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Posts Tagged "Logic"

Why Broken Stories Matter

May 22, 2015
By Dane Bundy

Why Broken Stories Matter

 

     A few weeks ago, in rhetoric class, my students and I finished studying a number of short stories to look at persuasion’s role in fiction. Among the stories, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne evoked the most rewarding discussion (maybe the year’s best). At first it didn’t look like this would be the case. A number of students found the lead character wretched: a man who is obsessed with creating human perfection. His obsession ultimately produces a dark narrative that concludes with little redemption in sight. It is a broken story.

 

     Daniel Taylor in his work, Tell me a Story, places stories into three helpful categories: whole, broken, and bent. He defines a broken story as one in which good is portrayed as good and evil as evil, however, in the end, good is not victorious, but evil is.

 

     When I think of a broken story I first think of the book of Judges. At this period in biblical history, the Israelites have worked themselves into a downward spiral of rebellion. Though we see glimpses of redemption from time to time (Ruth comes to mind), the story of Judges ends with the haunting lines, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25). Gulp.

 

     Over the last couple of years, I’ve thought a lot about the purpose and value of broken stories. Shouldn’t Christians feed themselves on what Taylor calls whole stories? He defines whole stories as tales in which redemption takes place and good (not evil) is victorious.  The Bible itself is a whole story. We may also include Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

 

     At Cornerstone, we don’t limit ourselves to whole stories. Actually, we read plenty of broken tales, ranging from the Greek or Shakespearean tragedies to the dystopian novels of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.

 

     I admit, broken stories are dark and unnerving and difficult to navigate at times. Have you ever had a grand piano dropped on your chest? I have: the afternoon I finished 1984. I was hoping, and expecting, Orwell would use Winston to expose and topple Big Brother; instead our hero is consumed by it.  

 

     If you let them, broken stories will burden your soul.

 

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to realize that broken stories may serve an important purpose: they affirm what it’s like to live in a fallen world. Often it is the righteous who suffer and the wicked who prosper, and some people never experience a happy ending.

 

    However, broken stories may stir significant questions.

 

  • Why did the villain win? What did the villain want? Is there hope the villain will ever find redemption?

Why is this character the villain?   

  • Why did the hero fail? What did the hero want? Is there hope the hero may conquer the villain?

Why is this character the hero?

 

     A couple of these questions led our rhetoric class to consider man’s pursuit of perfection. However, the bell rang and the students left with no answers, just a handful of questions, terribly applicable to their own lives.

 

     Why does man seek perfection? Will he ever attain perfection? Is anyone perfect?

 

     Good literature asks questions like these, questions that apply to my students, but also you and me, and, for that matter, all who are human. Storytellers have a high calling: to tell the truth. They turn their backs on their craft when they sugar-coat or misrepresent what takes place in the world. The author of Judges, and the author of every book in the Bible, fulfills this high calling. Because of this, when we read Scripture, we read about murder, rape, depression, persecution, and betrayal.

 

     The Bible does not sugar-coat, because God always tells the truth: our world is a broken one. If you are human, you are broken. If you are human, you will never attain perfection. Left alone, we will never muster a happy story. It’s true: evil will always win.

 

     My students must hear this. I must hear this.

 

     If I don’t listen, I will never understand what’s about to come next: God became man and carried our burden of brokenness. Indeed, it was so heavy, it broke the god-man in the most violent fashion. But, after three days, God delivered justice, destroying evil in blinding glory. God made it clear: the only way to wholeness is through the god-man. This is the good news.

 

     The broken stories of human existence matter because they can lead us to the whole story of the Gospel, and as a teacher at Cornerstone, I am called to help my students understand the road from broken story to whole story. What a privilege it is.

Part II: Ten Things I Love About Mock Trials

May 12, 2015
By Dr. Faith Acker

Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part II

Faith Acker

 

In my last post, I discussed five traditional benefits of mock trials. They are a wonderful pedagogical tool, provide great practice for real-world situations, and help students learn to think and to express themselves more clearly. These are all good academic defenses of mock trials, but the mock trial structure also has some less traditional benefits.

