Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions.
Stone the Christian: Addressing the Coddling of the American Mind
I teach Bible college students in the classroom and in my office. In the classroom I cover the broad sweep of education. I write goals and objectives that grow out of our scope and sequence. My lesson plans apply to all and, although I try to differentiate my instruction by teaching in groups and allowing multiple book choices, I know that there is a better way to teach.
In my office I have placed a rocking chair and an arm chair under the window. My office is where the truly differentiated instruction really takes shape. Many students want to discuss worldview issues, identity formation, and relationships. It’s in my office that we peel back the façade and see what is underneath. It’s in my office that I see the heart of my students. And what I see supports the trends I have been reading about in The Atlantic, The Telegraph, and WaitButWhy.
In the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote “The Coddling of the American Mind,” where they make the following observation: “In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.” Then they explain why this is “disastrous for education—and mental health [i].”
In Britain, The Telegraph and other papers are talking about what they call “Stepford Students”—students who keep a Pollyanna perspective on life. These young people make sure that any views which are too far from their own are universally marginalized and labeled as ‘intolerant’ or ‘hate speech’. Manchester University’s Student Union event “From Liberation to Censorship: Does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?” is a clear example of how far things have gone. Both the radical feminist Julie Bindel and right wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos were disinvited after complaints from students about their stance on the issues[ii]. It used to be that the diversity of the perspectives in a debate were testimony to its potential for learning. Now it is reinterpreted as the potential for harm to the student.
Similarly, WaitButWhy explained why twentysomethings might be a bit more depressed than previous generations. Tim Urban does not write an academically sound blog, but he writes a wildly popular one. His article “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” has over 500k shares[iii]. It resonates with people. His basic thesis is that twentysomethings are depressed because reality does not meet their expectations. They have been told they are special, which they translate as exceptional. They graduate from college, he argues, with the erroneous belief that the world is waiting for them.
These trends of entitlement and a lack of resilience could be dismissed by Christians as a “pagan trends.” The world is going to hell in a handbasket, we could argue, so the spoiled, sheltered, coddled products of grade-inflated public schools are now reaping what has been sown. But I don’t think that Christian schools and homeschools can so easily let themselves off the hook. Christian Smith has shown that the children in our churches have much the same worldview as those from other religions. David Kinnaman and The Barna Research Group have shown us the statistics of what our churched children believe when they enter their twenties[iv]. As a fifth grade teacher in a Christian school, I personally experienced the overprotection of helicopter moms and anxious fathers, who wanted to make sure that their child wasn’t made to feel uncomfortable.
However, discomfort is a catalyst to learning. We have a special word for discomfort in education; we call it “disequilibrium.” The mind tends to want to return to a calm state of equilibrium. When we challenge a students’ perceptions, they are forced to learn so that they can reestablish an inner sense of calm. Are we really challenging children enough that it rocks their world? Have we become so afraid of accusations of hurting a child that we do not challenge them? We have to think about whether the students in our Christian schools have an expectation that life is safe and predictable and that, if things get too hard, Mom and Dad will rescue them. Students coming to Moody Bible Institute out of a Christian school report that as long as you play the game of compliance with school policies, smile at your neighbor, and participate in acts of service you are basically left alone. But Chris Browne of Wheaton Academy has tested his high school students, largely raised in Christian homes, and he has found that their good behavior is not really supported with solid doctrinal beliefs[v]. My own conversations with children going through Christian schools lead me to believe that Christian children have similar values to the world and believe that everyone is basically good deep down (which, of course, is not biblical [Mtt. 7:11]).
So, what shall we do? I believe we need to challenge students in ways that do not destroy them, but that make them uncomfortable. We need to prepare them for the harsh realities of what some commentators call the “quarterlife crisis[vi].” We need to help them develop the critical analysis that can engage with an agile, technological culture. We need to expose our children to the realities of the world and not to hide them in a cloistered environment from which they emerge like beautiful, innocent butterflies just to be crushed under the heel of the first college professor who calls them a moron, or the first friend to unfriend them on Facebook because of their religious views. In short, we need to develop resilience in our children.
