Saturday, July 10, 2004

Life is all about trade-offs

Life is all about trade-offs

Be a blind nerd or a hunky Philistine?

Lifestyle causes myopia, not genes

"As kids spend more time indoors, on computers or watching telly, we are going to become just as myopic," says Ian Morgan of the Australian National University in Canberra.

Myopia is on the increase in most places, but in countries such as Singapore it has reached extraordinary levels. There, 80 per cent of 18-year-old male army recruits are myopic, up from 25 per cent just 30 years ago.

Employers such as the police are having problems finding people who meet their requirements. There is also an increasing incidence of extreme myopia, which can lead to blindness.

There is little doubt about at least one underlying cause. Children now spend much of their time focusing on close objects, such as books and computers. To compensate the eyeball is thought to grow longer. That way less effort is needed to focus up close, but the elongated eye can no longer focus on distant objects.

As a missioanry and teacher here in Taiwan I can tell you firsthand the amount of time kids -- little kids, middle kids, big kids -- spend poring over books is mind-boggling. Trust me, if you thought the USA dumbed kids down by "teaching to the test," the Taiwanse education system makes us look like a bunch of Greek-speaking, beard-stroking, finger-raising peripatetic philosophers in the Stoa.

Myopia is a fitting metaphor for the Taiwanese, and presumably larger Asian, theory of education. Students perpetually miss the forest for the trees because education has been reduced, by and large, to the calculus of academic performance. Creativity is, at best, a diversion among my students and, at worst, a distraction. Know the questions you'll be asked; don't waste time thinking about what questions need to be asked. Know what the right answer is; don't consider why the right answers matter.

There is no more awkward and stultifying a moment for me as a teacher than just after I've asked a class to "come up with" their "own ideas" and to "be creative" only to hear a uniform reply: utter silence. But hey, maybe the Taiwanese know some secret I don't; maybe the sheer brute effort put into scanning books and trudging through drills really does produce brilliance. But considering Chinese Mandarin had to *borrow* the word "logic" from European languages, I'm skeptical.

My goal as a missionary (read, "Christian") is to reach out to kids with love so I can share the Gospel with them in long-term, relational ways. However, one of THE biggest obstacles I have encountered to forming solid relationships is that the kids simply have no time for anything but school. And any free time they do find in the home goes to digital mind drains video games. Students begin school at 7 or 8 AM, finish at 4 or 5 PM and then most also go to "cram school" for at least two hours at least twice a week. A couple of my students at Viator High School (where I'll be teaching full-time next year, yippee!) had class from 8 AM to 5 PM and then had cram school from 6 PM until 10 PM *every week day*. One of them was quick to add, "But they let you go on Saturdays too!" Indeed. They *let* you go on Saturdays.

Taiwanese students are in an educational hydraulic -- like rafters being swamped in the rapids -- and I can do little to pull them out for a relationship with me and Christ. I have my beefs with the idol of school in my own life, but, in terms of high school ministry, I've never encountered a more truly oppressive *stronghold* against the Kingdom than the sheer inability to reach kids because they are buried with mill-turning, mind-numbing, grade-securing work. Down with the educational mill, up with liberal education, pro Rege, ad maioram Dei gloriam!

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