Friday, November 22, 2013

The Power of an Object Lesson

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is an action worth?

On the second day of the school year, I publicly defaced a picture of my husband. I started English class by telling my 10th graders a little about my husband, showing them a 3 x 5 photo of him and me, then ripping off my husband’s half, shredding it, dropping it on the floor, and stepping on it. 

One of the classes froze and went dead silent. In the 2 other classes, students gasped or giggled uncomfortably.  Why the electric response? I asked them. That piece of paper with ink on it was not my husband--my husband is much bigger and thicker. He also moves and has legs, unlike the photo. What’s the big deal? 

Still...the idea of an “image” has meaning. We feel it in our bones. So what does it mean that people bear God’s image?

Thus I introduced a principle introduced in Genesis 1:26 and running throughout the Bible, a principle which has many implications, several of which underpin the entire first semester of English 10. Being made in God’s image has significance for how we act...
  1. Toward other people who are all images of God (with honor and respect)
  2. Ourselves as images (original goodness; fallen; being renewed in the image of the Creator, being conformed to the image of Christ; someday being perfectly like him for "we shall see him as he is")
  3. Within the creation as stewards developing its potential with care and respect. Literature is people acting as image bearers to take the physical reality, thinking minds, and potential of language (all created by God) and develop further the "raw materials," developing culture.

I knew it was a good lesson when I taught it; I didn’t know how good until yesterday. Students were working on the biblical perspective part of their response paper to the Holocaust memoir Night, analyzing some aspect of people’s tendency to disregard human dignity. The prompt asks them to refer to the concepts of people being made in the image of God and of the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

In my explanation I suddenly thought to say, “Remember way back at the beginning of the school year, when I ripped up the photo of my husband?” I’ve gotten blank stares when referring to a lesson I taught yesterday, let alone 3 months ago. I was hoping with my reminder of the visual aid to raise a few flickers of recognition. The widespread, immediate, and visceral response I got absolutely floored me. 

Any other good object lessons out there?

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