If we are to challenge our students, how might we start? I like to stone them. Before you call child safety, let me explain. First of all, I am always willing to be stoned first, and second, this is not a literal stoning. (My guess is that you had that one figured out.) When I play “Stone the Christian” in Christian schools and at camps, I let students ask me questions which they think a Christian would find hard to answer. It’s on-the-spot apologetics. The student or camper who asks a hard question can earn class rewards or camp points. Students can also collaborate to come up with really hard questions. With 8 through 11-year-olds the questions are usually simple ones like, “Why are there so many religions?” or “How can you trust your Bible?” When I have done this with highschoolers, the questions are more difficult, but not as difficult as you might hope. After a while of showing them that I am unafraid to have their stony questions thrown at me, I turn the tables. I have them answer my questions. I try and pitch the level just above what I think they can answer comfortably. And here is the essential part–I don’t rescue them. I ask them hard questions, and I let them sit with the questions at least overnight. The disequilibrium then does its work.
Instead of discouraging or deconstructing the children’s faith, this method is a positive challenge. Then I go a little deeper. I pretend that I am either a naturalist or a postmodernist. (In my college classroom, we work with fourteen different worldviews.) After I have explained what each worldview believes, I let them choose which one will attack them. Then I go after their faith from that very specific worldview perspective. The fifth graders I taught usually did well against the naturalist, but the postmodern perspective was like a greasy pole they couldn’t get a hold of. Too, they often found the postmodern worldview rather enticing.
Of course, some parents were skeptical about my talking to their children about their beliefs in such antagonistic ways. However, when I explained carefully that I was preparing them for difficult conversations after high school, the parents were quickly on board. Some of them helped their children think through the questions over night, but others joined me in letting the disequilibrium sit for a while.
Your solution to the coddling of the American mind needn’t be “Stone the Christian.” However, we must work with God to disrupt the comfort of the feathered nest. In Deuteronomy 32:11 God is described as an eagle. This is not the eagle soaring high and majestic in the clear blue sky. This eagle is busy snuggling up to its young and then pushing them out of the nest. As the eaglet wonders what on earth is happening, it plummets toward the ground, flailing wildly. But the parent eagle swoops down and catches the eaglet before it is dashed to pieces. Then it repeats. Finally the flailing becomes flapping, and the eaglet learns to fly. If we want our students to soar and not fail-to-launch, we need to emulate our loving father who throws adversity our way. We need to expose our children to some things that trouble them, and we need to let them flail a while before we raise them to the safety of the nest.
We want students who engage the world and are resilient. The peace of God–His shalom–will guard their hearts and minds as they engage the most difficult situations. Can you imagine the effect of students on their college campuses who have had their worldview attacked vigorously by friends, family, and teachers who have trained them? The reality of dorm floor debates and watercooler conversation might seem trivial compared to the paces that we have put them through. They will already be used to the discomfort of disagreement and rather than responding in fear and anger they will respond with poise and grace. If we have regularly pushed our students to do activities outside their comfort zone, when they need a job, they will not be averse to knocking on doors or making cold calls until they find someone who will give them a chance. If we intentionally let students engage in situations where they will struggle and fail, they will not collapse completely because their identity has already been built around unrealistic expectations.
We are already seeing that the Christian worldview and its values do not have dominance in the marketplace of ideas. There will be arguments and haggling, bartering and badgering. Those who stand strong will have a voice. Those who allow themselves to be silenced will be marginalized. Those who speak up in adverse conditions must be born from adversity–even if it is a rigorous simulation in our classrooms.
As an administrator you might consider using Social Studies and Bible times in your school to coordinate sequential steps into more adverse environments. Both subjects address societal conflict, so they can house simulations of current cultural contexts or past biblical narratives. The gradation can be intentional, based on developmental appropriateness.
