Alternative Education Paradigms

I’m not educated on education.

I’m not a principal or a teacher and I haven’t set foot in a non collegiate classroom in 4 years. That being said, I have some ideas I’ve been thinking about in relation to education, and the paradigms we adhere to that govern our educational philosophies. However, before I begin, I suggest you go watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U to get a glimpse into the source of the bulk of my inspiration. Watched it? Good, let’s move on.

I don’t really want to go into the history that Sir Ken talks about because frankly, I’m not that rehearsed on it. What he says makes sense to me and I can see on a very simple level why our system of education was designed for a different time and this is potentially problematic. The first major point that I want to adress is the unreal amount of resources we have at our disposal that students in the enlightenment never had. The internet. Facebook. Globalized news. Wikipedia. Twitter. Each of these could have such a tremendous impact on the way we teach and the way we learn. I joke about learning more from wikipedia than I have from Texas A&M, but there’s an element of truth in it. The amount of information, the people around us, and the global news that we have access to is overwhelming. We don’t need to search through libraries for hours and hours looking for multiple books to get bits and pieces of information anymore. In 10 seconds you can have infinitely more data on any subject imaginable than any library that I ever had access to growing up. And you don’t even need to leave the room.

This ties into my next point, and what hits the closest to home with me. With all this stimulation and information being forced into the faces of children, is it any wonder why they’re distracted? Is it any wonder why we’re relying on medication to anesthetize them? From waking up until going to sleep (and sometimes during sleep) kids are subject to television, computers, phones, radio, and countless apps in the realm of these devices. This doesn’t even include human interaction, subject matters in school, and introspective thought processes. It seems ignorant to imagine that a kid would be able to handle all of these stimulants efficiently. In order to cope, and in a sense brainwash them, we deaden them to their senses and experiences with medication. To quote Sir Ken, “We don’t need to be putting our children to sleep, we need to be waking them up”.

I think we need to get back to a subjective approach to education. What drives a kid? What motivates him? What is she drawn towards? This hold special significance in the realm of aesthetics and personal subjection to art. There are infinitely different types of music, and while there are certain bands or artists that are generally liked across the board with adults (Beatle’s, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra), it isn’t uncommon to have people with differing tastes. In fact, it would be weird if everyone enjoyed the exact same music. Then why is it that every junior high and high school student listens to the same 10 songs looped on a top 40 station? Can we really believe that each kid is drawn towards those songs without any preconceived influences? Probably not. By the same token, I can learn all day in my music theory class about the mixolydian mode of an augmented C minor chord, but I can’t be told to like it. I can’t be told to have it appeal to me by more than a cognitive level. I can be forced to read Hamlet, but I can’t be forced to enjoy it. I can be shown the Mona Lisa and have the complexities of it’s intricate details explained to me but I can’t be tricked into appreciating it on an aesthetic level. Why do we take this approach to education?

Let’s get hypothetical, shall we? Yup

Imagine than everyone in the world had the exact same skill level at playing the piano. Everyone has the same capacity for writing, reading, and performing music. Imagine we’re all on equal footing for writing a piano driven piece of music, and every single person write’s a 20 measure melody. Would any of them sound the same? Of course not. Just like we all have different voices, we all have different musical voices that come out only in our composing. If everyone has a unique musical voice, why are we not pushing to have these voices heard? If everyone sees things differently and has their ideas come to life on canvas uniquely, why don’t we strive to see it more? If we teach our children to conform in the arts, we’re destining them for failure. No one can write a Kevonian piece of music better than Kevin can. It’s a basic fact and by definition can’t be done.

If this is true then why do have a cookie cutter approach to school? Why do we produce children in “batches” and regulate them with standardized tests and standardized curriculum. Wouldn’t it be better to stimulate ideas and thought from people in groups? Why do we have children organized by age and age alone? Aren’t things like similar thought processes, maturity, intelligence level, capacity to learn, and divergent thinking more important to the learning process than age alone?

Is the standardization of education really the best approach to helping children produces creative ideas, and flourish as independent thinkers?

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The question that haunts me…

 

Now let me preface anything you read here with a slight discretion: It’s around 2am in them morning, I’ve had a very long and crappy day that’s exhausted me, I may or may not be drinking a beverage with rum in it, and needless to say I’m very tired. Nevertheless, I feel the need to get some thoughts out before I retire for the evening… onward!

The Parable of the Prodigal Son. A story in the form of an incredible, convicting glimpse into the human condition told to us by our Lord. Man, what it must have been like to be there listening to Jesus tell it! I’ll bet he was sitting outside around a fire at night with thousands of people sitting around him, the crowd slowly fading into the darkness as the light began to stretch into nothingness. I think the pharisees and sadducees were on the outer circle of the mass of people, barely within hearing distance of Jesus, but listening the closest. I can just imagine the faces of everyone hanging on every word Jesus said as he told this epic drama.

Now into the text! If you haven’t read the parable yet, go do it. Now, I’ll wait.

Okay good- onward!

