requires students to do the right thing, instead of letting them make this decision on their own. My question is, what is this truly teaching them? For a good example of what I am talking about, let us look to the classroom.

With most classes, there is a big paper due towards the end of the semester. The students are made aware of this at the very beginning of class, and always have the syllabus to refer to in case they forget. A responsible student would see this and prepare, understanding that he can't leave it to the last minute if he wants a good grade. If he did not prepare adequately, he will suffer the consequences of a failing grade and hopefully learn not to do that again. Because many students don't do this, teachers have started doing it for them, requiring steps like outlines, bibliographies, and rough drafts.B While this does help the student get that particular paper done, it also teaches them to rely on these safety nets. It is simply holding their hand some more, and holding back the consequences that would help teach responsibility and wisdom.1 It “helps” the student for the short term, but enables them to continue being irresponsible.2

If the irresponsible student was simply failed, the fact that he wasn't responsible enough for a place like college would hit home, and he would finally realize the state he is in. Only when one understands how deep the hole he is in can he start digging out from it (coupled with the strength of God of course). By passing them, the college is instead aiding this illusion that the irresponsible are in fact responsible. Yet we are surprised to see the “adolescent stage” extending to age twenty-five, even thirty plus. We are surprised that students are having to turn to grad school for the hope of a serious education. What happens if we continue down this path? Could the child stage extend even further? Perhaps less and less will even reach maturity and become responsible.

What about some of the rules in the infamous student life guide? No drinking alcohol, nor smoking of tobacco. No gambling or frequenting bars. What are these extra-biblical requirements communicating to the students?3 What I hear is, “We don't think you are responsible enough on your own to make some of these decisions, so we have done it for you.” But what is this accomplishing, besides insulting them? Yes, honorable students will abstain from such activities while they are in school. But once they are out of Moody, they will be confronted with the option of drinking some wine, or puffing on a cigar. Wouldn't we 1 I am addressing more of the junior and senior level classes, which is more than enough time to have learned how to write a paper. 2

There’s nothing wrong with including guidelines in the syllabus for the students, and even reminding them in class. What I take issue with is going as far as requiring it. 3 This only applies to the rules and principles that are not found in the bible. I think it is very necessary to require students to adhere to biblical standards, like no illegal activities, getting drunk, sexual immorality, etc. rather the decision be made in the context of Bible college where they are surrounded with a plurality of strong Christian teachers and solid friends? A place with more oversight and possible accountability? If a student will fall into sin here, how quickly will his friends be there to help him out, even if its just pointing him to a strong Christian that can help mentor. If a student makes a mistake here, the consequences may not be so dire. But if Moody graduates them without allowing such freedom, the degree of consequence suddenly grows and the students will fall much harder.

These rules will not cure a person who will struggle with alcohol.4 They will just make sure he won't struggle while attending Moody. With such rule, it seems that Moody in not seeking the welfare of it's students, but the protection of it's own image. Even worse, the current rules are teaching the student to rely on external restrictions instead of learning to heed the Spirit of God. Again, what will happen to the students when they on their own and they have this habit of needing others to keep them in line? These policies are not helping them, they are setting them up for disaster.

My solution to all of this? Treat the students like they are mature adults. Most are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, or twenty-four. Give them the freedom to be responsible. By us placing such safety nets, and then requiring them to be used, we have encouraged dependency and enabled irresponsibility. Only when we remove these extra-biblical safety nets can true maturation and growth take place.C If they have come this far in life, have not yet reached maturity, and are not able to adequately complete assignments, fail them. If they don't learn from that and continue irresponsible behavior, send them home. Though this sounds harsh, it will actually be the most loving thing we can do. By doing so, we are saying we care enough about them to not lie to them. That we will not pretend any longer, but respect them enough to be straight up with them.

Too often do we accommodate and look the other way, but we do this not to please them, but to please ourselves. No one wants to tell someone that they have a speck in their eye. But the only other option is to let that person continue on obliviously until suddenly their eye gets an infection. If we continue this enabling, we will be responsible for the next generation of Christian leaders who lack discernment, wisdom, and self-control. It will be on us because we had opportunity, as small as it may have been, to admonish and correct and we instead turned our heads and patted them on the back.

The point of my argument is not that we should not help students in any way we can, we just shouldn't do things for them. Instead of requiring students to do the right thing, we can continue to point them to great services such as the writing center, or their RA's. Or if they are struggling in class, they can be pointed to the teacher's office hours which are designed just for that purpose.5 If we were to remove the SLG policies on drinking, smoking, gambling, etc. the RA's could step up and help a struggling student out, whether thats helping themselves or pointing them to a strong mentor. It would help if Moody was more open about these struggles and emphasized that we must live holy lives as the Bible commands it. I am not sure how that would look exactly. But we shouldn't just remove the requirements and be done with it. In it's place, the students should be overly encouraged to use the help available to them. D

Taking away these harmful safety nets won't suddenly turn people responsible over night. It will be a process. It will be a lot more work. But if we truly care for our students, we will do it. We will take the uncomfortable feeling of pointing out the speck or log. We will take the even harder process of slowly and thoughtfully removing it. And we will take the anger and insults that are thrown at us for not going the easy and often-deceitfully-called “loving” way. We will do this because we care for the students soul, and not just the one to four years they attend Moody.

I do want to stress that regardless of how I, or others, feel about the school's current policies, we are to submit and obey. We all are aware of Moody's policies,6 regardless of whether we signed the SLG or not, our presence is our signature and we have freely chosen to attend Moody; we are bound to whatever they command unless it goes against the law of God. .


