GroupThink


“I don’t want you to believe anything I tell you.”

This mantra has been and continues to be repeated daily to all my classes.

I believe, as did the Bereans, that we should check all information against a standard. In my case, as a biblical professor, I encourage students to go back to Scripture to see if what I’m saying is true. The Bereans did just that because they were “noble, receiving The Word eagerly while examining The Scriptures daily to see if these thing were so” (Acts 17.11).

 

The problem with us educators is that we can fall into the trap of believing what we say is sacrosanct.

An Atlantic article this August (here) referenced a letter written by professors from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The gist of the article is summarized here:

Monday’s letter argues that “open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate” are “our best antidotes to bigotry;” that a bigot is a person “who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;” and that the only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate “are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry.”

Echo chambers – antithetic to open-mindedness – are a real problem in every group.  When we only listen to those with whom we agree we become part of groupthink.

We all abide by standards where we measure groupthink. Biblically, I am wary any time factions form pitting viewpoints against one another. Paul identifies the problem when we think our group is better than another. Being “united in the same mindset” is a crucial concern (1 Corinthians 1.10-17)!

Collaboration is crucial to circumvent groupthink. We should be learning and studying together. In the First Testament, The Law was read aloud to Israelite assemblies (e.g., Nehemiah 8). In the Second Testament, letters were read by individuals within churches as the epistle was addressed to all in a location (e.g., Galatians 1.2). Churches in the 21stcentury should consider the imperative of collaborative learning.

 

Here are some practical suggestions toward avoiding groupthink:

  1. Read, watch, listen to other perspectives within groups averting groupthink (1 John 4.1-6)

  2. Remember Jesus’ words: if “others are not against us” they may be “for us” (Mark 9.38-41)

  3. Don’t share or post something in social media you have not personally researched. Abide by this simple dictum, “If you don’t know, don’t show” (1 Timothy 5.19)

  4. Find the strongest arguments for opposing viewpoints. Engaging the strongest arguments shows honesty toward those with whom we may disagree and strengthens our own position if we disagree (2 Timothy 2.24-26)

  5. Stop rumor, innuendo, slander, and gossip: DO NOT give assent to unsubstantiated views (1 Timothy 6.4)

Just because the culture says so, does not make it so.

Just because one group says so, does not make it so.

Just because a professor like me stands behind a lectern, does not make it so.

Read The Atlantic article, read others than those with whom you agree, join a group who has a different perspective than yours. Question. Consider. Research.

Be a Berean.

Mark has gone back to school at IUPUI, studying with brilliant professors with whom he sometimes disagrees. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), teaches weekly at his church (video), as well as spends many hours listening, collaborating, researching, and measuring verbiage and viewpoints from a biblical point of view. [Here is my radio interview response to the issue from Moody Radio in Cleveland yesterday.]

Standards


It was just more of the same.

Comenius students and I text throughout the week: when I will be on campus, prayer requests, helpful essays about their studies, and what they are learning in class.

The screen shot above is an example of a classroom message.

“Where do ethical standards come from? Are they universal or dependent on local norms?”

A student had been sending me texts about a long-standing, long-running interaction about the source of ethics in their* discipline.

I asked about the source or origin of “local norms.”

“Good news!” came the reply. “All truth of morality and origin can be traced back to the American _________ Association!** Problem solved!

Mentioning that I would be willing to drop by class sometime to offer an alternative explanation for ethical standards, my young friend said,

“The prof would be less than thrilled to justify their answer. Accountability is a stubborn thing.

Another text appeared on my phone.

“It just got better. We were discussing ethical situations such as lying to customers about the use of survey data and the prof used the curious phrase to initiate participation: ‘There are no right or wrong answers here.’

The student continued, “I looked around the room for someone to be as incredulous as I was but clearly it did not strike anyone else as an ironic phrase.”

Ethics at the craps table.

