Monthly Archives: September 2016

“We must come down from our heights, and leave our straight paths, for the byways and low places of life, if we would learn truths by strong contrasts; and in hovels, in forecastles, and among our own outcasts in foreign lands, see what has been wrought upon our fellow-creatures by accident, hardship, or vice.”

~Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

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Education and Juvenile Hall

A number of years ago, the government famously passed a set of laws and standards called No Child Left Behind.  The goal was to make sure that education didn’t leave anyone off to the side or without access.  Noble goals, controversial application.  What is clear is that a lot of students had been left out and left behind, for various reasons not getting the same kind of education that so many others take for granted.

In her recent article in Boom, Anna Challet looks at where a lot of these “left behind” students end up, in juvenile detention centers of one kind or another.  Whether their lack of education led to committing crimes or their crimes led to their break from traditional schools, these young men and women are thrown into a new reality.  Their education must continue, the government says. The reality is, as it often is, much more complex, alternately discouraging and inspirational.  Challet  highlights both elements, noting the problems and the ways the system fails while pointing out some transformative possibilities even in these seemingly worst of circumstances.

This story hits close to home. Not because I spent time in juvie, but because my dad did for quite a long time. He was a teacher in court schools and juvenile halls, starting at a boys home in the late 1980s, where my family lived on campus for about a year, before moving across the street.  During my gap years between seminary degrees I spent a lot of time working on material he could use, and so while I never directly taught in these classrooms, I was radically shaped by learning dynamic pedogogy and their stories.

Because of my dad’s long active teaching and dynamic development of adaptive pedagogy for these contexts, I sent him Challet’s article and asked him what he thought.  He gave me permission to post his reply:

Ever since the enactment of Public Law 107-11 in 2002 (NCLB), and especially The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), there have been a plethora of similar findings and reports published through recent years. These are usually created by law firms that specialize in defending the rights of children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Youth Law Center is one of these and is cited by Anna Challet in this article. Youth advocacy organizations are extremely valuable and much needed to assure that NCLB and IDEA are followed.


Anna Challet’s assertion that “kids in court schools have high aspirations for what they want to do with their lives … They’re hungry to learn, and the system meets them with low expectations” reveals a wonderful idealism on her part, but mostly it highlights her scant experience and knowledge of the juvenile incarcerated population and the highly skilled teachers who interact with them daily.

She presents findings, anecdotes, and a couple of apparently effective at-risk youth intervention models that seems fair and somewhat balanced, though skewed to reflect her bias and activism: One young lady complains that the curriculum was below her academic level and none of the credits that she earned “appear on her transcripts.” The young lady earned HS credits, but typically may not have mentioned that she had spent time in a juvenile court facility when she returned to her regular high school.

Challet then tells of a young man who seemed to benefit from his court school experience and earned “the most credits he’d ever gotten in any school”. The latter, I believe, was the most common re-occurring reflection that I heard in the 25+ years that I taught at-risk and incarcerated youth.


By law and WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) the academic delivery model in court schools must correspond to that which is found in all California pubic secondary schools. The difficulty is that current data indicates that at least 70% of minors in the juvenile justice system have educational, social, and emotional disabilities along with 2nd to 4th grade English literacy skills.

Due to years of neglect and absence of timely and appropriate intervention these 12-18 year olds have little chance of above minimal success in our present economic setting. According to a current report 6,027 juveniles are arrested each day in the United States. If this number of young people were infected with a fatal disease each day, an entire network of governmental health agencies would unquestionably mount an aggressive response to combat this widespread pandemic.

It seems apparent that incarcerated court school students are part of a “mass casualty incident” and potentially two-thirds of them may spend the remainder of their lives in dismal disparagement based on current rates of recidivism. There needs to be an academic emergency response protocol which would address this situation in an effective and efficient manner.

It is my opinion that the time adolescents spend in a juvenile court school should be viewed as a catastrophic event and, as such, the response a metaphor to that of medical emergency triage with its established protocol and rehabilitation program. The identification procedure, the pedagogical model, and the program of long-term intervention implemented should take the form of triage; in this case, academic triage.

