Textbooks for High School Biblical Studies Classes?

For my first year I've forsaken the use of a textbook for my biblical studies classes in favor of articles from Bible Odyssey and other copied handouts. While there are some advantages—diversity of voices, wide-array of topics, brevity for the teenage attention span—the disadvantage is glaring: it's difficult to teach the arch of a Gospel narrative, or concepts of Pauline theology, as long as the reading material is splintered. Originally I intended to try to accomplish this in class, but I've found my teaching lends itself to driving my students toward close readings, discussions, samplings of sources, and hopefully relevance—historically, philosophically, and theologically. So I don't know if my students are acquiring the necessary "big picture".

Therefore, though likely not next year, I'm considering implementing a textbook at some point in the near future. Since I'm teaching NT right now that's what's on my mind. I don't know that I want a traditional introduction to the New Testament. I may benefit more from two mid-size books: one on the Gospels and another on Paul, since that's the bulk of my class. I'm viewing a sample of John T. Carroll's 'Jesus and the Gospels' and something akin might work. My audience is mostly Christian, mostly Roman Catholic amongst the Christians, but also diverse enough for me to avoid confessional literature. That said, I don't necessarily want raw historical critical readings either. I'd like a textbook that pushes my students to encounter the ideas of the New Testament. I'd even like to see some engagement with the reception history of interpretive traditions (Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, et al.).

Is there any book(s) on the Gospels and/or Paul that fit my (admittedly vague) description?

(Also, if you're inclined toward the OT, I'd take recommendations that direction as well.)

The Future of Employment in the Age of Automation

I'm fascinated by the discussion taking place re: the automation of the workforce and the related topic of a "basic income". A few weeks ago I shared an interview conducted by Recode's Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan with future Governor of California Gavin Newsom (embedded below: see 19-24min). Newsom comments that many politicians don't want to proclaim "the robots are coming, the robots are coming," although, in fact, the robots are coming. Our politicians keep promising jobs to people in fields of work that will be best done through automation. We've seen this happening, but it's likely to increase speed.

A couple days ago Bill Gates discussed the need to begin taxing machines that replace jobs (see: "The robot that takes your job should pay taxes, says Bill Gates"). This is an intriguing concept. Taxing robots would provide some economic resources for the many people whose jobs will no longer exist in the coming world. This could allow governments the opportunity to provide a basic or starter income for all citizens. This wouldn't be a deterrent for innovation—wouldn't future generations prefer to own the robots rather than be replaced by them?—but it could prevent the dystopian future where the automated workforce leads to a disenfranchised, impoverished populace with nothing but time and dissatisfaction to offer.

Most intriguing for educations: Mark Cuban stated in an interview a couple of days ago that the future workforce will be best served by.....ready for this....a liberal arts education (see: "Don't go to school for finance—liberal arts is the future"): "Cuban highlighted English, philosophy, and foreign language majors as just some of the majors that will do well in the future job market."

But Newsom is correct: politicians don't want to run on the platform of "sorry, you're jobs aren't coming back here, but we will prepare you for a future when the nature of work has drastically changed!" That's unfortunate, because the future is coming whether or not we're ready.

Reflections on Teaching the Bible to High Schoolers, Pt. 2: The Minimal Value of Lecturing

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I chose to avoid using the traditional textbook with my students, opting instead for a collection of short essays from Bible Odyssey. The second change I made was to move progressively away from lecturing. I did not do a "flipped classroom," but it did become more and more student led as the semester progressed. This was more difficult than lecturing, because its success rests upon (1) student leaders and (2) peer-to-peer cooperation. I taught five periods. In three of them there were students who naturally stepped up to keep conversations on track even when they were not assigned that role. In one of them it really did differ day-to-day. In another, I never really figured out how to get about a third of my students invested, including several of the more prominent personalities who could have helped me had they become allies in the work.

I was told during my interview process that it is beneficial to change ones mode of communication every twenty minutes when teaching high schoolers. I would suggest that may be closer to every fifteen minutes. So, let's say I am introducing the Apostle Paul during one 45 minute session. I may take role and then give information concerning Paul for 15 minutes. Then I may shift over to a video that will reinforce and add to what I just said. Then, ideally, I would use the last 20 minutes to divide the class into groups, giving them worksheets, assigning discussion leaders, and letting them discover things for themselves. 

If you lecture longer than 15 minutes, you are basically talking to yourself and a few students, at best, for every additional minutes. Now, it is true that some students will tune you out after about 5 minutes, but as the expert in the room you still have to provide the rest of your students with information they likely will not retrieve without your help.

But that is far from the bulk of what they should learn.

For one, they should learn to engage the primary sources themselves (i.e, reading the Bible in this case). Not just for homework, but also for class work; not just alone at home, but also in groups where interpretive differences can be recognized.

In other words, you do not want them to just learn about the Bible, but how to engage the Bible critically and thoughtfully, individually and corporately, and for those for whom these texts are sacred, both academically as well as devotionally/philosophically/theologically. 

Lectures allow students to hear my voice, but my voice ought to be more or less the guide. I tell them where to look, but not what to think of what they are seeing. I give them options for where to go on their intellectual journey, but I try to avoid telling them how to handle the first crossroad, or the hundredth. 

My students seemed to learn far more when they were asked to engage the text. When I lectured, I often lost them if it went too long. I do not blame them though. I am the same way. I much rather be given work to do than asked to just listen for hours on end. 

How to Read a Book, Today

Approximately a decade ago I read How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler (1972 ed. co-authored with Charles Van Doren, to be exact). Although it was a bit dated then, I found much of it quite helpful. It may seem silly to suggest that we ought to read a book about reading books. That's what I thought when it was assigned to me in grad school. Yet reading is not something all humans know how to do well (and for good reason since for most of our history most of us were illiterate). I wonder what it might look like to revise this work once again for a new age: one where we do much (most?) of our reading online (on average), where our attention spans are shortened while our menu has broadened, where it is sometimes impossible to separate credible sources from their fake news counterparts. What might it look like to rewrite Adler's work for today's reader?