Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 28, 2007

Back to School (With Our Backs to the Wall)

We don’t need no… education. We don’t need no… thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom.” -Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2; Pink Floyd, 1979

The school year starts this week for many grade schools and high schools nationwide. And let me be the first (this year, at least) to say we definitely do need sarcasm, or at least an appropriate sense of humor, in the classrooms of America. (I’d go insane without it.) As for the other two needs, I’m a teacher, so I’m at least committed to the principle that kids do need an education, as well as needing training in self-discipline (not the same as thought control, but indirectly related). I’m not always sure I’m the best guy to provide it, but here I go again, giving it a try.

I can be a mess sometimes: utterly disorganized, a terrible procrastinator, a poor listener, unconcerned with “the facts”… all living proof that a lack of self-discipline can be a real burden. On the other hand, I have plenty of empathy for my students, especially the ones who –due to either their own nature or the models they’ve had in their homes– struggle with the same problems. Luckily I’m not teaching in subject areas that require a high amount of structure, because I’d totally screw that up.

This year I’m teaching P.E. to K-8 students at Chicago Mennonite Learning Center, in addition to the Fine and Performing Arts I taught last year. Though the lesson particulars are not all clear, and though there may be a few clumsy moments when I try something that just doesn’t work, I think that bridging the two curriculum areas is actually a good idea. They’re both big parts of our modern culture. In the era of High School Musical’s  singing jocks, and Olympic swimmers posing nude in Playboy, we can’t pretend anymore that there isn’t a lot of crossover and confusion between the values and ideals of the entertainment industry and those of the sports world.

Plus, there’s a few natural similarities: both arenas often involve a trade-off between team efforts and individual talent/roles (team=troupe=band… and if you’re U2 or the Black-Eyed Peas, you may even be playing in the same arena that the local pro football team played in yesterday!). Both fields also require good communication, much practice, and decent social skills in order to excel (though I admit the social skills of some stars, in both fields, sheds doubt on this last point). Both reward creativity, adaptability and improvisation. And both are, ultimately, about self-expression through brain and body, and the opportunity to shine.

The advantage of teaching at a Christian school is that I can go a bit farther in teaching about many of the key values that come into play in both areas: fairness, following the rules, honesty, healthy competition, practice, responsibility, unselfishness–things like that. Sure, those are values that any teacher is trying to convey. Still, I’m glad I have the solid moral backing of thousands of years of church teaching to supplement my lessons (for example: “let us run with perseverence the race marked out for us”, as St. Paul once wrote). And Jesus, puzzling though he is at times, is the Great Teacher, as well as an eternally enthusiastic spectator, and the perfect “involved parent”.

I also think He’s a good coach, theater director, referee and storyteller, but maybe that’s just me.

School is IN!!! Don’t be late to class, kiddies.



  1. nice to read your thoughts…and admition of being disorganzized…check out my blog……i have tips there to help parents help their child(ren)be successful in school…i would like to know what your thoughts are on my blog…thanks

  2. oops…and then look at me…i did not spell addmission correctly…please forgive me….

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