19 June 2024

Educational settings, plus the hedgehog and the fox

In this article, I will adapt scholarly items from outside theological contexts.


My first item is adapted from adapted from "Exploring Questions and Answers in Computer Science Education" by Sally Fincher & Kathi Fisler, published in Communications of the ACM, July, 2022.

No matter where you worship, or what your role is, education is important; important not only in WHAT is taught, but also HOW it is taught and WHO is taught. For example, what is known about how different groups of people learn Christianity? How does learning in a house of worship differ from formal education settings? What techniques have been shown effective for teaching or probing learners' knowledge about Christianity? What traditional approaches fail for modern Americans? Depending on different contexts, these questions will have different answers. Investigating those answers requires us to think (as individuals and as a community) about the methods that are appropriate for studying educational questions and, crucially, what problems do we most need to think about so that our education and training keeps pace with developments in Christian practice?


Next, I will apply ideas from "The Hedgehog and the Fox" by Isaiah Berlin. This book expounds on the ancient Greek proverb, "A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing". The fox uses many tactics to catch the hedgehog, but the hedgehog finally escapes by using its simple, prickly defenses. That's not to say that a simple approach always wins, just that we should be prepared to utilize the right tactic at the right time.

Consider a talent show in which the contestants are songwriters. A person trying to predict the winner might listen to the songs and pick the song that "sounds the best". That person is the hedgehog; it all boils down to one variable, catchiness. But another person might do some research: is any songwriter of the same ethnicity of any of the judges? Has any songwriter competed before? Do bagpipe songs always lose?

In other words, the fox looks at a range of objective variables instead of one abstract variable.

With respect to Christianity, are you a hedgehog or a fox? Do you attend your church because it focuses on the Immaculate Conception, feeling like that's the most important thing? Or, do you enjoy trying to figure out how Jesus fulfills the parting of the sea while also typing the weekly bulletin and also repairing the church boiler?

Neither the hedgehog or fox is "right" or "wrong", at church. Your God given purpose is not the same as mine. My example is simplistic, so it's safe to suggest you hedgehogs should not be too focused. I at least feel that I should always be on the lookout for new ways to mature, spiritually.

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