Tag Archives: education

On Letting Go of Sunday School

The Sunday School movement began in the 1780s to provide education to children working in factories—children who were not receiving any other formal education. Teachers shared lessons on Christian religion, but also things like reading, sports, and drama. Today, more and more people are asking whether Sunday School is nearing the end of its life cycle, particularly in certain congregations and contexts.

Tiny Church’s practice in recent years has been to have Sunday School class during the worship hour, following the children’s time. For a small congregation, we have a good number of school-age children—this fall there will be nine, plus about seven middle and high schoolers and a handful of nursery-age.

That’s if they’re all there.

But they’re never all there… which is one of the problems with relying on Sunday School as a child’s primary Christian formation. “Regular church attendance” is different than it was even 5 years ago. Now, a couple times a month is considered regular. Around here, folks generally aren’t slacking off and sleeping in. They’re attending Girls on the Run, taking a weekend trip out of town, volunteering at the Kennedy Center, or helping a friend move. That means the adults who would teach weekly Sunday School are also out a lot, in addition to the kids.

Several of us at Tiny met this past Sunday to talk about Christian education in our congregation, and decided to see all of this as a creative challenge rather than a problem. We have the opportunity to think about Christian formation more holistically, rather than shuttling kids off to a separate room and trusting that they’ll get everything they need there.

Starting this summer, Tiny Church will no longer have Sunday School.

Instead, we will continue work in our Upper Room, which is the kid-friendly worship space in our balcony. School-age children go up after the children’s time and spend the rest of the service there. An adult leads them up and, before they go in, encourages them to “get ready to continue worshiping” by calming and centering, removing their shoes, and so forth.

There are always kinks to work out, but I’m happy to say that the Upper Room is working as well as I could have dreamed. Kids are able to wander, browse a children’s Bible or picture book in one of the comfy chairs, draw or do a simple craft at the table, use the Buddha Board, or mess around with the wooden Noah’s Ark or nativity set. And yet… they’re listening. They’ll walk over to the railing, peek over and watch what’s going on. I was preaching about Pope Francis’s recent remarks and a six year old walked up to Robert and whispered, “What’s an atheist?” I love it.

That said, we also see the value in building intentional relationships between adults and children (which is one of the primary benefits of Sunday School), so we’re thinking about planning a multi-week project maybe once a semester. At these times, children would have a “pull-out” during worship, perhaps to make a video about a Bible story, plan a puppet show, or prepare an anthem as an ad hoc children’s choir. But—and here’s the key—those activities would always connect to the life of the whole worshiping community. The video would be shown in worship, etc.

We also know we need to help equip parents. Like it or not, we are our children’s primary faith educators. I’ve heard of a church that sends home a packet each month with stories, activities, questions to discuss together, rituals, etc. I love this “homeschooling” approach. Sometimes (when I have time and inspiration) I will put together a GPS guide (Grow Pray Study) in the bulletin that helps people think further about the scripture and sermon, and I try to include something for families. That might be something we do more regularly.

We are also still considering how youth fit into this mix. We can see them as co-leaders of the special  pullout activities. And we’re considering some mentoring, as well as partnering with another congregation for a mission trip.

Have you moved beyond Sunday School where you are? Would love to hear what you’re up to.

Lernen durch Fehler. Learning through Failure

Duolingo Levels

Duolingo Levels

(I have no idea if the German is right—that’s what Google translator came up with.)

My latest micro-obsession is Duolingo, an app that teaches foreign languages through a quiz-based game. It’s a nice interface, and the different question formats keep things interesting. I’ve taken a ridiculous amount of Spanish, but the game has helped me brush up a little. I’m hoping to get to some new material soon (you can test out of levels to move up faster).

My girls have a friend from Portugal, so they’ve decided to try to learn some Portuguese using Duolingo on the iPad. I had this identical conversation with both girls at different times this weekend:

Child: Mommy, what’s the Portuguese word for “woman”? I have to choose it from this list.
Me: I have no idea.
Child: I don’t either! How am I supposed to play this game?
Me: You guess, and it tells you whether you’re right.
Child [a few minutes later]: I didn’t pass the level! I have to start it again?
Me: Yes, but now you know the word for “woman,” don’t you?

