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I am preparing for an online class the  Presencing Institute  with Otto Scharmer‘s team.  This will be a global classroom that is considering leadership and mobilizing society for more creative change.  Fundamental to Scharmer’s thesis is that there are at least four kinds of listener.

  •  The 1st kind of listener is what Otto calls the downloading listener.  This sort of listener takes in information that confirms and affirms their habits and judgements.  When we have the experience that someone is talking about what we already know…we are in downloading mode.
  • The 2nd kind of listener is the factual listener.  The factual listener, contrasted from the downloading listener, is attending to the facts and details as informants and possible replacement parts for what the person had previously understood.  This, Scharmer notes is classically how science listens and investigates novelty.
  • The third kind of listener is the empathetic listener.    The empathetic listener makes a deep connection with the person they are listening to.  At some point, they forfeit their own point of view and imagine what it is to be in the shoes of another.  We are no longer observing another’s life but we are feeling it with our compassion.

All three of these types of listeners were familiar to me.  Scharmer’s description of each was a nice summary and reminder.  However, it was the fourth type of listener that really pulled my attention.  This fourth type of listener is what Scharmer he Generative Listener.   It is this mode of listening is the most profound possibility for each of us.  For in the listening to another person, we become a different person.  We are so profoundly affected that we begin to imagine ourselves and our own possibilities differently.

In the first form of listening, we  as leaders might try to develop a plan that will fix the people in our lives or the situations in which we find ourselves.  After many futile efforts in my own life, I1 have come to believe that God does not intend me to fix another.

When we are listening at level two  we may try to apply our new information in a competition mode.  So that either we know more than another or so that we can strive toward greater accomplishment with the new information.

When we are listening at level three we may find that we no longer want to fix someone.  However, it is necessary for us to adjust ourselves in order to be in relationship with what we now imagine and understand about them.  Pity can be at work or the need to explain another to ourselves or company.

But what happens when we listen at level four?  It seems that level four might make use of all the practiced multitasking that each of us do each day.  That we allow there to be a place in our innermost self where our work, our family, our agitation, our appetites our sense of self are all in dialogue with one another even when we are seemingly in conversation with only one person.  Isn’t it amazing how, in certain conversations, we have revelations and new understandings?    We feel a bit transformed but can’t explain how or why!

Scharmer’s ideas are very new and interesting to me.  Do any of you readers of this blog have experiences with the generative level of listening?

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I have needed, for a long time, a formula by which to consider my opinion on religion in public schools.  The first chapter of Progressive Christians Speak:  A Different Voice on Faith and Politics has provided that formula…at least in part.  In addition to providing a rich legislative history of the issue in our nation, the authors provide at four perspectives on religion in public schools: 

School prayer

FACT:  Ceremonies of mandatory attendance invalidate the constitutionality of prayer.  In a document by the US Department of Education in 1995, teacher led prayer is unacceptable but student led prayer is allowed.  In the same document, school endorsement of religious activity is  forbidden. School officials are to remain neutral toward religion

Dilemma – The definition of neutrality usually means one of two things, either school officials shall have nothing to do with religion or officials shall do nothing to discriminate against religion.  How does moral education happen effectively without a  

Teaching about religion –

FACT:  Teachers are to express neutrality regarding religion but there is a conservative and progressive concern that this encourages human secularism as the mindset of the day.

DILEMMA: Issues such as posting of the Ten Commandments (House Bill “Defense Act” Sponsored by Robert Aderholt) and Creationism are dealt with only a surface knowledge of the complexities of each.  For example, which version of the Ten Commandments to post and how Creationism is as limited a choice as a mechanistic model of science.

Use of facilities

FACT and no DILEMMA:  By law, all religious groups are given equal access to school facilities and that poses no dilemma for the authors of this book.

Financial aid and vouchers

FACT: State support of public and private schools is determined by a child benefit theory. 

DILEMMA:  Voucher system promises to bring political battles over concerns of racism, perceived complacency in the public school system. 

Over each of the four points they characterize conservative and progressive Christian response to these issues. The  characterization is that Conservatives are typically interested in hemegony while Progressives are typically more interested in diversity.     

Hegemony is my habit…diversity is my desired destination.  At this time of year, I cannot help but think of the Christmas story as a movement toward diverse community.  Within that simple and familiar story, there is a radical reality of pluralism as represented by the Wise Men‘s world view as foreign to the Isrealites.  There are audacious breaks from tradition in the decisions of Mary and Joseph. There is risk as Shepherds change direction for we know their routes were set in advance through political alliances and contract agreements.   There is a cosmology at work as the heavens and the earth are in conversation.  All characters within the story arise with a specificity of circumstance to comingle as a great concert that is remembered as harmonious.

