A New Culture of Chicken

A few weeks ago I used this video with our junior high mid-week guys group:

(serious hat tip here to The Youth Cartel and their weekly YouTube You Can Use resource for this, which was an entry into a conversation about Sabbath and rest—Chick Fil-A is closed on Sunday).

The following week I caught a few guys singing extended portions of the song. Then they started asking if we could go to Chick Fil-A as a youth group. I made them a deal: come back with a performance of “See You on Monday” and we’d go.

Well today they did just that. This time next week I’ll be gnawin’ on a Char Grilled Chicken Deluxe.

The episode has me thinking about the New Culture of Learning I blogged about back in the spring as I tried to scratch the itch of student motivation; if a New Culture of Learning is about marrying an unlimited information resource with a learner’s intrinsic motivation, how do you surface that motivation?

Um, chicken?

I actually think it’s more than that. This whole encounter has been a platform for these students to do something they think is fun. They actually practiced this, and they employed a certain level of discipline and coordination in pulling it off. I had nothing to do with it.

I’m thinking our trip next week will be an opportunity to continue the conversation about rest and Sabbath, which by now should be a conversation they feel a large ownership stake in.

Is this an overly optimistic way of viewing this?


Youth Ministry as Karaoke: A New Culture of Learning, part 4

See the first three posts on A New Culture of Learning here, here, and here.

Collectives are made up of people who generally share values and beliefs about the world and their place in it, who value participation over belonging, and who engage in a set of shared practices. Thus collectives are plural and multiple. They also both form and disappear regularly around different ideas, events, or moments. Collectives . . . are both contextual and situated, particularly with regard to engaging in specific actions.

They are built and structured around participation and therefore carry a different sense of investment for those who engage in them. When, for example, a person sings a song onstage at a karaoke bar, he is doing it within a collective environment. In the karaoke bar participation is not only valued, it is the substance of the activity itself. The collective that forms as a result provides an opportunity to do certain things (agency) and a connection with other performers who are similarly situated (identity)–neither of which exists in the other two venues.

What is the substance of the activity we call “youth ministry?” Short answer: there isn’t any.

If Mark Oestreicher is right, then there’s no such thing as a “youth ministry” in any particular church. There are youth ministries: various efforts to connect young people, adults, and the world around them in vibrant expressions of faith. All those various activities have some substance to them, but the youth ministry of the church doesn’t. Trying to define it, name it, strategize around it will feel good and useful, but it won’t be. At least not to the youth we’re trying to work with.

I’m wrestling instead with the substance of my Sunday night high school youth group and my Tuesday afternoon junior high guys group and the work trip and the confirmation class and Maggie and her friends. Those are all different collectives. They are all built and structured around a different kind of participation. The agency and connection students get from those different collectives don’t really relate to each other. They don’t have to. And there’s no rule that says they have to live forever. These collective form and disappear around the students in them and the things the students are drawn to.

Yet here’s the trouble I’m having. If collectives are made up of people who generally share values about the world and their place in it, then those are two things that teenagers are notoriously bad at understanding. Most adolescents’ values conform pretty closely to those of their parents, and their sense of their place in the world changes constantly. These are things that the church is helping them figure out.

So let youth ministry be karaoke. Let a group of students who want the substance of their participation with one another in the church to be playing games have that experience. But guide them as well, so that they encounter values larger than the ones they were raised on and so that they can’t settle into an easy sense of their place in the world without being given some options their school and Mtv can’t give them.

Confirmation as Collective: A New Culture of Learning, part 3

See the first two posts in this series here and here.

Also, here’s a good review of the book by education policy expert Charles Kerchner.

Now, confirmation and the collective . . .

What if a confirmation class was a collective of self-directed learners? What if, instead of giving confirmands a series of lessons on the doctrines and practices that constitute Christianity, we unearthed some things about faith and church that these students had a personal stake in exploring and then guided their exploration?

If we did confirmation in the New Culture of Learning envisioned by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas then we would marry their internal motivation with an unlimited information source.

I feel sort of handcuffed about finding that internal motivation.