Common Objections 

1) I have heard is what of the people who don't know whats best yet? Perhaps they are a new convert, or a believer who just doesn't have much knowledge. I agree, I want to make sure this type of person is helped. Instead of requiring him to do things, however, I would propose that we very strongly encourage them and point them to the right things. We have things in place right now, but especially for the freshman, we could maybe focus on having more things available and try to find more ways to encourage them. If this is happening the whole time they are at Moody, then it will completely be on them for not taking advantage of the help Moody extended.

2) Some may say that I am calling for too high of a standard, especially when I propose that students should fail if they cannot do the work, like write a legitimate research paper for the end of semester assignment. I understand that we don't all know how to write research papers or even essays for that matter, upon entering college. But that's what classes like College Writing and Research Paper were intended for. By passing Student A from Research Writing, we are claiming that Student A knows how to write a research paper. Is it really too high of a standard to expect that Student A can then write an adequate research paper for classes the next semester? If they cannot, maybe we should look at bolstering our English classes and making sure the students that are passing really know how to write a paper. Otherwise, let's not pass them.

3) But what of Moody's reputation you might ask! I would point out that this is exactly what got the Pharisee's in trouble – caring for the appearance of righteousness and not for the inner man. If this will help students at Moody mature and learn to heed the Spirit on their own, why would we care how we appear to others for this short time? A I understand the need to give a person a foundation to start off on, but that is the parents job when raising the students. By college time, students should be expected to be able to be responsible and mature, and if they aren't, they should head back home and to some kind of prep school or mentor or even back home to their parents, because college is obviously not their place at this time.

By accommodating them, college has become merely another parent, someone who leads the students by the hand and shows them what a responsible person is expected to do. B Requiring these steps for the end of the semester paper also hurts the responsible student. These steps rise beyond mere annoyance to a burden and sometimes even a hindrance. First, it makes him prepare a certain way, which just gives him more work. For example, if he wants to focus on doing an entire paper for class A for a few weeks, yet class B is requiring a rough draft, he will be forced to do a little bit for class A and a little bit for class B. Or if he normally doesn't do an outline for papers, he is forced to waste time on doing five different outlines for his classes.

Second, it encourages the the responsible student to become lazy and start relying on the safety nets the teachers have given him, and thus possibly descending back towards irresponsibility. At the very least, the responsible student will have to be conscious about breaking the habit of using safety nets once he is out of school.

Notes

1 I am addressing more of the junior and senior level classes, which is more than enough time to have learned how to write a paper.

2 There’s nothing wrong with including guidelines in the syllabus for the students, and even reminding them in class. What I take issue with is going as far as requiring it.

3 This only applies to the rules and principles that are not found in the bible. I think it is very necessary to require students to adhere to biblical standards, like no illegal activities, getting drunk, sexual immorality, etc.

4 or smoking, or getting to class, or going to chapel, etc.

5 I highly recommend taking advantage of those. We have many great teachers here that are dying to help out the students. You don't even need to be struggling, you could just have a question about life or theology or whatever. The teachers would love to chat!

6 And if we aren't, its on us, because the rules are more than available to us with just a click of a mouse


A I understand the need to give a person a foundation to start off on, but that is the parents job when raising the students. By college time, students should be expected to be able to be responsible and mature, and if they aren't, they should head back home and to some kind of prep school or mentor or even back home to their parents, because college is obviously not their place at this time. By accommodating them, college has become merely another parent, someone who leads the students by the hand and shows them what a responsible person is expected to do.

B Requiring these steps for the end of the semester paper also hurts the responsible student. These steps rise beyond mere annoyance to a burden and sometimes even a hindrance. First, it makes him prepare a certain way, which just gives him more work. For example, if he wants to focus on doing an entire paper for class A for a few weeks, yet class B is requiring a rough draft, he will be forced to do a little bit for class A and a little bit for class B. Or if he normally doesn't do an outline for papers, he is forced to waste time on doing five different outlines for his classes.

Second, it encourages the the responsible student to become lazy and start relying on the safety nets the teachers have given him, and thus possibly descending back towards irresponsibility. At the very least, the responsible student will have to be conscious about breaking the habit of using safety nets once he is out of school.

C I do want to clarify – there is nothing wrong with discipleship that takes the form of requirements and such. Everyone is different, and some need more rules then others. But that is in an entirely different realm, that of the individual, which changes case by case. What I am addressing is the corporate realm.

D The Bible does describe procedures for when people do step over the line. I think Moody already has these in place. If someone does end up having a drinking problem, we get him help. If he shrugs it off, the Bible tells us to put him out which I would translate in this setting as kicking him out. For that to work though, it will take more work. We will have to love them enough to be willing to be seen as the bad guy. As the guy who gets involved in other people's business. We are a body of believers and it does not matter whether we are in a brick and mortar building on Sunday or a prison-looking building :) Monday through Friday or are chilling at a buddy's house. God calls us to be one, and this includes admonishing one another out of love. As Paul says in Colossians 3:16, “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.” (Also see Col 3:16 and Rom 15:14).

Anything relating to school works itself out. If someone starts missing classes, his quiz and test scores will suffer. If someone decides not to go to a missions conference, then they will have missed out on an awesome connection or learning something that would have rocked his world. The beauty of natural consequences are fine tool or teaching in this circumstance.





1 comment:

  1. Remind me sometime and I'll discuss more of this with you. I said a lot of the same things at ACU. It's interesting being on the other side of the fence now.

    ReplyDelete