Students went back to school last Monday and that's why most of the posts this week have been school-related. I would like to share the following article—which I wrote in my previous life as a teacher—in the hope that readers can pick up ideas on how to bridge the generation gap with students. The article was previously published in The Windhover (First Quarter, 2003) 26-27.
“The teacher. Too weird,” was what one of my students wrote in answer to the question, “What did you not like about the last quarter?” I was so happy with my student’s response that I started our next class, and even those with other sections, by saying that this feedback was my favorite among all the replies. And when they asked “Why?” I told them that I liked it so much because it’s true. I am, in fact, weird. “I don’t think you have ever had or will ever have another Religion teacher like me.” And, as if to prove my point, I told them we were going to listen to the song “Seasons in the Sun” before I returned their exams for the previous quarter.
Seasons in the SunMany of my students liked boy bands and some did not, but the reaction was fairly uniform. They were looking forward to it because teachers rarely played songs in class. (And when teachers did let them listen to songs, they were more likely to be religious songs and not the latest hits.) So I played the song. And their faces fell. “What is that?” I stopped the tape and asked them—even though I knew what the problem was—what was wrong.
I had just played the version popularized by Terry Jacks in the 70s. And my students did not hear the Westlife version they expected to hear. They said it was baduy. But the people of the 70s liked this song, I told my students. How come they liked the Y2K version and not the 70s one? Their answer? Because they were different from the audience of Terry Jacks. And even though it was the same song with the same message, it was not going to “sell” to them because it was not their kind of music.
That’s when I reminded my students of what we had been studying the previous quarter. The gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, were essentially the same song with the same message but were written at different times for different audiences. Hence, they shouldn’t be surprised if the four gospels were very different in more than just a few aspects. And if they could not “get” a song written just 30 years earlier in the twentieth century, they would have to make even more of an effort to understand the gospels written in the first century.
I distributed copies of the lyrics and then I played the version all of them were waiting for. Many sang along and, in one class, some even got up and danced. Afterward, we discussed the significance of seasons and how it would be difficult for Filipinos to appreciate the importance to Americans of the changing of the seasons. The term black sheep resonated with quite a few of my students after I asked them whether a black-colored sheep would look at home in a family of white-colored sheep. Some even volunteered that they were the black sheep of their families.
After the English lesson, we went back to the Bible and agreed that there would be a lot of things we would not understand if we assumed that Jewish culture was the same as ours. And that it was important to remember that figures of speech existed even in the Bible. Jesus was not, in fact, literally a lamb.
Then I said, “Now that you’ve had your joy, you’ve had your fun, you’ve had your seasons in the sun, here are your test papers.” Welcome back to the real world!
Seasons of LoveDuring the next class, we used 1 Corinthians 7:1-13—“Love is patient and kind...”—for our regular let’s-read-the-Bible-together opening prayer. I knew they had gotten the results of their different tests and I wanted to assure them that they were more than the numbers—whether favorable or unfavorable—in their tests. That they were people, not numbers.
And of course, we had another song. This time I needed to explain that the song was from a Broadway musical called Rent, something similar to Miss Saigon (which was playing in Manila at that time). It was going to be a different kind of song, nothing a boy band would sing.
The lyrics were different too. I wrote the number 525600 on the board and asked my students what they thought it referred to. We did a little math and figured that it was equal to 365 days times 24 hours times 60 minutes. It was time to listen to the song. It asked if it was enough to measure life in daylights, in sunsets... in inches, in miles... How about love?
What could that mean? Seasons of love? Was it just referring to romantic love? Could there really be a winter, spring, summer or fall of love? And what season of love were they in at that point? Remember the love? What for? Wasn’t it much easier to take love for granted? Along with all the good things people did for us? And how exactly do you measure your life in love?
Missing the PointThey didn’t know it then but I had just prepared them for the test at the end of the quarter. The multiplication of the loaves (Matthew 6:34-44, 8:1-9) was going to play a very important role. I would go on in another class and tell them that maybe the numbers in the miracle stories were significant. That maybe someone really counted the people present, and that there were, in fact, exactly 4000 people present. Or that maybe it was meant figuratively—4 to represent the 4 corners of the world and 1000 to mean a great number of people. And five loaves and two fish? Add them up and you get 7. For 7 days of the week? Maybe...
And maybe we were missing the point. The miracle story—and the Bible—is not so much about numbers or facts or history as it is about God’s love for his people and the different responses to His love. But if we don’t know how to read the Bible, we may just think that the early Israelites lived and thought the way we do today. Or that everything written in the Bible is factually correct. Or that Jesus really was a lamb. And miss the point.
The last question in the quarterly test involved a saying I saw on a t-shirt: “Love is, like five loaves and two fish, always too little until you start giving it away.” In order to answer it correctly, the allusion to the five loaves and two fish had to be explained. But to leave it at that would not have sufficed. Because the Bible is not just about five loaves and two fish. Or miracles. Or parables. Or death and resurrection. The Bible is about love. And that’s the point.