Now before I delve in too much, there’s some important aspects of the story that get lost in translation/the cultural differences of the times. I’ll list the one’s that I think are important to acknowledge, and push the underlying theme of the story to where I think Jesus was getting:

When the younger son asked for his inheritance, the implications are much more grandiose than asking for a fat check. The father’s worth would have been split in a very specific way: 2/3 to the older brother, and 1/3 to the younger. Also, the inheritance wasn’t just the Father’s money or source of income, it was his entire net worth; the totality of his father’s monetary value. In order to fulfill his son’s request, he would have had to split his wealth/land/livestock/etc. His son was, in essence, asking his father to tear his own life apart. The listeners of the story would probably have been appalled at such an outlandish request. It would be the modern day equivalent of demanding the entirety of your tuition in cash while you were a dumb sophomore in high school. Therefore, you can understand that, not only would the crowd be utterly bemused at such a request by the son, but would be absolutely amazed at the father’s response; he obliges! He willingly concedes a third of everything he owned.

Another big part of the story that can be overlooked is the way in which the relationships in the story play out; both matter-of-factly and implicatively. The most obvious occurrence of a relationship befuddled is the younger brother’s epitome of working for his father as a hired hand. Rather than take the obvious route and appeal to the fact that he is his father’s own flesh and blood, he seeks to reconcile his position by working and paying his father back via restitution. Contrary to wishing to be reinstated as a son, he sought reparation through labor and works. He wanted reconcile his position by doing good works..ehh?  Sound familiar? The next relational confusion occurs in the actual return of the younger brother. Not only does the father run out (middle eastern patriarchs did NOT run) and meet the son where he was rather than sit and wait for him, his immediate lavishing of grace asks for a tremendously willing suspension of disbelief. How could the father still love him, much less be happy to see him, after the son had basically wished his father dead? Now the next part baffles me. The father asks for three very specific items: a golden ring, a robe, and sandals. These three items have  great significance to the story. The ring would have been a signet and marked the son as a member of the family- reinstating him as a son again. The robe was reserved for honored guests who he acknowledged by an appreciation of wearing such a beautiful piece of clothing. The should were also a sign of membership to the family- the servants did not wear them. To top it off, the father demands that the fattened calf be used for a great feast- a festival to mark the return of his prodigal son.

People do stupid things. Jesus loves them and forgives them. That’s the moral of the story right? That’s what Jesus was trying to get across- that people go crazy and do dumb things only to realize they need Jesus. Sure, that’s the light version of the parable. That’s the easy to understand, surface level interpretation. The deeper meaning can easily be lost, but it’s got such a big impact on us that I can’t believe we miss it.

There’s another major character in the story who I have yet to adress. The older brother. Without the older brother, the totality of the story ends with, “God forgives us of our crazy sin and loves us when we come back to him”. If that’s the message Jesus was trying to relay, why didn’t he leave it at that? Why even include the older brother and verses 25 -31. Because Jesus was far from simple, and the climax of the story is yet to come.

This concept can easily be missed because of ignorance to the culture of the time. The role of retrieving the younger brother from his lowest state of crawling on the ground with pigs for food belonged to a character mentioned from the beginning of the story. Yep, the older brother. It was entirely his job to leave his father’s house, seek for and find his younger brother, and return him to their father’s house. It was his job to embrace his brother, covered in mud, guild, and emptiness, and drag him home from his drunken, sex crazed stupor. It was the sole responsibility of the older son to save his brother from the life he’d chosen.

But as we know, the older brother doesn’t do any of these things. He lets his brother destroy himself, live in sin, and come crawling back shamed and broken. Then, upon his brother’s arrival, he sits back in his negativity and bitterness overcomes his heart. He cares not for his brother, the happiness of his father, or the reuniting of his family. Then, when the climax of the entire story is built up, when the father pleads with his oldest son whom he loves and desires to join the celebration of the returning of the younger brother, the story ends. Jesus ends the parable with no resolution. We are left with what I think is one of, if not the most terrifying question in the bible, the question that haunts me- did the older brother join his younger brother and father?

That’s the weighty part of the story. The part that can be missed, but if it’s ignored, the story’s focal point is misconstrued and the parable has an entirely different purpose. Neither son wanted their father, they simply wanted his things. That’s the part Jesus was accenting on. He was talking to the pharisees and they would have identified with the older brother directly without question. He was calling them out right in front under noses. Yeah, Jesus was kind of a baller when it came to that kind of thing.

Though the story ends abruptly and a resolution to the parable never occurs, it does provide resolution to reality. That’s how you know you have an awesome story; you may not have direct resolution in the story itself, but it can manifest itself in reality and supersede being a story of fiction.

We are all younger brothers. We’ve all gone astray, everyone of us, and turned to our own ways. We all want God’s things but not God. We’ve all demanded our inheritance for our own selfish gains. We’ve turned to wickedness and been facedown in the mud, longing to eat with the pigs when our ways inevitable leave us empty. The resolution is this: yes, we’re the younger brothers in the story but we get a different older brother. We get an older brother who seeks us out where we are, pulls us out of the mud, carries us on His shoulders, and takes us home to our Father. We get an older brother who doesn’t get a robe or a ring or a sweet pair of chacos, He gets a cross for our sake. We get an older brother who holds no bitterness towards us, no jealousy directed our way, and no pride that overcomes Him. We get Jesus as an older brother.

Now the practical application that comes from the story is pretty much that; practical. Most of us identify with either the older brother or younger brother. We either pursued a lie through a life of visible sin, or sat back and judged while bitterness grew in our hearts into an unquenchable monster. The younger brother may be externally more painful, but the older brother internally to an incomparable degree.

I am the older brother, and this is why the question haunts me and terrifies me.

Did the older brother go inside to join them?