Tag Archives: critical thinking

The Challenge of Avoiding Censorship

I’m writing about censorship mainly because it is an issue that all Christian teachers need to face–especially literature, art and music teachers, and especially those who teach in a faith-based school. Although I may differ in opinion from some Christian teachers and schools from time to time, I hope that this article will not offend my loyal readers, but instead challenge you to continue the attempt to meet both academic and spiritual needs of your students.

When I traveled abroad in college, one of the seminars I was required to take was entitled “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” I suppose due to the fact that it was supposed to be a cross-cultural experience and also because we were all growing as Christian intellectuals, they considered it a relevant topic. Athens symbolized the world of intellectualism since Greece was the native land of famous philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. Jerusalem, in turn, symbolized the world of faith since it was the birthplace of Judaism and also Christianity. The seminar was entitled as a question because it is the age-old question of our times. How do we reconcile our Christian faith with our ability to reason with the intellect? Must we choose either/or?  Is our intellect truly a completely separate entity that should be divorced from our faith?

For the teacher of literature, art and music (and–let’s face it–history and science as well), sensitivity to the needs and maturity levels of the students is necessary at all times. As parents, we observe our children and try to ascertain when our children are ready to tackle topics that require critical thinking and wisdom. Proverbs says that only fools despise wisdom and understanding. In turn, when we realize that our children are unable to make mature critical judgments in certain areas, we are smart enough not to put them in tempting situations. As teachers, we need to respect the rights of parents and the rights of the children in our classroom.

Of course, the easy solution to any and all book challenges is to do whatever it takes to avoid controversy. If a book is not right for one child, it is not right for them all. Let’s just choose a different book next time and make it clear that the controversial book is not to be used in the future. Certainly that would solve the problem at the time. It certainly would please the person who objected to the book’s content. However, can we really generalize the maturity level of one student to be true for all students, past, present and future? Does one parent have the right to choose for all members of a classroom or all members of a school?

I would like to urge Christian teachers and administrators to consider the messages that book censorship send to students. In order to take the easiest road, we are neglecting the intellectual rights of our students to make some critical decisions for themselves. We are telling them that they are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong and that books are responsible for making us immoral creatures. We are failing to take responsibility ourselves for giving them the tools to make those critical judgments. In robbing them of these opportunities, we are also giving them a false idea of the world around them. We are carefully molding a world for them that, instead, depicts the Christian life as something free and easy. Ignorance is bliss, right?

We are also telling them that they have to choose between faith or their intellect. We are telling them that they cannot exist on the same plane. That one’s intellect cannot be satisfied while being a Christian, and that one cannot be a Christian without leaving the intellect behind. That the solution to dealing with the world is simply to hide away, avoid and ignore it. Again, I mean no offense to those who, as I do, espouse the idea that we are “in the world, but not of it.” I am not saying that a Christian should just roll willy nilly into sinful practices, view pornography as an intellectual exercise or insist that romance novels are works of art. Graphic content without purpose is just graphic content, and I agree that there are plenty of contemporary examples of this trend that should be avoided.

So how do I suggest that we tackle the problem of “difficult content”? At all times, avoiding censorship will be a challenge.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves the following questions when selecting materials to use:

Do these materials promote a lifestyle that is sinful, or do they show the consequences of immoral behavior?

Do these materials serve as an example of a strong literary/intellectual work, or is a lesser work that is worthless in a literary sense?

Do these materials contain graphic, long mentions and descriptions, or are they delicately written so as to avoid salacious content just for content’s sake?

What is the context of the content to the overall work–does it serve a purpose, or is it meant to simply serve as “shock factor”?

Do these materials serve an educational purpose and meet the reading and maturity needs of the students? (For example, you would never expect a middle school student to understand The Scarlet Letter on a reading level, and you also would not expect them to be mature enough to tackle the content and themes of Crime and Punishment.)

Will you be addressing these content issues with the students? (It is usually worse to pretend that they’re not there and assume that the students already understand a Christian world view on these topics without guidance toward making these critical judgments.)

Again, this is the opinion of one woman, and not necessarily the view of any single institution or any other individual. I do not claim to hold the key to the mysteries of the universe or to claim that my opinion on this issue is the only correct approach. I am also not advocating that we should not take our moral responsibilities seriously as to the materials we use to teach. I am instead attempting to think through censorship as an issue, simply because it affects us all and can potentially cause harm and hurt to many people who work in Christian school ministries. I welcome honest, respectful feedback on this topic, as long as it does not demean others or cause more division within the Church. We are called to work together in unity, so let’s not allow this issue to divide us! Instead, let’s reinforce each other and edify each other within the ministry.

