Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Write your own Commandments

Louie Crew writes about an exercise he did with college freshmen to identify things they would actually feel guilty about doing.


I chose to teach at least one class of freshmen for most of my 44 years as an English professor. I enjoyed exposing myself to a wider sample of student intelligence than I found just from English majors. In do so, I found that few assignments worked well generation after generation, but some did, and I never tired of reading what students wrote in response to them.

In one of these, I gave each student 10 blank index cards and asked them not to put their name or any recognizable self-identification on any card Then I asked them to write on each card a separate action they would feel guilty doing. "Don't think much about these at this point," I counseled; "write just the first 10 things that come to mind. No one will ever know who writes what."

3-5 minutes later, I said, "Now stack your cards, putting on top the action that you would feel most guilty doing. Then one by one descend to your bottom card, the action you would feel "least guilty" doing. Then number each card in this stack 1 (most guilty) to 10 (least guilty).

1-2 minutes later, I said, "Now stack your cards differently. This time put on top the action you find most tempting. Descend to the bottom card with the action you find least tempting. Letter those cards thus stacked 'A' (most tempting), 'B' (next most tempting...... Use an 'X' if the action really is not tempting to you at all, regardless of how guilty you would feel doing it."

Only after all had completed both sets of ratings did I say, "Now please create a short code name for yourself and put it on each card so that your cards may be reassembled after the exercise. Also, on each card indicate M or F for your gender......" Occasionally I would ask for other variables, such as "How many weeks out of the 52 in a year do you attend some form of public religious worship?"

Then I collected the stacks of cards and shuffled them.

"You have just re-written the Ten Commandments," I pointed out. Here's a copy of Moses' stack. How did your cards stack up against his, or if you believe it, God's? We'll discuss those question tomorrow. Meanwhile, read........."

Whether in a secondary modern school in the London slums, in a black college in the rural South, in a foreign language institute in Beijing, in a University in Hong Kong, or in state universities in Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, or New Jersey, no one -- NO ONE -- ever came close to matching Moses' big ten. Many wrote lists much more sophisticated and morally challenging for our time than Moses did -- at least that was the consensus of most who participated in the assignment. Many more revised their own lists radically when they had the opportunity to be persuaded by their classmates' lists or by Moses'.

Students were rarely bored. Often they wrote much better prose than they had demonstrated in other assignments of the course, especially when they took at random a stack of someone else's anonymous 10 cards and wrote an essay on that person's moral values.

How different the outcome would have been had I said at the beginning of the class, "Now you will read the Ten Commandments and write an essay on whether you agree or disagree with each one."

Those who defend the faith must work very hard to keep it a faith, not a set of edicts from on high mindlessly (or fearfully) absorbed and consented to.

God is alive and well. She made our brains and She expects us to use them.

Few people violate the third commandment so routinely as those of us who are 'religious' and glibly speak God's name without respect for the Creator, for Creatures, or for Creation.

Lutibelle/Louie Newark deputation

Louie Crew, 377 S. Harrison St., 12d, East Orange, NJ 07018. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew

No comments: