Sunday, May 5, 2013


¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!  Having grown up in central Texas and studied in San Antonio, I am familiar with the holiday.  I celebrate it, certainly.  But that is not the point of the post today.

The point is instead one proceeding from a Bible study class I sat in on today at the Church of the Village (my beloved wife taught Sunday school this morning, so I figured I would drop by the class).  The focus of discussion was Genesis 22:1-19, in which Abraham is commanded to take his son, Isaac, into the wilderness so as to make of him a burnt offering, prepares to offer him, and is halted with the knife upraised.

The verse was not comfortable for all in the class.  The idea of a deity who demands such a test of faith is not an easy one to reconcile with a god whose purported essence is love, and several people spoke to that discomfort in discussion.  Also mentioned was an uneasiness with the idea of a god that feels the need to test the faith of the believer (something that pops up in popular culture frequently, in South Park and other places).  And while the discussing soon veered away from that point and into other productive avenues, there are things to be said about the notion that were not.

We approach the idea of being divinely tested form the perspective of the student, and it is a commonplace that students are not at all fond of tests.  My own classrooms have demonstrated this to me in abundance, and even in my study of aikido, I have seen people avoid exams for years (indeed, one gentleman has managed to avoid testing for shodan for some ten years, despite his obvious proficiency with the material).  But the student who sits for the exam is not the only one involved in the testing process; the person who writes the exam and the proctor who administers it both have vested interests in the assessment.

I have written many tests and given many others.  When I write them, I work to make the tests themselves moments of teaching.  At their best, tests are not venues for students to demonstrate that they can recall material.  They are instead opportunities for the students to make new knowledge, to consider circumstances and arrive at new understandings.  When I administer them, I long to see my students achieve those understandings, even as I know that some will do the minimal amount they think will allow them to get around what they perceive as an obstacle, and others will not succeed.  Although I know that it is unavoidable, and I usually know which of my students will act which way, I still exult in the successes of those who succeed and lament the failures of those who fail (usually).

If I, who am merely mortal and decidedly bounded, act thus about the tests that I write for three-hour, one-semester courses in subjects unrelated in the students' minds to what they are going to do in their lives, surely the Almighty, concerned intimately with the lives and doings of all things in creation, would do so, as well, and more.

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