Tag Archives: education

Changes in education?

At his blog, Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight recently began a series of posts on a book examining changes in U.S. higher education.  One particular statistic he noted stood out to me:

First, students. Here is a set of facts: From the 1920s to the 1960s full-time college/university students spent approximately 40 hours in academic pursuits — classes and study. Today the students spend 27 hours. That means about 13 hours a week studying. Prior to the 60s it was about 25 hours.

This diminution of time has resulted in no appreciative change in grade point average or upon progress toward completion of the degree.

I should note that at least two of my professors, if not more, have told us that courses are designed around the idea that for every one hour of class time, we spend two hours studying. For one class that’s an additional 6 hours of work, for a total of 9 hours per class. With a full schedule of 5 classes, that adds up to 40 hours per week. So the expectation or standard has not changed, at least not here, but habits have.

I’ve never actually calculated time spent studying outside of class time, so it may well be that I’m meeting expectations, but I suspect not. It’s not easy to do with 3 children and a spouse who is a part-time student as well. I’m sure this wasn’t any different prior to the 60s, but still.

I sometimes wonder if I’m short-changing myself in my education if I don’t use the full 40 hours every week, even if it is to some degree out of my control. On the other hand, it occurs to me that the nature and focus of education is changing. In the face of increasing availability of resources and information, this change might be necessary.

It seems to me that in many respects education is shifting to a focus on laying the foundations and preparing students to use the resources available to them for help. This may not sound any different than the past, but I’m suggesting something slightly different than “learning to do research”. This arises out of my experience learning the Biblical languages, so perhaps my theory applies only in that context.

At least two of my language professors have made a point of saying that there’s no sense in going the long way around learning the Biblical languages if there are shorter, easier ways available. This might sound like the lazy approach, so hear me out.  30 years ago, my language professors would have been required to learn many individual and unusual verb forms for Greek and Hebrew, and they would have been required to memorize the meanings of many hundreds of words. When translating, they would spend much time trying to figure out what word X was and then more time leafing through a lexicon to find out how it’s used. Once they found the meaning(s), they would be expected to memorize them.

These same professors are not insisting on the same rigour in their own students. Why? Because there are many affordable resources available to make the process of translating and interpreting the text much easier–many of them available online. Their theory is that it’s better to get on with the business of reading and enjoying the text and thereby learning the languages, instead of getting bogged down in the work leading up to that.

Is this a good or bad development? I don’t know. It certainly seems to make the learning experience that much more enjoyable. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t make much sense to spend hours memorizing paradigms when the parsing of various verbs is available online at the click of a button or in books organized by chapter and verse. Granted, the hard prep-work may make for a faster progression to smooth and direct reading of biblical Hebrew and Greek, but that kind of reading will presumably come over time anyway.

Whether this applies to teaching and learning outside of the languages, I don’t know.

I will diminish

‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’ – The Fellowship of the Ring

There are few things I desire more than to write–here, at least.  And yet these days I have little to say, little energy/will to say it, and, it feels, even less ability to say it.  I just don’t have the strength to bend my mind to writing.  Lack of discipline, probably.  Story of my life.

At the same time, Dixie is blossoming in her writing–her blog has more depth and more poetry each day, it seems.

My malaise will pass, I hope.  I have the desire, just not the will, if that makes any sense.

By the way: they say you’re not supposed to blog about not wanting to blog or not having anything to say.  Swim against the stream, that’s what I always say.  Stick it to the Blogging Man, is my motto.

* * *

Right now I’m a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information that has been presented in this course on 600 years of church history.  I will not retain much of it and that depresses me: all this money and time and effort and much of it will be forgotten.  My high school chemistry teacher said that he learned (or, rather, re-learned) everything on the job.  But you don’t re-learn church history on the job being a pastor.

It’s the same with books.  Sometimes it seems like I forget what I read as soon as I turn the page.  Stupid memory.

