I work with educators. I spend my time helping educators deal with student behaviors and attitudes. We work together to create a better teaching environment as well as a place where students can grow intellectually and developmentally. When you spend a big part of your life looking for solutions to the social degradation and emotional blunting of our kids, it is easy to begin seeing things through the prism of skepticism. It is especially easy to get lost in the reports and the numbers that leave you with a real fear for kids and their ability to maintain the infrastructure of this great but burdened country. That skepticism, though often times warranted, is based on calculations and data and forecasting against trends. But let’s talk about the kids.
I must admit that my skepticism meter had been running high lately. Between school violence, downward trending graduation rates, and the reports of general apathy that seems to be running rampant among so many kids, the future seemed a little bleak. But this weekend reminded me that all those reports and all that data and all that forecasting of doom and gloom is resting on the back of flesh and blood: children and teens and adolescents. This weekend, I had the real privilege of watching thousands of kids participate in a weekend event called LTC – Leadership Training for Christ. Now, I know that we are supposed to act like God and any mention of God is taboo when discussing education, but to these kids and to the strong majority of Americans, God does exist and He is worthy of our consideration. So for this blog, let’s accept that there are lots of people out there who consider faith a big part of the development process and are working on developing their faith in conjunction with their intellect and body.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s go back to this weekend. I will be the first to admit that when I see a group of teens hanging out together, often times my first thought is to wonder what kind of mischief they are getting into. I would just as soon walk a wide path around them than to listen to the words that are coming out of their mouths. If my wife and kids are with me, I immediately worry about how bad their language will be and whether or not they will be respectful about our personal space. In other words, I found that I had conditioned myself to expect the worst from teens. Boy was I wrong.
This weekend I found several thousand preteens and teens in Houston spending their weekend at the final LTC convention. They were presenting works of service they had done for their communities – voluntary works where they spent their free time helping people who needed help. They were singing together in praise choruses, studying together for a series of very difficult tests called Bible Bowls, and more importantly, laughing together and telling stories and enjoying each other’s company and acting like kids. These kids of all different socioeconomic and social and cultural backgrounds who came together to celebrate their faith were playing and laughing and rough-housing and acting like kids, but there was no profanity or cross social discourse. They weren’t dressed inappropriately, nor were there overwrought levels of public displays of affection. There was no need to avoid the groups, because at least one of them would hop up to open the door for you and say hello while making eye contact. My mind and my narrow preconceived notions of teens was completely blown!
Instead of being social burdens, these kids opened doors for older people. Boys opened and held open door for girls. When they bumped into you they said excuse me. When they became too loud and someone asked them to quiet down they said, "Ok," and apologized. These kids even smiled at strangers, me included, and laughed and talked and played as kids should, and they laughed and talked and flirted as teens should. But I stood in awe of these kids, because within hours of being around all of them I found my prism of skepticism diminishing. I found myself looking at these kids and laughing at their goofiness without being disgusted by their antics. I found myself cheering for kids to achieve just because I had watched them undertake some simple act of random kindness like offering to help a stranger carry their bags. I listened to their stories and laughed at their jokes and marveled at their willingness to work at bettering themselves through activities that developed and fomented their faith.
I do not believe that religion should be taught in school. Whose would you teach? I do not believe that schools should endorse any religion because that endorsement would block out way too many kids. I believe that separation of religion from state business is necessary for fairness to all. But separation is not the same thing as quarantining. Not endorsing is not the same things as building a full barrier wall of access.
In other words, I think that the kids who have faith as a cornerstone of their life
should not have to hide it or conceal it when they are at school.
Likewise, teachers who live a life of faith should not have to change their social and contextual pretext
to conform to some antitheist anachronism presentation of information.
Our teachers should absolutely not proselytize,
but that doesn’t mean they should hide one of the foundational tenets of who they are.
This weekend reminded me that this great nation, despite some revisionist history that is out there, was founded on a belief system that is governed by a mighty God. This belief led to the values which resulted in a society that is to be governed by free men and for free men and built on the principals of the pursuit of life for self and family, the pursuit of liberty for you and your kids, and the pursuit of happiness. And for many, life, liberty, and happiness is found in spiritual fulfillment. Personal completeness and self actualization is built on something bigger than personal attainment, wealth, and materialism.
So what does all of this mean? It means that we need to be careful not to push the development of the spirit out the door when we are trying to develop the minds and maturity of our kids. We need to be careful not to exclude faith when talking about growth, but instead make room in our discourse for the fact that many kids come from backgrounds that honor faith. Schools should not be a dividing ground that separates kids from their faith any more than it should be a mission field for zealots bent on changing kids’ faith. Schools should be a developing ground for our kids and should be preparing them for a life of competitiveness and achievement and contribution. For many kids, having the spiritual balance of faith means having the foundation to actually grow and achieve and contribute.
This weekend I watched thousands of preteens and teens laugh and play and talk and sing and hug and run and interact... and I left smiling and believing once again that better days are indeed ahead.
Sometime in the near future I will hear a report of violence at a school or a failing report card for a district or some new controversy in a textbook that dares to hint that there might be some design behind the irreducible complexity of this thing called life. But when I see these reports and hear these stories, I am going to lean back and remember that there are lots of kids out there who believe there is something bigger than them and they are working towards a common good for all men. It is in this I will find solace for my belief that my kids will grow in a time that gives them the opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness while acknowledging and even forbearing that their foundation does include faith.
What a country we live in when people of all walks can come together for a common good while still respecting the individual backgrounds and beliefs of each other. We need to make sure our schools never lose that ability to respect the backgrounds and belief systems of our kids and their families. This weekend my hope for the future was fully recharged by a bunch of kids who acted like there was something more important than themselves. What a weekend! What a blessing!