Friday, February 6, 2009

Beating the system

One thing that I have lost in the process of leaving teaching to become a student, is the sense of community. I don’t have people I see on a daily basis who become an important part of my life because of our care for each other, because of our sharing of joys and sorrows and humorous moments. I haven’t lost any friends; in fact I have made some new ones, but I have lost the fellowship of a regular group of people. My friends and acquaintances change with the semester. It is a new way of being a friend.

One such friend and I meet on a weekly basis. We do not have class together but we both wait for our next class in an empty room. I share my cookies (my class is a 3 hour late night class that requires a snack for survival) and he shares his confession. He is an undergrad and I am obviously old enough to be his mother but not related enough to hold him accountable for what he confesses. It can get interesting.

The other week he told me about a scheme he has for passing mastery tests for a class he is taking. These tests are offered on computer and the students need to keep taking the tests until they have demonstrated “mastery” via a minimum score. My friend has found a way around the built in safeguards. He takes the test and marks each multiple choice question with an “a.” The computer then tells him what he got wrong and he takes the test again and marks all of those answers with a “b.” After repeating this procedure four times he has achieved a 100% score without reading any questions. Given the fact that I teach an undergraduate test and assessment class, and due to my many years working in early childhood I harbor a particular distrust for this kind of assessment, I had the best laugh I have experienced in years.

I enjoy talking with him, but let’s just say I am glad I am not his mother or his professor. The teacher in me wanted to suggest that he just read the questions and possibly learn something; however, he went on to confess that the only book he has read in the last four years was one he reluctantly read to combat boredom when he spent 2 days in jail. Somehow I didn’t think that my suggestion would be helpful.

Any parent or teacher finds this kind of story familiar. We all know people who will go to great lengths to avoid what they need to do to learn or even to get on with life. We have used familiar phrases like “quit complaining and get it done!” or “if you put half the effort into the task that you put into the avoidance of it you would be done by now.” My dad used to sum it all up in “girl, you’d cut off your nose to spite your face.” A phrase he used with me almost as often as “you’d lose your head if it weren’t attached.” I was an interesting, troubled child.

As a student I have assignments I do not want to do because I know at a gut level that they will not work with my learning style. I hate busy work; I hate papers written only to please the professor. When I am learning I create my own busy work and I learn best when I am allowed some choice in what to include in my writing or project. However, I am a mature (read: old) student and I buckle down and do the work, useless as it may be. I suppose this is why, as a teacher, I prefer to work with adult students to help them design a project that shows me what they have learned. It is a time consuming way to teach, but hopefully an effective method.

I have been thinking about the mastery quiz story and giggling over it for a week or so. The fact that it replays itself in my head suggests I have something to learn from it besides: don’t give mastery tests to students who really, really don’t like to read. Since my father assures me that I have a long history of “cutting off my nose to spite my face” I suspect I have aspects of this syndrome in my faith life. I can’t identify the issue quite yet; I am still mulling over it all in my head. However, I bet it has to do with some issue that I needlessly fight over and over; one of those “bang your head against the wall” situations. I am the rat in the maze that refuses to learn that I need to turn LEFT to get the cheese. I am just certain that I am RIGHT.

As a teacher I make mistakes all the time. As my Teacher, God never makes a mistake. The lessons He has for me are always what I need to learn about my faith and my relationship with Him. If I am struggling with an issue it is not because God has given me the wrong assignment. It is most likely because I am trying to beat the system, I am trying to get out of the lesson, I am complaining about the time and effort instead of just following His will or because I am certain that I am right.

If I could just stop struggling, complaining, insisting, whining and trying to wiggle out of things, then maybe I could manage to just be still and know that He is God.

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Psalm 34:8-11

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