Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fear Not

This news article was reprinted on the back of the bulletin of the Easter Vigil Mass service which I attended on Saturday at the St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Suleimaniah. I'm reposting it here because it challenged me. What reason do I have to fear?

» 03/29/2012 17:35
Mgr Sako urges Christians "not to fear" celebrating Easter
by Louis Sako *
For the archbishop of Kirkuk, Iraqi Christians are part of a "Church that suffers intensely". Lent is a time to reflect about the faith and, despite difficulties, open up to the world. The prelate cites a number of acts of solidarity that brought together Christians and Muslims. He urges the faithful to renew through the Gospel their enthusiasm in the faith.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - "Fear not" is what Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, told Christians in preparation for the upcoming Easter. Iraq's Christians are victims of violence and persecution. In less than a decade, this has reduced the community by half. Still, they are not alone for the entire nation is being torn apart by an unending confessional, political and tribal war.

In a world of big and small sufferings, the archbishop calls for the rediscovery of the Good News to bear witness to the faith without concerns and fears. Bishops and priests are called to perform this task and young people can look up and learn from them.

Here are the reflections Mgr Louis Sako sent to AsiaNews.

Iraq is a country that has been suffering from violence for many years. We Christians are part of a Church that suffers intensely. Over time, Lent has become a time to reflect deeply about our faith, a time not to shut ourselves off from the world, and this despite the critical situation. It is a time to open up to a deep dimension that draws hope for those, especially the younger ones, who face difficulties, and those who lead a life of precariousness and fear. This hope is found in the Lord's words, "Fear not!" This is what the Good News urges us to do, even if we are persecuted in so many ways and languish on the sidelines, something that those who lead a tranquil life or live in luxury cannot fully grasp.

The Good News is meant especially for the very poor, for those who lead an uncertain existence or are not fully free. We recited all of our prayers and performed the Via Crucis in this spirit. We shared what we had with the needy and many young people fasted.

There were many acts of solidarity, among them that of a young man who handed us US$ 2,000 "to help families celebrate Easter". A young woman gave me US$ 1,000 for the disabled, "not only Christians but also Muslims . . . for the whole community." A group of Lebanese priests and nuns are also planning to visit us to celebrate Holy Week. All these acts show solidarity in deeds, not just words.

In Kirkuk, our small presence takes on a deeper meaning for our Muslim brothers. Our witness, in deeds and words, is alive and present. Recently, I met a politician who told me: "Only with you Christians can Iraq go forward and achieve progress."

An Arab tribal leader has asked me to act as a mediator in order to promote dialogue among Kirkuk's various ethnic and political groups, with the Chaldean cathedral as the venue where to meet. "We only trust you," political and tribal leaders say. What more do we need to do to show how important our presence is . . . ?

At a conference on the Arab spring, a young Christian woman from Syria spoke. Her name is Marcelle. "What have you bishops done for the good of the people," she asked me. "Your caution does not help; it does not change the situation. What have you done with the 'Spring of Christ' in which the Good News was announced? We young people are doing more," Marcelle said.

She then began singing in front of us and with us and all the participants, Muslims too. It was beautiful sign to behold, all of us united, reciting a hymn inspired by a psalm. I think perhaps we have lost some of the enthusiasm and radical quality of the Gospel.

Therefore, on this Easter I shall try to help the faithful not to fear, help them to proclaim their 'Yes' to God. I call on everyone to be close to our brothers in thought and prayer, and celebrate the communion, charity, life and love for our fellow man so that violence and fanaticism may stop and everyone live in peace and joy.

"Fear not," I shall tell the faithful during Mass on Easter night.

* Archbishop of Kirkuk

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Growing Up

I have cool sisters.

If you haven’t met them, you should.

One of them just returned from spending a week of her Spring Break with Somali refugees in Minneapolis, and then spent two hours on the phone with me, thinking deeply about how her experience there should affect her view of God.

The other recently cut off two one-foot long pony tails of hair, and told us in an email distributed from Brandon, Wisconsin to Orange City, Iowa; Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland; and Suleimaniah, Kurdistan, Iraq that it made her feel grown up. In her own words: I agree it is sad, also my hands, feet, and wrists are bigger than Mom's and I'm only an inch away from being her height (aaahhh! I'm not supposed to be grown up already!) cry. ;)

The third (or rather, first) writes beautiful blog posts. Here’s (her) autobiographical proof: "I am a student, not because I attend institutions of higher learning, but because I live to learn. I worship, because I am not my own. I think, because there is a reason for everything (and so that you know I exist). I love, because I was first loved. I travel, because it's a big world worth exploring." She has the uncanny ability to state succinctly and meaningfully the same information that I require several rambling paragraphs to articulate. This disparity gives me the advantage in writing essays, but I think the tide is in her favor for blog posts. You can thank her for inspiring me to write this, and ask her to give me a few more pointers on terseness.

In October 2009, Michelle, Lydia and I drove eleven hours (one-way) to spend about 52 hours with Anne and Jerusha. Together we perused the Oxford (Mississippi) Public Library Used Book Sale and returned to their mint-green apartment to turn our finds into journals. With an X-Acto knife (Yes, that’s how you spell it. I checked.), a ream of ivory Office Max paper, glue, burgundy thread and a needle, I exscinded my purchase’s 300 pages and converted Russell Baker’s Growing Up into the cover of a new journal. Since my journals chronicle my life—and I’m continually aging—I found its title ironic, yet pleasantly appropriate. (Moreso than the other I fashioned—entitled Indecision—in honor of my habit of ruminating over important choices.)

I didn’t start actually writing in the journal until March 2, 2012, with an entry about the school shooting in which a student killed Jeremiah Small, an American teacher at a Christian school about five minutes from here, in Suleimaniah.

I wouldn’t have guessed Growing Up would begin that way.

The truth is, it didn't. I started in 2009 pasting the tea bag tags inside its first few pages next to scrawled notes:

-Good Earth (“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.” Evelyn Waugh [1903-1966]): Tues Oct 6 09 Small Group, Sweet & Spicy Tea & Herb Blend

-A yellow Lipton tag: Spiced Chai Flavored Black Tea—11-2-09—11:30 pm, while reading Metaphysics

-Lipton 100% Natural Tea: Tues Nov 10 Honors Lodge with Dr Jeremy Begbie, Duke & Cambridge expert on Theology and the Arts

-Lipton. Tea Can Do That.: Orange & Spice Flavored Black Tea Mon Nov 30 TESOL Project 4 Côte d’Ivoire

-2 Bigelow English Teatimes and their Green Tea counterpart: The Blur that was Dead Week Fall 2009 (aka Metaphysics Paper on Divine Temporality vs. Divine Eternality & Summary Paper of Kantian Ethics and so on) December 6-11, 2009

In the following pages I pasted tickets from my Jterm in Oxford in 2011 and the Ethics Bowl (etc.) nametags I saved until I cleaned out my collection when I graduated last May.

