Thursday, September 27, 2012

Same Boat, Different Stream

Schools are "failing" as you may have heard.  So are churches.  Oh, young people still go to school. And you'll still find children and youth in church.  But they're not always engaged--in either locale.

That came home to me recently at the Wyoming School Improvement Conference.  I was there in my other role as Educational Consultant to present two workshops on interpersonal communication.  That was neat.

Even better was learning about how much schools and churches have in common.  Turns out we are in the same boat, just on a different stream.

Both schools and churches have an uneasy relationship with accountability.  While teacher tenure may be disappearing and they'll be evaluated on results, pastors are facing the loss of guaranteed appointments and being relieved of duty for ineffectiveness.

Related and maybe connected is the fact that both schools and churches are using centuries old forms of engaging people.  Stand up front and talk basically.  And hope the students get it.  It's a top down approach that focuses on teaching rather than learning.  And on students consuming rather than producing.

But consider this. 

Students are producing!  They are making apps, posting movies on YouTube, publishing their thoughts on Facebook, and showing their work on Instagram.  They research just for the fun of it!  They text and tweet in a way that would make ee cummings proud.  Young people are wired, networked and engaged.

Just not so much in school or church.

At school, teachers and administrators ask students to put away their technology to "learn."  We do the same thing in churches.  But what's the message to these digital natives?

The drop out rate from both institutions is frightening.

There's a lot at stake. Together schools and churches form minds and spirits.  We offer critical guidance on moral, intellectual, and spiritual development.  We shape stories of the past and give voice to future possibilities.  We underscore the importance of  intergenerational interactions.  We give love unstintingly. And food.  

Perhaps it's time to change our very perspective on the Millennial generation.  Fellow presenter, Shawn Jensen asked, "If all you knew about these young people is that they author, publish, create, share, collaborate and are not afraid to make mistakes--thanks to the delete button--how would you do school differently?"

He suggested that educators include a digital native's real life skills in the classroom.  For instance, ask students to construct a FB timeline of Abraham Lincoln.  What might he have posted before giving the Gettysburg address.  After?  How might others have responded?      

Got me thinking about how we could engage students in worship and youth group via tweets, texts, and YouTube.  Instead of schooling them in our generation's way of doing things, why not let them school us in their way?  No, we'll never be caught up in all the social networking and technological changes that are coming our way.  But neither will they.  The point is we live in a time of constant change.  Get used to it.

We could learn a thing or two from schools.  And schools can learn from churches.  And we can all learn from the students in our care.

After all, we're in the same boat.  Just different streams.