In a different class, the same student was reading the textbook basis for “standards.” [Screen shot above] The text claimed that there are three sources for ethical standards: universalism (based on outside, transcendent sources), relativism (based on individual choice), and something called “social responsibility.” The last standard gets its sources from whichever camp makes the most instinctive sense.

BUT where does ‘responsibility’ come from? Whose ‘social’ are we talking about?

Two questions I ask over and over about any discussion point include:

  1. What is the source or origin of the subject, idea, or standard?

  2. What is the end result, the consequence of any action based on the standard?

Let’s take this a step further: what happens if Christian standards based on a transcendent, universal source, are removed from cultural influence?

Doing a radio interview this week I referenced Damon Linker’s article “The Dangers of the Great American Unchurching” (here). What happens if a transcendent, universal standard is removed from discussions of ethics? Mr. Linker cites the result of losing Christian influence on societal standards:

“a precipitous collapse in the power of the churches in American public life.”

Why are transcendent ethical standards so important? Here are just three examples:

  1. The concept of rights (human or civil) is directly derived from transcendent authority. If governments grant rights, governments can take them away. If God grants rights, they should not be taken away. Government’s responsibility is to protect them.

  2. The importance of accountability (business or governmental) has its roots in a universal requirement. Duty and obligation have no foundation without worldwide, common regulations.

  3. The idea of law itself (judicial or legislative) is predicated on an external origin. “Life” and ‘freedom” derive their mandate from a divine source. Human origins for law shift and change based on who is in authority.

The student is right to question the source of ethical standards in their discipline.

Without a transcendent origin, ethics depend on a roll of the dice.

Mark believes two biblical doctrines frame all of life: absolute truth and human nature. The first provides a standard for life, the second makes us all responsible. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), teaches weekly at his church (video), and depends on a transcendent source of ethics like everyone else. [Hear the 8 m radio interview “Why the culture needs The Church.”] Picture credit: snappygoat.com

* using the improper pronoun “their” protects the student’s identity

**using a fill-in-the-blank protects the class’s identity

Statues


Same beliefs, different approaches.

In the spring of 2016 I took a class on literary theory from a brilliant IUPUI professor, Tom Marvin. The class was structured around student discovery and presentation. One of my class projects was to explain the African-American approach to literature.

 

 

Our text referenced both W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Both black men lived during the turn of the twentieth century, knew each other, and interacted with the others’ point of view. The textbook clearly appreciated Du Bois, considered a more politically “liberal” voice, over that of Mr. Washington, revered by many “conservatives.”

I was not interested in labels. Instead, I chose to show how each man’s ideological lineage could be traced through the last 100 plus years. I decided to put together power point slides to compare-and-contrast each perspective.

From Mr. Du Bois’ philosophical heritage I drew connections to Malcolm X and Cornel West. Mr. Washington’s mindset was considered through the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jason Riley. All the individuals mentioned are black men. The men all shared the same beliefs about racial equality but had markedly different approaches.

 

I then veered back to a cultural-political divisions between “liberals” and “conservatives.” To do so, I referenced the friendship between Cornel West, a black “liberal” and Robert P. George, a white “conservative.” Both men taught together at Princeton. Both men dialogue well with each other about their differences. And both men are Christians.

I showed a picture of both in jocular embrace. I showed a picture of West holding Harriet Tubman’s Bible as George is sworn into a Civil Rights Commission. I showed a picture of the two men discussing issues about which they disagree in front of a student assembly.

 

But the picture I saved for last was the picture of Mr.’s West and George, holding hands, heads bowed, praying together.

You could have heard a pin drop on the carpeted classroom floor.

I asked if there were any questions. I received stunned silence.

Students were visibly arrested by such a visual display of Christian care between two brothers – one black, one white, one liberal, one conservative. Since the discussion at Biola University (see the 1.5 hour YouTube video here), West and George have visited other university settings to convey the same message: disagreement and dialogue should be protected on college campuses.

