Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kids These Days!

Over spring break I managed to read through about half of Augustine's Confessions. This book is really unique. While written almost entirely as a prayer addressed to God, it nonetheless is meant to function as an autobiographical apologetic for why Christianity is the one true logos and faith over and against Manichaeism and other hollow, worldly philosophies.

Before his conversion, Augustine was a teacher of rhetoric in Carthage (in present-day Algeria) and in Rome, and I'm surprised to hear that his own teaching experiences are uncannily similar to my own. Listen to what he writes about his students in Carthage:
At Carthage, on the other hand, the students are beyond control and their behaviour is disgraceful. They come blustering into the lecture-rooms like a troop of maniacs and upset the orderly arrangements which the master has made in the interest of his pupils. Their recklessness is unbelievable and they often commit outrages which ought to be punished by law, were it not that custom protects them. (V.8)

Many of my students' antics, sadly, could be described this way. They can be raucous and nuts, especially as they return from lunch, and their murmuring and disinterested talking can often continue ad infinitum. Many have apparently been raised in homes in which they are encouraged to outrightly slander and talk back to their teachers. I even had a girl tell me today that if I touched her cell phone she was going to hit me, and "You don't want to have happen to you what happened to Mr. Rowe last year."

But out of the selfishness of my own heart, I grieve so often more for my own sake than for theirs. Rather than having compassion on them and knowing that I can make it through anything "with the strength God provides" (1 Peter 4:11), my usual response is anything but patience (though I'm learning).

Augustine continues:
Neverthless, it is a custom which only proves their plight the more grievous, because it supposedly sanctions behaviour which your [God's] eternal law will never allow. They think that they do these things with impunity, but the very blindness with which they do them is punishment in itself and they suffer far more harm than they inflict. (V.8)

In Romans 1, Paul stresses that as a result of sinful self-will, God gives people over to the very loveless selfishness which they have chosen as their lot. This is his form of punishment. Even in the OT, God is often seen as giving over Israel to fall into the lifelessness and impotence of the very idols they worship. How rarely do I weep that every day they persist in their blindness they are only further sealing their hard hearts against God and entrenching themselves in futile ways of strife and discontent?

Next year I'll be teaching at what will probably be a very different school, one which comes from a higher-earning, higher-achieving socioeconomic region of the county. I think this will ultimately be a better fit for me and will allow me to have more energy and good spirits to give toward my wife and (someday) children. Augustine, too, decided to leave Carthage for greener pastures, hoping that the affluent students in Rome would bring relief. Yet much to his dismay he discovered that these young men had so set their hearts upon the status afforded by wealth instead of virtue that they often dumped one teacher for another before even paying him.

They break their troth with you* by setting their hearts on fleeting temporal delusions and tainted money which defiles the hands that grasp it, and by clinging to a world which they can never hold. And all the while they turn their backs on you who are always present, calling them back and ready to pardon man's adulterous soul when it returns to you. For their warped and crooked minds I still hate students like these, but I love them too, hoping to teach them to mend their ways, so that they may learn to love their studies more than money and love you, their God, still more, for you are the Truth, the Source of good that does not fail, and the Peace of purer innocence. But in those days I was readier to dislike them for fear of the harm they might cause me than to hope that they would become good for your sake. (V.12, emphasis mine)

I can't even count how many days this year I've had a grumpy attitude and been quick to berate students for their immaturity, apathy, and rudeness--if not with words, then at least in my mind. But may it be that they've stayed this way all because they're not hearing that they're anything above this? How will I work the rest of this year and use my words and actions for good, hopeful of the Holy Spirit's power to shed God's grace and bring about good in myriad ways to all people? I don't even really know how to be productive and hopeful in this way, other than to just take ten seconds to say a quick prayer and cool down, take what they say with a grain of salt, and then continue to help them with their assignments.
*To "break troth" is an old way of saying (from Knox's translation) to act unfaithfully toward someone with whom you had a binding agreement.

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good thoughts and good tie from Augustine, Andrew.