Friday, November 7, 2014

Integrating Learning and a Faith-Full Life

Here’s a hypothesis: the challenge of Christian teaching is not integrating faith and learning; it’s integrating faith and life (the challenge of every Christian), and then integrating learning and life (the challenge of every teacher). Shorter yet: Integrating learning and a faith-full life. 

In English class, opportunities abound. If great literature deals with the significance of human life and action, and if faith permeates all of life, then faith cannot be separated from any significant issue with which literature deals.

I’m celebrating how my 10th grade students have been able to articulate this as I’m reading their final essays on the novel Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. The book is set in South Africa in 1946, just before apartheid became the officially consolidated law of the land. Though race relations feature prominently, the underlying questions of the book have to do with how humans can live with each other, with themselves, with the land, and with God in the flourishing peace and justice that the Bible calls shalom.

Students have written about how the novel deals with some aspect of this biblical theme, and they were required to include an application they have seen in the world today or in their own lives. I’ve read good thesis statements, good literary support, and application—from recovery efforts in the tsunami-stricken area of Japan to relationships with parents to the community found at our school after experiencing bullying elsewhere.

Here are some of the thesis statements:

  • Cry, the Beloved Country demonstrates, through pastor Kumalo’s relationships, that reconciliation and healing are possible despite brokenness if people face their own fears, choose to love, and strengthen their faith in God.
  • Out of the many characters in Cry, the Beloved Country, Stephen Kumalo is Alan Paton’s hero, showing how a flawed human can still maintain shalom with individuals, society, and God.
  • Alan Paton’s book Cry, the Beloved Country demonstrates how the people were able to restore and keep shalom through honest prayers, humble repentance, and faithful allies.

Some of the literary analysis:

  • When Kumalo encountered hardship, God did not speak directly to him. No revelation, no burning bush, no army of angels. But through the boldness of Msimangu’s words, through the hospitality of Mrs. Lithebe, the mercy and kindness from the father of the victim his son had murdered, Kumalo felt God’s love.

A beautiful conclusion:
  • Like a sculptor chipping at a block of marble to create something, through our actions we can be assured that God can heal the world, but an act at a time, no matter how long it takes.

And a powerful insight:
  • How can we overcome our fears like Kumalo did?…Trying is the most important part because we can always gain something from it, even if we don’t get what we expected. Many parents and teachers in Japan tell children that they should not do things to others that they don’t want them to do to them. I remember hearing this from adults ever since I can remember. Recently, I found a Bible verse that sounds similar to it: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). At first I thought that these two statements mean the same thing, but soon I realized that they don’t. The former one that tells you not to treat people how you don’t want to be treated is much easier than the latter one in the Bible since we don’t have to do anything in order to accomplish it. It is all about avoiding conflicts…. We have to do good things to people like the verse says. We need to take action in order to make a difference. 

Teaching English is a great job—choosing good literature, setting a significant purpose, training students in some reading and writing strategies, then cheering from the sidelines as they learn, think, read, write, grow.

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