Thursday, March 19, 2009

Teaching as Performance Art - Lent + 23

"Now we understand...." - The Disciples (John 16:30)
(Photographs taken between 1986 and 1993;
Derek Maul and a variety of his students in north Florida)

Teaching, as most of us already know, is not an exact science. Oh, they'd like to make you think it is back at the university in the teacher's college: Just do this, plus this, and then mix in a little of this... and the little darlings will be eating out of your hands and they'll all become scholars.

Not exactly.

Those of us who have read the novel Jurassic Park will understand the basic idea of "Chaos Theory". Simply put, Chaos Theory states that, given the amazing number of possible variables (from small things like the time of day or what I had for breakfast to more large-scale factors such as a natural disaster - most of which are beyond anyone's control), there is no way to conclusively predict with 100% accuracy exactly what will happen - and that includes the physical world - presented with a given set of circumstances.

This leads to concepts such as "Somebody sneezes in New York and three days later there's a tornado in Kansas"! One measurable event affects the outcome of another measurable event - that much we understand. But, by the time just a few seconds have passed there is too much information, too many possible permutations, too many impossible to measure variables in play, and our ability to draw conclusions or make reasonable predictions is severely compromised.

All this brings us back around to teaching, and why it is more of an art than a science. I used to tell student teachers that the classroom experience is 20% preparation and 80% theater. Teaching is, at best, Performance Art. It's almost a joke but not really, because teachers work with a pallet that is 100% unpredictability multiplied exponentially by the human failings of teacher plus student plus administration plus family.

Chaos Theory is purely a statistical analysis concept. based on the behavior of physical objects that react according to the laws of nature as best we understand them. Children, on the other hand, are people, and they behave according to moral law - something that is at play in varying degrees from one day to another.

The 12 disciples were Christ's classroom; a Master-Class. Training these folk had been a three year process of mentoring, lecture, dialog, study and practical experience. We have already discussed the predilection of Andrew, Peter and company toward denseness - and I can imagine that Jesus experienced his share of "Teacher exasperation".

I can picture the expression on the Savior's face when his crew finally "got it." This was important stuff, and it was (it IS) imperative that the disciples understand not only the depths of Christ's love but also some of the theology and rational behind it all.

It is also imperative that we, too, understand the deeper meanings of our faith, "Blessed is the man," the Psalmist exclaims, "whose delight is in the law of the Lord, who meditates on it day and night..." (Psalms 1).

PRAYER: Guide our minds, Lord, and help us to understand the remarkable depths of your generous love for us. Amen.

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