This January term, two of my three classes were focused on the culture and environment of learning within a congregation, and what that might look like. We saw and heard about examples of how churches are re-imagining “Religious Education,” moving away from the old school classroom, teacher as font of knowledge model and toward a whole culture of curiosity and spiritual formation for all ages. I am on fire with the possibilities and implications of this approach.
When I was a young person, I wanted to change the world. Specifically, I wanted to change the world of education, as I had experienced it in the public schools. What is odd is that I actually loved school, at least the academic side. I learn well by writing and note-taking, and school back then was heavy on these two things. I loved mental challenges and was also tractable and well-behaved. So teachers liked me, usually.
What I didn’t like about school was the free-for-all social environment when the teacher wasn’t standing right there. We were not taught how to be kind to each other; no one helped us empathize with children who had differences or challenges. I did not have much physical grace or speed in grade school (it didn’t get much better!), so I was chosen last for team sports and dance festival groups. No adult participated or intervened in these group decisions; no one noticed or seemed to care that it hurt not only my feelings, but my self-image as a competent, valuable person.
Well, I didn’t change American education. In fact, I have since watched many people try, and not that much has changed. But as I look over my life, I have made some contributions to the world.
I have raised eight children. They are pretty cool people. I don’t take credit for that, but I do claim that I managed to set up conditions, at least part of the time, for their innate coolness to develop and even to thrive. I home schooled all of them for at least part of their growing up years, and I learned as much from them as they learned from me.
I have team-taught in a couple of little co-operative schools, and learned a lot of great things about what helps kids keep the native curiosity and confidence that they are born with. I also realized how much a caring adult can do to help children learn to set up a more kind social culture than the one I grew up in at school.
One thing has become very clear to me: it takes more than one or two teachers or parents to make a real change in a culture. It truly does take a village. It takes the kind of Beloved Community that Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to, where every adult cares about every child, and every other adult. A group of people who begin at home, and within their church home, doing the hard work of learning to treat each other as beings with worth and dignity. Even when they disagree. Even when they make mistakes. Especially when they make mistakes.
I have returned from my January term with a more clear vision for ministry. I can see ways to facilitate and support people in their pursuit of a deeper sense of Beloved Community. I can see a growing movement within our UU denomination that promises to give wider support of intergenerational engagement. I have lots of empirical evidence as to why this might be a positive direction to move in; I have a lifetime of experience that tells me this is a good thing. Most important, everything in me stands up and shouts “hallelujah!” when I consider the real impact on individual people’s lives – especially the children, our future.
So perhaps I won’t change the whole world. Not even the world of American education. But perhaps, as a minister, I can help change someone’s world. And for them, that will be everything.