Monday, July 21, 2008

Personal code of behavior

I've got a chain of ideas going here, so it is probably best I start at the beginning of the chain.

After 18 months of "retirement" it looks I'll have a part-time job in the fall! The weasel words are because hiring is "dependent on sufficient enrollment" as the institution puts it. I'll be teaching one section out of four of introductory music theory at a community college. This is more basic than the first semester of music theory at a regular college or conservatory and will get into how to read and notate music. The class is geared to this level because one group of students is education majors looking to incorporate music into their lessons as an aid to memory and understanding and other groups likely never had this in high school.

While I've stood in front of people and lectured and presented material I have not done a series of 30 classes, each 90 minutes with a grade at the end. I've been working my way through the textbook and syllabus developed by one of the other professors teaching other sections and developing lesson plans from them. I will meet with him in August to coordinate and fill in lesson plans. We'll have to wait until then because he announced the job was mine just before leaving the country for 6 weeks.

To get a little bit of an idea what I'm in for I bought and am reading the book, "Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire" by Rafe Esquith. A good deal of it is geared towards elementary age subjects (reading and writing) but some of it is good for any teacher. This includes trusting your students, making sure punishment is fair, and being a role model of a responsible adult. From what I've read so far I wish I had him for 5th grade.

The second chapter (after the one on trust and role model) was a discussion of Lawrence Kohlberg's book "Six Levels of Moral Development" (alas, I can't find it on Amazon, though lots of other Kohlberg books and others discussing his book are there). The higher the level, the more moral the situation. Alas, many situations, especially classrooms are stuck at level 1 and 2. The levels are:

1. Avoid trouble

2. Earn a reward

3. Please someone

4. Follow the rules

5. Consider others

6. Personal code of behavior

It didn't take me long to begin to compare these levels of morality to how the church usually functions, so I'll discuss these levels in that context rather than in terms of education.

Avoid trouble. Alas, many Fundamentalist churches go for the most basic and crudest way to control people -- "If you don't accept my savior you're going to hell." A lot of behavioral infractions are heaped onto that threat so that the poor person is living in constant fear that with one small slip-up he will spend eternity in hell. While the church has achieved the desired behavior change, living in fear is not a healthy life.

Earn a reward. This is usually used in tandem with level 1 in many churches. Do what we tell you and you get to spend eternity in heaven. Doing things simply because you will earn a gold star is a poor way to build a morality. It says nothing about whether the act itself was moral and says little about how to choose the right way to act if the gold star is not obvious in any of the choices.

Please someone. In the case of the church this someone is either the pastor or Jesus. I've heard sermons preached that we should do things because we are thankful of the salvation we have received and we now want to please our savior. Though the idea is a noble one, there are better ways to build a moral foundation. It can be taken to ridiculous extremes -- I tie my shoes to please Jesus. However, we are frequently faced with the question of which choice out of several will please Jesus? When it is a human we are trying to please the reaction can be immediate. With Jesus it may not be so clear and that lack of clarity leads to…

Follow the rules. I hear this a lot when what I say is viewed as too liberal. We must have standards or our faith will mean nothing. Having rules means a person can become very good at following the rules but can become lost where there are no rules to cover the situation. There is also danger that the rule may be wrong (and it doesn't necessarily come from a corrupt legislature) or the incorrect rule is applied or that rules conflict or that the rules are so restrictive that nobody can follow them. Martin Luther King didn't become famous for following the rules but for proclaiming the rules were wrong.

Consider others. A guide to morality takes a big step when it considers this concept. Jesus makes this an important part of his teaching when he talks about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) among other places, yet a lot of theology talks about personal holiness, spiritual development, or ways to become closer to Jesus without mentioning this concept. And the concept is simple: you don't understand someone else until you "climb into their skin and walk around in it" (as Atticus Finch put it). People balk at this idea for a variety of reasons, one of which is that you may find out the rules don't fit anymore. And even now there is still something better.

Personal code of behavior. Rafe Esquith says this is difficult to teach because it won't work for him to tell students, "This is my personal code of behavior." That defeats the purpose. Each person must work out morality for themselves, and it does take work. He teaches this stage by presenting kids with several characters from literature and movies who have their own personal code. It's not every fifth grade class that talks about Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird or Will Kane of the movie High Noon. He sees evidence these kids get it and form their own code of behavior. From the Christian perspective it means we throw out the fear, the promise of angel wings, the calls to please Jesus, and we throw out the rules. We replace it with "work out your own salvation." Developing a personal code of behavior requires observing action and consequence, considering how those consequences affect ourselves and others, and thinking through to basic concepts. We should be teaching how such code of behavior can be developed through guidance of the Holy Spirit, if only we ask for it happen and trust the Holy Spirit. Please note it is important to promise angel wings, but we do that for hope, not for morality.

One aspect of most religions is the teaching of some sort of morality code. Various religions (including various branches of Christianity) go about it in different ways, some getting stuck at level 1, most saying a great deal about level 4, and a few providing a way to level 6. Much to the dismay of some Christians (the ones that seem stuck at the lower levels) it is also possible to develop a level 6 code of behavior as an atheist.

For the elementary to high school teacher a lot of what Esquith says ("Testing is not the end of your life.") makes a lot of sense. Some of it may even inspire this budding college professor.

Related to this discussion of moral development is some good news in a column in the Associated Baptist Press by David Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University. He says the church needs to rethink its stance on homosexuality. Here are some of the ideas he suggests:

The church's stance on gays has become so well known that the true mission of the church to lead people to Christ is badly damaged. The church should be known for being for Christ, not for being against gays.

A feeling of "don't ask, don't tell" pervades many churches, mostly because gays, pastors, and laity don't want to make a scene over an explosive issue. Even so, activists (sometimes quietly, sometimes noisily) are asking for an alternative to the closet, lifetime celibacy, change therapy, and rejection.

Churches and their leaders are not prepared to offer a serious discussion of sexuality, not to mention homosexuality. Some of the dumbest and meanest things are said in the church.

The traditional teaching by the church on sexuality in general has essentially collapsed with a high divorce rate only one result. The church has lost its moral credibility. In that situation changing the prohibitions against gays is seen as one more surrender to culture. A church that seriously wrestles with the question will be seen as losing even more of its low moral credibility. The church can only regain that credibility if it teaches sexual morality and holds gays to those same moral standards.

I’m pretty sure my music classes won't be this controversial. Laurie Lebo is a journalist in Dover, PA so saw the Intelligent Design debate up close with townspeople she knows well and loves on both sides of the debate. She was featured in the PBS Nova program on the trial. Now she has written a book, The Devil in Dover. It is much more than a report of the trial because she delves into the lives of the people on both sides and shows those in favor of ID are not simple Fundies. For the most part they actually live out the love of Jesus the proclaim. I'm mentioning the book (and this particular review) not only for its content but also for her own assessment of her goals. As one who has complained about "balance" in an article (when it seems the writer does not challenge stupid comments of our opponents) I appreciate what she says.

I've thought of this notion of "fair and balanced" journalism and of how, somewhere along the line, we as journalists have gotten confused by a misguided notion of objectivity. It is our job to inform readers of the truth, not just regurgitate lies, even if it means the stories are no longer "balanced." page 158

No comments:

Post a Comment