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The making of pastors in seminary

The making of pastors in seminary: Pastors aren’t born into the role. Sure, of course, there’s often a family business of sorts, where son follows father, who followed his father, with assorted uncles and cousins added to the mix. Increasingly we find sisters and mothers and aunts in the lists too.

Even still, it’s not hereditary. It’s not like the priests of Israel who were priests because they were born into a tribe of priests, each one having a turn of service.

Pastors are trained. Where does this happen?

Seminary.

That’s what a seminary is at its core: a place to train pastors for ministry. There’s more that happens, of course, all sorts of accompanying projects and activities.

But if a seminary isn’t training pastors, it’s not really a seminary.

Not every education about theology has the same goal. Which is likewise where the various models run into problems. The Berlin model may be entirely appropriate for one goal where the Athens model another, etc. and so on. If the goal is to train pastors but all that is happening is training people to fit into the academy, that’s a problem.

If the goal is to train pastors, but you’re only training people to discover and use their own gifts, then that’s a problem. If the goal is to train pastors, but you’re only training people to be good citizens, then that’s a problem. I could go on, but you get the point.

If the goal is clear and singular, then an institution can easily focus its time and energy in that direction.

With its primary goal of training pastors, however, a seminary has a much more complex mission. Especially in contemporary understanding of a pastor. There’s a lot to being a pastor.

Let’s take, for instance, the role of a vocational minister, the pastor of a church. They are to teach and preach, so need to understand the content of Christianity. They are to offer counseling and support. They are to help encourage, shepherd, train those within their church in their faith and expression of this faith. They are to help people understand how to best translate their faith within the context of their culture and society. They are to keep up with their own life of prayer and personal study and expressions of holy living.

This is why seminary education is a subset of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. Training ministers is a function of the church. It flows out of catechesis, raising up those in the faith to become among those who train and shepherd others. We train pastors so as to help edify those who edify others within every church communities.

The very name of pastor (shepherd) suggests a leadership role for a community of Christians, a role that requires a fair mix of different responsibilities. Indeed, all the various separate emphases have their place in a well-rounded seminary education. A pastor has to live in Berlin, Athens, Azusa, generally Geneva, hopefully Jerusalem, and ideally Skete. Each city grabs for attention–for tourist dollars–and so we see pastors becoming unbalanced, overwhelmed, under-trained if they are pulled one direction too far away from others.

In older models, as a citadel designed for a single purpose, theological education could deposit the requisite information and then send students out to do something with it.

In continuing service for the church, however, a seminary is doing more than sending out graduates to sink or swim. The church invests in these men and women in order to be contributing participants in the health and growth of the church. The seminary is given this charge and asked to take care that those who are called are able to carry on in this calling. It creates a deepening depth of wisdom that provides balance in light of competing demands.

If seminaries are not adapting to changing realities then they are not living up to their role and indeed their mission.

One of those changing realities is the fact that an increasing number, maybe even a majority, of seminary graduates will not be vocational ministers. This doesn’t mean they won’t be pastors, it just means they will be pastors and _______, with the blank filled with all manner of different jobs, callings, roles.

Gone are the days where we expect pastors to go into a parish ministry. Fuller, for instance, already broadened this early in its lifetime when it opened the School of Psychology. Graduates finish with a degree in psychology but take quite a number of Bible, theology, ministry classes, generally enough for even an additional masters degree.

Even in the School of Theology, a great many of my students are not interested in full time vocationally ministry, but are active in other vocations, in nonprofits, in missional communities, or in building their own understanding of their faith as a way of contributing to the lives of those around them. Fuller along with many other seminaries have long recognized this reality, even if the general structure of seminary education has stayed much the same.

I like the statement it posts at the bottom of its online course pages:

“With deep roots in orthodoxy and branches in innovation, we are committed to forming Christian women and men to be faithful, courageous, innovative, collaborative, and fruitful leaders who will make an exponential impact for Jesus in any context.”