The unlimited information source, though, we have that. Youth can explore the full text of Scripture, all of our confessional documents, and an unlimited variety of Christian faith practices with online technology.

A YouTube search for “lectio divina,” for example, produces these results.

Here’s the full text of the Book of Confessions in searchable pdf form.

Oremus and Bible Gateway are easy-to-use, easy-to-search online Bible platforms.

Here’s a downloadable daily prayer podcast in mp3 format.

We could do this. Our task in guiding students in this process would be to help them see where their particular questions and insights fit into the overall canopy of the Reformed understanding and expression of Christian faith. There are several books and video curricula we can use for this.

Who’s with me?

What does this approach overlook? What could be limited about it?

The Collective: A New Culture of Learning pt. 2

In an earlier post, I introduced Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s book ¬†A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, asking how youth leaders actually get at the internal motivation that, married with access to an unlimited source of information, drives learning.

Here’s another key idea in the book: the collective.

“As the name implies, it is a collection of people, skills, and talent that produces a result greater than the sum of its parts. For our purposes . . . they are defined by an active engagement with the process of learning.

“A collective is very different from an ordinary community. Where communities can be passive . . . collectives cannot. In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation.

“[Collectives] are content neutral platforms, waiting to be filled with interactions among participants.”

What if youth ministry were viewed in a particular context as a constellation of collectives? What if, instead of The Youth Group, where one Youth Leader was trying to expose all participants to Scripture study, service, spiritual practice, worship, community building, etc., you instead had a collective of students who were participating in service and a collective that was focused on Scripture study, and any number of youth collectives engaging any number of things?

A student could choose to participate in whichever collective appealed to her. She could form a collective of her peers around forms of participation that don’t yet exist at the church.

In our congregation this year, a particular student has gathered a collective of her peers around her to engage issues of hunger. She recruited them to raise money for and participate in a walk. She got them to do the 30 Hour Famine. What that collective does next I don’t know. But I’m sure they’re not done.

I like what the collective suggests. What are the limitations, though? Does this appeal to you as much as it does to me?

Evoking Motivation in Youth: A New Culture of Learning

Mizuko Ito tweeted about a book a while ago, and since her past work leads me to think she’s super smart and to be heeded when she praises a book, I bought it. A thoughtful post by Adam Copeland reminded me of it last week.

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown is a terrific little read, deceptively difficult given its slim 115 page figure. Thomas is a Communications Professor at USC, where Brown is a visiting scholar.

The book succinctly describes the media landscape that students inhabit today. That landscape is characterized by constant change and “a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything.” The new culture of learning in that environment needs to allow for “unlimited agency [for students] to build and experiment with things” within given boundaries and structures.

It’s a compelling case, and it raises a number of questions for those of us doing ministry with adolescents in churches. The first of those questions has to do with motivation.

Brown and Thomas narrate a number of stories that involve students learning in a way that takes advantage of the massive information network through a deeply personal motivation to learn something, practice something, explore something. So Sam, a nine year-old, learns computer programming by participating in an online Scratch community. Students in a college course about Massively Multiplayer Online Games hijack the lectures to dissect what’s actually happening as they play these games outside of class. A freelance hacker learns all kinds of programming by experimenting with his own programs and using Google to figure out how to improve them when they crash.

In each of these cases, the learner brings a deeply personal motivation to the task of learning. Therein lies my problem.

I don’t know what motivates the adolescents I work with here at the church. The ones who come to a weekly youth group do so why? What do they want to learn? What do they want to master? What do they want to change about themselves and the world? Those motivations are in there, but I’m afraid I don’t know how to get them out. Instead, I bring a curriculum on something I think is important for them to know.

How do those of us who lead students in church settings draw out what motivates them–not just what motivates them to come to church, but what motivates them in life–so that we can help them build and experiment with the massive information network at their disposal to be more faithful people?

It seems to me that the annual flip chart exercise about “what do you want to talk about” doesn’t go nearly far enough. I need some more concrete ways to hear and observe what’s driving my students.

Any ideas?