Thursday, February 01, 2007

Collectively Dubm...I mena dumb,

One of my favorite things about this emerging cultures appetite for ‘power given to the masses’ is that it allows for the masses to control popular thought and opinion. Wikipedia is a great example of the collaborative muscle of our culture working together to create something that is far greater then itself. We love the idea of having control and access to information that has traditionally been behind closed doors, in files marked ‘confidential’, and held by higher ups who can wield and manipulate it to suit their needs and wants. It’s a great idea. The cheese-eating-cigarette-smoking and topless French peasants thought it was a great idea too…that is until they had control and decided that they, like their predecessors, did not want to share. Not too terribly surprising.

At present, our intellectual elite are progressively becoming only side notes in history as psychologically and intellectually we are becoming more and more Marxist-like in our thirst for information. Anyone with a computer and a wifi connection has access to the same information jamming us all into an information and technological middle class. But really, who cares.

Anyhow, my point is this: ‘nobody is smarter then everybody’ is a bit of an ideal way to live and teach. We are deceived by this cute little collection of words because it plays to the thing that we very much want – anti-authority, or, more precisely, our own authority. That said, there are some great times where using this statement and viewpoint in life is very helpful; i.e. in the realm of ideaing, brainstorming problems, collaborative learning, and creativity the more perspectives applied to said problem the better. However, the ‘nobody is smarter then everyone’ cliché breaks down the moment it comes to applying specific skills to specific tasks.

Do we let everyone with a seat on WestJet flight 178 from Abbotsford to Saskatoon to visit the in-laws give advice, suggest flight patterns, and take a crack at flying the jet…or, do we leave it in the hands of the pilots who, after many many hours of skill and knowledge development, fly the jet? We trust the pilot.

Do we let everyone with a seat in a church take a crack at teaching and preaching…or…do we trust the teacher who has spent many hours in study, prayer, and preparation? We very much want to trust a pilot; why not a teacher?

Collectively we can come up with some amazing ideas; collaborations and innovations that come only as a result of people getting together co-creating and co-developing something magnificent. However, collectively we can also become dumb and ignorant in our quest for anti-authority.


Paul & Wanda Moores said...

Your airline analogy breaksdown on a few levels:

1. Churches are (supposed) to build community, and an inherent assumption being that in a community, everyone has something to share and contribute.

2. Getting from point A to point B is a task from which there is no higher experience (no pun intended) to be drawn. It is a flight, a means of communication. If we were talking about the joy of flying an airplane or the fun of driving a peppy sportscar as opposed to taking a flight or taking a cab, that would be different.

3. If someone preaches a bad sermon, I'm not going to die a horrible death. If someone flies my plane into a Shell station in rural Sask.... well you get the idea.

4. The pilot is not selling me truth, where the pastor, often, is.

But I could be totally wrong.

Anonymous said...

don't be a know it all. God created us to know things and discover things as we wonder on in life. Knowing to much and trying to make and prove to people that you know lots sucks. Just think, of it this way, were all here on a need to know basis, when something intriges us, we investigate, and I think thats toatlly the holy spirit promting us to do and think. thats what I got outta jers last post. Laters Jimbo Cross

Derwyn said...

Someone said that the Holy Spirit and my opinion often speak at the same volume...

There is no question that much of our learning comes from the contributions of those in community. There is no question that much of our knowledge of God and the application of his Word comes through dialogue with others in Christian community.

But this cannot and must not be taken to mean that there is no place for someone to teach us with authority and to do so as one who knows "more than everybody."

Picture our days back in Bible College (for those of us who went): how do you think it would turn out if we had no professors and no assignments handed to us on the basis of their authority, and all we had to do was gather together in a class at 8:00am to discuss what we could learn about the Atonement from our own minds for 50 minutes?

You already know: we'd screw around for the first few classes because we had no need to be directed in any way as no one was there to direct us. Then we might be motivated to do something constructive instead and think that we should do some reading. We'd end up arguing with the person who first suggested such a thing because, after all, "who does he think he is to tell us what we ought to do". Further, we'd argue about which books we should or shouldn't read, and we'd have a hard time arriving at any kind of consensus as to how we should start studying, let alone how to evaluate whatever we might be able to discover.

