Saturday, May 19, 2012

Homeschooler's HS Graduation

I went to the graduation of a young friend at the homeschool co-op centered at an Assemblies of God congregation.  The pastor's address to the graduate started with "You're in it to win it," and how God wants you o be successful, and there's a specific plan for you.  I thought Yep. That's a typical AG approach.  Catchy cliche, theology veering close to New Thought but drawing back.

I soon got worried that the evening was going to go insanely long.  I had originally worried that it might be only a few graduates, rather an embarrassingly small affair, but there were three dozen - larger than the graduating classes of my sons' Concord Christian Academy years.  So I got nervous when there was going to be a short video about each child, narrated by the parents. It didn't turn out to be that bad.

People just naturally get carried away telling you about their children anyway, and they aren't always very conscious of their audience, unaware that it's going to be fairly standard and obvious you were happy and amazed when you first brought Elizabeth or Zachary home, and how it seems like just yesterday - or how that's going to sound the twentieth time through.  That is the hive approach I described in Conference Behavior - the inside references and the obligatory verbal rewards to tribe members, all delivered with the complete innocence of folks who haven't even considered that it's not universally appreciated.

Next, as the size of a group dwindles, the presenters start feeling they have more and more leeway as to how long they can go on about each child.  I have sat through HS sports award presentations that were nearly unendurable, as the coaches go on about the development of each girl and her wonderful character and the important bonding experiences the team went through...the boys' coaches do less of this, but still too much.

Third, I think Evangelical parents are extreme in that.  My standard example is morning dropoff for a very small Christian elementary school.  We waited in line, and each child was to stay in the car until we got to the dropoff point, where the door could finally be opened, the teacher greet the child and hoosh him into the building, and the next vehicle come forward.  Except some mother waited until they were at the head of the line to kiss their child goodbye and say a few words of encouragement, often looking directly into the child's face and delivering a little speech.  It's not just inefficiency, that it caught them by surprise every day and (face palm!) I could have kissed her many times and given five little speeches while were were crawling forward in line, but that they wanted the last thing that happened to Nathan that morning before going away from the nest to be an expression of how much his mummy loves him. It's somehow just not as valid if it's not the last image in the child's head.

Then a few nice words might be exchanged with the teacher as well.  It can make you homicidal.  This approach to parenting persists through highschool - no, college too, come to think of it.  Lots of nonevangelicals do it too, of course, but I think it's worse over here.  It may be a cost we have to bear, a side effect of the intense theology of the individual's importance to God, and the importance of every moment and action to God.

But this set of parent videos held to a much higher standard than that.  They kept it to 90 seconds each.  Sure, there were cliches and the same childhood pictures with different heads on them...but they were 90 seconds each.  This is a disciplined group of parents.  I like them.

A few culture notes.  One can sense the influence of earlier eras at Christian schools more than at secular ones, and that apparently goes double for homeschoolers.  The dream of the 50's/80's is alive in Auburn...Auburn...Auburn.  There is plenty of the 00's and 10's as well. The accusation that Christian kids are not connected to the current era has always been just silly.  But other times are allowed into the atmosphere whereas only the 60's can get away with that intrusion in most of society.  I would approve, except I would choose different eras - different centuries, actually. 

Related to the presence of the different eras, one could also see a very strong American culture continuity.  This is the group where most kids have two parents, where there are Eagle Scouts (and Royal Rangers, of course) and concert pianists and perennial robotics teams and competitive shooters/ice skaters/dancers and Young Marines and working with all manner of disadvantaged or hurting people.


W Baker said...

It's not just the Evangelicals. The non-evangelicals (Episcopalian to boot!) are pretty grim about this 'in the moment' thing.

It strikes me as part and parcel of several things: the feminization of Western culture - let's have an official hug and show of mommy's tenderness - and the general virtual/real dichotomy that taxes a lot of social situations. What I mean by the latter is that so many people socially interact in a virtual way nowadays that silly little constructs that years ago would be assigned to a back pages of a middle school or high school annual book are now highlighted in social networking, promoted at a PTA or parent's conference, and officially put in place by school administrators who are as socially inept as they are pedagogically impaired. For instance, we had a mother several years ago, find out on Facebook about a group of kids in some distant State who had made a pact not to drink alcohol until they finished high school. They had publicly signed some piece of paper stating their teetototaling (whoopee!). She then took it to our diocese and promoted it to our schools under the guise of children's safety, promoting character, etc., etc. Being a Whiskeypalian, this didn't sit well with me since I our Lord never carded anyone at the Marriage of Cana where he was the head 'sommelier'! But beyond the fermentation issue, was the pure silliness of the whole show. Kids who liked to throw back a couple of six packs on the weekend meekly filed into the library hall and signed some piece of paper to please mommy dearest. My boys weren't even allowed to attend the spectacle!

There's less and less parent/child distinction anymore. Parents are subsumed into their children's lives in almost every aspect: sports, scholastics, outings, etc. The result is an extremely shallow, emotionally timid, and awkward population.

Mr Tall said...

Superb post, AVI.

I'm a lay leader in my church, and have noticed this phenomenon on many, many occasions. A recent example was one of the reports at my church's annual meeting: the reporter spent a good 20 minutes riffing on the very first item in his report, turning it into a homily comprising his views on church community, giving, Christian love, and on and on and on. But he is good at his work in the church, so pure latitude is given. Who will ask him, in front of the Body, to get to the point? There is really no avenue for sanction in such situations. Are you going to leap from your vehicle and tell the mommies to tuck away the apron strings and get moving when they lovingly drop off their lovely kids who are loved?

My church's situation is complicated because it is very multicultural, with lots of new Christians. I find myself, a veteran of decades of church leadership, really really really wanting to get on with things and get them done, but fearing that I will offend, either culturally or as a stumbling block. It's quite stressful at times.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you, sir.

I don't envy you that position. I find that people misunderstand easily even when one is paying compliments, and even mild criticism is misheard. Some people are so thick-skinned (or thick-headed) that they don't get it even when you are being blunt. Others hear criticism in the mildest change in tone.

Here's my worry: I don't believe such things are always just armless foibles. Sometimes they are, but other times they are early-warning signals of people who are going to be difficult in some crisis. There are social conventions which should suggest to them that not every situation is appropriate for their particular hobby-horses - their ability to ignore may be only clumsiness, but may also hint at some deeper arrogance and entitlement. Letting it go becomes an issue later, when a congregation realises they have let a problem grow for five years, and the offending person has every right to be surprised at sudden criticism, as no one mentioned it before.

I wish I had the discernment which is which.

Mr Tall said...

Yes, yes -- exactly. Your latest comment brought to mind several faces (for such problems are bound to the people who embody them, inevitably) who ended up in just such a situation in my church. One went very far, having been "affirmed" and "encouraged" to the point of seeking ordination, when this clearly was not a valid calling. The resulting fallout was ugly and deeply harmful.

For evangelicals, especially American ones, staying positive seems to be the default setting. I've also found it interesting to see how this general upbeat attitude is reflected in language used, intonations, even gestures and other body language, among evangelicals from across the globe (my church has members from five continents at the moment; no South Americans that I know of).

It's therefore crucial that the church ministers and lay leaders have that discernment and backbone when situations run off the rails. But I agree, it is hard -- and risky -- to pour the cold water, and the temptation is always to err on the side of "generosity".

Thanks again for your astute comments and reply.