It’s an issue of self-discipline and application again, I guess.  I don’t apply myself as much as perhaps I should.  I did well in school, but I was never studious–like the girls who would have notepads dedicated to listing their homework for the night, who would be working on their papers within days of receiving the syllabus and who took copious notes on anything from which notes could be taken.

Am I just lazy?

I count on this–in this I hope–that in reading and studying and learning I am somehow changed, even if just a little, in a way that will benefit me in unseen ways down the road.  I may never make a conscious connection between my study of Theodore of Mopsuestia and a future argument about some insignificant church issue, but I trust it will be there.

I hope, in other words, that I will somehow benefit from this course (and all others), even if I don’t remember the facts.

Is that just an excuse for laziness or lack of application?

The paper.

Hey Mom, I find it interesting that you refer to the Weekly World News as, “The paper.” The paper contains facts.

This paper contains facts. And this paper has the eighth highest circulation in the whole wide world. Right? Plenty of facts. “Pregnant man gives birth.” That’s a fact.

Name that movie.

* * *

Well that was more painful than it needed to be.  I’ve written longer blog posts in less than an hour.  But the paper is done and submitted.

Am I happy with the paper?  Not entirely (not sure I’ve ever been completely happy with a paper).  But that’s mostly because it’s the first paper at the seminary and I have no idea what their expectations will be.  After a while as student gets to know where the rules can be bent and where professors are flexible, so the requirements of assignments become less of a concern.  But for the first paper there are so many unknowns that it’s nearly impossible not to feel uneasy about the outcome.  I think I felt this way about many of my university assignments, but I did quite well in the end anyway.

I’m beginning to think, too, that if I’m serious about a seminary education, full time study might be on the horizon.  We’ll see how the next couple of months go, but if they’re anything like the last month has been…well, the idea of being in such a state constantly for, say, the next 9 years (the time limit to complete an MDiv at Briercrest) of distance learning doesn’t really appeal to me.

And 9 years is a long time.  Dixie and I went out for supper tonight and in the moments between yawning and resting our heads on the table and seat backs, I said to her: “I’m almost 31.  I’ll be ordained by the time I’m 40.”  So we’ll see what happens in the next little while.

At this point, I need to sit down and really plan out the next 7 months of schoolwork.  I have no deadlines from now until June, when all the course requirements need to be completed.  I need to get in touch with the library at Briercrest and request some books just to learn how the system works and to see how fast that process of shipping books is.

Tonight was the first night in a long time that I wasn’t stressing about assignments or reading.  Dixie and I watched the first episode of Lonesome Dove, nothing else.  I need to reply to some emails and post some posts and, more than anything, get some rest.

3-2-1 Homework!

I started the coursework for my seminary course on the Patristic Fathers tonight.  Cup of Evening Delight tea (Safeway Select’s peppermint chamomile concoction) in one hand, Henry Chadwick’s The Early Church in the other, the fire crackling in the TV (a fireplace DVD—need to get our real fireplace safety-checked*) I set about my task to read 2 chapters in the book and listen to the first lecture.

The verdict to this point:

1.  I am an incredibly slow reader and probably for that reason not worthy of the “Seminary Student” title.  Consider: it took me 2 hours to read the 40 pages that made up the first two chapters of the book.  Not good.  While it’s true that the flow of the text isn’t great (and I’m tired, which is a bad combination), I will need to learn to read much faster than I do.**

2.  The lecturer isn’t particularly engaging, but he sticks to the outline and the lecture is pausable and rewindable, so I can’t complain.  I’m about halfway through the lecture.  I don’t think I’ll finish tonight.

3.  Despite #s 1 and 2 above, the topic is fascinating from the get-go: church history, church order and heresies from the get-go.  Much of this was familiar territory (thanks to Mr. Gonzalez in 2006), but I don’t mind the refresher (Boo, Gnosticism!  Boo, Marcion!)