6.  Objections! The trial process is filled with rules and structure, as well as opportunities to challenge others who do not follow this structure. Learning how to challenge or contradict other people respectfully is one of life’s most important lessons. If practiced in secondary school, it will help these students in college (especially if they enroll in secular colleges), their careers, and even their relationships. While I don’t advocate shouting “Objection!” at a classmate, employer, or spouse, I do encourage my students to raise questions—and talk through the answers—not only in the mock trial process, but in all our English classes.

 

7.  Pathos reigns supreme. Trial arguments require not only logos (clear logic) and ethos (appeals to standards), but pathos. The most persuasive opening statement in the world still must survive the emotional appeal of a bereaved witness pleading for the other side. Trials, of necessity, include all forms of rhetorical appeal, students must learn to identify (and respond appropriately to) whatever rhetoric the world offers them.

8.  We study opposing views. Learning to understand differing schools of thought is an important part of the classical education, and both mock trial and debate allow students to anticipate and analyze differing opinions. My ninth graders are currently working on a mock trial of Creon (from Antigone), and at least two of them are annoyed that I’ve put them on the “wrong” side. Defending both sides of a given position is at the heart of the classical (Socratic) methodology, and it will also help us—as Christians—practice respect and discernment.

9.  Trial preparations are frustrating. Life is full of unexpected complications, such as the closing statement that mysteriously deletes itself the night before a trial, the witness who does not remember key details, or the irksome lawyer who makes repeated objections. Learning to deal with frustrations with grace is an important part of life; it is an especially crucial part of Christianity. We are called upon to live our faith not only in the blessed times, but also during the trials, and the annoyances and panics that plague long and complicated projects (such as mock trials) offer safe opportunities to practice appropriate responses.

10.  Trial preparations enable grace. Life is full of unexpected complications, and these also allow others to show us grace. Many of my students are (like me) fiercely independent and self-motivated. As Christians, we are expected to live in community, and in addition to serving others, we also sometimes need to allow others to serve us. During our Lancelot trial, one of my most independent students (who has many great skills, but is not the most accomplished typist) was driven by necessity to ask for last-minute typing assistance from a classmate. For her (and for me), learning to accept help with grace and gratitude is an important spiritual lesson.

As a teacher, mock trials require extensive (and sometimes exhausting) preparations and planning, but their benefits are tremendous. They are challenging and exciting in the moment, and some of these benefits will (I pray!)  last these students for decades.

We’re All Mad Here: Keeping Faith in the Logic Stage

February 12, 2015
By Chelsea Carrier

My eighth graders just finished reading Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Some of the kids loved it. Others were disturbed by the absurdities. Many of them asked questions. Lots of questions. Their logic radars were on high alert, but to their frustration, there weren’t always explanations.

 

I realized that I could have helped them pick the story apart, but I really didn’t want to overanalyze, therefore killing the story. So I began to ask myself: Why read nonsense literature? What’s the place of nonsense in the life of a Christian? Then I remembered something I had read a few months ago in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien:

 

The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world….

 

The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain….

 

The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason. (30-31 and 34, emphasis mine)

 

I shared these quotes with my students, trying to emphasize that while I want them to develop good reasoning, ask questions, and seek solid answers, I don’t want to squelch their faith. That is not the purpose of logic. At the end of the day, there are some things that are simply beyond our understanding. We are finite beings living in a world created by an infinite God.

So we read chapters from the book of Job, tracing his suffering, God’s sovereignty and goodness, as well as God’s “answer” to Job’s questions. As one student pointed out, God’s answer was really more a series of rhetorical questions. Finally, we read Job’s response:

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;

I will question you, and you make it known to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42.2-6)

 

 

In the madness of our lives, all we can sometimes do is choose to rest in the truth that God is good, He is sovereign, He loves us, and He is not obligated to explain Himself. And somehow, once we have that perspective, we are comforted. At least for a little while.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009. Print.

