Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Youth Ministry as Education - Transmissive (part two)

While I try to avoid oversimplifying anything, I've observed that much of Christian education falls into one of two categories: transmissive education and romantic education. We'll evaluate the transmissive approach first.

Transmissive methods tend to focus around the transmission of information from a knower to a learner. Generally, the knower is the pastor/teacher and the learner is the student or congregation. Transmissive education centers around the teacher, who is the giver of information--or content. The role of the student is one of a sponge, ready to soak up whatever information is poured into them. The goal of transmissive education is to get the greatest amount of good information to the largest number of students in the most efficient way. A great example of this is preaching a three-point sermon with a Powerpoint presentation and fill-in-the-blank notes. The teacher/pastor must simply communicate the information so that the students may fill in the blanks, thus having learned and grown. Transmissive is primarily cognitive-driven; it focuses on the thinking.

A good metaphor for transmissive methods is a factory. It is like the student sitting on a conveyor belt while different pieces of information are plugged into them at various times. Teachers are the robotic arms of the factory that efficiently give the information to the learner. The goal is that when the student reaches the end of the conveyor belt, they will have matured a great deal.

Strengths of Transmissive: Transmissive--or information processing--methods give students a great amount of content and information in an efficient amount of time. Sometimes people simply don't know anything about a certain subject, and transferring information to them quickly is helpful. Transmissive is a great way to give content in a "how to" series: how to study the Bible, how to get out of debt, how to pray, etc.

Content is important and foundational to our growth as human beings; if we did not learn information--like how to read, write, do math, etc.--we would never simply "figure it out" on our own accord without informational input from teachers. We seem to need information and content in our lives in order to grow. (We'll look at the effects of a lack of information in a later post).

Weaknesses of Transmissive: Transmissive has a few significant weaknesses. First, it creates passivity in students. Because the education centers around the teacher, the student become passive learners, sitting on the conveyor belt waiting to be given more information. We see examples of this in church when students and members of the community rely heavily on the pastoral staff for their own spiritual development, rather than take responsibility for their own growth. 

Second, it relies too heavily on teachers. If the teacher cannot transmit information in clear or effective ways, then the entire system fails. We see this when a pastor is overly boring or lacks creativity; it's hard to learn information when it's presented in an undesirable manner. A heavy reliance on teachers can also foster arrogance in the knower, who wield their teaching power with a tight grip. We see this when a pastor passionately refuses to give up the teaching responsibilities to anyone else.

Lastly, it rarely addresses emotions, experience, or community. Because transmissive is heavily content-based, the emotional and experiential aspects are easily trumped by the efficient transmission of information. For example: in a history class, one might memorize facts, dates, and names from the Civil War, but never address the emotional side that stories of war and slavery elicit. Transmissive methods also rarely promote learning in community; there are rarely moments for discussion or Q&A, because then information would not given as quickly or efficiently.

Final Thoughts: While information are vital for growth and maturity, transmissive seems to place an unbalanced emphasis on content, while lacking in some crucial areas (such as real-life application, emotions, and community). It's similar to going to the gym to work out one's arms, yet failing to remember to strengthen one's legs and cardiovascular system. It's unbalanced. Then where do we find balance? Is a romantic approach better? Or is there another way?

What are some examples of transmissive education in school; in church; other contexts? 

How have you seen this methodology work well? How have you seen this work poorly? 

How does Jesus use transmissive methods in making disciples?

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