Of course, I've passed over the point that we're already under the authority of the schedule-maker who said we should be there at 8:00am to study the Atonement in the first place...

God gave some to be teachers so that they would teach others. God had elders appointed in every church to command some not to teach false doctrine. You can't do that without knowing at least something more than everyone.

I think a skilled teacher will be able to bring his knowledge to the class not to show them how much he knows, but to give direction to the discussion that ought to come from learning in community.

Where some incorrect conclusion comes from that community, someone has to be there to say it's wrong, and where a conclusion is presented that describes well the topic being studied, someone needs to be able to endorse that idea beyond mere general assent.

Just because Wikipedia is popular doesn't mean that it's right. To assume that the knowledge presented within it will ultimately settle down to be an accurate transmission of truth is naive. Humans have rarely been good at that...that's why God had his Word written down; we can't figure it out on our own.

Anonymous said...

I like your post.

Boomer said...

With regards to teaching I think there is a special goal to be kept in mind. While a 'knowledge specialist' would be said to have specific expertise, as a teaching knowledge specialist, the goal is not to teach people how much dumber they are than themselves, but to teach the student knowledge that has taken years to aquire in order to further a specific field.

This I believe is a truer, or more true if you don't like truer, form of collective learning.

Heather said...

never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. its true.

jeremy postal said...

Paul - I agree, the example does break down but I think that if we looked hard enough we could maybe find an example that wouldn't. The example aside, I think the big idea does hold weight that needs serious consideration by church leaders...especially those of the emerging church persuasion.

Derwyn - is a teacher to say what is wrong or to teach what is right? There may be 'right' ideas that teachers hold to so tightly that they some how squeeze them into wrong...

Boomer - agreed. There are specific goals that teachers have in mind when they are do the learners. Now, do we allow for a 'remote-control pulpit' so that, at very least, someones specific goal is found?

As a bit of a side note that is nudging up closely to a few of these comments: I, and many that I know, have a pretty skeptical hermenutic of anyone claiming to be undeniably right or who teach with an air of agenda. Ya know? Anyways....
Thanks for the response so far.

Derwyn said...

"Is a teacher to say what is wrong or to teach what is right?"


The observation that some teachers hold so tightly to what they think is right so that it becomes wrong is well-noted. This is not uncommon. But the fact that this might happen cannot be the reason why we lay aside the purpose and authority of the teacher.

Consider this: if the teacher, being human, might end up being skewed in his teaching, how does eliminating the teacher and replacing with him with consensus prevent that from happening? Is it not likely that the collection of humans might just as easily end up being skewed, too?

To me, it's a case of "choose your poison" if we're going to look at this pessimistically. For me, I'll choose the poison that favours the biblical description of teachers who are gifted and/or called to teach, and this teaching includes rebuking that which is incorrect.

Let me reiterate, I'm not advocating a teacher that is so high up on a pedestal that he is not responsive to the observations of others. Knowing where your people are is a key to effective communication, and including them in the teaching process is beneficial.

We know that our teachers are not perfect, but we trust that they actually devote time in prayer and study to present the truth well.

However, the potential of error in the teacher is not avoided by simply handing the discovery of truth over to a group of people who, for the most part, will be even less likely to spend conscientious time in prayer and study on the same topic.

Let's not assume that teachers are lazy, opinionated wannabes who just get off on the idea of being in control. If we react against that straw man, we'll create a worse problem...

Derwyn said...

"I, and many that I know, have a pretty skeptical hermenutic of anyone claiming to be undeniably right or who teach with an air of agenda."

Is it not the goal of teaching to cause people to learn? Is that not the agenda of instruction? When I read Paul's letters, there's no question he had an agenda...

Further, is it not accurate to say that opponents to, shall we say, "strong teaching" are trying to communicate their own agenda? It seems to me that there is a great move afoot to challenge the "traditional" model of teacher/student and move it towards something we might call co-educator/co-learner.

Having said this, I know the fallacy of arguing from extremes. I just hope that one extreme is not being held up as the ideal in reaction against the other extreme.