At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Literacy Trending Down

Last week, a teacher in a Christian high school gave his students a test. Specifically, this exam--which affected no one's class grade and which asked for no one to affix their name to the answer sheet--was a 90-question multiple choice (with some questions asking to arrange a series of things, people, or events in order) Biblical literacy test. The purpose for this teacher was to discern the relative level of biblical knowledge amongst his students and to use the results of the test to underscore the importance of knowing the Bible to think biblically.

Yes, in case you haven't guessed by now, that teacher was me.

Let me say right now I love my students, and this test was no reflection on their intellectual abilities. I enjoy teaching them and they are well on their way to academic success.

And no, this wasn't a seminary-level exam with turgid theological answers expected in response to deep questions. It was merely to check students' knowledge of the big picture of the Biblical story and mastery of details that should be part of the contours of basic Christian understanding of Scripture.

To the details:

Overall, the average of test scores was 48%. That was actually around where I thought it'd be.

Some other discoveries--not that these shocked me, but I found them helpful as part of seeing the student underbelly on this:

(A) At the near-end of my course on Biblical Ethics, only 40 of 82 (48.8%) of all students got the first five of the Ten Commandments arranged correctly.

(B) Slightly better were the results on arranging the second half of the Decalogue in order, in which 44 of 82 were able to do so (53.7%).

(C) Only 22 of 82 students (26.8%) could arrange five events--selecting disciples, transfiguration, death, resurrection, and ascension--in Jesus' life in chronological order.

(D) When asked to put five major Biblical figures in order of which they lived in Biblical times--Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist--only 30 of 82 (36.6%) pulled off the correct order.

(E) When asked to identify which book "The righteous shall live by faith" is from, it yielded 25 of 82 correct responses (30.5%) knowing it was Romans.

(F) Psalm 23 is not as automatic as it used to be. One question asked students to identify where the words "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" comes from. Results were a marginal majority of 45 of 82 (54.9%).

(G) Another chronological order question of events. Only 26 of 82 (31.7%) could successfully put the tower of Babel, the Israelite entrance into Canaan, the completion of Solomon's Temple, Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ, and Paul's first missionary journey in order.

(H) Finally, the last question: "Your honest assessment: Is the Bible your primary source for knowledge about God and faith?" A yes or no question. 19 of 82 (23.2%) said "no". That is truly interesting. (And, to be honest, just slightly lower than the percentage I expected)

Now you can make of that what you wish. I was merely doing it to exegete the culture in which I serve. I don't believe this says anything negative about Westminster Christian Academy (my present employer). I believe it says more about a Christian subculture that--at both the church and family levels--has emphasized "life management skills" dressed in religious language over the understanding of the Bible as an amazing narrative of how God is great, we wrecked things and now we suck, and how in Jesus, God is now stitching things together, and all this centralized in this book of colorful yet flawed characters who pull off this business of what's called "God's kingdom." People tend to dive-bomb into the Bible and use it like a car manual when life shuts down to figure out how to get going.

Perhaps you think "That's not so bad." In one sense, yes. If a major league baseball player, for example, batted .480, he'd be an All-Star on track to the Hall of Fame. And knowledge is NOT the equivalent of godliness. Nor does knowledge automatically produce genuine faith.

However, when "churched" individuals (which comprised all the test-takers) struggle with questions on basic Biblical knowledge, we should at least take notice.

Bottom line: This isn't baseball. If you're going to be a math teacher, and you get less than half of all problems right on an Algebra I proficiency exam, what then?

Even more personal, for those who claim to be followers of Jesus: If I claim to love my wife more than anything, and if you ask me twenty questions about the basics of her life (where she was born, where she went to school, where we met, etc.) and I got only 9 or 10 questions correct

…would you question whether I even knew her, let alone loved her?

Knowledge does not equal faith or love. No doubt about that.

But love and faith have a solid basis in knowledge.

Something to think about. And I'll leave it hanging there.

1 comment:

Chris Smith said... must post the test so that readers of your blog can take the test too, right? Lest we be tempted to engage in head shaking & finger wagging at "the younger generation." Methinks you will find a correlation with the parents & maybe grandparents of these kids. I hope not, but I fear it is the case. Some of those statistics are arresting.