I had originally planned on using the current story theme for a few days and then move on to something else but I kept thinking about stories that meant something to me so the string has been extended a bit. Shannon’s story has given me a lot to think about since it happened so today, I want to share it.
Shannon was one of our students during our last time working in Kenya. Because of the interesting process of translating English names into an African language, her name is actually pronounced something like “sha NAN”. Shannon, like the majority of our theology students, came from a small, rural church. I didn’t know her pastor but my African counterpart, Mwangi, knew him and described him as a very conservative and very opinionated individual.
Shannon seemed to have happily followed in his footsteps. Almost from the very first time I stepped into the class room, it felt like we were at war. As a teacher, I feel it is part of my task to stretch students by showing them other ideas and other ways of thinking. Whether they accept these new things is up to them–but if they don’t accept them, they at least need to be able to explain why they accept what they accept.
So, as I threw out some ideas and thoughts, Shannon began making it clear that if we disagreed, I was wrong and she was right. Her logic and reasoning was simple and blunt–she was right because she believed what Christians believed. While not every class ended in a debate over whatever theological or Biblical or practical point I was trying to get across, it did happen with great regularity.
At first, I thought it was because I was not from the ABC and not Kenyan. But then I watched the same thing happen to Mwangi during the courses we taught together–and Mwangi was much closer to her thinking than I was.
Now, technically, both Mwangi and I were guilty of breaking one of the cardinal rules of the Kenyan education system. At various assemblies of students during my time there, school leadership made it clear to the students that teachers were the experts and students were supposed to listen, accept and regurgitate on the exams. Since I really can’t teach that way and Mwangi didn’t much care for that approach to education, we ignored the rule in our classroom, allowing debate and discussion and requiring that students support what they believed, even if they disagreed. We were careful to warn students that different rules applied to our class and while they could say what they wanted in our class, they had to obey the rules in other classes.
So, for two years, going to teach Shannon’s class was an adventure–I never knew what would set off a debate. After a while, I learned some of the triggers and only opened the topics if I felt the debate would enhance the teaching process. Shannon consistently disagreed, debated and in the end, generally refused to budge even one word from her position.
Anyway, we reached the end of our time in Kenya. My last day at the school, I decided to visit all the classes I taught, thank them, have prayer with them and say goodbye. The students were studying for exams and so appreciated a break. As I expected, the visits were emotional for all of us, with wishes that we could stay, thanks for what we had taught, some tears and some prayers.
When I got to Shannon’s classroom, I entered thinking that probably the only person happy to see us leave would be Shannon. I talked with the students, they expressed their sorrow, asked me why I couldn’t stay–just like the others. I asked them to join hands in a circle so we could pray together and prayed for them. At the “amen”, the circle broke up and I noticed Shannon heading for her seat–obviously in tears. She didn’t want us to leave.
It seems that the debating and discussion and even argument was more important than I realized. I think the freedom to disagree and debate and not be forced to adopt a position touched something in Shannon. Her tears, more than anything else, made me feel that I had actually accomplished something in the classroom.
May the peace of God be with you.