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Good Books for Christian Teachers–The Chosen by Chaim Potok

As an English teacher, I am often called upon to select appropriate books to teach in my classes. Since I am the lead teacher in my department, selecting high school novels falls upon me, and this task I take very seriously. As a Christian teacher, I understand that my job requires sensitivity, detailed consideration and a logical rationale for each selection. Each book must be carefully read and selected with a Christian worldview in mind. However, each book must also strive to fulfill the academic requirements of my school as well, which has high expectations in mind. Students should be prepared to survive in an AP Literature and Composition course, which requires strong critical thinking skills and an ability to read discerningly.

One of my favorite picks is the novel The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. What can I say about this book? I love it! Not only does it relate to my students in Panama, it is perfect for discussing a different religion and religious tolerance. It is also excellent for use in a World Literature classroom since it provides so much opportunity for discussion of European history, especially history concerning the Jewish populations. In summary, The Chosen is a book narrated by a young Jewish boy named Reuven Malter, whose father is a professor who write articles about Jewish commentary and interpretation. At the beginning of the story, Reuven meets Danny Saunders, who is the son of an Hasidic Tzaddik rabbi. Although they meet under circumstances that should divide them concerning religion and identity, they somehow make a very unique friendship that helps them survive the coming-of-age process and coming to terms with their own roles within the Jewish faith. This book allows for critical discussion of the following topics:

–What should be the relationship between religion and the secular world?

–What are some Jewish beliefs and traditions? How are they similar/different from Christianity?

–What are the percentages of Jewish people residing in the U.S.? In Panama? In your particularly country? How did they get there and what type of Jewish religion do they practice? Are they Orthodox? Reformed?

–Why can we say that the Jewish faith is the “root” of Christianity? Knowing that, students will be able to develop a respect for Judaism.

–How can we maintain faith even when there seem to be “bad things” happening in the world? (For example, Reuven is living in NY city during the period of WWII.) What is our relationship to God, and how do we see Him?

This book is very multidisciplinary, as it allows students to look up statistics of Jewish populations and create graphs, research historical backgrounds to Zionism and WWII, learn a little bit about psychology and Freud, delve into the intricacies of a major world religion, write thoughtful journal entries and critical papers, and reflect upon a coming-of-age process that they themselves may be going through personally. If you haven’t yet read novels by Chaim Potok, check it out!

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Teaching Students How to Think, Not What to Think

Daniel, a 17-year-old blogger, was frustrated. In his post entitled, “Why I Closed the Oprah Post After 224 Comments,” he mourned the reasons for his frustration:

“I had hope for excellent dialogue. Yet i could not find a single point of entry. This discourse had taken off at a blazing speed only to find itself revolving in the circular arguments of the “Oprah will burn in hell” and “Thou shall not judge” camps,” he wrote with a virtual sigh.

Daniel is a Christian, but he is well aware of how much Christians hide behind blanket statements and blind acceptance of doctrines, sometimes without even being aware of what the Bible has to say on the subject. He gives some healthy tips for those trying to defend an argument from a Christian perspective: “

“Stating how certain you are of her damnation doesn’t defeat her argument. Unless you come to a deeper understanding of your faith and learn how to articulate it graciously… then it really seems like you just want to bring people into line with your dogma,” he explains. To the “Do Not Judge Camp,” he responds, “Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who are extremely rude and truly judgmental..sorry . Don’t retreat to Matthew 7:1 or John 8:7 in cowardice when someone has not judged you but actually debunked you.”

He then went on in his blog to model what he expected from the website dialogue, deconstructing the philosophies held by Oprah and her latest guru, Eckhart Tolle. Daniel read the guru’s book, A New Earth, for the sole purpose of “understand[ing] their side of the argument.” He challenges statements made by Eckhart that all paths lead to the same “truth’ and that there is no absolute esoteric truth by pointing out the logical flaw in the inherent philosophical argument in a quote by Tim Keller: “How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?”

After I finished reading Daniel’s arguments, I was stunned at his ability to, first of all, shun the offensive, blanket statements many Christians make when they find themselves unable to articulate and create logical apologetics for their beliefs. Second of all, I loved how he was able to pinpoint the heart of the argument and get to the bottom of the logical fallacy. Finally, I found myself thinking to myself, “This is what I want my students to do!”

