I just finished teaching a three-hour class about the history of eugenics in America.
After picking up War Against The Weak, I was bursting to talk about everything I learned. Blessedly, I’m a teacher who generally has a captive audience twice a week.
This year, I’ve already been tempted to shout out everything new I’m learning to anyone who will listen. And perhaps debate them if they don’t want to listen.
I can feel the well, actually rising up in my throat.
So before I become that obnoxious millennial who reads one book and thinks she’s an expert, I’ve drafted a list of do’s and don’t’s for myself.
DON’T Learn Just Enough
When I was a teenager, I was notorious for reading a book just to prove someone wrong. I wasn’t learning for the sake of enjoyment or enrichment; I was learning to crush my ideological opponent. Knowledge was a useful weapon to silence uncomfortable conversations, not a helpful tool for sharing an edifying truth. I didn’t need to thoroughly understand a topic. No, just shut up and get to the part where I can win the debate.
In reading adversarially, I wasn’t looking for constructive conversations; I was looking to crush the opposition.
DO Learn Enough to Re-Frame
Instead of learning just enough to shut down a conversation, learn enough to re-frame the conversation.
What I mean by that is, oftentimes, we complain about other people’s presuppositions, whether they’re speaking from a place of privilege, assuming that you share their privilege, or making you cringe because you can’t hear “privilege” without thinking of a Marxist worldview. My inclination in these situations was often to repeat my arguments over and over again (louder and louder), in spite of the fact that the person I was talking to just wasn’t approaching the conversation from the same place as I was. But the more I learn, the more I’m able to rephrase my point of view, and to discover the understandable part of others.
DON’T Kill the Conversation
Another thing I used to do was learn new things in order to kill old conversations. Just give me the ideological zinger that will shut them up.
Our go-to ideological zinger is usually a label. For the most conservative evangelicals, the label is usually something like “feminist.” Calling a woman a feminist in conservative Reformed land is like calling her Jezebel. The minute you’ve slapped that label on her, any further argument from her just solidifies the brazen hussy title. Other popular labels include “cultural Marxist.” “liberal,” and my personal favorite, “millennial.”
DO Learn Enough To Have a Nuanced Exchange
What if, instead of hurling around ideological labels, we actually took the time to define what we actually mean by them?
Take the term feminist. It’s not one that I apply to myself (I’ve written and rewritten an article explaining why — pray for your girl), but it’s one that’s been stapled to me every time I’ve offered pushback on any beloved female stereotype. The more I learn, however, the more I’m able to pause and examine feminism from several different angles (the historical one being my favorite) and explore exactly why the person I’m talking to has turned it into a pejorative.
The same goes for “cultural Marxist” or “liberal.”
I can’t really change the fact that I’m a millennial, y’all. Deal with it.
DON’T Just Validate Your Preconceived Ideas
We know that God’s Word is the holder of absolute truth. But sometimes, we confuse our particular understanding of God’s Word with absolute truth.
We often supplement actual truth with our own cultural interpretations. So when we question whether or not Titus 2 says what we’ve always assumed, we’re not questioning God’s Word; we’re questioning our understanding of God’s Word.
If God’s Word is absolutely true, it can stand up to all of our investigations. It always has. It always will. Learning more about the world we live in will only enrich that truth. Especially if we uncover lies we used to hold dear.
DO Challenge Your Biases
Read books about topics you’ve never even considered, yes. But, also, read things that challenge things that you’ve always taken for granted.
The more I’ve done that, the more two things have happened: on the one hand, I’ve become surer of some long-held beliefs; on the other, I’ve been able to free myself of some unnecessary long-held shame. It’s been a journey, and I’m only getting started. Bolster your convictions by reading things that challenge them.
DON’T Learn Enough Just To Give A Hot Take
I struggle to condense three hundred pages of a meaty book into 280 characters.
And that’s okay.
We live in an age where we’re pressured to share our thoughts as we’re thinking them. Reading broadly and deeply forces me to allow my thoughts to simmer and distill a little longer. That’s good.
DO Learn Enough To Realize You’ve Never Learned Enough
You will always be digging and learning.
Dig deep into a relationship with the person who you’re engaging.
I’m a high school humanities teacher — not a Ph.D. in either of the fields that I teach. I’m a professional of very, very small caliber. Even if I did someday reach Ph.D. level knowledge/credentials, there would always be someone one step ahead of me; someone who has known more and for longer.
I’m trying not to learn in order to dominate but to relate and reflect on God’s truth.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1.
I want the things that I’m learning to equip me to love others better by equipping me to point them to Christ. And I want to do that in word, and deed. I want to do that without being a jerk. So I will try to take my do’s and don’t’s to heart this year.
And to keep my well, actually attitude in the classroom.