Growing up didn’t begin with moving to the Middle East. Nor did it begin with metaphysical cups of tea or Ethics Bowl case briefs. Its origin is closer to the twelve-year old realization that I was nearly as tall as Mom, and that I looked older after I got my hair cut.

Incidentally, I’m going to get my hair cut this afternoon. My Kurdish friend is taking me to a salon she recommended.

I have never been brave enough to cut off 12 inches of hair at a time, though.

Friday, June 10, 2011

An Opinion on Opinions

Three summers ago while I was working at Camp Grow one of my fellow camp counselors asked me to listen to a song he had written and recorded. I lay on the cold carpeted floor of the meeting room in the basement of the lodge and closed my eyes and listened to the recording, and worshipped.

When the song was over, he asked a simple question: “What do you think?”

I was paralyzed. How was I to know that? What did I think? I didn’t know enough about music to be able to critique it musically. I liked the words, but I wasn’t really sure how to explain why. It was a “good” song, I guessed. But he wanted more than to be told that. So I mustered an indecisive response, and tried to defer to someone else to answer him.

Shortly thereafter, I concluded that his question—“What do you think?”—was the most difficult question that anyone could ever ask me. Even reaching that conclusion was a significant step, because it included a superlative. I shy away from superlatives for the same reason that I loathe articulating what I think: their finality intimidates me.

I identified with Julia Roberts’ character in The Runaway Bride when she sits down to a table covered with plates of eggs prepared in different ways. Roberts’ character has allowed others to define her tastes for her whole life, and realizes that she must determine for herself what she likes. She then triumphantly declares that she likes her eggs poached (or whatever it was), and hates all other kinds of eggs. I have reflected long on whether I should force myself to do a similar egg-tasting. I don’t know what kind of eggs are my favorite, for the same reason that I don’t know what kind of music I like or what is my favorite food, sport, book, author, activity, season, or movie.

Another reason I hate articulating opinions is my acute awareness of my inadequacy. “Who am I to think that I have anything to offer?” dominated my thoughts during that summer until it was a well-worn—and paralyzing—mantra. I recognized that my fixation with my perceived inadequacy was a consequence of basing my worth on my accomplishments. By the end of my first year at Taylor I had lost the ability to define myself as unique by my accomplishments. Since there were so many others who were so much better than me in everything that I did and was, I determined that “the idea that I have anything to offer is preposterous.”

My response should have been humility. Instead, I felt paralyzed by unwillingness to do anything at which I wasn’t the best. As a perfectionist who was only content as the best, I would rather not enter the fray at all when it wasn’t likely that I would end up on top. If I didn’t even try, I could content myself with the thought that I could have been the best if I had tried. But since I didn’t try, there was no way to test my self-delusional theory.

First, I based my identity on my accomplishments. When I realized that they weren’t adequate to make me unique, I became insecure. My insecurity made me I was loath to do something unless I was likely to be best at it, for fear that others would thus “find out” that I wasn’t who I wanted them to believe.

My indecisiveness was also a carry-over from my high school conclusion that the ultimate epistemic duty was not to form false beliefs. The gravity of the very real possibility of being deceived made me declare to my mom that I was unable to form any conclusion so long as there was unresolved disagreement on an issue. It took until last fall in Epistemology for me to learn that Descartes and William Clifford agreed. It is often encouraging when I find that my thoughts have been thought before me by people far more insightful and articulate. But in this case I wish they could have been better thoughts.

The problem with hyper-Cartesian epistemology is that it tries to force our experience into a theory which is unable to fully account for it. It should be the other way around: theories should be formed based on our experience. William James is right: sometimes decisions are momentous and unavoidable, so that the act of not making a decision is to make a decision.

I stood on many curbs today as I walked around Washington, DC, waiting for the crosswalk signal light to tell me it was safe to cross. I often got tired of waiting and, when there were large gaps in the traffic, considered crossing before the light changed. I had two options: to cross or not to cross. As I stood in indecision, I was deciding in favor of the latter. Several times I decided the road was clear enough to go for it, and crossed. In either case, I was making a decision, even though I did not explicitly recognize it as such.

In some ways it’s discouraging to me that I am once again reflecting on these epistemological lessons which I thought I learned through my experience three years ago, and studied formally in Epistemology last fall. I should know this by now. But I hope my repeated reflection is a good thing. The difference is that this time around I am being challenged to put these ideas into practice.

I will never know everything, and disputes on most of the things about which I care deeply will not be resolved in the course of my lifetime. Thus, my inability to counter every argument which could be made against an opinion I form is not a good reason not to form the opinion. The fact that there are intelligent people who disagree with me does not mean that I am not justified in holding that belief. My identity is based in Christ, not in my feigned superior ability to articulate arguments in defense of what I believe. My excuses have been revealed as the facades they are.

When they are blown over, a cowering me is revealed. This is the me that is loath to form a political or denominational identity. The real reason that I am loath to form and articulate explicit political or doctrinal opinions is that I am afraid. I cower because I expect that as soon as I determine whom I support, someone from the “other side” will pounce on me with arguments that threaten to pull me back into indecision.

That’s why I say that I’d much rather live in the tension on these issues. But I have become too comfortable in the tension. I’ve used it as an excuse for indecisiveness, which is an expression of immaturity. The tension into which I now need to grow is the tension of forming explicit opinions, knowing why I hold them, and being able to articulate those reasons to those who disagree. It’s a terrifying challenge, one which I still hope will simply disappear if I ignore it long enough.