All of us could take a cue from Professors West and George. The last few weeks are full of talk about NFL boycotts and statue removal. Since then, I have been asking myself questions I wonder if West and George would ask.

  1. What is the basis for our difference?

  2. What is the source of any solution?

  3. What should be the expected outcome?

  4. Is there room for compromise, give-and-take, or alternative approaches?

  5. By whose authority will we come to any conclusion?

A course on literary theory allowed me to expand my horizons. No, I did not agree with everything I heard: it wouldn’t be education if that were true! But I was given an exceptional opportunity to study two different men with the same belief but different approaches to a solution. Perhaps the question all of us should answer is, “Can I listen long enough to understand another’s point of view?”

If we only listen to the VOICES of those in agreement with us we have heard nothing.

For those wondering why Mark did not talk about ‘statues’ he hopes questions will move to discussions then proceed to actions. Mark is glad to listen to others, both students and faculty at IUPUI. You can find Mark around a student center lunch table each week dialoguing with others. Dr. Mark Eckel is the President of The Comenius Institute (site and 1 minute video).

AFTERWORD on ‘STATUE REMOVAL’: [hyperlinks embedded]

 

Richmond, Virginia’s African-American Mayor Levar Stoney has a unique approach to statues’: add signage to the monument “to set the record straight.” Author Dave Shiflett further suggests in his essay “Why Not Put Truth on a Pedestal?” more African-Americans should be remembered in monuments. A monument for Sojourner Truth in Richmond, Virginia is an exceptional proposal.

 

 Consider other voices: Condoleezza Rice suggests that statue removal is a “sanitation of history” whereas historian John Fea says if you’re really concerned about statue removal, choose other alternatives.

Understanding


“You don’t understand.”

I have been gladly married to the same woman for 38 years. We celebrate our anniversary on August 4th. One would think that after 38 years there would be no more surprises, no more to discover, no more need to ask “How do you feel about that?” After 38 years she still surprises me and I better care about how she is feeling! I still don’t always understand the conclusions she comes to nor do I understand how she got there!

It happened again last night. I was cooking, Robin was telling me about her day. We’re both lifelong educators so I was tracking with her second grade classroom exploits 100%. Or so I thought. I usually ask questions in our chats. This time I made a comment. I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said it. Her first words were, “You don’t understand…”

Now imagine talking with folks whom you have just met, who begin using vocabulary you’ve never heard, points of view foreign from your own, and a very different way of understanding the world. University settings include foreign languages all their own. Higher education includes a multiplicity of schools, departments, programs, majors, and professors. Classes study a diversity of approaches to research. Liberal arts programs are very different from pre-med, the chemistry department, or accounting. Were we to begin a dialogue across disciplines we might often hear the phrase, “You don’t understand…”

This was my experience in a conference on transdisciplinarity which means teaching-learning across disciplines. I was amazed at the assembled cast.

An archaeologist sat across the table from me. He does digs through Israel with specific attention toward the antiquity of Israelite history. Another scholar is a brilliant philosopher, an author of many books, who teaches in New York City at the prestigious, cutting-edge King’s College. Still another scholar shared her erudition through epistemology, the study of knowledge. Her book Loving to Know is beginning to redefine major concepts in her field. There was a psychologist, a research writer, a college president, an apologist, a theologian, a political scientist, a university provost, and a chemical engineer: every one, a teaching professor.

The assembled group all claimed a Christian worldview. But our frames of reference were quite different even within our religious agreement. Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, Presbyterians, Free-Will Baptists, among many others, were present. Our work toward a book project centered on the question, “What relevance does the Bible have for Christian scholarship and higher education?”

Now one would think that for a group of Christian thinkers this would be obvious. But it is not. In order to do scholarship we must work in our fields with the methods, tools, foundations, writings, and foci of our disciplines. For instance, can the assumptions of a sacred book drive the pursuit and practice of so-called “secular” history? If a chemical engineer and a philosopher are talking, how do they understand each other? Which brings us back to transdisciplinarity: teaching-learning across disciplines. Is this project even possible?

