Feast upon the Word Blog

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What does a 16-17 year-old mean when she/he says “philosophical”?

Posted by joespencer on January 15, 2007

Matt W. raised this issue last night. He wrote:

Ok, my lesson sucked it up again today. We got to comparing Zach and Mary and Faith and Doubt and finally I just pushed them into it and asked them what they wanted and it came down to their saying more philosophical discussion and less of anything they have already heard. I had to get them to promise to let me know if they already new what I was talking about, so we could keep it moving at a solid pace.

Any ideas? Next week I am planning on going over what Wisdom is in conjunction with Luke 2:52 and then to go through the styles of learning and the basics of epistemology and the philosophy of truth.

Am I being too literal. What do 16-17 year olds mean when they want more philosophical discussion?

I’m going to leave his quotation like that and simply invite discussion.

18 Responses to “What does a 16-17 year-old mean when she/he says “philosophical”?”

  1. I post, then I respond: I think the key here is in focusing not so much on their mentioning “more philosophical discussion,” but on their mentioning “less of anything they have already heard.” In other words, I would interpret the former through the latter: most 16-17 year-old have no idea what “philosophy” is (or 20+ year-olds for that matter: if I hear one more person say “You studied philosophy? My brother is studying psychology to be a counselor,” I will scream!). I think what they are asking for is actual thought about something they’ve heard a million times, rather than a simple (or even complex) repetition of something they’ve already heard.

    Concretely, doesn’t this amount to their saying that they want you to teach them how to read? That is, they trust the scriptures have all sorts of things they’ve never seen before, but the fact of the matter is that they do not know how to find those sorts of things. When they read the text, it is nothing but a mirror, showing them what they already know (they don’t know how to ask the right questions of the text). So the job of the teacher (especially of this age group in particular) is to teach them how to probe the text for what we don’t already know. And I recognize that this takes a great deal more work, and it is not always a comfortable project, but I think it is what they are asking for.

    So this week is the Christmas lesson. Why not begin by pointing out that no single gospel tells the whole Christmas story they are used to? That alone will strike them as odd. Then begin to help them see that really only Matthew and Luke have anything to say about the story, and that Luke uses it to point to the condescension of Christ to the lowly, to the humble, to the Other, while Matthew uses it to point to the kingship of Christ and His role in the local concerns of the Jews. Then ask them why there would be a difference? And then, why doesn’t Mark tell the story at all? And why does John replace it with a story about Creation and light?

    These are just a few questions off the top of my head, but some serious sustained attention would hopefully produce far better and more probing questions. Ultimately, I think you want to aim at questions that make them question the way they think about Jesus Christ in general (Do you think of Jesus as a king? What would it mean for Him to be a king? What is the relation between a king and a subject? How is our covenant like that relation? What does all of this imply about law, the laws of the gospel? How could Jesus be the king and yet the lowly sufferer? On the other hand, how is Jesus a boundary-breaker? What is His relation to the marginalized? Does He reject the rich, the powerful, etc.? Who are the Gentiles? What is the relation between the Jews and the Gentiles, and how is that signaled in His birth, etc.?)

  2. Robert C. said

    Here was my response to Matt. I also agree with what Joe has said. One more verse came to mind: I think “looking beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14) seems to add an interesting perspective as to why the Jews might’ve found Jesus’ questions so astonishing (Luke 2:47).

  3. Kevin Barney said

    Count your blessings; at least your kids are expressing an interest in learning something. When I taught the high school age kids, they displayed zero interest in learning anything. The course of study was supposed to be the OT, and they wimply were not interested in the OT, in any way, shape or form. It was brutal.

    I can relate to these kids, actually. When I was their age, I know we all felt that we had heard everything a hundred times over and we weren’t actually learning anything. I agree with ignoring the word “philosophical” and strive to actually teach them something about the scriptures, and you’ll be fine.