But the challenge won’t go away. There is still value, of course, in my ability to see various sides to an issue. There are still secondary issues about which forming a firmly held opinion may not be a worthy pursuit. Fallibilism must still remain central to my epistemology. There is still room for a healthy distaste of labeling myself as anything but one redeemed by Christ. But none of that addresses the heart of the issue. I need to have opinions. I need to know how to answer, “What do you think?”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jonker Family Christmas Letter 2010

Column I
Dearest esteemed relations and associates,

Greetings in this season of our liberator’s nativity! We pray that things are as well with you as they are with us. We are so blissful that our laughter commonly awakens us from our deep slumber to greet the sunrise.

Our much-loved father best exemplifies this sentiment. He revels in the opportunities to serve as an elder at our church. In May he and our darling mother traversed the European continent with Rachel after she finished her semester in Spain. The jovial trio gleefully meandered through seven countries on a diet of crusty bread and spring water.

Mom wholeheartedly enjoyed the vacation to Europe, since she had been dreaming of the sojourn since she was a young lass. Another energizing highlight of her year was beginning a part-time job at Central Wisconsin Christian School after Luke, Laura and Elizabeth started there full time.

Rachel graced 13 countries with her presence this year, visiting Egypt, Europe, South Korea and the United States. She anticipates her graduation from Taylor in May with tender sorrow at the prospect of leaving home and excitement to be able to grace another (as-yet-known-only-to-God) country with her presence as she teaches English.

Anna, a sophomore at Gordon, basks each day in the glory of her glorious life. She decided that majoring in biology wasn’t difficult enough for her, so she is custom-designing one in nutrition. She spent her summer in the beautiful state of Wisconsin lovingly caring for aged individuals with her nursing assistant license.

Laura has arrived to her final year in high school. This year she is amassing wealth via summer and winter office jobs. She absolutely blew us out of the water with her astoundingly wonderful performance as the lead in the high school play—for the third year in a row. She has been too busy being wonderful to select one of the colleges in the Midwest which have earned a spot on her top-three list.

Luke, a freshman, is taking sophomore classes in high school. His voracious reading pace slowed slightly as he engaged in more adventurous pursuits such as an apprenticeship this summer at the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) and shooting his first deer in the first five minutes of his first hunt. His duties every Saturday morning as a dentist’s aide include wolfing-down Belgian waffles and other similarly strenuous activities. Since he completed the classroom portion of driver’s education the only thing standing between him and his temporary license is four months.

Fifth-grade Elizabeth will celebrate her joyous 11th birthday on holy Christmas Eve. Her fantastic performance in 4-H horseless-horse was recognized with the sportsmanship award. She also entered a darling little table runner and some fused glass jewelry. She welcomes the oh-so-busy Christmas season with youthful grace in spite of commitments to three programs in five days, a birthday on the horizon and the return of older sisters.

As you can tell we are very delighted and cheery with our lives. We pray that you are also…. happy.

Blessings and Best Wishes for a Blessed Wish-filled Holiday!

Column II
We have completed another year and will assume you have also unless you notify us otherwise.

That Icelandic
volcano with an unpronounceable name which cancelled Rachel’s trip to Morocco almost prevented Dad and Mom’s visit to her. They think they’re glad it didn’t. Rachel’s travel service was dubbed by Dad the “cheapest way to see as many things in the shortest amount of time possible with the added benefit of losing weight.” Book now for Summer 2011. While in Europe Rachel thinks she learned how to navigate public transportation, Dad learned how to say “gracias” and Mom rediscovered that she doesn’t walk as fast as Dad, who doesn’t walk as fast as Rachel.

We intended to go on a blissful familial camping outing in June to a secluded kayak-access-only camping site on Lake Michigan. The “blissful” part was lost somewhere between bucking three-foot waves in a tent-laden canoe, dragging a tent-toting sled through the pitch-black forest after midnight causing friction to abrade away its bottom, using hotdogs to grease the pancake skillets and a serving spoon to “flip” the “pancakes”, and pushing puddles of the torrential rain off the tarp above our picnic table. It was still camping though.

Rachel scares us sometimes. Besides weight loss disguised as tourism, she enjoys arguing (aka Ethics Bowl), traveling through third-world countries by herself and double majoring in Philosophy and Spanish (not to mention three minors). One weekend, while in Spain, she thought about making brownies, but decided to go to Portugal instead.

Anna decided that dealing with persnickety old people’s bodily excretions is less than an ideal summer job. Returning to books, papers, no sleep and friends at Gordon this fall was then very appealing. She usually thinks her new “design-your-own-major” idea is great, until she is asked over her potentially less than nutritious dinner about it.

Laura prefers acting to office jobs. (This may or may not have something to do with excessive paper cuts, paper clips and country music.) Unfortunately the office pays better. At least, so far. Plus acting can be an almost equally traumatic experience when casted as someone with electrocuted hair who has been raped and murdered her stepfather. The college search has been narrowed to Northwestern (a Dutch grain bin), Northwestern (a frozen pond), and Taylor (a windy cornfield)—which is last resort given the ill-repute of a related predecessor.

Luke decided to heed Dad’s advice and shoot the deer he saw. Dad just didn’t expect him to actually get it. (Especially since his father has yet to get one.) At EAA Luke was required to deliver promotional fliers and make over 100 candy salvation airplanes- the real reason he got in free. Safety Steve’s substitute in Driver’s Ed taught Luke how to hit a deer, but admits questionable teaching Luke still managed to get 100% on the final.

The last-minute switcheroo of her horseless-horse for another animal traumatized Elizabeth, but, as you know, one with her skills can manage these things. She braves the stressful Christmas season by making cookies, playing with American Girl dolls, and doing interpretative dances with pretzel cigars in the living room.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Flourishing on Purpose

Last Thursday my professor reminded us of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Contest for undergraduate juniors and seniors which was due today. The first-place prize of $5,000 was enough to convince me that it was worth it to sacrifice the time I should be spending on preparing for exams to write an essay to submit. This is the result. I apologize for the length; perhaps it would be best read in parts.

Flourishing on Purpose
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. --Jesus, The Gospel of MatthewAlign Center
Most of what I remember from the college Spanish class which I took during my senior year of high school has little to do with the Spanish language. Conversational fluency developed as a means of grappling with the dapper young professor’s perspectives on issues in philosophy, sociology, sexuality, ethics and religion which were largely unfamiliar to my evangelical Christian upbringing. One day he asked us to suggest essential characteristics of a universal religion. Although bewildered at such a prospect, I was the first to raise my hand. “Religion should offer purpose to life,” I ventured. He rejected my suggestion with a wave of his hand, explaining that the lack of consensus on the issue deemed the question of purpose irrelevant to any guiding framework for humanity. Too dumbfounded to articulate my gut revulsion to his flippant dismissal of this core value, I sat back to listen as he directed the discussion toward universally acceptable ethical standards. His ideas were strangely compelling, and I began to wonder if he was right. Should we dismiss the question of purpose for human life from discussion of ethics?

