I am deeply troubled by what I perceive to be America’s inability to think. Certainly I don’t intend such an observation to be a blanket indictment of all Americans. But it seems to me that so many Americans merely react, allowing themselves to be emotionally driven and emotionally manipulated. Reasoning from logic and from a foundation of absolute truth seems to be an increasingly foreign concept. Consider, for instance, the basis from which many Americans vote. Need I expound upon that? Then there was the incident in the recent past in which MIT professor Jonathan Gruber who assisted with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (which is proving to be not so affordable) stated that Americans were too stupid to discern the flaws of this legislative monstrosity. The conservative news media were outraged. As one who is strongly conservative, I found myself in disagreement with the conservative news media. My initial thought was, he may have a point. And dare I get bogged down in the quagmire of presidential politics to affirm my observation that many Americans are driven by emotion and not reason?
Now, I have been teaching for over thirty years. During that time I have been passionate about a number of things, but none more so than teaching my students to calmly and methodically reason from truth and to convince them that articulate speaking and writing can give them an effective platform from which they can defend that truth. I have found that teaching high school English affords me a perfect environment in which to cultivate both of these skills.
For instance, when I begin each school year, I hold up a copy of my students’ prescribed literature book and I tell them something like the following: “This is a tool—a tool by which I hope to teach you to reason with discernment, not merely react from emotion. I have no illusions that I am going to transform all of you into literary scholars. But I do hope to teach you to think, to reason, to discern truth from error.” I also remind them that according to Hebrews 5:14, our “powers of discernment [are] trained by constant practice [in order] to distinguish good from evil.” And so, as the school year progresses, we practice. And we practice some more. I expose my students to a variety of writers—some whose writing communicates a Biblical worldview and some whose writing does not. Don’t be shocked! As I remind my students on occasion, if you’re going to defeat the enemy, you have to know what he’s thinking!
However, for me, merely understanding fallacious philosophies that lurk behind the pages of unsuspecting readers is not enough. I also want my students to be able to articulate a Biblical worldview in a way that is coherent and compelling. That means they must be taught to speak and write well. This, too, is one of my passions. After all, why should the liberal elite be the only ones who can voice their opinions effectively? We have the truth. They don’t. Yet their voices are becoming increasingly powerful in an increasingly dark world.
Jesus commanded us to be salt and light. Clearly, all of us don’t have to be dynamically eloquent speakers and writers to implement such an imperative. But it only takes a few good writers, a few intellectually adept thinkers, a few discerning defenders of the truth to shed light on the error that surrounds us and expose it for what it really is. I want to be an integral part of that process. I may only be one spoke in a large wheel, but as long as God allows me, I will continue to challenge my students to reason and write with passionate persuasion.