Getting professors to talk across their discipline to other disciplines is very difficult. A good number of PhD’s dig a deep disciplinary hole, climb in, and are never seen again. Higher education in general has built “silos.” These tall, singular monoliths, often made of concrete, do not play well with others. Departments do not often speak with each other. Turf wars result in custody battles over curricular direction. Reading is dedicated only to one’s area of expertise. Jealousies, rivalries, and personal attacks sometimes mire the university setting through internecine conflicts.

So what is the use? Why try to get doctors to read literature? Why encourage English majors to talk with physicists? What does Silicon Valley have to do with The Moth Radio Hour? How do storytellers relate with architects? If we only talk with others in our disciplines we remain in an echo chamber.

Translators. Bridge-builders. Tour guides. Ambassadors. Connectors. Pick a metaphor. Disciplinary experts need people who will “cross-over,” doing the hard work of investigating other disciplinary cultures to see linkage between our respective research and course-specific commitments.

So our group committed to some basic ground rules. Our agreement is elementary but necessary. We agreed to these basic pillars of belief,

(1) the distinctiveness of our Christian worldview, (2) multiple sources of knowledge, (3) open collaboration, (4) vitality in learning, (5) respect for others’ callings, (6) universal principles, (7) the cultural-contextual differences we engage, (8) incarnational investment in hearing others, (9) a proper posture of humility in learning, and (10) pure joy of discovery.

The most important focus of our work is our students. For whom do we do our work? Is our energy given toward our next accomplishment or the next generation? Is our legacy what we leave behind or who we leave behind? Are we mentoring students to eventually take our place? Do we encourage student writing in the next “call for papers”? Are our students the first thing we think of when we think of “doing our work”?

So in our transdisciplinary group, I offered what I referred to as “disciplinary threads” which might be woven through our book project much less our curricula. My threads include the need in every course of study to practice

(1) apologetics—an explanation of and defense for our discipline;

(2) hermeneutics—a reason for and an accounting of how we interpret our discipline within the world;

(3) transformations—the changes that could take place in a student who studies our discipline; and

(4) benefits—a demonstration of how our discipline assists humanity.

Robin and I recently enjoyed a nice discussion of our day, good food, and a couple of Downton Abbey episodes. After 38 years of marriage we understand a great deal about each other. But there is more to know and some things we will never fully understand. Transdisciplinarity is much like marriage: we cross over into another life or another discipline to learn from each other, create benefits for others through collaboration, and appreciate the discovery of learning together.

This is a reflection Mark wrote after the February, 2017 Houston transdisciplinary conference. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (site) (1 min video) and loves crossing disciplinary boundaries with faculty and students.

Mentor


The Marks of a Christian Mentor: A Vocational Description (Part Three)

“By guiding attention we take in our hands the key to the formation and the development of personality and character.” Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky[2]

“Teacher,” Part One (here), “Scholar,” Part Two (here)

My first stint as an educator was chosen by a four letter word: time.

My training was in pastoral studies.  But I was being offered a position as a high school teacher in a Christian school. Should I become a teacher, something for which I was not trained?  I made my decision based on time.

I asked myself how much influence could I have within a certain amount of time?  Teaching five times a week for 45 minutes a day over 180 days a year equals 135 hours per year.

But mentoring was the key to my decision.  I added to the amount of class time going to student concerts, games, plays, and graduations.  On top of watching student performances, I became involved in taking stats for basketball teams, weight-lifting with athletes, personal counseling, and parties at my home. Being with people was crucial in making my decision to teach.[3]  Mentoring is allowing people to be with us in our teaching, in our lives.  Discipleship is allowing time for imitation.[4]

Albert Bandura, following the behaviorists, introduced “new” ideas of cognitive repetition with his “bobo doll studies.”  Bandura had children watch a video of other children repeatedly knocking down a rubber bounce-back doll.  The result of observation was imitation which moved to changed behavior. The children immediately went into the next room to do what they had just seen.  Bandura’s observations (attention, retention, reproduction, motivation) emphasized that imitation causes people to demonstrate what they have learned, not to cause learning in and of itself.[5]  Bandura concluded, as a good humanist should, that the focus is on self. Response to imitation should be self-regulation, self-determination, self-control, even contractual obligations begun with oneself.