As a classroom teacher, you can think of ways to upset the nest. If your students study The Hiding Place, role-play a Nazi looking for Jews and do not be nice about it. I did this days after a Corrie Ten Boom reenactor had come to tell my fifth grade class her story. I was delighted at how vehemently the students fought to keep her whereabouts a secret and vowed to defend her with their lives.
Among the first Christian schools, according to Paul Kienel[vii], were Martyr Schools. These schools met in secret and prepared their children for the persecution which was to come. It did so by drill and simulation. We would do well by being equally prepared to engage with the culture in which we live. Let’s train our children vigorously to be able to withstand the post-Christian attacks that will come their way. Let’s prepare them for the rigors of life in their twenties. Let’s bathe the whole process in prayer and petition to our God.
[i] Lukianoff, Gregg; Haidt, Jonathan The Coddling of the American Mind, September 2015 Issue of The Atlantic. The article was accessed on 10/31/2015 on-line at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/
[ii] Ardehali, Rod Stepford Student Culture Threatening Free Speech published by The Telegraph accessed on line at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/student-life/11930441/Stepford-student-culture-threatening-free-speech.html on 10/31/15
[iii] Urban, Tim Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Not Happy online article http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html accessed on 10/31/15
[iv] Kinnaman, David You Lost Me Baker Books 2011
[v] Personal conversation
[vi] Robbins, Alexandra; Wilner, Abby Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties (Tarcher, 2001)
[vii] Kienel, Paul A History of Christian School Education, Volume 1 (Purposeful Design 1998)
May we have courage to challenge the young. May we upset the nest of those who are in our charge so that they develop resilience. Let us not coddle our young, but let us challenge them.
- How does God develop the children of Israel according to Deuteronomy 32:11?
- How can care and compassion come from the same source as one who overturns the nest?
- What might an ancient Israelite think when reading this verse in context?
- How has your nest been overturned? What did you learn?
- How have you challenged another person by participating in the overturning of their nest?
I really like the concept of “disequalibrium.” I like this idea of pushing students outside of their comfort zones. It is so true that life gets so much harder than students realize and it is our responsibility as teachers and parents to prepare them and shape them for it.
How does God develop the children of Israel according to Deuteronomy 32:11?
He stirs up the nest and carries them on his pinions
How can care and compassion come from the same source as one who overturns the nest?
Sometimes the best thing you can do for a person is to get them out or their comfort zone and to take chances in life.
What might an ancient Israelite think when reading this verse in context?
That it was the Lord who stirred up Israel’s nest in Egypt. And that it is the Lord who is carrying them through the desert.
How has your nest been overturned? What did you learn?
My nest was overturned in January of 2014 when God took me out of my nest and brought me from Seattle to Chicago.
How have you challenged another person by participating in the overturning of their nest?
I’ve really enjoyed learning about disequilibrium in this class and on the blog. Having experienced disequilibrium and doubt before, I know that it can be one of the most powerful motivators to dig deep into learning. This is definitely something that I would like to be able to incorporate into my classroom.
1. like an eagle who makes the nest uncomfortable and thrusts the chicks from it to teach them to fly
2. Care shouldn’t look like coddling; sometimes it looks like making students uncomfortable so they grow
3. rescue from Egypt
4. My nest has been overturned so many times, and it has taught me to think of heaven as my true home and to trust God during my sojourn here on earth
5. I ask people a lot of “Why?” questions to the point of making them uncomfortable.
I like the points you made in this post. I can clearly see how the coddling in my public schools and in my churches has negatively affected me. I struggle with unreal expectations about myself, the world around me, and especially unrealistic expectations about God. I wish I had been exposed to reality more at a younger age.
When working with children, one of my questions about this topic is how to challenge children at the right level. I want to protect the innocence of a child, but not coddle them. What is the balance between challenging a child and not exposing them to too much?
