Sunday, January 25, 2009

Put Your Hand Down

Today was the last of three consecutive Sundays that Susan and I joined Abigail for pre-confirmation classes at church. When the children start confirmation classes in junior high, they will be expected to memorize all the books of the Bible, and the prep work starts during these pre-confirmation classes: "For next week, memorize the first 14 books of the Old Testament". Suzanna had to do that last year, so at the time we just went ahead and memorized all of the books . . . of both testaments. As a family. Overachievers! So no big whoop for Abigail to get that assignment this year--she already completed that homework last year and easily rattled off the books again when told a couple weeks ago to "start working on" her memorization.

Besides the books of the Bible, the topic for the fourth-graders has been baptism: what it means as a sacrament in the Lutheran church as well as what it means for each child and his/her family in particular. We've been pulling out and examining and discussing artifacts: Abigail's baptismal certificate, the church bulletin from the day she was baptized (December 26, 1999), the gown and blanket from her baptism, the candle lit and handed to us during her baptism, a scrapbook with photos from that day, etc. It has been fun to recall and talk about, and Abigail delights in hearing about her own baptism and how we celebrated the occasion.

She also likes the classes: having Mom and Dad there to interact with and to help her on her projects (like decorating a baptismal remembrance box in which to store artifacts from her baptism--although it's too small to hold anything other than the candle), doing the activities, reading from the Bible and answering questions in the booklet that has been guiding us each week, and participating in large-group discussions. The pastor directs our attention to part of the booklet and sets us to a task, like reading a Bible verse and discussing it as a family. Then she gets our attention as a group and asks us all questions, calling on students who raise their hands to offer answers.

Abigail's hand shoots up after every single question. She knows her Bible stories; she has insight into the particular verses for the day; she has thoughts rushing around inside her head and is willing and eager to share them. She likes the whole teacher-asks-and-students-answer format of running a classroom, and she doesn't mind others' knowing that she knows the answers. She doesn't mind when others get called on to answer, either; but if no one else has a response to offer, Abigail always does.

Well, my heart broke just a tiny little bit this morning. The pastor, trying to balance whom she called upon to give answers to her questions, had Abigail answer a couple but then, upon seeing Abigail's hand up for a subsequent question, said something to this effect: "I know you know, Abigail, but I'm going to give others a chance to answer, too." And Abigail, smile on her face, put her hand down and pretty much had to sit on it the rest of the morning. The pastor would ask a question, and nobody else would raise their hands, and Abigail would know the answer, and she would look at me and bite her lip and then shove her hand under her leg to keep it from going up in the air because she knew that others needed a chance to participate, too.

And that's perfectly true, and in fact many other children were able to answer the pastor's questions throughout the class, and the group's progress was all the better for the participation from so many children. But I could see in Abigail's eyes a little bit of shame for having previously been unabashed in raising her hand, and I knew that she had learned more than one lesson: not only that it's good to give others an opportunity to participate but also that it's not good to be proud to know the answer to every question that the teacher asks. At one point, when everybody was being silent after the pastor had asked a question, Abigail whispered to me, "I know the answer, but I know that I should give others a chance, so I won't say anything." A little bit of the innocent, energetic twinkle dimmed from her eyes, and it was a visible struggle for her to stop volunteering herself whenever the pastor asked for someone to answer a question or offer an idea.

Grand scheme of things: Abigail's just fine, and she realizes that it's okay for her to know things without always having to make that knowledge public--that a teacher needs to hear from Abigail's classmates, too, to know how much they do or don't know in order to determine how best to proceed with the class. But it was about as much fun to watch Abigail's learning that lesson as it was to watch her fall off her bicycle while learning to ride. Maybe more painful because a bruised butt and scraped leg usually heal eventually without leaving behind any marks, but blows to the spirit can leave scars that last a surprisingly long time.

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1 comment:

  1. Abigail is always so sweet....and she always wants to please people. I'm sure it was a little disheartening when she was told that others needed a chance. But that's ok Abigail! We all know how smart you are! ;)