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Archive for January, 2017

Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice – 2

How can we craft a learning culture in which being faithful is more important being right?

“Schools are identity factories. They teach students who they are” (Bigelow, 2001, p.37). If we hope to encourage students to be lovers and doers of justice, we need to help them understand who they are in terms of God’s story, the true story of the whole world. We need to help them see themselves in the story so when they read about God exhorting Israel to do justice, they hear him speaking to them and when they read Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, they hear him speaking to them. We need to help them see that they are a part of the body of Christ called to love and do justice. We need to encourage them to embrace and embody their part of the story with gratitude and joy, even in the midst of brokenness and discouragement. They need to recognize that when it comes to justice and injustice, there is no us versus them. The stain of Evil runs through all of us. We need to encourage them to grow in the hope and faith that sees the arc of history bending toward justice and flourishing when God will one day come to dwell with his people. They need to come to know that this is God’s work and they have the unspeakable privilege of partnering with him in it.

Teaching for and as justice requires that we cultivate a learning environment that is conducive to mutual respect, risk taking, self-examination, reflection, intellectual honesty, and mutual submission. Young people should have the opportunity to discover their gifts and pursue their passions. It must be an environment that is bridled by love where both joy and sorrow can find expression. It must be a hospitable space “not to make [explorations of justice and injustice] painless but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur – things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypotheses, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought” (Palmer, 1983, p. 74). It must be a space “where questions and answers do not need to be couched within ground rules of a competitive game” (Palmer, 1983, p. 75). It must be a space where being faithful is more important being ‘right.’

The experience of the student in the learning space and the learning experiences in which they engage must foster compassion. “Affluence can easily isolate and insulate us from the desperate needs of the world” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 31). We need to give injustice a human face to overcome the “privileged lull” (Stassen & Gushee, 2003, p. 365) and to avoid being “flat-souled” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 30) people who lack the capacity or inclination to feel genuine emotions and for long, deep, and meaningful exploration and response. Lovers and doers of justice are moved by their surroundings. “They . . . know that life matters, that the world has meaning, and that choices have consequences. They will agonize and thrill over those choices. They will experience shame and elation. They will have a healthy awe, often wordless but apparent, when they see God’s grace in . . . an act of selflessness, and the healing of brokenness” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 30). This requires a culture of paying attention. Compassion leads to caring engagement that must begin in the learning space among those that inhabit that space.

Bigelow, Bill (2001). “Teaching about unsung heros: encouraging those who fought for social justice” in Rethinking our classrooms, Vol 2. VT: Rethinking Schools.

Palmer, Parker J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stassen, Glen H. & Gushee, David P. (2003). Kingdom ethics: following Jesus in contemporary context. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Vryhof, Steven (2011). Affirmations 2.0: Christian schooling for a changing world. Grand Rapids: Christian Schools International.


elaine brouwer, Alta Vista




Asking Good Questions

If we know how to ask good questions we are in a better position to advocate for ourselves and others. We are also equipped to distinguish credible inquestioning-helps-in-life-blackbg1-300x260formation from inaccurate or false statements, to participate in decision-making and holding decision-makers accountable, and to contribute to solving problems and building a shared pool of knowledge and understanding. Learning and practicing the skill of asking good questions should be an essential component of a good education.

And yet, The Right Question Institute maintains that:

“The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school. . . .

The ability to produce questions, improve questions and prioritize questions may be one of the most important—yet too often overlooked—skills that a student can acquire in their formal education. Strong critical thinking is often grounded in the questions we ask. By deliberately teaching questioning skills, we will be facilitating a process that will help students develop a mental muscle necessary for deeper learning, creativity and innovation, analysis, and problem solving.”

To help address this need, the Institute has developed a simple, but profound tool to help students formulate their own questions to guide or reflect on their learning. Steps in the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) consist of:

  1. Teacher generates a Question Focus (QFocus)
  2. Students are given the Rules for Producing Questions
  3. Students engage in Producing Questions
  4. Students engage in Categorizing Questions
  5. Students engage in Prioritizing Questions
  6. Teacher and students discuss How the Questions will be Used
  7. Students Reflect on the process

The Right Question site provides numerous resources to asking-good-questionshelp teachers introduce this process to their students, including text, PowerPoints, video, and discussion forums. You do have to register (free) to access the tools, but the materials are offered through a Creative Commons License that allows you to make use of and/or share resources. The authors just ask the users to reference the Right Question Institute as the source on any materials used.