 It seems to me that religion in schools within a democratic nation is a tool for diversity rather than hegemony.  Consideration of religion as a subject and as a subjective reality at its best is a tool to help a child understand the specificity of others not with a competitive eye but each trusting in God as if a conductor of humanity’s orchestra.   The schools surely need local churches to be mobilized toward such an open end.  Churches must be interested in learning about different sections of the spiritual orchestra.  Even within our sections, congregations would do well to resist sorting themselves as either conservative or progressive congregations.  Only when both types of individuals abide within the same congregation can a church receive the necessary fodder for spiritual growth out of cultural context.  Ultimately, churches must make an important switch.  We must become servants of the spiritual journey rather than keepers of denominational destinations. 

 And yes, my metaphor of an orchestra is a blatant plug for increased spending on arts within the school.

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Chapters 7-10 of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger considers issues of obesity, educational acheivement, teenage pregancy and violence.  In all the cases the authors cite equality as a factor that informs previous and partial explanations.   Below is a snapshot of each chapter.

  1. Obesity: Addressing the epidemic of obesity, the authors invite the readers to consider the matrix of issues involved and to include inequality in the mix.   The World Health Organization performed a study in the 1980s that found obesity has increased as the disparity in the social gradient as increased.  Obesity, as cited in previous chapters of this book is more prevalent among the poor than among the wealthy.  Further they concluded that it “seemed that people in more unequal societies are eating more and exercising less.” (95).   All the the states within the United States have an adult obesity of at least 20 per cent.  Studies in this chapter reveal that despite knowing what produces a healthy body, many people do the contrary.    Knowing that behavioral changes are more possible when we feel positive about our life and have the sense that we can control the changes, Pickett and Wilkinson speculate that lessening inequality could affect the epidemic of obesity.
  2. Education  The drop out rate of children cannot be measured by poverty alone.  “No state has a poverty rate of higher than 17 per cent but drop-out rates are above 20 per cent in sixteen states and dropping out is not confined to the poor.  When unequal situations are revealed in the classrooms, the performance of those in the lower social gradient is affected negatively.  This has been tested internationally in at least the UK, India, and the United States.   Particularly, parental attention and bonding to the children and investment in their education is an indicator of future success.  The more the parents are involved in the first three years of their children’s life and education the more successful the child is likely to be.  Countries that are more equal provide more extended maternity leave (Sweden – 3 months paid and 3 months unpaid).   More unequal countries like the United States provide less (no more than 12 weeks).
  3. Teenage Births  This chapter can be well summarized with the following excerpt from page 121 of the book.  “Teenage birth rates are higher in communities that also have high divorce rates, low levels of trust and low social cohesion, high unemployment, poverty, and high crime rates.  It has been suggested by others that teeange motherhood is a choice that women make when they feel they have no other propsects for achieving the social credentials of adulthood, such as a stable intimate relationship or rewarding employment.  Sociologist, Kristin Luker claims that it is ‘the discouraged disadvantaged’ who become teenage mothers.”   While this is not always the case, this explanation may contribute to a more comprehensive response to the trends.
  4.   Violence  Immediately within this chapter, the authors cite a problem with studies in violence.  Most studies will emphasize an experience with shame or humiliation as a precursor or root to violent behavior.   However, all of us identify with these experiences of shame and humiliation.  “…why is it predominantly among young men that those feelings escalate to violent acts?” (123)   It is as if the authors play connect the dots between significant studies that show violence is not just about poverty but about inequality.  As inequality increases so does violent crime.  When there is less hope that education, material wealth, good employment, esteem from peers will be realized, violence is perceived as an immediate way to maintain respect and honor.

Issues of inequality are at the heart of the Gospel message of the church.  Evidence of inequality could likely be the new mission field of the church in North America.  We know as the church is related to relevant mission, so it is able to experience revitalization.   The history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is an intellectual and pragmatic one.  Considering pragmatic responses to the findings recorded in The Spirit Level may be among the most important responses we could make.  Educating pastors which such information and then encouraging pastors to consider calls in areas that are challenged by inequality is one possibility.   Surely financial support and congregational support will be required to transition churches who have not been as active in the social ministry as they would like to have been. 

In my own ministry, some of the greatest rewards have been the times that the church has allowed people of unequal status in the larger culture to co-mingle in the pews.   It is always interesting to me how folks who are unequal in all other places are fast friends, colleagues and mutual cheerleaders in the church.    As contrasting individuals build relationship, there is the experience of what process theology calls harmony.  Harmony is the reconciliation of constrasting events or circumstances.  The degree of the contrast is congruent to the degree of the harmony experienced.   Jesus is remembered for being most interested in reconciliation of contrasts and discovering anew that we are all children equal in the site of Goid.    The church of today still has the potential to live into the Jesus movement of the ancient days.

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