My bewilderment about his ethical views continued throughout the semester. By the summer my interpretive framework was shaken enough that I began to doubt that I understood enough about the world to bring about the ethical change which I believed it so desperately needed. Were ethics possible without purpose? Did I even know how to make a meaningful difference? Yet college scholarship checks from civic clubs, philanthropists and a music teachers’ association affirmed my intentions and ability. Convinced that there was truth to be discovered and reassured of my potential to discover it, I set my sights on college.

My pastor called in the final hours before my departure. I stood in the kitchen with the phone cradled on my shoulder as she prayed over me a blessing inspired by words inscribed on St. Patrick’s breastplate: “God go with you, God before you, God behind you, God in you, God beneath you, God above you, God on your right, God on your left, God where you lie, God where you sit, God where you arise.” The moment of peace which enveloped me dissipated as the prayer ended. “Don’t be content to merely survive,” she encouraged me, “Go and thrive.” I thanked her. Her blessing calling for God to indwell and accompany me so that I would flourish was tightly interwoven with orientation in moral space. It was as if she knew that I would need purposeful direction.

As we drove the final few hours through the darkness between the life I knew and freshman orientation weekend, I realized that there were millions of other people my age in the exact same situation. I had never felt so much like one lost at sea. As a homeschooled student, I was accustomed to identifying myself against the masses, as one whose family’s choices set her apart as distinct. Now I was one of the crowd. The gravity of this identity shift began to sink in as I joined a university community populated by students who largely shared my values, ethics, and beliefs. Most of what had identified me as an individual was now either irrelevant, obsolete, or simply identified me as one of my peers.

The realization that I was no longer unique sent me scrambling for the turquoise Who Am I? devotional journal which my grandma had given me five years earlier to help me navigate the turbulence of an adolescent identity crisis. But as I flipped through its pages while home on break I found only superficial characterizations of my identity as a person ordained by God as a member of a particular family, with a particular ethnicity, in a particular religious tradition, engaged in particular relationships and endowed with particular talents. None of it felt personal, real, or fundamentally identified me. Another’s name could have been substituted for mine and the details remain essentially unchanged.

Charles Taylor’s thoughts on the frightful experience of identity crisis in his book Sources of the Self resonate with my experience. “What this brings to light is the essential link between identity and a kind of orientation. To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what not, what has meaning and importance for you and what is trivial and secondary.” Losing my sense of identity made me feel like one lost at sea because I did not know how to orient my life around the meaningful and significant.

I reasoned that those who had gone before me could serve as guides in my search for meaning. So I became the overzealous freshman who took notes during the new student orientation class in which the other 499 students—including the upperclassmen leaders of our freshman group—distracted themselves with sleep, homework, the internet, or phones. Even though I had joined the masses, I did not have to identify with them. I determined to identify standards of achievement by which to distinguish myself. I listened intently to the panel of upperclassmen students as they dispensed wisdom from their college experience thus far. “Don’t try to do two things at once,” a charming brunette advised. “You’re much better off getting your work done first and then going to hang out with your friends or watch TV. Be fully engaged in whatever you’re doing and you’ll be much more efficient.”

Since I took it as a given that academic achievement was important, I assumed it to be the primary way to thrive in college. I determined to take her advice to heart. By distinguishing myself academically I would discover both my identity and purpose, and flourish according to my pastor’s blessing. By focusing first on academics I hoped to carve out time to thrive socially and spiritually. I took up residence in the Geek Room, the haven stocked with individual study desks and freest from distractions courtesy of the self-imposed vow of silence assumed by all who crossed its threshold. But the efficiency engendered by an environment free of distractions did not create time for rest and relationships. The pursuit of my identity in distinguished academic excellence squeezed the margins and flourishing out of my life. I clung to the fading hope that I would somehow, someday capture the elusive hours that I sought to gain by holing away in a room of geeks until my harried schedule developed into a routine with which I became obligingly and then willingly familiar.

Convinced that the pursuit of academic excellence deemed thriving unattainable, I resigned myself to be content with surviving. The glaring insufficiency of surviving became apparent one afternoon as I sat at my Geek Room desk and inadvertently tuned in to a series of frenzied conversations simultaneously occurring in my head. The words were insignificant compared to the breathless tone of voices desperate to be heard, even if just by me. It was as if my soul, so long starved for significant human interaction, had bolted from its confinement to run frantic circles around its dazed self. But since the pursuit of excellence left no time for such frivolities, I grabbed my temporarily liberated soul, shoved it back into the solitary confinement required of it by my pursuit of excellence, and barreled on.

When the semester finally ended I came up into Christmas break gasping for air, wondering how my disciplined pursuit of academic excellence had left me so dehydrated and dilapidated. Something was askew which even the achievement of the coveted 4.0 did not rectify. Following the brunette’s advice was supposed to enable me to thrive, not cause me to shrivel. I returned to prayer, reflective journaling and contemplation to nurse my battered soul back to health, and coax it out of its confinement and into full participation in my life. I knew that I was not thriving in my pursuit of academic excellence, but I also knew that I needed to pursue something. Aristotle affirms this necessity in Nichomachaen Ethics when he says that human actions are directed toward an end which motivates them. The final end, eudaimonia, sometimes translated as “happiness,” is better understood as human flourishing. Humans flourish by consciously exercising virtues, the means between vices of excess and deficiency in character traits, in pursuit of their final end.

But I was highly suspicious of talk of “means,” because they reminded me of “balance.” Every time my mom pulled out her sermon about the need for balance in life, but I dismissed it as dispassionately as I had done in high school when I told her that “Olympic champions don’t live balanced lives.” To navigate the high seas of my identity crisis, I had set my sights on excellence and worked like an Olympic champion in training. The result was all but excellent. Reflection on my first semester in college told me that I needed navigational guidance to help me aim for true excellence. Guidance requires direction toward a target of sorts by which to evaluate options and make choices.