4.  Fireplaces on DVD aren’t so bad.

*We’ve lived in this house for more than a year and have yet to use our fireplace.  I’m not sure what to make of that.  Every time I consider just lighting something in there already, I get images of chimney fires in my head.  I just keep forgetting to call someone (and when I did in the past, no one got back to me).
**The slowness of my reading is mostly due to wanting to catch everything in the text, which results in going back and re-reading.  This gets worse when I’m tired, as I’ll suddenly find myself “reading” the book without comprehending a single word.  My concern with reading faster is missing a lot more information, but maybe that’s OK.

Patristic Fathers

Well, folks, I’ve just registered for a seminary distance learning course.  It’s “The Patristic Fathers” (see here about those ol’ boys).  This means that 6 weeks from registration (tomorrow, I suppose), my first assignment will be due.  Yikes.

The reading and subject matter should be very interesting.  I’m looking forward to it.

At Linea’s suggestion, I ticked the box that includes the course texts with the course materials, which is handy, even though I could probably get them cheaper online at Amazon.ca or Chapter.ca.  But then I’d have to wait, etc.

Oddly enough, I gave them my credit card information on the registration form, but they did not indicate how much I would be charged before the application was submitted.  I have an approximate idea of what the fee for the course will be, but textbooks?  No idea.

The seminary, by the way, is Briercrest.  At least, that’s where I’ll start, though at this point I can see myself completing the course there as well.  Why Briercrest?  Several reasons: it’s a good school; it’s familiar (I went to high school and 2 years of Bible college there); it’s nearby; it’s cheaper than other seminaries; the program looks interesting.  And so on.  Factor in traveling alone and it’s a much more economical choice.  Too bad my parents don’t live there any more.

Is Briercrest too convervative for you?  (Or maybe too liberal?)  Show me a school that strikes a perfect balance—I implore you!  It’s the tools learned in school that are of particular importance to me—not a particular theological angle.  But maybe the two are intertwined?  Who knows.

Anyway…there were are.  The adventure begins.

Man of the Cloth, part 3: Getting my feet wet.

I’ve been holding off posting about this, but Phil W. kind of outed me in his comment on my previous post, which is perfectly fine, since I had no good reason not to post about it.  I’ve simply been holding my cards close to my chest again.

So…I’ve been hired by our church to work there on a temporary, part-time basis.  I haven’t signed anything and we haven’t worked out the details (but presumably I’m still hired, even after yesterday’s sermon).  The short answer, since I don’t know all the specifics yet, is that I’ll be doing a combination of administrative things (from answering the phone to organizing the worship schedule) as well as speaking somewhat regularly. The position doesn’t have a title—the word “pastor” will not apply, at any rate—I will simply be the administrative, pulpit-supply guy.  I figure I’ll be kind of like a seat-filler, except I’ll have significantly more responsibility (rather than just sitting in a chair).

The idea, as I understand it, is two-fold: first, to have some continuity in terms of the going’s on at the church, between Randall and Lauralea’s departure and the arrival of the new pastor; second, to give me an opportunity to try things out a bit in a church setting—an opportunity for some further discernment about our future.  It’s quite cool.  (When they asked me, I said, “This is crazy.  Do people do this?”)  I’m excited and I hope it goes well.  I presume that I’ll be starting late October or early November, but as I say, we haven’t worked out the details.  It’s open ended and could last anywhere from 1 month (or less even?) to several months.

What an interesting, bizarre, unexpected year it has been. I’ve written before about going to seminary and moving in the direction of “formal ministry” (I’m not sure what else to call it), in Part 1 and Part 2 of the Man of the Cloth posts.

I’m on the brink of enrolling in a seminary class.  I’m not sure what’s stopping me anymore.  I was holding off until I got a sense of how things would go at the church, but I think I’ll start with a distance learning course, which I can finish in up to 8 months.  My plan right now is to take a class on the Patristic Fathers.  Linea is taking a Greek class, her thinking being that she may as well start with a doozy of a class to give her some clarity on whether or not to walk this road.  This makes sense, and she had me wondering if I should do the same thing, but Patristic Fathers sounds interesting and I can take 2 classes without enrolling in a specific program, so I’ll save Greek and Hebrew for when I fully commit to seminary.