The biblical model, however, forces us to acknowledge that what our students emulate us because of The One we follow (1 Co 11:1 “be imitators of me as I am of Christ”). 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9 takes us yet another step. Paul commands (“must”) that the church follow his leadership. Essentially, no teaching can ever be effective outside of the personal lifestyle pattern of the teacher.

Imitating positive role models has ancient roots with philosophers, rabbis, and teachers. But Scripture points to more: Timothy the modeler becomes the model for others (1 Co 4:17). Paul was not asking the Corinthians to practice anything different from what was done elsewhere “everywhere in every church” (cf. 1 Co 7:17; 11:16; 14:33, 36). The Corinthians were to become what the Thessalonians had become already—the developmental model which was now the model for others: imitation.

The imitators were imitated, leaving an “example” for others to follow (1 Th 1:6). The Greek for “example” is “type.” Originally the word meant a mark that left a blow or a design stamped on a coin, leaving a pattern—something to be copied and followed (cf. Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 5:3). The word order emphasizes “a result reached.”[6]

No where else does Paul mark a church as an example to follow as he does with Thessalonica (1 Th 1:8). Paul puts developmental theory on notice that in order to model we must “give ourselves” to others (1 Th 2:8). Scripture is clear about sanctification—it is more difficult to “take affect” unless a discipleship lifestyle accompanies the teaching (cf. Gal 4:12; Phil 3:17).

 

There are other words which further elucidate the model of modeling. “Walk the line” (Rom 4:12; Acts 21:24; Gal 5:25), “follow in his footsteps or tracks” (2 Co 12:18; 1 Pet 2:21), and “devotion” (1 Tim 5:10, 24) are metaphors which authenticate (cf. Mark 16:20) the talk with the walk. It is possible to follow the wrong behavior (2 Peter 2:2, 15) which is the reason why Bandura’s “operational learning” must submit to The Personal Eternal Triune Creator.

The mentor has a role to play. It behooves us as professors to know Whose disciples we are.  The developmentalists can theorize about the process of imitated behavior but have no basis for its authority.  We live our lives as mentor-disciplers because people “read” us (2 Cor 3:2). 

May our students know Whom we imitate.

My our students find us worthy of imitation.

May our students experience our discipleship inside and outside the classroom.

May our students mimic the traits they find in us because these traits are found in Scripture.

And most of all, may our students know that we always have time to spend with them.

Dr. Eckel has served the Christian educational community for over 30 years; teaching junior high through graduate school.  Mark now spends time with students at The Comenius Institute (website). Find our 1 minute video here. This article was first published for The Emerging Scholars Network (site). Photos: Snappy Goat and Wikipedia Commons.

[2] Vygotsky, L.S. 1997. Educational psychology. Reprint, Boca Raton, FL: St. Lucie Press, 133.

[3] Mark Eckel, “Time,” 11 June 2013, http://warpandwoof.org/cultural-practical/2592/

[4] The connection between developmental psychology and Scriptural precedent is found in Paul’s words, “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Co 4:16, see 4:14-21 for the whole context). Every time the noun form of “mimic” is used in the New Testament (we get our English word directly from the Greek; cf. 1 Co 11:1; Eph 5:1; 1 Th 1:6; 2:14, etc.) the verb ginomai gives the action–“to become.” The present imperative drives the imitator to develop character based on the given model. In short, the biblical framework informs every developmentalist’s model.

[5] Anthony, Michael J. 2001. Albert Bandura. In Evangelical dictionary of Christian education. Edited by Michael J. Anthony, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 63-64.