In school, learners follow a pattern of instruction –> practice –> assessment. In Duolingo, instruction, practice and assessment are simultaneous. You learn from trial and error, from doing. Failure isn’t a setback, it provides critical information.

Life is more like Duolingo, isn’t it?

Monster Friday Link Love: Link Love’s Out for Summer!

Yes… I’ve decided to take a break from Friday Link Love through the summer, at least. I will still link to stuff at Twitter and Facebook, and will probably drop a link here and there occasionally. But this summer is too squirrelly to commit to a regular posting schedule, so I’m hanging out my Gone Fishin’ sign on this feature.

But we’re going out with a bang! TON of stuff today. A couple of gleanings from social media and some other random stuff. Away we go:

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Here We Are Now Entertain Us — Running Chicken

This week Jan blogged about TED Talks, the Moth, and sermons and said, “one of these is not like the other”. Why are sermons viewed as boring? she asks. How can we sharpen our proclamation by listening to these other forms of communication? As a huge fan of The Moth, and a semi fan of TED, this is a great question and one to explore. Good discussion in the comments of her blog.

But I am also compelled by this post, which questions the rise of edutainment:

Most importantly, is the central claim [by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, in a recent interview] that the test of education is whether or not it’s entertaining. Wales asks, “why wouldn’t you have the most entertaining professor, the one with the proven track record of getting knowledge into people’s heads?” Is there evidence that the most entertaining lecture is the one that gets “knowledge into people’s heads”? Again, I’m not suggesting that a boring lecture is going to do the trick, but I’m arguing that entertaining students doesn’t necessarily equate with teaching them something.

When I lecture on Kant, I don’t think I’m really entertaining my students. In my opinion, Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals doesn’t lend itself to entertainment; it’s a dense text that needs some serious explication. Now, I don’t speak in a monotone and I try to find relevant examples to help them make sense of the material, but I’m not standing in front of the class hoping that they’ll all have a great time; I’m standing there with the express purpose of teaching them about Kant.

At the risk of a “get off my lawn” moment… Yes.

I read a New Yorker profile about TED not long ago and came away a bit soured. TED talks are very formulaic—not necessarily a bad thing, I’ll admit—but the organizers work with presenters to make their content fit their rigorous. This includes dumbing down some material. Do we really want to go down that road?

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Why Rituals Work — Scientific American

Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work.

A nice argument for living “as if.” Which is what I see in a lot of church work.

…We found that people who wrote about engaging in a ritual reported feeling less grief than did those who only wrote about the loss.

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Arts and Faith — Loyola Press

This site is just getting going but looks very promising: “Explore stories about musicians, crafters, dancers, painters, and more, who demonstrate the many inspiring (and surprising) ways art can deepen your relationship with God.”

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Orchestra Hidden Camera Prank — YouTube

Somebody asked me recently where I get all my links for FLL. The fun thing is that people have started sending me stuff. Here’s one example. Pretty cute:

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Keep Your ‘Someday’ List from Being Clutter — David Caolo, Unclutterer

A little bit of Getting Things Done jiu jitsu—this is good advice even if you’re not a disciple of David Allen as I am:

In GTD, “visit Japan” is not a task, it’s a project. Fortunately, my old job helped me get good at breaking complex behaviors (or in this case, projects) down into very small, observable, concrete actions. Perhaps “discuss life in Japan with uncle who used to live there” is a doable first step. Maybe “research seasonal weather in Japan” or “find a well-written book on Japanese customs or food” could be other first steps. In breaking down the project, two things happen.

First, I feel like I’m making progress on this huge task, rather than letting it stagnate. Second, I’ll get a true measure of my willingness to go through with completing the project completely. If my interest wanes, I can safely remove it from the list as Merlin suggested. If I have an increase in interest that will suggest motivation, and I’ll continue to devise small steps that move me closer to completing the project.

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Photo Series of a Young Girl Dressed Up as Great Women Throughout History — Peta Pixel

A photographer wanted to commemorate her daughter’s fifth birthday:

My daughter wasn’t born into royalty, but she was born into a country where she can now vote, become a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, or even President if she wants and that’s what REALLY matters.

The resulting photo series has Emma dressed and posed as five influential women from the history books, with a presidential photo thrown in at the end. Click the link to see.