Lately, many Christian teachers have been discussing with me their self-doubts and confusion about how to be Christian teachers. My question is this: Are we teaching our students WHAT to think (i.e. “Evolution is bad!”) or are we teaching them HOW to think? (i.e. How do we recognize fallacies in arguments? Can we create and defend arguments against cultural relativism, nihilism, and postmodernism?) Today is a very dangerous world to live in, and if our students are to grow into maturity of faith, we really have to consider whether we are giving them the tools to do so, or whether our bottom line is that they memorize the scripture verse (preferably outside of context), and learn to parrot the basic doctrines of the faith.

Michael Essenburg, a fellow Christian teacher, recently sent me an email of the following online tutorials he was planning on offering as an alternative for Christian school students or homeschooled students.

Since Michael is a “friend of the site” and not necessarily a personal friend, I cannot recommend them based on personal experience. Yet, as I read the topics he is addressing it, and his Socratic Method approach, it becomes clear to me that he is moving in the right direction. We need to do more than just throw in a Bible verse alongside a lesson plan or use homeroom to present a devotional. We need to train our students how to think in a world that has forgotten how to think for itself.

Sites:

Daniel www.heartofflesh.wordpress.com

Michael Essenburg www.closethegapnow.org

 

 

 

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Developing Critical Thinkers Concerning Media

Recently, a colleague of mine gave up in frustration. Her objective was to develop critical thinkers about the media. Our students are daily bombarded with messages concerning sex, relationships, and immoral behaviors that she undertook to show responsibility for her part in instructing them to think through some of these negative messages instead of taking them in passively. Not only does this line up with AERO standards of international education, but it also lines up with many state standards as well, who expect us to teach students to analyze the visual and written messages of a variety of media.

Teaching students about media requires an examination of core types of media: newspapers, magazines, advertisements, commercials, internet sites, and public service announcements. Our teacher chose to teach students about advertisements. After modeling an analytical technique, the teacher instructed students to look for advertisements either in magazines on online that promoted a sociological message about society. They didn’t have to look far. Most students chose to use the internet and found the advertisements rather quickly. They all agreed that the advertisements were similar to those they saw on a daily basis on bulletin boards at the mall, for example. As a culminating activity, the teacher placed the advertisements on a hallway bulletin board with large signs asking, “Is this what message we really want to portray in our society?” and “What are the advertisements REALLY trying to sell?” The bulletin board lasted over the weekend and came down on Monday. The teacher was devastated. She knew that the advertisements were not necessarily outside of the range of experience that her students had, and she felt that it was, at the core, censorship. However, outside of the classroom context, other students in the hallway or church members who did not attend the class may not have fully understood the need for the bulletin board to display the somewhat racy adverts.

How can we avoid situations like this as Christian teachers? How can we get our students to become critical thinkers about media and still work within a framework that is appropriate for our Christian school environments? First of all, consider that the following principle applies: If negative messages are being sent through the media, could posting them on a bulletin board for all to read perhaps be promoting the very negative messages that you would like to eradicate from society? How can we avoid doing that?

For one thing, you can have students design a positive campaign based upon a company that is using appropriate advertisement methods. Take the company LG, for example. Here in our country, their Spanish-speaking campaigns are more than appropriate. A dryer commercial shows a woman going about her day cheerfully, and having her clothes dirtied by walking past a fish market or getting on a bus. She has a party to go to later on that night, so she flips it into the dryer for a “freshen up” and then adds a scarf to it, and she is elegant enough for a dinner party. Another campaign for “Scarlet” televisions depicts a woman as a movie actress, using a story line of her mystique and attraction as a fundamental selling point of the red-colored television. It is, however, about a story, not about sex or offensiveness. Another example is the recent VISA commercials about the experiences money can’t buy, as opposed to the Mastercard commercials about cash being “out of style.” Once students develop their own commercials or advertisements, post THEM on the bulletin board along with the message that advertisements affect our daily lives and that we have developed an inspirational advertising campaign. Save the analysis of negative messages for the classroom context and choose your negative advertisements wisely. Show how false promises also can be generated by showing, for example, how a perfume commercial implies that wearing the perfume will bring you love and passion. Or how a mortgage company may promise in their commercial a lifelong marriage upon choosing to borrow money from them.

Full lesson plans for download will be linked to this site. If you would like to contribute, please send it to me via email: anna_drake22@yahoo.com.

A secular, Canadian site offers a myriad of “jump start” lesson plans on media awareness: http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/teachers/index.cfm  (Does not open in a new window)

 

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