Monday, March 17, 2008

Judgment better than "godly"?

Yesterday in the (Lancaster, PA) Sunday News, columnist Dona Fisher wrote a column about her close encounter with a traffic cop who stopped her for zooming along on a country road that had a 25 mph speed limit. In response to this "sin," she asked "why do godly people do ungodly things?" I found this question in this context incongruous.

I don't know Dona Fisher. I presume she is a "godly person" (she writes a weekly column called "Matters of Faith"), but I'm not sure I consider speeding on a country road an "ungodly" act. It may certainly be unwise or unsafe or illegal, but "ungodly."?? Fisher's view of what counts as "godly" or moral is revealing. I'm quoting at length here:

"It is unfortunate that our courts are filled with people who have broken laws. Even though laws are set for people to be wise in their actions, they lack the power to make people obedient. So how can our behavior and conduct be controlled?

God's laws never change. We need a fixed authority in whom we can follow in obedience. Those professionals God has placed over us have made the rules for us to follow. Laws are rules that take away our personal freedom and are enforced by a controlling authority and meant to be obeyed."

As an educator working in a public institution, I find this rendering of laws, obedience and morality more than a little problematic. As a citizen in a society where "those professionals" are sometimes less than professional (not to mention downright racist, sexist, homophobic or simply inconsiderate and ungodly), I am frightened at a formulation of "goodness" that removes intelligence from the picture.

But this raises a question for educators and parents that is never fully "fixed," never finally resolved: How do I teach my students/children to question when questioning is appropriate, to obey when obeying is appropriate, to resist when resisting is appropriate, to challenge when challenging is appropriate? I teach them judgment -- informed, intelligent, compassionate judgment; that's the answer. And in careful judgment, the smart and the good coexist.

We'll leave just how to do that for another day -- or many other days. For now, let me say just this: judgment is a practice and any practice is learned by having many opportunities to try it (preferably in "safe" conditions), to undergo the consequences of my try, and to connect the dots between my trying and my undergoing. But I can't (usually) do it alone; someone needs to help me see where I have neglected some important information or moved too hastily or failed to consider all perspectives. It helps to have a coach in any practice. Judgment is no exception.

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