H/t Facebook friend Jeanny House.

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While we’re on photography:

The Art of Being at the Right Place at the Right Time — Colossal

If you’ve seen Dewitt Jones’s now-classic DVD, Everyday Creativity, you know he talks about putting yourself in the place of most potential. This photographer has clearly done that—as Christopher notes on Colossal, she must never be without a camera, because she’s able to capture amazing images.

Tons at the link.

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The Threat of Literalism — Ken Kovacs

A friend and colleague pens this:

James Hollis, Jungian analyst and writer, suggests that literalism is actually a form of religious blasphemy because it seeks to concretize (nail down, define) and absolutize the core experience of the Holy, of God – a God, if God, who cannot be controlled or defined; a God, as theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) insisted, who was Wholly Other, a God who remains ultimately a mystery.  And a mystery is not the same thing as a puzzle (which can be solved); a mystery is always enigmatic and is therefore inherently unknowable.  The German theologian Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769) reminded us, “A God comprehended is no God.”

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How about closing with two links from my alma mater, Rice University?

Neil deGrasse Tyson to Grads: Future of Exploration in Your Hands — Rice.edu

HOW LUCKY IS THE CLASS OF 2013 TO GET NdGT AS COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER?!?

We got Elizabeth Dole, which… eh.

Tyson, whose wife, Alice Young, is a Rice alumna, challenged the new graduates to become part of the new drive to discover. “There is no solution to a problem that does not embrace all we have created as a species,” he said. “The original seeds of the space program were planted right here on this campus, and I can tell you that in the years since we have landed on the moon, America has lost its exploratory compass.

Also: some straight talk about what motivates humanity to explore:

War, money and the praise of royalty and deity. He noted Kennedy’s speech at Rice that laid out the plan to go to the moon followed one a year earlier to Congress that first proposed the adventure.

“We haven’t been honest with ourselves about that,” he said, reciting the part of JFK’s 1962 speech to Congress that appears in a monument at the Kennedy Space Center. What’s missing, he said, is a reference to the war driver: in this case, Yuri Gagarin’s orbital mission for the Soviet Union six weeks earlier.

“No one has ever spent big money just to explore,” he said. “No one has ever done that. I wish they did, but they don’t. We went to the moon on a war driver.”

(And in case you missed it, here’s a bonus link that had a lot of social media buzz: John Green’s commencement speech to Butler. Top-notch.

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Shimmering Chain-link Fence Installation by Soo Sunny Park — Colossal

How exciting to see the Rice Art Gallery featured on Colossal! Wish I could see this in person. Plexi-glass and chain link.

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Peace be with you, friends.

Does Sunday School Work?

A few years back, I was talking to a parent whose children had been enrolled in her church’s Sunday School and evening children’s program. By all accounts, and from what I could tell as an uninvolved observer, this church has an absolutely exemplary children’s ministry. And yet this mother was looking for another church. “I recently asked my kids some basic questions about the Bible and some of the foundational stories of Christianity,” she told me. “They couldn’t answer the most basic questions. What are they learning in Sunday School? Is all this programming even doing what it’s supposed to do?”

I thought about that mother this week when I saw this article from Associated Baptist Press about a new documentary. It should go without saying that the theology that undergirds the study, and the video (excerpt) at the link are quite foreign to me. But here’s the gist:

In Divided, young filmmaker Philip Leclerc sets out to discover why so many people of his generation are leaving the church. …Leclerc acknowledges grouping kids and age and developmental stages makes sense on the surface. In the Bible, however, parents are given the responsibility for religious instruction of their children. 

The modern idea of age-graded Sunday school, youth ministry and children’s church came from somewhere else. When it started in the 1800s, Sunday school was intended for poor children without Christian parents. In most American churches today, Leclerc insists, Christian fathers [sic] relinquish their leadership to programs based on secular educational theories instead of the teaching of Scripture.

The video uses the word “carnal” about eleventy-five times, and I didn’t even watch the whole thing. I don’t resonate with many of the article’s comments either. But I suspect the basic thrust is right. Now I want to go back to that mother and say, “What about your responsibility as a parent? What could the church do to support you as your child’s primary Christian educator?”