So…life is in transition, along with everyone else.

Man of the Cloth, Part 2: On Calling

You might want to read “Man of the Cloth, Part 1” first.

I have often wondered what it means to be “called”, how a calling might feel or what it might look like.  I remember almost 10 years ago asking my pastor about it.  Wonderful, honest man that he is, he admitted he wasn’t sure himself (I never doubted his calling, I hasten to add; he was a great pastor, however that calling may have looked for him).  I wondered how many people who said they were “called” or “felt called” really were certain that it wasn’t their emotions playing tricks on them, that the Holy Spirit really spoke to them in some way.  Would I even hear such a thing?  Would God have to walk into the room, single me out and say, “I call you!” for it to be clear to me?  I often wonder if I could ever hear God’s voice, whether it was as a gentle wind, as it was for Elijah, or if He was smashing two cymbals together inches from my face.

Some people would say that God does not have a specific, unique call—at least not for everyone—other than to love God and love your neighbour, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God—that we are called simply to daily Kingdom living.  I can certainly appreciate that—in fact, I think I would probably say that it’s true for the most part.  On the other end of the spectrum are the people who “feel called” by God or who sense that “God is telling them to . . .” or whatever.  I tend to regard that kind of über-spirituality with some degree of suspicion, if only because I have never had such a strong, clear sense of anything from God.  This week Scot McKnight linked to this post about “Feeling Called”, which I found quite enlightening scripturally and helpful generally:

So, how does a person discern a calling into ministry, a call by God to a particular task? This is not an easy question to answer, but I can trace the contours of what this should look like. First and foremost, a Christian should be aware of his or her general call to holy living and Christian testimony, the call all believers have by virtue of being called to salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Cor 7:15; Gal 5:13; 2 Thess 2:14). This includes a call to walk in newness of life, to love the brethren, and to proclaim Christ near and far. It implies a committed relationship to the Church universal and local, to build up the body of Christ through humble service, to give and live sacrificially. These things constitute the clear calling to which all Christians are to respond daily. They require no special recommendation or invitation, but they do, of course, require constant reminders and repeated exhortations. We too quickly forget the calling to which we are all called!

Second, the biblical pattern of calling to specific ministries or tasks involved either an audible (and often repeated) call from God, or an official invitation by legitimate spiritual leadership confirmed by the Church community. In the Old Testament this kind of call came through the God-appointed prophets, priests, and kings. In the New Testament it came through the pastors, elders, teachers, and leadership within the worshiping and praying community of the Church or even through the counsel of wise, mature, and trusted brothers and sisters in Christ. (link)

You might find the author’s words a bit too extreme (i.e. should John Q. Christian be called by the church even if he has no sense of it himself?), but I appreciate what the article is saying: calling is not as subjective or perhaps as mystical as modern Christians tend to make it out to be.  I’m not saying that I have a “calling” or that I have been “called” (or even that I feel called), but I should probably take heed of what has been going on in the last couple of months: the sense of shifting, the naming of things by others.  I need to pay attention because God might be whispering to me.  Or maybe He’s clanging pots and pans around my ears and I just don’t get it.  So I need to pay attention.

Stay tuned for a possible third instalment of Man of the Cloth: Fears, concerns, questions and misgivings.

Man of the Cloth, Part 1

So I’m thinking about going to seminary—or, at least, taking some courses to whet the ol’ whistle, as it were. No—more accurately: I’m thinking/praying about going into ministry more formally—you know, maybe become a “man of the cloth”—and seminary is one possible step in this direction.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now; it’s one of the reasons, I think, that I’ve been a less than consistent blogger of late.  Contrary to what readers of The Eagle & Child might think, I don’t blog about everything that comes to mind.  Sometimes I hold my cards very close to my chest, and if it’s a very big hand, it tends to affect my interaction with the rest of the world.  I become introspective, quieter; I tend to want to roam aimlessly, thinking things over repeatedly, though that’s not so easy to do when I’ve got a family that needs me.

