A letter about learning and experience

Dear Mark,

In my last letter, I outlined a possible theology that might relate to religious education, and religious experience more broadly. In this letter, I’m going to start with a description of some real-life religious education, and then get into some thoughts about education and experience.


A couple of Sundays ago, I was helping out with our summer Sunday school program. We had a dozen kids ranging in age from not-quite-five to thirteen, as well as four adults. Our plan was to walk over to Mitchell Park, a city park right behind our congregation’s campus, play on the play structures, have snack, and return. This was in service of the first of our four big educational goals: we want children to have fun and feel they are part of a community.

On the walk to the park, Edie, our lead teacher, set off in front and the rest of us followed. We got to the nearest set of play structures in the park, and some children went to the swing set, while others climbed on the oddly shaped climbing structure, and a couple of children stayed next to a large tree. Mitsuru, who is about 8, climbed up the tree a few feet, and when he was close to my height, we chatted for a while until he got bored and climbed back down. (1) Pretty soon all the children were bored, and we all decided to go over to the farther play area, which has many more things to play on and is much more fun.

As we walked over, I fell into conversation with Rose, who is thirteen. Some of the little kids were talking about sports so I asked Rose if she was involved in any sport. She said, “Only if you count horseback riding as a sport.” I said that I did, and that my older sister was an avid horsewoman. She told me how she gets to ride when she visits a cousin who lives far away, but has no place to ride nearby. I told her about a college that has horses, and lets you take horseback riding for physical education credit. And by this time we were at the farther play area.

(By now you might be saying: What a long description of seemingly trivial conversations! But it is experiences of these seemingly trivial conversations that build networks of relationships between people, that help us fulfill our first big educational goal — to have fun and build community. In order to reach this goal, we are not using root-tree model of learning here, we’re using a rhizome model — we’re not trying to nurture one deep tap root, we’re trying to nurture lots on interconnections.) Continue reading “A letter about learning and experience”