Saturday, January 17, 2015

Attaining Higher Level of Thinking – One Mark of Maturity

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Ephesians 4:11-14
            As we all know, education must aim at achieving maturity.  The very word of “education” comes from the Latin word “educare,” which means “to lead out.”  When this word meets the context of education, it means “to lead someone from the lower level to the higher level.”  When it is applied to a child, it simply means “to lead the child from childhood toward maturity.”  The development of a human being physically and mentally is quite helpful in understanding the spiritual development as well.  Ephesians 4:13 points out to the goal of Christian education
, which is to attain maturity.  The maturity that is expected in the spiritual realm is certainly far more superior than the physical and mental maturity as commonly discussed in education.  In spiritual growth, the maturity to be attained has the perfect model in place.  And the model is no other than the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ.  This is a glorious goal.  To achieve this goal, one goes beyond even the highest level of thinking as explained by Benjamin Bloom in his taxonomy.  We will visit Bloom’s taxonomy later on.  But for now, let us dwell for a minute in the glorious goal of attaining maturity to become like Jesus Christ.

            The perfection of the Son of God becomes the model for all God’s children.  His perfection is the standard.  God does not lower his standard.  The holiness of the Christ, the love of the Son, the grace and mercy of the Son of man, the firmness of the Son of God’ justice and truth, his righteousness and uprightness, his character and wisdom, are the profiles of who we as God’s children should and would become.  God is transforming us to become like Jesus Christ.  The journey of the transformation is not an easy one to tread.  Especially when the road is marked with troubles and sufferings.  Moreover, the journey is heavier because of the body of sin that we still live in.  Temptations come strongly every step we make.  Temptation to cheat, temptation to lie, temptation to disobey, temptation to break law, and so on and so forth.  Our imperfection will be replaced by the perfection of the Son of God.  The process to attain such maturity requires a great deal of humility on our part to obey the word of God.  The standard of the world does not work here.  Only the standard of the word of God may prevail.

            The problem with sin is that as one gives way to it, it becomes full blown in every corner of one’s being.  The most common sinful tendency right now within Christianity is the tendency to be comfortable.  Seeking comfort and the pursuit of convenience become prominent now in the hearts of many Christians today.  It has set in for a long time, caused by a period of idleness, of which there are no challenges to their faith, everything is okay, all is safe, life is comfortable, lacking nothing in everything, going to church becomes mechanistic – a habitual routine that has translated into tradition, never take faith seriously, never really engage in the discussion of theology, all they care about is what fun they can have today.  This sinful tendency grips so tightly now in the life of many Christians.  When life challenges come, and when theological challenges arrive, and their equilibrium is shaken, they become frustrated, depressed, and not a few that then reject their faith, and certainly plenty who choose to settle prematurely and thus live in fake equilibrium for the rest of their life.  Many have become resistance toward any disequilibrium.  These people do not dare to take any risk.  All they crave is fun and convenience.  They then never grow up and remain children, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  They never attain that maturity, the full measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.  They never understand what it means to live a true Christian life.  They never know what it means to walk in the faith.  When life gets uncomfortable, often they are busy to find a scapegoat.  Instead of reflecting on themselves and looking carefully into their own hearts, they point fingers to God’s faithful servants, and also more often than not they point finger to God, and blame him for causing them the inconvenience.  Wasn’t it Adam who started the finger pointing?  To the woman and to God.  Maturity then becomes elusive for them.  Their spirituality is stagnant.  As time goes by, they are given the responsibility as adults (because their body indicates adulthood), but their spiritual state is of a 3 year old, still expressing tantrum and irresponsible behaviors.  A toddler given the power of an adult.  Yes, and they sit in the church as elders and leaders.  Can you guess what will become?

