Thursday, March 13, 2014

Me, the Pharisees and Common Core

Photo by Mikeyp2000 via Flickr
It's a scene that's been playing out all year in our house and in other houses scattered all over the nation. Child comes home with math homework. Child gets stuck on math homework. Parent who considers herself reasonably competent at math because the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants declared her to be competent at math-y things sits down to help child. Parent looks at paper, turns pale and begins to mumble "What? What? I don't understand! What are they supposed to be doing? Agh! Just get the answer already!" Parent tries to 'help' child by showing them how we did it in the good old days. Child looks at parent and says "OK, go away, just let me do this by myself."

It turns out that I really don't know math anymore. At least not this math. Everything that I thought I knew is all turned around upside down and backwards and I just want it to be the way that we USED to do it because then it would make sense. I could follow the rules that I know, get the answer and we'd all be happy. A pox on Common Core, I say! (Or at least I'd say if I were in Shakespearean times, I guess.)

In one of those tangents that we sometimes take in our small group Bible Study a member who is a professor of education started talking about Common Core, and how people miss the point of what it's about. When we learned math we learned rules. We learned one way to solve a certain type of problem and we will use that forever and ever amen. But the point of Common Core is to teach the 'why' behind all of that solving, to create people who can think and solve and apply concepts already learned to new concepts so that they actually understand what they're doing instead of just parroting the rules the teacher laid out.

And here's where the Pharisees come in (and why we were talking about Common Core in a Bible Study). Because the Pharisees were kind of like all of us. We've got our rules, our rubrics, our long divisions and our stacked multiplications and they suit us just fine. So did the Pharisees. They had everything down to an exact equation. If we do these things in this order we will achieve righteousness. And they'd gotten really, really good at doing all the things in all the right ways. They had the official stamp of 'People Who Know and Apply All the Rules.'

Then along comes this Jesus guy and he starts saying that the point isn't to follow all the rules right...the point is to understand WHY. He's trying to tell them to go deeper, to solve the problem by understanding how things relate to each other, how God could become flesh and become their redemption and their righteousness. And they're not having it. New-fangled stuff and nonsense. The rules were good enough for our father's fathers, they're good enough for us. We know how to get the answer, get that new way of thinking out of here.

This isn't about Common Core, not really. I'll adjust to it somehow, although it may be by begging my children's teachers to please, please, PLEASE let me sit in the classroom too.

But I'm kind of a Pharisee about a lot of things when it comes to faith. I learned the way to do things from my parents who learned from their parents and so on and so forth and that ought to be good enough. I go to church and I read my Bible and I say my prayers because that's what a good Christian does and I try to fit everything into an equation that equals righteousness. And Jesus is standing to the side trying and trying to tell me that it isn't about following the rules, that the answers come from knowing and understanding who HE is.

It's going to take a lot of work to learn to live faith from understanding, not from rules. I suppose I'll learn it best from sitting at Jesus' feet.


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