Monthly Archives: August 2009

Religious literacy: Assessment grid

After getting lots of help from commenters on my list of topics that should be included in religious literacy for Unitarian Universalist (UU) kids, I’ve taken the next step and created a “Religious Literacy Assessment Grid”.

This grid lists each suggested topic for religious literacy, assigns that topic to an age group (with grid squares colored light orange), and begins to offer some suggestions for assessing children’s knowledge of each topic. As always, your comments are welcome.

Within a week, I hope to have another list for your comments. Another of our big four educational goals for UU kids involves teaching basic religious skills that are appropriate for UU kids to learn (e.g., mediation, public speaking skills, etc.), and this list would cover some of the basic religious skills we’re thinking are central to our tradition.

Clean elections

I just attended a meeting titled “Palo Alto Passion-Raiser for Fair Elections,” billed as “an event tailored for politically active people and intended to build a local coalition to work for passage of the California Fair Elections Act in June 2010.” This event was co-sponsored by our church’s Social Action Council, and by my count drew 136+ people, including 3 current California State Assemblymembers, and one former Assemblymember.

The former Assemblymember was Sally Lieber, who served from 2003 through 2008. Of all those who spoke in support of the bill, I liked what she said best. Speaking as a former state legislator, she said she supported reforming the way elections were funded because of her own experience: “It’s tough being told, ‘You have to spend at least two hours per day doing fundraising.’ It’s tough being told, ‘I love your bill, it’s a great bill, but if I vote for it, it will damage my fundraising efforts.’ “

Summer evening

It was hot today. The weather station at San Francisco Airport recorded a high of 91 degrees Fahrenheit, and I’d bet it hit 95 degrees at our house. About the middle of the afternoon I saw one of our downstairs neighbors. We both agreed it was hot. She said it was so hot she was having a hard time staying focused on doing housework. I admitted that the heat had gotten to me and I had given up on housework.

Since I wasn’t getting any housework done, I decided I wouldn’t stay around the house. I got on the train, transferred to BART at the Millbrae station, and headed over to Berkeley. I walked up to Telegraph Ave., then threaded my way through the street-chaos generated by the resident freaks, weirdos, and college students of Telegraph Ave., making my way down to Moe’s and Shakespeare & Co., the two bookstores remaining on the avenue.

I turned into Shakespeare & Co., with its narrow aisles and mis-matched bookcases. As I turned towards the mysteries, a small bearded man stepped backwards and ran into me; I apologized, but he didn’t notice me at all, and continued asking the clerk, “Are these the only chess books you have?” The clerk said, “Yes, they’re all on that shelf.” The small man said, “But what about these here?” The clerk said, “Yes, those there, yes they continue down to that shelf.” I wandered from the mysteries towards the science fiction books. A young woman and her guitar blocked one end of the science fiction aisle. She answered her cell phone: “Hello? … Oh, hi! … I’m here in Shakespeare & Co, you know that used bookstore? … Yeah. I’m looking for something new to read. I was trying to read Kafka, but I didn’t like it, which is strange, because it’s this really well-written book, so now I’m trying to find something else….” I turned the corner into the pocket fiction aisle, and there was a small handwritten sign saying, “Hey, kid, don’t look up here, this is where the adult books are.” Sure enough, in shelves about seven feet off the ground, there were some forgettable mass-market porno paperbacks, back from the days when there was no Internet porn, including an old copy of Emmanuelle that smelled moldy. I eavesdropped on a conversation that the clerk was having with one of the customers; actually, it was more of a monologue, where the clerk analyzed the motivations of the 9/11 bombers, speculated that Osama bin Laden is probably dead by now, or at least in very poor health, and in his pleasing tenor voice gave details of the Jayce Lee Dugard case, including the fact that the alleged abductor, Philip Garrido, had been spouting some kind of crazed religious nonsense on the Berkeley campus when he was confronted by two campus police officers, and that was what led to the discovery of Dugard. This conversation motivated me to move on to the Political Science section, and then to glance through the titles on the True Crime shelves. I heard the customer say to the clerk, “At least she [meaning Dugard] will have a normal life now,” and the clerk responded, “Well, relatively normal, considering what she’s been through. Apparently she considered the guy as some kind of god. And she had two children with him.” I kept browsing for a while longer, but in the end all I bought was a collection of Chinese poetry in translations by David Hinton.

I walked across the street to Moe’s bookstore. The book selection was less entertaining. The people-watching was far less interesting. The only conversation I overheard had to do with Ackermann functions, and frankly I did not understand what the two guys were talking about. But I wound up buying more books, probably because I wasn’t distracted.

Volunteer management and “model-scaffold-fade”

Joe and I were talking last night about ways to train church volunteers. Joe has degrees in cognitive science and education, and teaches course in using technology in education, and he had some great ideas of how our church might train volunteers.

“Those are great ideas,” I said, taking notes, “but I’m going to come up against the classic problem in volunteer management, which is how to deliver training to busy volunteers. From the point of view of volunteer management in churches,” I went on, “the best thinking I know of on delivering training is to immerse your volunteer in their volunteer task, and then when they run into problems, to be easily available so that they can consult with you, and you can coach them.” One description of this process may be found in The Coming Church Revolution: Empowering Leaders for the Future by Carl George (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1994), pp. 75 ff.*

“Oh,” said Joe, “you mean like model-scaffold-fade.”

“What’s that?” I said.

