It is a conversation I feel like I’ve had a thousand times: a junior high boy is sent to my office for doing something inappropriate in class, and I get to help them figure out where they went wrong. Our conversation typically goes like this:
Me: “Why did Mr. Tucker send you to see me?”
Jr. High Boy: “I sprayed Sam with my water bottle.”
Me: “You did? Why would you do that? Was it Waterfight Wednesday in Mr. Tucker’s class?”
Jr. High Boy: “No. I guess I wasn’t thinking….”
Me: “That may be the case, but let’s look deeper: how’d the rest of your class react when you sprayed Sam with your water bottle?”
Jr. High Boy (usually grinning): “They laughed. They thought it was pretty funny….”
Me (trying to pretend I’ve come upon some new wonderful insight… remember I’ve had this conversation a thousand times): “Ah…. They laughed. They thought it was pretty funny….”
Jr. High Boy (sheepishly silent): “….”
Me: “Do you suppose THAT might be why you sprayed Sam with your water bottle? To make your buddies laugh? To make them think you were pretty funny?”
(I like to mix in air quotes here on laugh and pretty funny, just to emphasize my point. It works wonders.)
Jr. High Boy: “Yea. Now that I think about it, I guess I did.”
Me: “What’s wrong with that?”
Jr. High Boy: “It’s selfish. I’m taking the class’s attention from Mr. Tucker and focusing on myself.”
At this profound discovery, I usually take over and explain that people who find themselves in trouble invariably do so because of this same problem: without exception, people are innately selfish. Our natural inclination is to do what we want to do. It is why the Apostle Paul used such strong language as “dying to self daily” and “crucify[ing] the flesh.” I walk the students through the confession/repentance/forgiveness/restoration process and send them back to class to see Mr. Tucker.
This is where the conversation usually ends. But not always.
I had a 7thgrade boy in my office a few weeks back and had this very same talk with him. The next day I was in the Providence Room, sitting at a bistro table after school, when the student came walking in.
Jr. High Boy: “Mr. Browne, can I talk to you for a minute.”
Before waiting for an answer, he took up his place on the stool across from me.
Me: “Sure. Have a seat.” I directed him towards the stool he was already sitting in.
Jr. High Boy: “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said yesterday about selfishness being the cause of all sin. I think you’re right, but I mentioned it to some of my friends, and we got into a really good discussion about it. A few of them thought that pride was the root of evil, and they made some really good points.”
(Pause and imagine that for a moment: a group of 13 year-old boys – not mindlessly huddled around screens playing Fortnite until their eyes bleed – but instead enjoying one another’s fellowship in deep discussion over a meaningful topic; this – more than dry textbooks, menial worksheets, or Scantron bubble forms – is education.)
The 7thgrade boy and I then spent half an hour in deep conversation kicking the ideas around and talking about Bible verses and orthodox doctrines that would make sense of their discussion. He thanked me for my time and went away.
Proverbs 10: 11 and 13 read in part: “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life…” and “Wisdom is found on the lips of him who has understanding….” Both of these verses speak to something that exists at the core of our school in particular and classical Christian education in general: deep and meaningful conversation. It is so often by engaging ideas with others and talking through them that God leads us to truth. A group of junior high boys in the corner of a classroom discussing the root cause of sin isn’t a rare occurrence at our school. Our teachers will tell you that the highest and best moments they have in teaching involve conversations like this with our students.
Grab a friend or two and let your mouth be “a well of life” to them, and vice versa; alternatively, you could hang out in the Providence Room and wait for a group of students to wander in and join them in their great conversation. You will thank me later.