Formal versus Informal Religion


I am taking a class right now on curriculum and instruction and (unsurprisingly) have found parallels in the ways in which children and adults both learn. When compared to how Christians learn about God, the similarities are uncanny.

For some time now there has been a raging debate between those who are interested in exploring new learning techniques and those who call for a return to the basics; reading, writing and arithmetic. The progressives say that different learners have different ‘intelligences’ and that the traditional and more formal methods favors those of only certain types of ‘intelligence’; particularly those who prefer rigid structure, predictable routines and memorization. Traditionally, this would result in a classroom where some students ‘got it’ but many did not. The informal methodology recognizes the various learning styles in the classroom and adapts the instruction to meet these students where they are, allowing more students to learn at their potential. Although productive, this certainly does not make the teacher’s job any easier and critics insist that the lessons are being ‘dumbed’ or ‘watered’ down.

I see the differences between the formal and informal schools of thought as being akin to the differences that exist between the emerging and traditional churches. The following is from a paper that I presented to this class:

In “Lesson Plans – Does Traditional Teaching Work” (Cadalyst, Oct. 1, 2006) Matt Murphy suggests that many traditional and formal ways of teaching are outdated and ineffectual. He contends that the vast majority of what we learn is not found in classrooms but from personal experiences and relationships. This is not to say that classroom teachers will become obsolete but, as Murphy says, “what it means is that most of what we learn isn’t taught to us”. If this is true, then as educators we should understand that most of what is being taught is not being taught by teachers and we should be looking for ways in which to modify our curriculum to address the ways in which our students learn the most.

Murphy talks of the differences between traditional formal learning as ‘pushing’ the student whereas informal learning is more like the student is being ‘pulled’. Initially, at least, new learners need to be ‘pushed’ by the more structured environment of formal teaching. But as they gain maturity and expertise they often find that this structure becomes boring. In the same token, students with more experience will often lose motivation or even rebel when placed in formal learning environments.

Speaking from an industry based perspective, Murphy notes how workers will typically learn more from co-workers and work experience than they will from formal training sessions. He notes the many varied ways in which adults will learn, often through venues that would not normally be seen as educational, like the internet and water cooler gossip (what he calls the Grapevine Effect). Businesses would benefit from a better trained and more satisfied work force if these ways of informal learning were explored and encouraged

Dennie Palmer Wolf, in her article “Outside the Box:” (Winter 2008, suggests that this same approach to informal learning would enhance the quality of education in today’s schools. Using mathematics as an example, Wolf demonstrates that much (if not more) of the typical students’ math skills are developed outside of the classroom just by practicing the daily activities that involve mathematics. These practices are not deliberately undertaken with the goal of learning in mind yet the students will easily pick-up and retain information that is useful and has relevance for them (not something that they often expect in the classroom). For example; after-school study groups generally result in significant results yet the environment is unstructured and student led. Perhaps student led and cooperative learning strategies might be employed successfully in the traditional classroom.

Schools need to acknowledge the benefits and obvious results of informal learning and find ways in which these student-driven endeavors may be encouraged or assisted. In addition, educators should look into ways in which the most successful of these informal activities might influence the classroom curriculum. As Palmer asks; If so much mathematics is being done together on the bus or in late night phone calls, wouldn’t it make sense to enrich and inform that system? What if part of the curriculum were how to teach, help, or support one another?”

Wolf, suggests that schools should partner with communities and families and look into the surroundings that students find themselves in and explore ways in which these environments might be made more hospitable to informal learning.

Both Murphy and Wolf reach the same conclusions coming from two different directions; one approach is from the perspective of industry, which depends upon educated children who graduate from our nation’s schools to make up their workforce. The other perspective is that of educators who hope that the students that they teach will some day go on to find meaningful and rewarding employment as adults. Both perspectives have provided them with a vision in which students of all ages continue to learn on their own, at times with the assistance of those who understand that a gentle pull is more persuasive than a firm push.

Formal religion is a tool that can help the novice find their way towards God. For many of us, at some point the formal structure of religion needs to be cast off so that we may continue to learn. Formal religion is like the raft in the Buddhist parable; it is a means to help convey us across an uncertain river towards understanding, but once there we should not cling to it, as it would only slow us down on our journey.


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  1. #1 by Christian Beyer on November 5, 2008 - 4:41 pm

    No, I agree. Not because it is immoral to due so ( is it moral to conscript people to kill? condemn someone’s family farm to put in an interchange?) but because it is bad for the economy and everyone, especially the people at the lower end of the economic spectrum, will end up suffering for it.

    At the same time, don’t we redistribute wealth when we adjust tax codes and zoning requirements in order to promote specific businesses? Or pay farmers not to grow certain foods? Or use tax dollars to build sports arenas, opera houses, museums and parks? Or bail out auto companies and banks?

  2. #2 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on November 5, 2008 - 5:50 pm

    Of course–but this is more like a shifting of wealth rather than a redistribution.

    Taxes and imminent domain to build an arena take the money of the average folks and give it to the already wealthy–like the city of Washington paying for the new stadium, allowing the already wealthy Lerner retail family (or whoever would have bought the Nationals from Major League Baseball) to forego the expense of building a privately owned stadium–thereby saving the hundreds of millions of expense implied in the ownership of a sports franchise. This practice has been par for the course for years.