[6] Morris, Leon. 1979. The first and second epistles to the Thessalonians. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans (page references are to the reprint edition), 59-60. We have an expectation for results but know that results are left up to God so our ministries are not “results-oriented.”

 

Charlottesville


Bigotry is the seedbed of genocide.

In the past year I have been both demeaned by a white, female, liberal professor for not saying enough (in her estimation [1]) against racism and disparaged by a white, male, nationalist for not defending my “blood kin,” my nationality, my skin color, my “whiteness.”

The most recent incident occurred when I posted this 12 August 17 statement on Facebook:

“I stand with my black brothers and sisters against racial hatred #Charlottesville”

One man took issue with my statement, posting over one hundred replies. Here is one, direct, unedited comment about my “stance”:

“Sorry, but many white believers are growing weary of white weakling professors of faith who loathe the very skin God gave them, all the while “standing” with the perceived downtrodden. Weak, vacillating Professors.”

I doubt any of my students past or present, or anyone who knows me personally, would agree with the descriptors “weak” or “vacillating.” My public posts and staunch commitment to any “stand” I have taken should explode any connection to weakness. [2]

Making a simple statement that I stand with my black friends was vilified because I was not maintaining the “purity” of the “white” “race.” [3]

Further, I was called “an alienist.”

“Mark exhibits classic Alienism. . . . “a prejudice in favor of the alien, the marginal, the dispossessed” . . . In Christianity, . . . we have a greater responsibility to our own family, race, town, state, region, and country, than we do to “the other”. Christians should favor the native and the normal over the alien and the novel. . . . Shame on those who despise their own flesh, who God Made them.”

Far from ashamed as to who I am [4] I am not ashamed to speak out on behalf of others. As an “alienist,” then, I stand with Yahweh who chose to give the same love He gave to His people (Deut 7.8) to the “alien.” The identical Hebrew word is then used to command His people’s love for the “alien.”

              “He loves the sojourner . . . love the sojourner” (ESV, Deut 10.18-19)

 

“The sojourner” is the non-resident, the alien, the outsider, one from other nationalities or ethnicities.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself(ESV, Lev 19.33-34)

My responsibility is to love (support, uplift, esteem, give to) everyone no matter their religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, creed, or self-identity.

There are no boundaries given.

There are no “what if ___” given.

There are no “what about ___” given.

There are no “but they did ___” given.

There are no rationalizations given.

“Love the sojourner.” Period.

Some would say – as did my interlocutor this weekend –  that I should defend my ethnicity. No one is disparaging their origins here! But that is NOT the issue. The issue at hand is “How will I respond to the history of oppression against my fellow countrymen and women?”

As a white man, my responsibility is to reach out to my black neighbors. I bear the responsibility to initiate, making intentional my communication and action. Ethnic superiority, purity, and division is NOT the gospel.

So to my liberal collegiate counterpart and my white nationalist Facebook “friend” I say the same thing: only the love of Jesus breaks down all the barriers.

My “whiteness” has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus.

There is MUCH more to say against quotations ripped from context, misapplied arguments, non-sequiturs, hate-filled videos, and memes which conflate ideas into ideology. Many have thanked me online and in private for allowing false belief to be seen for what it is. Readers can see much more of my stand in the footnotes below. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (site) (video).

 

 

[1] Readers can find many writings from me about ethnicity [use the search line]. Among them I wrote a three-part series with my brother, Pastor Brian Green on “Oneness” (one, two, three) and my personal responsibility as a professor is explained in the essay “Race” (here). Currently I am working on a journal article with my friend Charlie Mitchell on the theological foundations of the 20th century civil rights movement. Find my essay about “Charlie” here.

[2] After I read comments about my supposed “weakness” I continued to remember Paul’s comments, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1.27).

[3] “Race” denotes the “human race.” It is better to use the word ethnicity when referencing a person’s origins.

[4] See my faith statement here and biography here.