            In the world of education, following Bloom’s taxonomy, those who are prepared to assume leadership position must have higher level of thinking.  There are two levels of thinking.  The lower level and the higher level.  The lower level of thinking is divided into three stages: remember, understand, and apply.  The higher level of thinking is divided into three as well: analysis, evaluate, and create.  Often people only attain the highest stage in the lower level of thinking but never got into the higher level of thinking.  Or probably more accurately is that often people do not use their thinking primarily at the higher level.  Most people use their thinking capacity primarily on the lower level.  Depending on the goals of education as stated by the educational body, the curriculum will be set toward it.  For easier illustration, I will use the formal education body.  School, most of the time, has its curriculum laid out following a certain model of attainment.  The question of purpose and goal is unavoidable in the setting up of the school curriculum.  Bloom’s taxonomy helps in determining what kind of curriculum to be implemented.  Quite often, because the final profile of the graduate is to produce people who could apply their practical knowledge into the work place, therefore the curriculum will be set to attain the highest stage of the lower level thinking: apply.  Many vocational colleges and training are aimed at merely applying their practical knowledge to the designated area of work in life.  The concentration is only on how accurate the application of the knowledge is.  That is why it starts with remember.  Remembering is the first step.  And remember is needed in order to be accurate.  One must remember precisely the prescription.  Everything is mechanistic here.  But remembering alone will not lead toward apply.  There is one more ingredient to add in order to attain apply.  But the next stage can’t be properly attained without remembering be honed appropriately.  Remembering is the lowest stage and commonly is the easiest way of learning and thinking.  It is merely getting the exact information as given in the manual.  Then one must move on to the next stage.

Understanding is the foundational mode of thinking for basic logic.  In it one must learn to ascribe meaning on things.  In understanding one needs to learn to connect the dots between meanings.  Understanding is key ingredient before one moves on to apply.  Here one learns basic principles of meaning such as cause and effect.  The understanding of the basic principles of meaning opens up the world of imagination into the logical world of “if – then.”  The most common way to train in understanding is through comparing differences.  Through comparing differences one may be able to categorize different meanings.  Through comparing differences one learns to observe and carefully look into the details.  Careful observation and attention to detail lead toward the skill of connecting the dots, which then leads toward meaningful interpretation.  Once one is able to interpret meaning, one can be said to comprehend.  At this stage, students must start from the simplest form of understanding to the more complex.  The more complex the more data and the more connections that must be made in order to comprehend the meaning.

Then once comprehension is attained, the next training is to apply the understanding into practice.  At this stage, the student learns to use the acquired knowledge.  There are two different categories here, first is simply applying the knowledge following the ready path, and second – which is a bit of higher difficulty – is to use the knowledge to solve simple problems.  The first one is easier because the student just needs to do as told.  For example the students are taught to do 10 finger typing method.  After remembering and understanding, the students are then to reach the next stage of application.  They are expected to apply their knowledge this time.  And so they are given the task to type using the 10 finger typing method.  The draft is given and all the students need to do is to type it with the knowledge of 10 finger type method they have acquired.  But the second category is a bit more difficult because it requires the students to recognize the problem before they are able to apply their acquired knowledge.  At this stage, the problem is not at the complex condition.  It is much simpler that it usually doesn’t require higher level of thinking to solve.  For example, after students learn about addition, they are given math problems to solve.  Say in grade 1, students learn addition 1-10.  Then the teacher wants the students to apply their knowledge of addition.  The teacher gives the students some math problems to solve.  Things like: 5+5=…?  Or 3+…=7?  In order to solve these math problems, the students have to pause and then recognize the problem in front of them, and dig from their training in order to solve the problem.  Or even the more difficult problem such as: the students are to measure 4L water using only 5L and 3L pales.  This kind of application doesn’t require higher level of thinking.  It can be solved by merely remembering and understanding.

Here in this lower level of thinking, creativity is discouraged.  In order to ascertain the success of the education, students must be taught in such a way as to follow the prescribed manual.  Breaking away from the manual is feared to lead toward malfunction in the system.  And so the model of assessment will be designed particularly to assure the goal of application be attained.  For sure, a certain kind of people will come out of this system.  The kind of people who are very skillful in applying the prescribed manual.  But these kind of people are commonly less capable to go beyond application.  When there is a problem that they cannot find in their manual, they got disequilibrated and be lost in confusion.  People who only attain application stage, are not equipped with the skill to analyze.