Balance seemed a sorry target on which to set my compass because I had no desire to pursue mediocrity. I conceptualized balance as the act of keeping both the laziness and the diligence ends of my seesaw suspended in the air. I had no desire to spend my life in the tension of a balancing act, shifting my weight tentatively back and forth. Steven Curtis Chapman’s song “See the Glory” resonated with me: “I never did like the word mediocre / I never wanted it to be said of me, oh, no / Just point me to the job and I'd go over, over / Looking for the very best that could be.” I was convinced that balance was not the very best that I could be.

In pursuit of the best holistic excellence I joined the university Ethics Bowl team the following fall. I hoped to flourish by finding ethical orientation. But that was not exactly what I encountered. Ethics Bowl, I learned, was about preparing to present thoughtfully reasoned ethical arguments in response to questions posed about each of the fifteen hypothetical and real-life ethical dilemmas in the cases. The goal was not developing personal ethical orientation as much as it was to win. Winning an ethical argument required rhetorical skill to face the judges and convince them of the flaws in your opponents’ case, even if you agreed with it. Ethics became a game in which we wrestled with the best rhetorical application of Kantian, Utilitarian, Social Contract, and Virtue ethics rather than a holistic ethical orientation.

While my team’s discussions were framed by the understanding that ethics are informed by an ontological reality, this assumption was never articulated in competition. The same possibility of disagreement which scared my Spanish professor away from questions about the about the purpose of life kept us from addressing publicly the reasons for our fundamental ethical orientation. I did not recognize the importance of this unarticulated commonality until my teammate described it for the university’s news article about our team’s third-place finish and qualification for the National competition. He saw that the possibility of engaging in constructive ethical discussions was contingent upon the existence of an independent standard according to which we are responsible to orient ourselves.

I had only begun to contemplate this significant truth when, to my astonishment, I was among the half of our team members selected to represent our university at the national competition. I dismissed the question of how orientation according to ontological reality related to human flourishing with no more than a passing nod and moved into the limelight afforded me by professors, students, family, and friends. This certainly felt like thriving. The more they congratulated me, the more motivated I was to earn their praise by performing well at Nationals. I replayed their compliments in my mind until they ran coursing through my veins to warm my soul in the frigid darkness and awaken me from my sleep-deprived stupor as I trudged through the snow on my way to our 7:00 am meetings. Their approval was the standard by which I defined my identity and purpose.

When my teammates climbed into their hotel beds at midnight on the eve of the national competition, I relocated to the bathroom where I sat on the floor with stopwatch in hand and practiced my cases until 2:00 am when I was satisfied that they were perfect. I awoke four hours later with more butterflies in my stomach than there are monarchs in central Mexico in December. Our coach assured us that our opponents put their pants on one leg at a time just like we did. A teammate quipped that they probably jumped in with both at once. I was inclined to agree. As our coach led us in prayer my distracted mind flitted through the moral principles of my case outlines, unable to be still long enough to ask for God’s blessing. My reputation—and hence my identity—was on the line. I shuddered to think what would become of me if I did not distinguish myself in the competition.

The sound of my deep exhalation equaled that of my pounding heart when my cases were not called in either the first or second match. The mounting pressure within my chest intensified before our final match because I was convinced that I would be called upon to argue against our Ivy League competitors. I was not to be disappointed. Yet when I sat down at the table and heard my case called, my butterflies melted. I knew what I had to do and presented flawlessly. The opposing team’s rebuttal was weak and I responded to their objections with eloquent confidence. By the time they called my case as the second for the match, I was nearly giddy with excitement. If this wasn’t what it meant to thrive, what was? I pointed out as many of the multitude of holes in the opposing case as I could during the five-minute rebuttal period and sat back to wait for the results from the judges. The bursting smile which I exchanged briefly with our coach confirmed my suspicion that I had done extremely well.

But the judges missed the memo. According to their scoring I had done equally as well as the other team. To hear that we tied was like being hit over the head with a ton of bricks. When I masked my astonishment in order to shake hands with and congratulate our opponents I learned that the bricks had hit them too. “I wasn’t even sure how to keep up with you,” the student who had presented against me said, “Well done.” I smiled firmly and moved on. Outside the competition room, our polite congratulations erupted into a spirited critique of the other team’s presentations. My heart soared and my head grew as everyone described my performance as “unbelievable,” “flawless,” and “astounding.” My coach said it was the best presentation he had seen in the ten years he had been coaching Ethics Bowl and called me a “juggernaut.” I was so pleased that I had the courage to admit that I did not know what the word meant.

Our critiques turned into jibes as we moved from the hallway to our hotel room. I soaked in the glory, prompting my teammates to comment on aspects of the case presentation which had not yet been discussed. Everyone assured me that I had done as well as I possibly could, but I continued to question them because I wanted to hear them say it again. I felt fulfilled because I had achieved my purpose, even if the judges did not recognize it. By the time we had walked to Chipotle for lunch, the praise began to dry up as the conversation moved on to other topics. I panicked. What else was there to say which could keep the praise flowing? I suggested a peripheral issue which I hoped would lead to further conversation, but my teammate quickly dismissed my concern as unwarranted and returned to the group conversation.

As I sat down to eat my burrito the ephemerality of my glory overwhelmed me. Weeks of arduous preparation were reduced to a blip of glory and an hour’s worth of praise. I had earned my teammates’ approval. So what? It dawned on me that I did not want to reinforce an egotistic identity by sending praise sound bites coursing through my veins for the intervening months before the next opportunity to “prove” myself as an Ethics Bowl juggernaut. I had arrived at the destination toward which my purposeful decision to define myself directed me to find it vacuous. I began to feel again as one lost at sea.

The identity I found in Ethics Bowl was oriented around my thirst for approval by those whom I respected. Ernest Becker identifies our common search for “cosmic significance” in his book The Denial of Death. I looked to my work to provide that which it could not. Deifying my participation in Ethics Bowl was an attempt to justify my existence to myself in light of a desire to ground my identity in the ultimately significant. I was shaken when that ceased to be affirmed, explains Thomas Oden in his book Two Worlds, because my guilt is “neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values.” I did not deny that this identity reflected an orientation toward a purpose which I presumed would help me flourish. I could only wonder why it took the crisis of fading applause for me to recognize that my identity would not be found in achievement or approval.