I suppose this might not come as a surprise to most of you.  Much of what I write here is theological in nature (I should maybe check my facts first), and I read theological books in my spare time—I guess that makes theology a hobby.  I’ve thought for a couple of years now that seminary would be something up my alley, but until recently I couldn’t really justify it outside of doing it simply for my own amusement, and seminary would be an unjustifiably expensive form of amusement.  But my reasons seem to be changing with this man-of-the-cloth business.  Seminary seems to be one of the sensible things to do in this respect—it’s the path towards ordination—but that may not be my road.   We shall see.

A couple of months ago, after spending a weekend with our church’s youth at some event, something in me shifted.  I didn’t sense that it had anything to do with the youth per se, but it was definitely connected to church.  I can’t describe the shift to you, but I can picture the moment it happened, or started to happen, in my mind’s eye.  I kept that hand hidden as well, told nobody about the change I felt.

Here’s where it gets weird: not long after my return, two people asked, unprompted by me, if I had ever considered “going into ministry”, or something along those lines, maybe about “being a pastor”—I can’t remember what the exact phrasing was.  One of these people was Dixie.  I had said nothing to her about the shift I felt—she brought it up, as I say, out of the blue. The other person that mentioned this to me said that they had been praying for me specifically about this for some time, but hadn’t sensed any movement or prodding in this direction, but he, too, sensed something different after that weekend, which is why he brought it up.

This might be getting to wacky for some of you; it may not sound like classic Eagle & Child material.  But what am I supposed to do with the winds of change seemingly blowing (at the very least in my cobwebbed skull) and two people broaching the subject without knowing what has been going on?  It can’t be ignored.  At least, I can’t ignore it.

Here’s the story of my life in terms of what I “do”: I’m afraid to “name” things.  I am reluctant to say This is what I am doing or This is what I plan to do or This is what I want to be in any kind of decisive manner. As an example, Johanna asked me in January (or so) to do her wedding photography.  I mentioned it to noone but Dixie for several weeks, if not months, after I was asked.  My concerns: What if I misunderstood her request?  What if she changed her mind?  What if so-and-so laughs at the idea when I tell them? Insecurity is certainly a part of my silence.  But I’m also silent about these things, I think, because I sense that it’s not time to mention them.  It certainly wouldn’t have mattered if I had told people about the wedding photography, but with other things—bigger picture things—it sometimes feels like it isn’t time, as if the thought, the idea, the plans aren’t ready to be born yet.  They are ready, it seems, when someone else names them for me, or perhaps to me.

Things tend to fall in place for me, and that seems to have been the right way for me to make choices in life so far.  I sometimes get a sense of something, but I hang on to it, I keep it secret (keep it safe!) and ponder it, and wait to see what comes of it.  Eventually someone will come along and offer me this or tell me that, and the pieces of that original “sense” begin to fall into place.  Someone names the Thing, and then I feel like I can take the next step in its direction.  I felt like the sense I had that weekend with the youth was named for me by these two people—I had sensed it, and they named the Thing.

I’m not looking for advice or opinions.  Most of you don’t know me outside of the words I write here, so you probably wouldn’t be in a position to offer either of those.  Those of you who do know me, the comments may not be the place for that sort of thing (you can email me by clicking above), though I’ll leave them open.  Prayer, however, is a good thing whether you know me or not.

Part of me feels like it’s premature to mention this on my blog, but I’m posting this as a release.  This is what’s going on in my life—our lives—right now and I’ve become suspicious that it’s causing a blockage in terms of writing and thinking and creativity.  It’s what occupies me these days, but I haven’t been able to post about it here—didn’t feel it was time.  Maybe it still isn’t time, but releasing it may get my mental juices flowing, which would be beneficial in many ways.

Stay tuned for Man of the Cloth, Part 2: On Calling.