            Now we are entering into the higher level of thinking domain.  The ability to analyze is in a different level altogether.  At this stage, the students are trained to break down one thing into parts.  To break down something into parts require knowledge of the thing and of what can be broken down and what can’t.  The students are to figure out the function of each part, the relationship between parts, the cause and effect of the function, the pattern of movement – action reaction, the dynamics of the whole and of the parts and of the connection between parts, including the limits of each part and of the whole and of the connection, also the potential and crisis of each and of the whole and of the connection, plus the norm and the exceptions.  Here we are looking at the more complex system.  For example, the students are trained now to learn about Renaissance Art.  They are to find out what makes a piece of art Renaissance.  They need to be able to break down the complex understanding of the word Renaissance and find out the parts that compose a Renaissance art.  What style, what color palettes, the brush stroke, the composition, the placement of the accent, the figures, the attention to details, the philosophy behind it, the balance between dark and light, the size, the story, and so on.  Then how all the parts are combined together, how they interact with one another, what is the motive of the artist, what the artist is communicating through his piece of art, what and how the final product brings in certain feelings, how is the consistency of the artist, and so forth.  This level of thinking is way above the lower level that we just discussed previously.  Because suddenly the world becomes much bigger, the complexity is enlarged many times over, the context becomes overwhelming.  The problems become way more difficult.  If we continue with our example of the Renaissance art, we are to deal with a difficult problem of finding out whether this piece of art in our hands is a Renaissance art or not.  This problem is not simple.  The analysis must be made accurately before one can even proceed to begin to recognize what piece of art it is.  But at this stage, the thinking stops at describing all the facts and tying all together into one coherence whole.  At this stage the students are not yet trained to make the judgment call in order to determine whether this piece of art is indeed a Renaissance art or not.

            The next stage trains the students to have the conviction to make the judgment.  To have the courage to judge is huge.  It cannot be sustained without a strong conviction of what is right and what is wrong.  Students at this stage must learn to internalize higher principles.  More often than not the principle that they need to internalize is the moral principle.  Because in the moral principle one may find the bedrock of judgment.  Students need to learn the truth, because only the truth may convince them.  This is the appeal of learning.  We all learn with the innate desire to pursue the truth.  The truth compels us.  The truth gives us the unshakeable meaning.  The truth gives us the motivation.  The truth gives us strength to stand.  The truth gives us wisdom to separate the genuine from the fake.  But this is a very difficult stage to master.  The stage of analysis prepares students to be trained in this difficult process.  As much as possible, the graduates of this stage must learn to avoid mistakes at all cost.  Making too many mistakes here will shake their foundation.  If their foundation is shaken, their conviction will crumble.  If the students do not have the strong conviction anymore, then they may never pass this stage.  To be able to evaluate a complex matter, the students must not have a shaky foundation.  All must be solid.  Inability to make a decision is a sign that one’s conviction is weak.  It is important to know by all students at this stage that being indecisive is in itself a decision.  There are consequences that follow in every decision or indecision.  Often the hardest part of making a judgment is the responsibility that the person must bear.  The question “What if I am wrong?” haunts many people here.  It is true that when making a wrong judgment one will bear a very heavy burden, which very likely will wear the person down for the rest of their life.  A wrong judgment may lead to catastrophy.  A pilot has to make a judgment when the plane suffers problems in the sky.  The decision that the pilot makes may lead the plane to avoid the problem or it may bring down the plane.  The responsibility is what usually is avoided, which makes the students hesitating in making any decision.  Fear is one of the biggest killer at this stage.  Not many will pass this stage.  The moral integrity must be strong.  This is not a task for the morally weak.  When Confucius was forty, he said: “At forty, I have no doubts.”  He knew the moral principles inside out.  This is the standard of this stage.  The students are to be trained to achieve the level of having no doubts.  If a pilot is to fly an airplane and he doesn’t have conviction as to tackle difficult problems of life and death in the sky, then the pilot is unfit to fly a plane.  This is a very high level of thinking.

