Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 22, 1968
NUMBER 41, PAGE 1-2a

Teaching For Learning (I)

Martin M. Broadwell

When we see whole congregations go into error, we are prone to say, "Some preacher led them into digression." But a careful check many times will prove that the fault lies much deeper...They were not taught error, they probably just weren't taught at all! They can't give any scriptural reasons for their error, so how can we say they were "taught" error. What really happened was that they perhaps were not taught truth a long time ago, so they could find nothing to refute the directions toward which they went. This is not to say that there are not false teachers, nor that these teachers are not teaching error. It is saying that when people go off in large groups, it is rarely because they have all "learned" something at the same time. They have allowed themselves to be deceived by false teachers who have preyed on their ignorance and convinced them that another way is all right.

There is much to be dismayed over in the teaching programs of most congregations. We see a strange picture. We find many, many devout teachers, spending long hours preparing lessons. Coming to them are many more eager students, open minded and willing to learn. But what about the end results of all of this? Each person who reads this should ask himself some questions, depending on whether he is a student in someone else's class, or actually doing some teaching. For the student, ask: In all honesty, for each 45 minutes I spend in class, how much of what is presented do I really commit to memory? How many of the scriptures could I find if I were asked to explain the lesson right now? For all the years I have attended Bible study, how much do I have to show for it?

For the Bible teacher, ask: For all the lessons I have taught, what kind of return for my efforts can I show? How many scriptures can my students still quote or find in the Bible? Of all the journeys and all the stories and all the true-false questions and all the blanks that have been covered in my class, how much application can my students really make in their everyday life?

This isn't intended to be an attack on the teachers, nor the literature, nor the students. It is intended to get us to ask ourselves some searching, and very important questions. For some, the answers to the questions asked may give a very satisfying result. For others, the results may be a little painful. The purpose of this and subsequent articles is to suggest ways of evaluating and improving our teaching efforts. This will be done by looking not only at teaching, But also at both learning and the learner. We will try to find out just what good teaching really is, and what part both the teacher and the student play in the learning process. We will look at ways of producing more lasting results, and greater quantities of learning. We will show ways of getting students participation and involvement. We will try to convince the reader that it is possible to make a person a good teacher, so we won't have to wait around for a "born teacher" to be born!

The Challenge Is There

We don't have to get very far in the New Testament to find the challenge and command for us to carry out an effective teaching program. Matthew's account of the great commission leaves the teaching job right in our lap, from beginning to end. Teach them, baptize them, then teach them some more. This "some more" includes teaching them to go and teach others. (Matt. 28:19-20) Paul repeated this perpetuation process to Timothy by telling him to teach others what he had heard from Paul, and those who were thus taught were to be able to "teach others also." (II Tim. 2:2) We today are under the same charge.

Bible study is a sizeable operation in almost every congregation. Classroom space is of prime importance. Attendance is counted and encouraged. Literature is carefully (more or less) considered and purchased. There is most often someone in charge of the classes, frequently with one or more people to assist him. Everything seems in readiness for excellent results. But wait! There seems to be a flaw. What about the actual teaching and learning that takes place. Rarely are the students' results evaluated, and equally rarely are the teachers evaluated. Student promotions are by age and/or grade, not by accomplishment. Other than a star on a chart or some other method, little or nothing is done to hold the student accountable for what he is to learn. The student who is absent or fails to get his assignment moves right along with those who are always present and who always have their assignments in good order.

The filling in of blanks and answering true and false questions is equated with learning, even though there is not much real reason why it should be. A nine-year old can wade through a chapter in the Old Testament, fill in missing words in a quotation, underline the correct word in the statement: "David (did/did not) smote also Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah," and even count how many times the word "vessel" appears in the chapter, and still come out with virtually no comprehension of what he has been studying about. This isn't intended as ridicule — just some examples that all of us have seen (and still do).

Not that these lessons need always to leave the students blank...the teacher obviously needs to make it all meaningful. But what help are we giving the teacher that will enable him to cope with such a problem? Do our teacher training classes deal with this kind of thing? They should. Do all of our teachers have teacher training classes? Are they always selected because they are capable of producing learning, or are some chosen because they are willing to take the class? Do the elders sit in on the classes (or someone else assigned to the task) to see that not only scriptural things are being taught, but that good teaching is being done? Do we evaluate the teaching by looking at the teacher, or by measuring how much learning is actually taking place? Do the parents know how well the students are doing, or how poorly? Do the parents know what is being taught?

Hopeless Situation?

If all of this seems to sound some kind of doom, it shouldn't. The situation is far from hopeless. We have all the necessary ingredients. We have already pointed out the existence of the facilities, the presence of interested teachers and students. All we need now is to make sure we utilize all of this in a way to produce the learning we want. This means that we will have to be honest with ourselves and admit a weakness if it exists. It means we will have to find out what good teaching is and then teach our teachers to be good teachers. They're willing! They may have to be shocked a few times into realizing that little or no learning is taking place when they think they're doing a good job. But if we give them the tools to evaluate their job, then the tools to improve it, they will almost always come through with flying colors. This is what we hope to accomplish in this series of articles.

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