Joe explained that model-scaffold fade begins with the teacher modeling how to solve a given problem or complete a given task; then the teacher provides a kind of scaffold to support the learner while s/he works on solving the problem or completing the task; and then when the learner has mastered the material, the teacher fades away. Today I did a little more research on model-scaffold-fade, and after reading this online article discovered that it’s based on Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development, and the way a “more-knowledgeable other” (MKO) can help the learner move beyond his or her current level of development.

Seems to me model-scaffold fade is a nice tool to add to my volunteer management toolkit. It also fits in nicely with one of Carl George’s observations: “Most churches would be more effective if they shifted from being orientation heavy to being supervision heavy” (p. 83). Both approaches allow adult volunteers to be self-directed learners who are in charge of their own learning; in fact, George’s approach to leadership development, where a new leader is apprenticed to an experienced leader (i.e., to an MKO), offers pretty much the same approach as the model-scaffold-fade approach — the latter is more explicit in offering effective instruction, while George’s approach is more explicit in how this can work in churches.

* Note that Carl George bases his approach on the work of educational theorist Malcolm Knowles; you can find Knowles’s book (American Society for Training and Development, 1973 / Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing)The Adult Learner online.

On the train

I caught the 9:53 train from the San Antonio station, found a seat, and sat down. I tried to read, but it had been a long day at work. I put my book down and stared at nothing much. At each station, one or two people got on, and one or two got off.

A woman got on and sat down in the seat across the aisle from me. She was talking to someone on a cell phone, and her voice sounded odd. At first I thought she had some strange foreign accent, but then I realized she was crying and sniffling a little bit as she talked.

I stopped listening to her. Then her voice rose, and I couldn’t help but hear her say, “…but he doesn’t. I’m always giving and giving, but when I need help, he isn’t there for me.” Her voice grew softer and all I could hear was an occasional “fuck him” or “fuck that.” Curious, I stole a glance at her: her hair was dyed red, her arms were completely covered in gaudy tattoos, she had two piercings just above her left cheekbone, she carried a zebra-print bag, and she looked prosperous and relatively affluent. She was curled up in her seat, looking dejected but not particularly sad. I thought she might be in her early twenties.

My thoughts drifted on to other things. I don’t know when she got off the train.

Religious literacy: What do kids need to know about religion?

We’ve tentatively identified four big educational goals for the religious education programs in our church, and one of those goals is to make sure children have basic religious literacy compatible with the society they’re living in. More specifically, we want children who have gone through our program to know: (a) the main Bible stories they’re likely to encounter in Western culture (in literature, film, painting, etc.); (b) stories and facts about the main world religions they will encounter both in their immediate environment and in current events; (c) a basic knowledge of the history of Western religion (primarily Western Christianity), and in particular the history that led to the formation of Unitarianism and Universalism; and (d) the main characters and stories of Unitarianism and Universalism in North America.

Yesterday I had lunch with three of the lay leaders in the children’s religious education program to talk about assessment strategies for our religious education program. I suggested that part of our assessment strategy for this educational goal of religious literacy should be a list of the specific things we want to teach our kids; i.e., which Bible stories should kids know? which famous Unitarians and Universalists should they know? etc.

Below is my first attempt at generating such a list, with material to be covered from ages 3 to 18. I would love to have your comments on, suggestions for, corrections to, and additions to this list.

Continue reading

Summer Sunday school

This summer, here in the Palo Alto Unitarian Universalist church, the theme for Sunday school has been “UU World Travelers.” People from the congregation who have been to another country, or lived in another country, come into the Sunday school and share something about that country with the children. The person who was scheduled to lead the UU World Travelers program this Sunday had a last-minute crisis and couldn’t come, so I said I’d lead the program. But what country could I talk about? I haven’t been overseas in thirty years, and the last time I was in Canada was quite a few years ago. But I realized I had lots of photographs and information about New Bedford, so that’s what I did in Sunday school today — told the children about New Bedford.

The best part was teaching the kids how to say “New Bedford” with a New Bedford accent. “Say it like this,” I said to the children, “Nu Befit.”

“New Bedfod,” they replied, raggedly.

“No, more like this,” I said, “Nu befit.”

“Nu Befit,” they said in chorus.

“And these,” I said pointing to a photograph of marine crustaceans with claws, Homerus americanus, “are lobstihs.”

“Lobstihs,” they said, grinning at me.

A little more practice, and I think I could teach them how to speak in Nu Befitese.

Upcoming event in the Bay area

The San Francisco Bay Area Labor Heritage Rockin’ Solidarity Chorus, which I recently joined, will be singing at the San Francisco Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday, September 6. They’ll be performing a musical biography of Pete Seeger, that great Unitarian Universalist folk musician and labor advocate. I’ve heard some of it in rehearsal, and it sounds pretty good, so if you’re in the San Francisco area over Labor Day weekend, check it out. (I won’t be there, alas, since I’ll be at my own church.)

The truth about worship services

I am in the middle of reading a biography of James Boswell, famous for his biography of Samuel Johnson; but when I read about Boswell’s London Journal, I got distracted — went out and found a copy, and started to read it. Near the beginning of the Journal, Boswell goes to church one fine Sunday, but is distracted from the sermon by other thoughts:

“Monday 29 November. I breakfasted with Mr. Douglas. I went to St. James Church and heard service and a good sermon on ‘By what means shall a young man learn to order his ways,’ in which the advantages of early piety were well displayed. What a curious, inconsistent thing is the mind of man! In the midst of divine service I was laying plans for having women, and yet I had the most sincere feelings of religion. I imagine my want of belief is the occasion of this, so that I can have all the feeling. I would try to make out a little consistency this way.”

But Boswell is mistaken in thinking that consistency is possible for us human beings. Don’t you think?