The following fall our coach read an anonymous letter from one of our teammates to open our first meeting of the Ethics Bowl season. Ethics, she reminded us, is about the life you live rather than the eloquence with which you debate cases. She challenged us to shed Pharisaical pride for lived humility at the weight of the ethical standard to which we would each one day be held accountable: “To what end, O Lord? To what purpose? For what reason? None, but Your Glory.” This was the depth of purpose for which I yearned. I began to conceive of the ethical life as the lived pursuit of the telos for which I was created. “What is the chief end of man?” asks the Westminster Catechism. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Glorifying God meant honoring him by working as if for the Lord in whatever I did, including Ethics Bowl. But to pursue argumentative ethical excellence in order to define myself was to misconstrue a means as an end.

Purpose motivates action. But as my dapper Spanish professor argued, the multiplicity of ends makes it difficult to identify any universal purpose of human life. Hence the motivation to remove purpose of life considerations from ethics. Yet his point is ultimately epistemological rather than ontological. Our inability to identify a universal purpose for human life says nothing about the existence of that purpose. Simone Weil reminds us in Gravity and Grace that “Man always devotes himself to an order.” We necessarily orient our lives around the pursuit of something, whether or not we know what that something is or should be.

Rather, the ethical question is whether that which we pursue leads to vacuity or flourishing. This pursuit defines our lives. Quite simply, as Harold Best notes in Unceasing Worship, “Nobody does not worship.” When I pursue my identity in academic excellence, that is worship. And it causes my soul to shrivel because it is not rooted in the ultimate reality for which I was created. For St. Thomas of Aquinas, Aristotle’s eudaimonia becomes ultimate union with God: “man and other rational creatures attain to their last end by knowing and loving God.” Flourishing is found in union with Reality.

Simone Weil finds that idolatry is born of a thirst for absolute good which is attached to something other than God. “A life not centered on God leads to emptiness,” suggests Timothy Keller in The Reason for God. “Building our lives on something besides God not only hurts us if we don’t get the desires of our hearts, but also if we do.” It hurt even when I earned the unofficial designation as Ethics Bowl MVP at Nationals because when the applause faded I was left with nothing. An identity can last only as long as that around which it is built.

And yet I still struggle to live by that truth. As I looked toward my senior year of college this past summer I determined that I needed to identify a mantra by which to define my purpose and orient my priorities to keep me from falling into the trap of defining myself by my academic achievements. Ethical living requires meaningful orientation. All those that I tried on for size were unsatisfactory until I settled on a single word: “Jesus.” I wanted Jesus to my center, my source, my light because I knew that any other purpose left me empty. But as the semester progressed and assignments intensified, my life devolved into a hectic schedule which reflected little of my summer’s mantra. I deceived myself into thinking that my mental depletion, emotional numbness and spiritual drought were temporarily necessary conditions which I would rectify as soon as I had the time. That time, of course, never presented itself.

The week before the Regional Ethics Bowl competition was among the busiest of the semester. When my computer died three days before the competition, taking my case briefs with it, I reasoned that I might as well die too. Sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, I worked furiously to reconstruct my cases while keeping up with all my other assignments. When I staggered out of an exam on Friday morning I was convinced that I had done more poorly than I had ever done on any exam, ever. As I walked toward the library I began to reprimand myself for failing to live up to my own identity. But the rebuke was replaced by a wave of profound humility which washed over me as I realized the gravity of my disorientation. Wisdom from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death washed over me: “The standard for the self is always: that directly in the face of which it is a self. But this in turn is the definition of ‘standard’. Just as it is only possible to add together items of one kind, so everything is qualitatively whatever it is measured by; and what is qualitatively its standard of measurement is ethically its goal.” To define myself by anything less than the ontological reality of God was sin. Confession liberated my soul, overwhelming me with a profound appreciation for the grace by which God allowed me to try again.

I took fewer butterflies than usual with me to the regional competition the following day because I finally grasped that my identity was rooted in a reality deeper than my performance. The nervous jokes with which we distracted ourselves changed into tentative excitement after we performed well in both the first and second rounds. When we entered the third round with the knowledge that we stood in first place I refused to let myself rejoice prematurely. Even after we tied the round against an excellent team, I dared not assume anything. It wasn’t until the final results were announced and I walked to the front to accept the first prize trophy as the captain of the winning team that I realized what had happened. When I gave up that which had constituted my identity, God gave it back.

I did not notice the applause fade as I returned to my seat.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reflection #5

Rachel Jonker
August 5-6 & 9, 2010
August 12, 2010
Journal #5
10.5 hours teaching, 15 hours preparing
Yum Kwang Church

Part 1: Summary of your recent time in the classroom (one-two paragraphs)

As we near the end of the YumKwang English Camp, my classes have begun to wrap things up. Thursday, August 5 was the final day for a Fruit of the Spirit verse. After that, I decided to use six of Jesus’ “I am” statements for the final daily Bible verses. These have provided the basis for each day’s Bible lesson in an engaging way as we have discussed what it means for Jesus to say that he is “bread” and “light.”

With the Brown Camels (my upper elementary school class) we have been working toward the students writing their own book report about a children’s book which I gave them to read outside of class. Every day I incorporate an activity which prepares them to complete another section of the report, such as character and setting description. The closest equivalent to this in my Blue Elephants class is the TeenInk essays which the students selected (on their own) and wrote two questions about and then summarized and exchanged with another student so they could read the essay that that person had selected and answer the questions. In the mother’s class which I co-teach with Molly and Rose during the kindergarten class, we have mainly focused on reading and discussing the Bible story which the kindergarteners learn each day so as to equip the mothers to be able to discuss the story with their children.

Part 2: Reflection on TESOL Themes
1. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt worked well and received positive response from both students and teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

On Monday, August 9 the daily verse was John 8:12 “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In order to create a memorable experience which would help both of my classes think about what this statement means, I decided to talk about light and darkness.

In my Brown Camels class I used scarves to blindfold each of the students at the beginning of class, while in my Blue Elephants class I simply turned off the classroom lights. Then, when the students were in the dark, I asked them to explain what it was like. After they had done so, I asked the key question: Which is stronger, light or darkness? At first there were diverse opinions, but after I asked them to consider which one overpowers the other when both are in the same room, they all understood that light will always beat darkness.

I also distributed several Bible verses about light and darkness. The Brown Camels each had one verse to explain while the Blue Elephants were given a complete sheet with all of the verses, but we only looked at a few of them. I asked the students when most robberies take place, and why this is the case. From this point we talked about how since Jesus is the light of the world he will still be able to see anything which is done in the darkness and a little about what it means to be children of light.

