I don’t know how to fix cars. I barely know where to put the gas. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in a specialized society, or maybe because I’ve never taken the time to learn, but I have no idea what the difference is between a carborator and a spark piston. Spark piston? Is that right? Whatever.
My dad knows something about cars—at least what the different parts are. Once I called him because one of our headlights went out. I asked him how to fix it. Over the phone, he gave me the information, and I listened, then I hung up the phone. And that’s it. It wasn’t because the information he gave me was faulty in anyway; it was because it was just that—information. What’s more, it was HIS information. Information he had learned and practiced. Information he had come to know by heart. Information that he owned.
For that, along with a host of other reasons, I would say that particularly in a Sunday School class or small group learning environment, lecture is dead. It doesn’t work. There’s the rare case when the information penetrates through the head and heart of the person sitting in the room, but 99% of the time, the information will simply remain information for the same reason that my dad’s information remained information that day. It was his information.
A teacher who lectures is undoubtedly very prepared, very educated, and very willing to dispense information. But real learning and real life transformation comes when a teacher’s information ceases to be their information and starts to be someone else’s information. And that doesn’t happen through lecture. It happens through discovery.
I learned something about headlights when I opened up the hood and started messing around in there. I took a flashlight and I discovered it for myself. I was guided by my dad’s words, but the real learning came when I found it out and experienced it for myself. That’s when his information became my information. And now I know how to replace a lamp in a 2002 Mazda.
The same thing is true in any learning environment. As teachers, we have the option to either dispense information or go the extra step to try and make our learning environments ones of discovery. We do that not by simply dispensing the information, but by making it our goal that each person in the room wrestles, questions, discusses, and comes to the conclusion on their own. We do it by asking questions.
And not just any questions—not yes/no, one word answer kind of questions—but deep, thought-provoking, hard questions that force people to think about what they believe and why they believe it. And we choose questions that move people one step further along the path of discovery so that with each answer the information transfers from being ours to being theirs. That’s what we have the power to do.
The problem is that we love our information. We’re excited about our information. And maybe sometimes we’re even a little bit proud that we have some information that someone else doesn’t have. So we become so concerned about the information that we stop being concerned about the people we are trying to inform. If what we really want is life change rather than just information transfer, then we have to seek out this way of not just being an informational Pez dispenser, but being people who provide a chance for people to learn and discover on their own. If that’s the environment we create, then people don’t just leave our class with information; they leave thinking. And processing. Still learning, and still transforming. Still making that information their own.
And that’s really what we’re after, right?