Teaching


This just in from the NYTimes.com:  Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards. Have mercy. We’re not just talking about adding Intelligent Design or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the science curriculum, either; it’s the entire social studies curriculum. US History, World History, and Economics, in particular.

This is the last thing we need; clearly-defined ideologically based curricula at the state public education level. If you want that, there are plenty of options already; private Christian schools and homeschooling in particular. But to go beyond this and identify “Conservative” with “Christian” and “Christian” with “Republican” and interpret all of history in this light is way too dangerous.

I mean, just ignoring Jefferson? Arguing that the Enlightenment played only a small role in the US’ founding? That the US was established as a “Christian” Nation, based on a limited (and totally anachronistic) definition of “Christian”? Virtually leaving out the massive importance of Latinos in Texas’ history?

I’m emphasizing the seriously important role that Christianity has played in not only the founding of the US, but in the colonization of this continent in my US History course, but it is most definitely not along any particular party line because this is impossible. To recognize and emphasize the Christian influence is critical to understanding this country, but, as I tell my students, there were a LOT of different kinds of Christians between the 15th century and now, and to reify the term into a single concept yields a grossly inaccurate picture of US history. (Billy Graham’s or Francis Schaeffer’s version of neo-Evangelical Christianity, for example, has nothing to contribute to any discussion of the Christianity of the Fathers!)

This is anti-democratic at its core, in more ways than one.

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I’ve been teaching Bible and Christianity now for a while, as well as “World Religions” surveys and a variety of other history of religions courses (Medieval European History, of which a primary component is the history of Christianity between 180-1000; Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, which is essentially a history of Jewishness [for lack of a better term] between 515 BCE and 637 CE, and includes Jesus, Paul, and the first generations of Christianity; Religious Ethics; Western Civilization; and American History, where I devote a substantial amount of time to the American religious experience from settlement to the Reconstruction era; and others as well). I find myself asking now “Why are you doing this? Seriously, Why?”

I used to know; when I was in seminary I believed that teaching the kinds of things that many Christians think are either taboo or too hot to handle was a subversive form of discipleship, and that’s the way I wanted to do it. I love teaching, I love the field of religion, and I love ancient western history, and I have always, ALWAYS, as long as I can remember, been so completely fascinated with the book of the Bible, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

Why?

A question like this only comes up when you lose the passion for what you are doing. I don’t think I was losing my passion for teaching, but there is no doubt I lost the passion for why I wanted to teach and why I wanted to teach the stuff I teach. Readers of this blog over the last few years know that I had a bit of, hmmm, a “falling-out” with “the Church” and the cynicism that this bred I think affected my teaching. The good news is that in our new parish home I’ve rediscovered why. Teaching my students, the majority of whom are very fine indeed, is a form of discipling…which, to me, is totally different from “evangelizing.”

My buddy Ultra Rev blogged last week on the need for pastors and parish leaders to somehow come to terms with the realities of the canon of the Bible, suggesting that this is a question of high priority on the one hand and a “hot potato” that most pastors and parish leaders are ill-quipped or too timid to deal with. I agree, and this is exactly why I do what I do; today’s young people, my students, ought to be our target for this. Ditto for the world religions besides Christianity. I have my students confront the imperial origins of the Bible head on; I lead them to the conclusion that the world’s great religions contain truth, and that their own tradition of Christianity has just as much of a history of error and falsity and violence as any of the others. For many this is dangerous territory, but the future of our faith depends on today’s young people facing these issues honestly and in a spirit of love and sensitivity. What we do in the classroom can be a subversive form of discipling for the Kingdom. Recognizing truth wherever it is found, whether in other religions, in the human origins of the Bible, in the checkered history of Christianity, or in Darwinian evolution, is the key, because disciples recognize and wrestle with truth when the situation warrants it. Disciples need the chutzpah, and I see the mission of the teacher (at least mine, I guess), to provide it.