    Redistribution, in theory, takes money from the wealthy and gives it to the poor or otherwise disenfranchised. This has been a disaster wherever attempted, such as in Cuba and Zimbabwe–especially since the governments make sure cronies are the chief beneficiaries of the redistribution.

  3. #3 by Christian Beyer on November 5, 2008 - 8:14 pm

    Oh, I agree. That’s my point. It is invariably a financial and social disaster for most participants.

    But a true conservative would concede that building stadiums or running gambling operations is not in the original purview of American government and is in fact socialism. I find it highly ironic, and more than a tad hypocritical, that someone (not you) can get all in a snit over redistribution of wealth (when it comes to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor) yet be quite comfortable when tax dollars are used to build stadiums for their favorite sport franchises (taking from the poor and giving to the rich, relatively speaking).

    Now, if we are going to talk about moral imperatives, where is the morality in bringing in slot machines to feed the state’s hunger for money while at the same time helping to make a very rich Maryland family even richer, all under the guise of serving the ‘cult of the child’ while preserving a failing sports industry who’s time has past? Well?

  4. #4 by netprophet on November 5, 2008 - 9:23 pm

    Redistribution of Wealth
    From an e-mail I was sent:

    The other day on my way to lunch I passed a homeless guy with a sign the read ‘Vote Obama, I need the money.’ I laughed. Once in the restaurant my server had on a ‘Obama 08′ tie, again I laughed- just imagine the coincidence.

    When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I told him that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone who I deemed more in need-the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight.

    I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside as I’ve decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy was grateful.

    At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was petty angry that I gave away the money he did earn even though the actual recipient needed the money more.

    I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application.

    OR IS IT………REDISTRIBUTION OF SOMEONE ELSE’S WEALTH IS A GREAT IDEA…………..or is it just a fools political game!!

  5. #5 by Christian Beyer on November 5, 2008 - 10:28 pm

    Absolutely. I agree 100%,

    Now let’s twist that scenario a bit. Instead of a homeless guy I take the ten bucks and give it to some gal so she can stand naked on a stage, smeared with chocolate and call it performance art. Or hand it to a wealthy business man as a bribe for him to bring his sports franchise to town.

    If I’m the waiter, shouldn’t I be more pissed off to see my money be used in such a manner while the homeless guy is still on the street?

  6. #6 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on November 5, 2008 - 10:31 pm

    Good one Net.

    I don’t know how you get off-topic so easily, Chef-Boy-O-Beyer, but you make some salient points.

    Yes, using eminent domain and floating municipal bonds to build a city-owned stadium is tacit government ownership, which amounts to socialism.

    On slots, here-here. We had a “special session” in Annapolis (that’s the state capital, Chris) to correct a non-existent $500,000,000 “structural” deficit. Somewhere, not only was another $600,000,000 in spending and government expansion, but another $600,000,000 was added to that! So, slots had to be foisted in an illegal and dishonest manner to get the yes vote the governor and his construction-company cohorts wanted (see the “capital improvements” to schools part of the referendum).

    So, after 2 years of Gov. O’Malley, we have $1,200,000,000 in new spending, we have $600,000,000 in new taxes, and soon we will have real Casino gambling in Maryland–all, as you say, under the moral imperative of the Cult-of-the-Child.

    The moral imperative? The moral imperative has been shifted, as you say, to line the pockets of wealthy interests–and if I am not mistaken, aren’t the tracks now owned and operated by out of state companies?

  7. #7 by Christian Beyer on November 5, 2008 - 11:14 pm

    One billion and two hundred million dollars in NEW spending (not the old spending isn’t still going on). Amazing.

    What’s the population of Maryland? 5 million? 6? How can we sustain this. And then we have the Federal government on top of that….

    I don’t know about the outside ownership. I thought the Defrancis family still held the reins.

  8. #8 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on November 6, 2008 - 12:03 am

    I don’t know who holds the reins (ahem) in Maryland–but I thought that during the Preakness folks were lamenting the fact that Maryland racing interests were mostly out-of-state.

    I don’t know the exact figure–I was basing the numbers on the supposed deficit, the increase in taxes, and the supposed new money for schools–hey wait–that adds up to like $1,500,000,000 in new spending. Hey wait a minute.

    Some of this is necessary. For example, my “boss” at TU says classroom space is squeezed as the university grows.
    Also, it is obvious that many schools need safety and environmental upgrades–including AC. FHS heats up to uncomfortable levels in May, June, August, and September.

    What is offensive are the unnecessary road re-pavings, like in Taneytown, overspending on projects, and lining the pockets of cronies–that’s the problem.

    The last point on this off-topic comment will be to say Gambling is no solution to economic problems. In Nevada, in addition to gambling revenue, people pay income tax as well as sales tax that is more than 7%. Yes, they have nice schools and in some places good roads–even in the literal middle of nowhere–but the bureaucracy has to be fed, and gambling is not the answer in Nevada or in Maryland. On the other hand, some Indian tribes have found their economic salvation in gambling.

  9. #9 by Christian Beyer on November 6, 2008 - 7:22 am

    Yeah we are fairly off topic, but a good talk anyway.

    Care to bring us back on point?

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