Let’s take my church as an example. We are small, with a good number of kids for our size, but the “Sunday School” aged kids range from kindergarten through third grade, with a smattering of middle and high school students.

We have Sunday School twice a month, during the worship hour—it is not practical to have Sunday School at other times—and we have a team of teachers who take turns leading. We went to this model because, well, our old model of having one teacher lead every week until s/he gets burned to a crisp didn’t feel very biblical.

But even if we had a top-notch Sunday School every week, our most dedicated families are here maybe twice or three times a month, due to sports, out of town trips, and other weekend activities.

This is insane.

Churches are smaller, budgets are smaller. Tiny Church is not unusual. I look at this situation and think, This doesn’t make any sense. Why are we trying to have a traditional Sunday School? Why aren’t we offering truly intergenerational worship, and training parents to do religious education at home? 

I could easily dismiss this study as so much patriarchal BS. (Why is it only the father who bears primary responsibility for faith formation in the family? That’s rhetorical; don’t answer.) But I can’t dismiss it outright.

It reminds me of the REVEAL study that came out of Willow Creek church some years back. The study found that greater involvement in church activities did not foster deeper commitment to the way of Jesus. (My paraphrase.) Some mainline folks crowed about the study, feeling vindicated that seeker-sensitive megachurches were finally admitting that they were serving up the thin gruel we’d always suspected. But the REVEAL study is not cause for smug rejoicing, but serious self-reflection. We are often no different in our mainline churches.

So what is the answer? I wish I knew. But I’d like to get some people together to talk about this. Let’s start here. What do you say? Has your church figured this out?

Friday Link Love

A few fun/interesting things from the last few weeks:

Social Networking in Its Oldest Form — BBC (video)

A man in Canada has released several thousand bottles into the ocean, and received thousand of responses from all over the world.

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Women Own 1% of the World’s Property: Occupy That — Huffington

Maybe it’s because girls and women:

  • Don’t get to go to school when their brothers do
  • Get married off (don’t worry, at a good price)
  • Are deprived of food when it’s scarce
  • Aren’t allowed to own anything themselves
  • Don’t inherit
  • Aren’t paid for their labor
  • Are property. Duh.

I’m reading Ashley Judd’s biography right now (really, it’s good) and through her advocacy work she has met women all over the world who are subjected to sexual slavery and engaged in prostitution because there are not other viable options. The stories will make your skin crawl, yet she somehow manages to see hope.

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Generation Gap: How Age Shapes Political Outlook — NPR/Pew

Interesting stats; I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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The Way We Teach Math and Language is All Wrong — Freakonomics Blog

If we learned our first language like we usually learn second languages, it might look like this. A young child says, “I am hungry.” The parent replies, “Wait! Before saying am, you first must learn to conjugate to be in all persons and number, in the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods, and in the past, perfect, and future tenses.” After a few months, or maybe weeks, of this teaching, the child would conclude that it has no aptitude for languages and become mute. And human culture would perish in a generation.

If we taught math or science like we normally teach languages…oh, wait, we do! (And I believe, although with less direct knowledge, that we teach most subjects this way.)

Caroline has had a harder time with math this year, not because she doesn’t understand the concepts, but because of the wording of some of the questions, and perhaps, the way it’s being taught. We’ve been playing with the Kahn Academy videos.

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What is God? — Andrew Sullivan

My heresy – and I concede it – is in rejecting the traditional view of the atonement issue. For me, Jesus’s death was not the downpayment on our salvation. He was the way, the truth and the life. His horrifying crucifixion was not some unique necessary sacrifice. It was a commonplace punishment in his time. What singled him out was the manner of his death, his refusal to stop it, his calm in embracing it, his forgiveness even of those who nailed him there, with that astonishing sentence, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”

I don’t read that as an affronted “they don’t know they are executing the Godhead himself”. I read it as “they are so consumed with fear and the world and violence and power that they require forgiveness and mercy, not condemnation”. It is this very composure, this sadness born of indescribable empathy, this inner calm and stillness, that convinces me of Jesus’ saturation with the Godhead. He was not the human equivalent of an animal sacrifice; he was the light of the world, showing us by his example how we can be happy and at peace and in love with one another and God itself.

That.

Lots more there.