            The last stage is Create.  Creativity becomes the most important ingredient at this stage.  After passing through all five stages, the students now may have the freedom to be creative.  At this point, the students are expected to abide by the unshakeable principles.  The discipline must have been in place and must have become their way of life.  This stage is not for those who are undisciplined.  The undisciplined mind will only do harm.  The undisciplined mind will create something unsustainable.  Their creation will be wild and prove harmful.  Jumping too early to this stage will give birth to chaos.  Students must not prematurely be pushed toward this stage.  This doesn’t mean that creativity cannot be nurtured even when they have not developed the evaluation stage.  For sure it can.  But teachers must be extra cautious in doing so.  Teachers must be highly disciplined in order to guide the mind of the students.  Here, honor and respect are key to sustain creativity that is fruitful.  For example, highly disciplined music teachers will not allow their students to wildly create music before they even understand the essence of music.  In order to be able to create a high level music, students must respect music the way it should be respected.  They cannot take music lightly and create just any coordinated sounds and call it music.  To be able to create something meaningful and valuable and fruitful, the students must watch themselves carefully.  When Confucius was 70, he said: “At seventy, I can do whatever my heart desire without breaking any law.”  This is the moral level that must be attained before one may begin creating anything complex of a big magnitude that affect the life of many.  It would be unthinkable for an undisciplined mind to finally create a self sustaining bomb that will never stop exploding.  This is not something that we can take lightly.  There are rules and regulations that must be followed in this life.  Breaking away from the proper rules and regulations may prove fatal in the end.  The movie series “Resident Evil” is an imagination of what might happen if creativity is not limited within the confound of moral discipline.  The virus that is created for the purpose to make soldiers strong and fearless and senseless has created a disaster, which the entire world is wiped out by the deadly virus that turns normal human being into zombie.  This is just an imagination, but in that imagination is found the reasonable logic of what might happen if creativity runs wild.  Again, this is an extremely difficult stage to pass.

            The higher level of thinking is necessary for people who are to assume leadership position.  It is important to understand that people who are to assume leadership position must not be those who only have lower level of thinking.  Leadership is very complex naturally.  It requires people who are mature.  Back to the discussion of the purpose of Christian education as God sets it in Ephesians 4.  To reach that level of maturity like Jesus, one cannot bypass the process.  It is important that leaders have the proper level of maturity.  In 1 Timothy 3:6 Paul warns Timothy that an elder “… must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”  The level of maturity must be attained.  Higher level of thinking must be in place.  Solid Christian moral principles must be internalized.  A leader must be trained to be disciplined.  Lack of discipline will lead only to wild freedom.  A child given big power will lead only to destruction.  The lure of power to the undisciplined mind will result in selfish ambition and abuse.  In the diamond war in Africa, some irresponsible leaders use children as their army.  And they gave them semi automatic gun.  The result was catastrophic.  These undisciplined minds used their guns as if they were toys in their hands.  In the end, they killed and maimed a lot of innocent people for sports.  Now, the goal of education is maturity.  In the Bloom’s taxonomy the goal of education is to reach that maturity of thinking.  The process is extremely difficult.  The students need to trust their teachers.  They need to obey their teachers in the discipline.  How much more for the glorious goal that God has set for us his children, the process is not going to be easy.  But the requirement is actually simple.  God only demands his children to be obedient.  Obedient cannot exist without trust—believe.  That is why when Jesus came to earth his main concern was for people to believe him.  Without believing in him, no one will ever be obedient.  Without obedience no one will ever attain spiritual maturity.  Nowadays, many Christians do not wish to be obedient.  They become wild.  They jump right away to the freedom of creativity.  The value of the world favors such wild freedom.  And so many churches today have “spiritual toddlers” sitting as elders and leaders endowed with great power and authority to do whatever they please.  And it is not an exaggeration if we find in those churches, faithful Christians being persecuted.  My hope is that Christians begin to embrace again the truth of the Scripture.  To walk the path of obedience.  To endure discipline.  To truly trust the Lord.  This is the only way.  Amen.

The Business of Christian Education XCV 

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