That’s a big task. Which theological education “city” does all this fit into? We want a city in the mountains, by the coast, with good skiing and mild winters and nice restaurants and low prices, with ancient history and modern sensibilities.

We want it all, which sounds impossible.

And maybe in most places it its. But this is California. In California you can ski and surf on the same day. There’s a possibility of the impossible in California.

Which is why Fuller came into being to begin with and continued to innovate over the decades.

In his book on Fuller Seminary and the (then) New Evangelicalism, George Marsden has this to say on David Allan Hubbard, president of Fuller from 1963-1993:

“Probably also relevant to Hubbard’s broader view was that, unlike every other major figure in the seminary’s history excepting the Fullers, he was a native Californian. California seemed on the edge of Western civilization in that its institutional traditions were not firmly fixed. Hubbard clearly reflected this trait of the region. Like Charles Fuller before him, he saw that with the proper resources institutions could become almost anything one wanted. Unlike the easterners (and vastly more than the Britishers), both Fuller and Hubbard tended not to see traditional structures as inevitable.”

While times and settings have changed–Pasadena is a very different place than it was in the 20th century–so have opportunities. We are not stuck with the innovations of the past, locked in place as if that is our settled identity.

Traditional structures, conventional frameworks, are not the way things have to be, as if we have to fight over increasingly small amounts of the parish pastors pie. Both the context and innovation invites seminary education to broaden its perception of its ecclesial role in training ministers within a broad range of callings and vocations. Seminaries don’t have to keep the same model and then just add on elements of technology to stay alive, staying relevant as they try to keep being what they have always been.

Technology opens up opportunities to become something new, and break free of the boundaries and assumptions which create possibilities from formerly absolute limits. Such possibilities don’t detract from the overall mission, they can help us fulfill it even more thoroughly than ever before. Seminaries can engage the church with transformative networks of learning, training, and support.

As I continue with discussing the network model in my next post I’ll talk about how seminary education can better integrate both faith and context as it emphasizes orthopraxy and orthopathy alongside orthodoxy. Maybe it’s finally time to leave the city walls behind. We don’t need them anymore and they’ve never been quite as helpful as we assumed.

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Beyond the Citadel of Theological Education

Using cities as analogies for theological education is very evocative.  They speak of a place, a way, an era, a narrative all at once.

The sights and smells and food and language of one city is different than other cities.  Pasadena is not Paris and Paris is not London, London is not Los Angeles, Los Angeles is not Tokyo, which is not Mexico City, which is not Shanghai, which is not Mumbai, which is not like Chicago, which is different than Athens, Berlin, and Rio.  Istanbul (not Constantinople) is different than Rome which isn’t like Madrid or Havana or Topeka.

Very different in different ways but very still having a core reality in common. They are cities. If you want to experience them, you have to travel to see them.

Cities became cities by being places of gathering and often places of protection. Early on they were walled fortresses, able to gather in those who were near so as to keep them safe–at least for a time–from marauders or armies.Me at Carcassonne

These cities were only rarely fully surrounded by walls. They had citadels, little cities, within their limits.

Learning was also seen as vulnerable to assault and so colleges became little cities of their own. Colleges were quite literally citadels.

Be it castle or college, there was a place within a place where the body or the mind was protected and nourished.

The analogy of a city for different theological education models isn’t just an analogy. They also represent real places. Places where people left their homes and traveled to in order to study the ways of God with the gathered experts alongside fellow students. Athens, Berlin, Geneva, Jerusalem, Azusa St, and Skete drew people, pulled them from their homes, shaped them into a new kind of person for a new kind of world, formed a barrier from the outside.

Theological institutions likewise formed as citadels within their context. They are a place to educate the chosen and elites (because who else can afford the cost or time). They  gathered in, marked with a degree of learnedness, inaugurated each student into the narrative of what was deemed most important in a particular Christianity.