This question formulation strategy is potentially a powerful tool for student engagement and critical thinking that can be used at any level in every area of study. Workshops that have introduced the QFT at our last few Teachers’ Conventions have been very popular. Watch for a repeat amake-just-one-change-smt next year’s convention. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore this site and give the process a try with your students. You might consider using this process at the beginning of unit planning in lieu of writing your own Essential Questions.

Related resources:

From Edutopia:

“The humble question is an indispensable tool: the spade that helps us dig for truth, or the flashlight that illuminates surrounding darkness. Questioning helps us learn, explore the unknown, and adapt to change.

That makes it a most precious “app” today, in a world where everything is changing and so much is unknown. And yet, we don’t seem to value questioning as much as we should. For the most part, in our workplaces as well as our classrooms, it is the answers we reward — while the questions are barely tolerated.”    Read more.

From ASCD’s Educational Leadership

“We first became interested in the potential of questions two decades ago, when we heard from parents in a low-income community in Massachusetts that they were not participating in their children’s education because they “didn’t even know what to ask.” This insight—that the inability to formulate questions can be a significant obstacle to effective participation—has guided our work ever since.” Read more.

elaine brouwer, Alta Vista

Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice – 1

This is the first in a series of posts about Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice.

I was privileged to address this issue in a plenary session for the Vancouver Island Professional Development Day in 2014. I used the STORY told in the Scriptures to make the case that nurturing lovers and doers of justice should be a key goal of Christian education. povertyI ended the address with this question:

Could it be that educating lovers and doers of justice is a mark of a truly Christian education – an education that encourages young people to love what God loves, that creates space and opportunity to celebrate God’s work in the world, that equips them to see and grieve over injustice, and that nurtures in them with the will and courage to do justice?

For me, current events have added a sense of urgency to the case I made in that address. You can read the article (2016) adapted from the address here.

In future posts, I intend to build on the question I posed and to cite resources for teachers and students.

But first, it begins with us: are we hungry and thirsty for justice?

“We teach who we are” (Palmer, 1998, p. 2) “As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together . . . teaching holds a mirror to the soul” (Palmer, 1998, p. 2). If we want to teach for justice we need to ask ourselves if we love justice as God does and if our hearts are broken by what gives God sorrow. We need to ask ourselves if we are really hungry and thirsty for justice. “. . . to become genuinely hungry for justice makes it more possible to join with the poor and oppressed in a common struggle. It is our own hunger, not somebody else’s problem, that begins to drive us to action” (Wallis, 1994, p. 195). As teachers we are important mediators between the learner and what is to be learned – a “living link in the epistemological chain” (Palmer, 1998, p. 3). We cannot teach for justice unless God’s agenda for justice is an integral part of who we are.

Equipping young people to be lovers and doers of justice requires a community of professionals. It is not the work of the lone teacher here and there. Shaping what we hope students will come to love requires that we work together to provide models of integrity and coherent, authentic messages. Working together is not just an effective way to educate young people, it is mandated by our created nature. Human beings are “inescapably neighbourhooded” (Seerveld, 1988, p. 59). “ . . . neigbourhooding is a glorious gift to human nature” (Seerveld, 1988, p.63), a gift that must be nurtured in the community of professionals if we hope to nurture it in our students. Learning and practicing neighbor love begins in the learning space of the community of teachers.bethechange

Lack of awareness is often a barrier to teaching for justice. Communities often have an unofficial ‘reading list’ that may not reveal the range of wounds in the world that cry out for healing. As a community of professionals we need to commit to building awareness among ourselves, an exploration that may take us beyond our comfort zones. As we do so, we will discover that we don’t always agree. Issues of justice and injustice are not always or even mostly clear-cut. Prior experience may cause us to see things differently. While it is easier to talk with people who agree with us, if we hope to shape our students as lovers and doers of justice, we need to covenant together to sustain the dialogue among ourselves, allowing space for creative tension and paradox. We should approach these dialogues as learning conversations, not battles to win. We don’t have to agree but we do need to sustain the dialogue. This is necessarily a prayerful process that requires a mutual commitment to return often to the witness of the Scriptures and the life and work of Jesus. If we are faithful to God’s agenda for justice and committed to learning together as a community of teachers, we will be more effective in mirroring the process with our students.

How are you building your awareness as a community of teachers?

Palmer, Parker J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Seerveld, Calvin (1988). On being human: imaging God in the modern world. Burlington, Ontario, Canada: Welch Publishing.

Wallis, Jim (1994). The soul of politics: a practical and prophetic vision for change. New York: Orbis Press.

elaine brouwer, Alta Vista

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