I love this idea, but had no experience with it until I took your class. All my life, I have grown up with the mindset of find the right answers, recite the right answers, and leave and everyone is happy. Although I’ve realized now that a lot of my knowledge about God is stuck in head knowledge, and there is a disconnect between that and my heart. Why? I believe it was because I never had to apply it. I never had the chance to really take it in, ponder it, and truly let it change my life. I want students to have these opportunities, which is why I appreciate this practice and hope to implement it in my classroom.
In Deuteronomy 32:11, it does not say that God is the eagle who pushes the eaglets out of the nest and closes His eyes, saying, “I hope they make it!” He is the one who is still actively involved in the process, even catching the eaglets and carrying them when necessary. As a teacher, I hope to have discernment and wisdom to know when to catch my students from falling when I have sent them out on their own to figure things out. God, give us courage and wisdom to trust you to catch and carry our students, and to know when you are using us in the process, if you will.
I have really enjoyed learning about how to create “disequilibrium” in students and am excited to try it out when student teaching in 5th grade next semester. I am reminded by this post that it’s so important for students to evaluate their heart and their reasons behind their actions. My only fear when I begin teaching is that I won’t know the Bible well enough to guide these kind of discussions. This challenges me to study the Bible more and really dig deep into it.
1. How does God develop the children of Israel according to Deuteronomy 32:11? By overturning the nest
2. How can care and compassion come from the same source as one who overturns the nest? It is through the overturning of the nest God encourages his children to grow and become who he has designed them to be. It is in his care and compassion that he pushes us to mature, even through trials and struggles.
3. What might an ancient Israelite think when reading this verse in context? They would have thought more about the context and how much it talks about God and his work among the Jewish people in various ways and in various times.
4. How has your nest been overturned? What did you learn? I think that my nest was overturned when I spent my first year of college all the way across the country in Spokane and experienced a time of discomfort. I had to turn fully to Christ and rely on him for my strength as I sought to grow in many different ways.
5. How have you challenged another person by participating in the overturning of their nest? There have been times in my years at Moody when I have had to call one of my friends out on their sin and that certainly overturns a person nest.
I loved that you mentioned challenging students in ways that make them feel uncomfortable but do not destroy them. To challenge students to the point where it destroys them is counterproductive just as not challenging students and coddling them never allows them to grow. Students must have a balance. They must be challenged and placed in uncomfortable situations where they must wrestle through things to come to a conclusion for themselves.
1. He teaches them by kicking them out of the nest.
2. If you love the little ones you are in charge of the way you should you will do the loving thing and make them uncomfortable. Because you love them, you are there when they need care and compassion as well, having once been there yourself.
3. I would think they would understand that passage to be referring to themselves. It has that tough love thing going on.
4. My nest has been overturned when it comes to the absolute sovereignty of God through many, many circumstances over the past several years. I have a fear of uncertainty, and often that is when I am most outside of my comfort zone.
5. Currently, loving the person enough to make them uncomfortable and even upset with me because it is most loving thing I can possibly do.
I love the way of thinking that we need to develop resilience in our children or students’ lives. I agree that it is critical that students need to open their eyes and ears to see and hear what’s going around the world. I pray that I will first develop resilience in my own life that I can model this “disequilibrium” in a godly way.
I really resonate with this post. I know that my american generation has been raised on comfort. We believe what we believe because we heard it once and were then never challenged by it. I know this to be true in my own life as I hate confrontation which leads to arguing. Despite the arguments, when we engage in these conversations I’ve realized that no matter how civil the debate it, neither side is usually willing to give the other side the time of day because they refuse to let any part of their argument fail. We don’t know what to do when we hear something that could potentially shatter what our worldview has been all along. If the argument is convincing enough, and we have not been trained to defend and handle our faith in different circumstances, we could easily fall into thinking that Paul so clearly warned against in Colossians 2. It is much better to experience the training of disequilibrium while we are young so that they challenges and discussions that come later will be more powerfully dealt with.