One of the earmarks of truth is its applicability in contexts beyond that truth's initial setting. The more often some thing remains true regardless of its context, the more true that thing is. For example, let's consider the Parable of the Sower (The Gospel According to St. Mark 4:1-20).
The occasion of this parable is remarkable in Scripture. In it, Jesus tells a crowd a story about a farmer scattering seeds. Later in private, the Apostles ask Jesus what he meant, and Jesus explains the parable's meaning to the Apostles alone. Obviously, the Apostles shared what Jesus told them in private, otherwise Mark, who was not one of the Twelve, could not have recorded the explanation, but this incident points to at least the possibility of authentic apostolic teaching passed on orally but never written down. In other words, it points to Sacred Tradition.
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains the four responses to truth that a person might have. Implicit in Jesus' explanation to the Apostles are two main points:
1. The primary responsibility for my response to truth rests with me.
2. The circumstances of my life affect my response to truth.
If we divorce the parable from its Christian purpose, the truth of the parable does not change. It remains an accurate examination of human behavior and psychology. I see this truth every day with my students. When I turn my powers of perception toward myself, I see this truth in my own behavior as well.
In the parable, the seed that is sown is the word of God. It is the truth that leads to salvation. Like all truth, it imposes obligations. Accepting the truth means setting my own will, my own desires, aside insofar as those desires conflict with the truth. If I refuse to conform my actions to the truth, then I live a lie.
So, what does this have to do with teaching? Well, at a basic level, it reminds me that every time I ask my students to do something, they have four courses of action open to them.
Course one involves defiance. The student hears what I'm saying, knows what he's supposed to do, and refuses to do it. He makes a conscious choice to disobey. Courses two and three are similar to each other. On either path, the student chooses obedience, and he starts out intending to do what he's told. He may even be enthusiastic about the task, but he still falls short of the mark. Along one way, difficulties arise. The task turns out to be harder than anticipated, and the student gives up or phones it in. Along the other way, worries and distractions turn into obstacles. Students who end up on these two paths do not complete their task, or complete the task with a minimum of commitment to their best efforts.
A student who chooses the fourth way does what he is told to the best of his ability. He may not end up doing as well as the student sitting next to him, but he completes the task, and he can justly be proud of his efforts even if room for improvement remains. The fourth-way student experiences difficulties. He has worries and encounters distractions. These difficulties, worries, and distractions do not keep him from reaching his goal.
Which brings us to a Big Question: How do we charged with responsibility for a student's education and moral development encourage those students to choose the fourth way?
The Knights of the Mightier Pen gather in the hallowed halls of the Regis School in Houston, Texas, to share their tales and poems.