Education and conversation

Michel Gomes—Contributing Writer

We live in times where everyone is much more connected to the outside world that perhaps in the more isolated past. Political decisions made in one place now have repercussions in another. Beliefs expressed by one group—no matter how big or small that group may be—tend to affect how others think. But the question is, should an educational institution committed to one ideal be open to inviting discussion or hearing a different view?

The history of education, of progress, of the evolution of human cognition, has always followed a certain pattern: observe life, and seek alternative ways to go about it. In our search for living meaningful lives in the face of what we hold to be our purpose, we come to different conclusions about many things. Hence, can we truly learn and grow if we shut ourselves away from anything that is different, anything that is contrary to our premises? Can I be fair to someone of a different culture if I do not mentally do justice to their life experiences and their conclusions?

For some time now, and in some cases rightly so, Christian education has been accused of indoctrination. From the world’s point of view, Christians have spent more time fighting the culture surrounding them than in trying to understand and perhaps even work together with it. The way forward seems simple: allow ourselves to meet people outside of our comfort zones. We can’t fault Christianity’s slow start, but if we refuse to pick up the pace, that is on us. Besides, supporting someone is not the same as affirming what they do.

On Oct. 14, the Conservatives page published a post mentioning that Jen Hatmaker, on a tour regarding her new book, would be coming to Dordt to promote her work. The post, however, brought to light that when Jen was asked “you mention faithfulness and God. Do you think an LGBT relationship can be holy?” she had answered “I do.” The discussion that followed was like most Facebook debates. That is, not necessarily promoting anything good.

On both sides of the argument, there was a lot of anger. Some used names such as sodomites to refer to the gay community, in a manner that did not encourage friendly conversation. If anything, people who participated in this heated conversation were more likely to leave angered and more set in their ways. The question for students and staff of Dordt now is, is there any educational value to this attitude?

The problem with modern education is complex. The aversion to open conversations is only one aspect of it. Still as in the words of Laozi, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.” The first step we can take is to talk to each other like human beings, respectfully and graciously. . In engaging with others, listening to their conversations, we become full human beings. We learn of different ways people wrestle with different things.

In isolating ourselves, we limit the reaches of our understanding of the world. We hinder our intellectual growth and inhibit our creativity, since we are exposed always to people who affirm and believe the same things we do. And as history shows, no one group is ever always right, including us. In creating room to respect what others hold as different and important, we can reevaluate some of our notions. This cross-opinion discussion can help undo misconceptions, and provoke a change in mindset for the better. In a sense, it is how culture is made.

The proper attitude towards education might be different than a form of Christian Imperialism in which we set out to convince everyone to do things our way. Experiences are unique, and before trying to convert others into our way of doing things, listening to their understanding of the world can and often is beneficial to our way of doing it.

That Dordt allows people of different views to express their thoughts with a sphere of education is commendable. Education, after all, is meant for learning, not affirming.

 

 

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