I think that this approach was effective because it gave the students a tangible experience which helped them understand an important concept. In terms of language learning, this gave them clarity which made the discussion more profitable. The students enjoyed the activity because it was unusual—the say the least— to have the teacher blindfold them and turn off all the lights. Harmer comments on this very thing when he discusses the importance of variety in classroom activities and topics. He notes that even the best activity “will be less motivating the sixth time we ask the students to take part in it than it was when they first came across it. Much of the value of an activity, in other words, resides in its freshness” (29). I think that I was especially attune to this because I have adopted a fairly consistent class structure which needed to be “broken-up.”

2. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt did not work well and received negative response from either students or teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

I am very intentional about treating my middle/high school students according to the maturity which I expect them to display in the classroom. I do this in the hope that if I treat them as responsible, capable students, they will perform accordingly. While this generally works, recently I have begun to question its effectiveness. I have struggled throughout my time teaching here to get my students to complete their blog homework. While I am still not completely sure why it has been so difficult to get them to do it, I suspect that it may be because the students are not accustomed to accessing the internet every day, are occupied with other homework, academies and activities and the blog homework was often not incorporated into the classroom time, so thus they were not reminded of it.

However, during these few days I discovered that the single biggest factor may simply be a lack of consequences. After discussing it with my fellow Taylor students, I decided that it was not too late to change my standards by requiring the students to write sentences every time that they did not complete their blog homework. I used this approach in my Brown Camels class: on Thursday, August 5 the three students who had not completed their blog homework had to write “I will do my blog homework before I come to class” five times and hand it in to me before they left class. On Friday the sentences increased to ten and on Monday there were 15. The combination of public humiliation and inconvenience that this created for the students proved to be more effective than I anticipated: since Monday, all of the students have been completing their blog homework. The whole experience makes me wonder why I didn’t think of this sooner!
Since I haven’t instituted the sentence punishment in my Blue Elephants class, student completion of blog homework has—understandably—stayed about the same. I chose not to make the students write sentences because it felt too “elementary” and because I had not instituted it from the beginning of class. I wanted them to feel that they were respected in the hope that they would return that respect. I have also recognized that this decision was motivated by my first language learning experience, in which the teacher used no consequences or tests at all, but rather simply presented us with “Desafios” for each subject area which we completed when we felt ready and through which we would earn the “honor” of having our names written on a posterboard.

But such is not adequate for these students. I also struggled against a lack of consequences to motivate the Blue Elephants to complete their “My Motivation” essays and select, ask and answer questions about, and summarize an essay from the TeenInk website. Harmer addresses my dilemma directly in his “What if students don’t do homework?” section of the “What If?” chapter (179-180). While none of his suggestions provide insight into how to create the intrinsic motivation which I would love to see my students develop so that homework completion was not an issue to begin with, they may have been helpful given the lack of such. I can see how a homework diary, variety, greater teacher involvement in reminders, reciprocation, and post-homework activities may have been helpful in motivating my students to complete their homework without belittling them. I can only lament that I did not institute such strategies earlier in the class.

3. Discuss a cultural dynamic that you saw playing out in the classroom. How did you respond to this dynamic? What resources could you consult to gain deeper insight into this?

On Monday, August 9 I decided to use a unit from Small Group Discussion Topics for Korean Students, a book which the YumKwang Church owns, for discussion in my Blue Elephants class. This book by Jack Martire presents a political, economic, environmental, or social issue facing Korea in the early 21st century in a three part essay complete with explanations of unfamiliar phrases and 8-10 discussion questions. The first topic that I chose was “Suicides.” Looking back on it I wonder whether it was appropriate for a middle school summer camp, but at the time I thought that the topic was sufficiently relevant and would be engaging to the students.

Our discussion was profitable; the essay gave the students a reason to communicate their opinions. However, the questions were not all relevant. This became humorously apparent when we came to the third: “What is your reaction to the suicide rate, as explained in Reading 3—a clash between traditional Confucist thinking and modern Korean society?” After a spell of awkward silence, it came out that the students did not know who Confucius was. I directed one of them to look up his Korean name in his dictionary, in hopes that this would “turn on the light bulb” which would enable them to answer the question. But even after they knew who he was, they were unable to answer the question. The students told me that while they had heard of him, they didn’t know anything about what he taught. Thus, I adapted the question and we went on to talk about how Korean media has changed. From that point on I realized that it worked better when I fed directly off of our discussion to create new questions rather than systematically addressing each written question in turn.

This situation shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. Throughout the course I have come to realize that much of what is marketed as “traditional culture” is not known as such by my Korean students themselves. Most of this is due to modernization and the students Christian backgrounds; much of what once defined a typical Korean experience is no longer present in their lives.

However, the fact that the students did not know anything about what Confucius taught does not mean that his teachings have ceased to have an effect on Korean culture. For example, it is still customary to bow to others—particularly elders—when greeting them. In addition, Korean society still awards a relatively high respect to the elderly. I have never before been in an environment in which the eldest is consistently served food first, and in which people routinely give up their subway seats for the elderly. However, I think that I am sensitive to this issue for that very reason: I have never before lived in this environment. For my students, in contrast, this is the only culture which they have known. As such, they are less likely to recognize such as overt evidence of Confucist influence. What I recognize as a cultural phenomenon appears to be simply normal to them. This phenomenon of which aspects of culture one can self-identify as such is fascinating to me. I would like to research it further via similar discussions with my students, the Korean language assistants, others who have lived in Korea as well as another culture, and via published material about evolution in traditional Korean culture.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Reflection #4

Rachel Jonker

July 29-30, August 2-4, 2010

August 6, 2010

Journal #4

8 hours teaching, 12 hours preparing

10 hours and 40 minutes teaching, 18 hours preparing

Yum Kwang Church

Part 1: Summary of your recent time in the classroom (one-two paragraphs)

On July 29 and 30 YumKwang Church’s middle schoolers attended their summer camp at the church’s retreat center, so we did not have class. That gave me more time to focus on my younger class, the Brown Camels. I incorporated a few themes—such as cultural festivals, the Bible story from each day, and the Fruit of the Spirit verse into other classroom activities so as to create a continuity which I hoped would help the students understand the flow of the class while motivating them to engage more with these stories. This tactic worked best when I introduced the topic and then gave the students an activity in which they could respond to what I had taught them with their own creative thinking.