0421bb10A person learned the content of theology and also the culture of theological education. They then went outward back to home or other settings, sharing the content with others.  We teach as we have been taught. We share that which we have been shown important. We prioritize that which we know best.

Some were trained as pastors, to manage the parish they were assigned. Others became missionaries, sent out to begin new churches. Should any of these be successful enough to raise up new leaders within their context, they sent such promising students there to the citadel and back again.

Citadels of theological learning express the theological priorities of different traditions. Yes, we can categorize citadels in terms of specific models. But they remain the same basic method.  Go there. Learn. Finish. Then go elsewhere. Manage on your own.

This was the way it had to be. How else could someone learn from experts? How else to become a master of a long-established tradition? One must go to where the teachers are and learn however the teachers taught.

So, the different models became patterns throughout history, where people learned in different cities than where they were from or where they were going to minister.  It was demanding, and often limiting. Who is able to pack up and leave their homes? Who is able to devote themselves to a full load of study while in a new location?

To alleviate some of the pressure on this demand, some of the citadels set up outposts which provided access to at least some of the material and experts. They offered classes in a micro-model of the citadel.  They weren’t ideal but often made the difference for students.wheaton_628239983

This isn’t unique to theological education, of course. For most of history, education was based on a citadel model, little cities that used distinct language and emphases, inviting men and later women to come stay within their zone of training and protection.

Citadels were the only substantive model out there, some small and some large, but the same basic approach. The little cities boasting big city terminology like university. The big cities claiming small city values like authenticity and community.  Move to our city, the literature invited.

Then something changed. Everything changed. Just like heavy artillery and then airpower ended the use of walled cities, the information age has radically changed the need to physically go somewhere and live there in order to learn. Over the last ten years, this has caught up to higher education with online learning becoming a major force.  Almost everyone prefers a live classroom experience, but with so many other factors involved, taking a class online increasingly becomes the chosen option.

The foundations of the citadels have crumbled, replaced by a web that reaches around the world.

But we still tend to think of theological education in terms of cities, expressed as citadels, projecting force from a headquarters outward and onward. The reach is global though the  students get the fullest experience within the old, beaten but not yet broken citadel walls.  The great bulk of resources are spent to maintain the walls, bolster the citadel approach.

And this is what so many of the current representatives of the theological cities have in common. They are citadels in an information age, finding it increasingly difficult to sustain the established models but not yet able to determine how else to express their chosen “city” but as a city within a city.  Yes, we may have different modalities, but we are the city we were founded in.

But rather than thinking of theological education as a city, a city that expresses a particular element within the framework, maybe a way has opened up to hold onto that which made the cities great while going beyond their many limitations. Such an approach can integrate technology and other possibilities in ways that citadels never could, and marshal resources that blend together the various “city” emphases in a holistic, transformative way.Hubbard Library

Rather than thinking of theological education as a citadel, maybe we should think of theological education as a network, small hubs that bring together the depth and bounty of an established institution while allowing a local context to stay integrated.

Those who learn, serve; those who graduate, teach; those who minister, are ministered to; honoring the sanctity of a community by letting those called to the community find their calling within the community.

By participating in a network based at a hub, someone can pursue theological education alongside others who they may very well stay alongside for the rest of their lives. This can be a growing, deepening community of learners who facilitate a lifelong connection to the depth and breadth of the Christian faith.

I think seeing theological education in terms of such a network brings the discussion back within ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church.  Those who are called to go elsewhere certainly can, but we shouldn’t insist that those who are called to a place must leave that place and break their ties for an extended time just to go to a place where they have no roots and little connection. Before, there wasn’t a choice. Now there is. And it is indeed an opportunity.

Theological education is traditionally set up as a citadel.  Maybe it is time to break the city model entirely and think in terms of a network.  A difficult transition, but I think there are places that can pursue this well, having many elements already in place. It’s a radical idea, but I’m a Californian theologian, so I don’t see why that is a problem.

Long posts are indeed a problem, so I’ll sketch some more thoughts about the network concept in another post.

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