 

The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.

Four Truths to Help You Survive the Logic Stage With Your Child

December 01, 2014
By Chelsea Carrier

One of the qualities I’ve grown to love about my logic level students is the quirky combination of playful innocence and sporadic insight. While the fluctuating maturity levels can prove frustrating, they also indicate a beautiful transition.

Below are four simple truths to help you and your child survive some of the possible obstacles common to the logic stage.

1. Transitions may be frightening, even painful, but they are healthy.

At some point during the logic stage, students often have to make some pretty painful transitions. These are the years in which they are learning (and parents and teachers are training them) to think for themselves. Consequences start to become more natural. It’s one thing to tell your child before he starts sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, “You’re going to have to buckle down this year because Mom and Dad and all of your teachers aren’t going to hold your hand anymore.” It’s another to discover missing papers on the kitchen table, in the couch cushions, in the floorboard, or worst of all, in the trash.  It’s also another matter entirely the first time your straight A student makes a C on a paper or fails a quiz simply because she didn’t study or take her time. The work in the logic stage is different, it’s hard, and with all of the new freedom comes plenty of opportunities for students to stumble, and then, with grace and firmness from those placed in their lives to train them, discover what God is developing them to be.

2. Erratic behavior can be…normal.

I’ve had girls who refused to speak above a whisper when performing a recitation turn right around and ask to do hand motions while Christmas caroling at the nursing home. I’ve had boys squeal at random times and then giggle about it. A few weeks, days, even hours later, they’re asking deep theological questions about the trinity that most adults don’t even begin to know how to address.

3. The logic stage looks different for every child.

Many times parents’ frustrations include the underlying assumption that their child is the only one struggling with x, and therefore they shouldn’t be. But God develops people as he sees fit when he sees fit. Sure, there are patterns that he seems to follow, but there’s a wide range within those patterns for developing a unique story for each person.

So often when I hear from parents, it’s as if they’re thinking: Who is this kid? Where did I go wrong? We never had this problem in fifth grade! Or even the first half of sixth!

But now their A/B perfect attendance ray of sunshine is losing papers, turning in late assignments, failing quizzes, and worst of all…rolling her eyes and slamming doors. When they ask her what she has for homework, she sighs, maybe even falls into a fit of giggles, and answers, “I don’t know.”

Or maybe not. Maybe he insists on staying up past eleven working on homework due the next day, or Friday, or next week. He keeps his planner, crossing everything off the list. He won’t watch T.V., get on the computer, read his favorite book, or play outside. He begs to stay home from church because he “has so much to do.” But he won’t talk to his parents, let alone his teachers. He’s too afraid of disappointing them.

4.Students are naturally inquisitive, and they do want to talk.

I’ve had C students, students who struggle to keep that C, but are some of the best students I have ever had. These are often, though not always, the same students who communicate with their parents and teachers and do what they are asked when they are asked. Most of them genuinely struggle with reading and logic level/ analytical thinking. But they are, ironically, the ones who “get it.” By “get it” I don’t mean sentence diagramming or Shakespeare. I mean they seem to truly grasp that Christ is the center of everything, even the small, everyday occurrences. These are the kids whose parents talk with them when they sit in their house, when they walk by the way, when they lie down, and when they rise up (Deut. 6.7). While some logic level students may spend time giggling or flying paper airplanes, nearly all of them have plenty of questions, if not now, then later.

 

It’s hard to pinpoint the source of these changes. Some might say hormones, others busy schedules, still others a relationship conflict with friends or family--we could analyze the factors for hours and find plenty of possible causes. But at the end of the day, growing pains aside, I still see a group of kids who, for the most part, desire to please the Lord, even if, just like adults, they haven’t quite figured out what all of that means.

Work Cited

The ESV Study Bible.Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.

 

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