Since the middle school retreat, the middle school student who had been giving me trouble has not returned to class. While I am disappointed to see him go rather than working through the challenge of teaching him effectively, I would be lying if I did not admit that this has significantly improved my perspective on the success of this class. It is so much more pleasant to work with students who are willing to follow directions and participate in class. With two-four students attending each day, the class has evolved into a more discussion oriented structure which gives me more time to interact with each student individually. I find this to be the most rewarding aspect of teaching here.

Part 2: Reflection on TESOL Themes

1. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt worked well and received positive response from both students and teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

My favorite activity which I did during these classes was a discussion of Korean Rites of Passage which I had with my middle schoolers on Tuesday, August 3. I located descriptions of traditional Korean coming-of-age ceremonies (gwanhonsangje), weddings, funerals, and ancestor veneration in a guide to Korean culture which I downloaded from the internet before I came to Korea. I proofread these descriptions, making note of words which I assumed would be new to my students and locating their definitions so that I could explain them to the students in class. I then gave each student a copy of a description of one of these traditions along with several questions which I wrote to prompt a discussion:

1) Were you familiar with the traditional way that these rites of passage were celebrated? If so where did you hear about them?

2) Do you know of anyone who still celebrates this way? What do these traditions have in common with the way that your family celebrates these rites of passage? How are they different?

3) What are the advantages of discontinuing celebrating these rites of passage in the traditional way? What are the disadvantages?

After each student had read his or her paragraph, I asked him or her to summarize its contents for the rest of the class and we then worked loosely through the discussion questions. I directed these questions to other students when it felt appropriate, making the judgment call based on their knowledge of and interest in the topic. This activity worked very well because it gave the students a real reason to communicate to me about something with which they were more familiar than I was. It was also helpful to provide them with the descriptions, because the students do not practice most of the traditional customs and thus are not very familiar with them. Most of their knowledge came from books, relatives, or grandparents.

I think a significant part of why I feel that this activity went well is that it was genuinely interesting to me to hear the students explain why they think it is perfectly acceptable to leave behind old cultural traditions and move onto more “westernized” celebrations. Since I am fascinated by this aspect of cultural evolution, I was genuinely interested in hearing the students’ perspectives and reasons. This made me prod them on with further questions, which gave them the opportunity to develop more thorough reasons for their opinions. I have determined that I enjoyed this activity because it gave the students more agency than I typically incorporate into my lesson plans and put me in the role of prompter and resource provider for language information (Harmer, 25). I enjoyed learning alongside my students.

2. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt did not work well and received negative response from either students or teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

I am generally satisfied with my students’ participation in classroom activities, although I still struggle to get some of them to complete their homework. I experienced this acutely with the book reports that I am trying to get my elementary school students to write. I gave them each a children’s book on Monday, July 26 and instructed them to read it on their own before class that Friday. On Friday I gave them a character summary sheet to fill out which walked them through several steps to describe one of the characters of their book. When they brought the descriptions back on Monday, I was very disappointed with the poor quality of their work. Their descriptions of the characters’ physical appearance were very limited, and the extent of their character’s personality description was that everyone said that his or her character was “kind.”

But then I realized that the students had completed the assignments in this way because I had not given them adequate preparatory support. I merely gave them the sheet, expecting them to figure out on their own how to accurately describe the character. At the time this seemed best to me because I wanted the students to take more ownership of the assignment, rather than merely regurgitating adjectives with which I provided them. However, in this instance it was unrealistic of me to expect the students to have skills which I did not teach them. At times I think that I forget that they are not able to be as independent as I am expected to be in my college courses. Upon reflection, it seems that I imposed learner autonomy rather than providing the support by which my students could gradually extend their involvement and responsibility in their learning (Harmer, 21). For this reason, I revisited character description in class on Wednesday, August 4 with a worksheet which detailed various ways to describe people and gave the students a few opportunities to practice doing so in class before I asked them to rewrite their descriptions.

3. Discuss a cultural dynamic that you saw playing out in the classroom. How did you respond to this dynamic? What resources could you consult to gain deeper insight into this?

The Bible character for Monday, August 2 was Mary Jesus’ mother, so I decided to tell the story of Jesus’ birth via the Brick Testament, a resource which I found online which illustrates Bible stories with Legos. I like this because each page displays a verse and clearly depicts it with the Lego people. The disadvantage of this illustration and simplified version of the story is that it makes some aspects of the story clearer than is typically done for children’s Bible stories. For this reason the creator marks each story for its nudity, violence, and sexual content. (The Bible isn’t exactly G-rated.) I decided to use an abridged version of the story for my elementary school students so as to avoid having to explain “circumcision” and show them images of the baby boys of Bethlehem being slaughtered.

I didn’t avoid Luke 1:34, however, which the author rendered “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this happen if I had not had sex with a man?’” My fellow teachers cautioned me against using the text in class, advising me to soften the language. I considered it, but chose not to because I have a heightened sensitivity to unnecessary censorship and simplification of the Bible. I am convinced that this is done too effectively in most Sunday School classes, such that after children grow up they only associate the stories with kindergarten felt boards and primary school puppet shows rather than recognizing the characters as real people who lived lives very much like ours and those of the people by whom we are surrounded. Besides being a misrepresentation of the truth, this leads to the impression that the Bible is childish and irrelevant, a false stereotype which I will not condone.

So I copied these verses for my students, and directed them to read them in turn as I advanced the images so that they could follow along. I watched them carefully as I handed out the papers, waiting to see how they would react. One of them spotted the “s-word” almost immediately and giggled behind his hand as he pointed it out to his friend. I remained silent and waited to see how they would react when it came time to read it. As luck would have it, the verse fell to the quietest boy in class. I felt a twinge of pity for him, but only because of how his friends might tease him afterwards. But when it was time to read the verse, he skipped right over it and read the verse immediately after it. I caught my correction half-way up my throat and swallowed it again before it escaped my mouth. I knew exactly why he had done so, and decided to let it go.

It was definitely the wisest way to react to the situation, but the way that it turned out made me doubt my decision to include the “uncensored” version for these sixth graders. In retrospect, I realize that it might have been wiser of me to consult one of the Korean assistants to ask his or her opinion about what would be considered appropriate for students of this age. Perhaps that would have helped me make a more informed decision.