  4. Jacob said

    I agree with Joe’s #1. And, like Kevin, I identify with these kids. I love what Kevin said, to “actually teach them something.” Sometimes in the church, we think teaching means “asking questions” and “leading a discussion.” Even for adults, that kind of teaching gets very old for me. In my mind, the job of the teacher is to come up with something I can learn for my edification. I don’t mean learning newer and crazier things every week (I am NOT looking for a New Cool experience in Sunday school). I know so little, seemingly basic information is almost always new to me. I would like to do a survey about the life of Wilford Woodruff and see how much we now know about him after studying him for a year (actually, I was in primary for the whole year, so I hope I am right about it being Wilford Woodruff last year).

  5. Alvaro Salazar said

    I believe that in order to share the gospel with no matter who you have in the class (younguns, youth or mature) one has to create an expectation from your group. An that is that every class will be interesting, different from the previous and thought provoking. Sometimes people learn laughing, other times crying and always with the spirit. Sometimes we know the letter of the law gospel, teachings etc. but we haven’t internalized the teachings into our lives. Eventhough we know the scriptures sometimes we don’t relate and we feel that it doesn’t apply to us becuase as teachers we don’t take the time to draw a parallel from the scriptures to their daily lives. This means Sharing our life experiences with passion, with emotion and with faith that these will touch a nerve and make them think positively about the gospel and about Christ as our/their personal Savior.

    I am sure you utilize these elements in your class. I just remember how much I loved the gospel when I was 16 but I also remember how bored I was during these SS Classes.

    Challenge yourself to be every Sunday someone different. Laugh at yourself even during the class and enjoy the challenge.

  6. brianj said

    Here’s how I respond to youth when they seem tired of giving tired responses: I say, “Prove it.” Suddenly, they can’t just answer how they always have (e.g. “Mary represents faith; Zacharias represents doubt”), now they have to show me in the text. That’s not as easy for them as they think, and they find the challenge rewarding and humbling. As for them “[promising] to let [you] know if they already know what [you are] talking about,” well, it will become very clear to them and you how much they know.

    I also like to use “why?” questions like Joe recommends in #1. (“Why did the author choose that story or tell it in that way?”)

  7. Jim F. said

    If my experience as a professional philosopher who has tried to teach 16-17 year olds is any evidence, the really, really do NOT want more philosophy. I think those who said they want to hear something beyond what they’ve already heard 1,000 times are right.

  8. Matt W. said

    Wow, I didn’t really expect the response to this to be so good. Thanks everyone!

    Part of my problem is, if I even mention the Nativity at this point, I feel like I am increasing the slope of the uphill battle I am on. It is not that the Youth know everything, they don’t. However, there perception is that they know it, so I will be pushing them to prove what they know, but I also can’t lose their attention because when I lose it, it’s gon for good.

    Another general problem I have, is a lot of what isn’t in the Scriptures is theory, not doctrine, and I am feel more and more that I probably shouldn’t be sharing too much personal theory in these settings, and should stick to those answers which can be had “by common consent”

    My wife also tells me she hated SS when she was a kid and just wanted to get through it to YW, because she felt like she knew it all.

    Here is my current lesson plan keeping in mind the purpose of the lesson given to rejoice in the birth of Jesus and to follow the example he set in his Youth, increasing in Wisdom, stature and in favour with God and Man.

    Opening Questions: (rejoice in Christ’s Birth)

    Which of the current Gospel authors of the Gospels were there at Christ’s Birth?

    If the Authors were not present, what were the authors’ Purposes in writing about Christ’s Birth, besides to give a History?

    Why was Christ Born?

    (If Sufficient Interest: When was Christ Born? Who was Heord the Great? Why is he important in dating Christ’s Birth?)

    Luke 2:52

    Increase in Wisdom

    Wisdom = Knowledge + Good Judgment

    Knowledge = information learned

    3 styles of learning discussion: (practical application)


    Which are you. How can we tailor this class to our styles of learning? How can we apply this at high school? Why does it matter?

    Epistemology- philosophical study of the origin, limits, and nature of knowledge.

    6 ways we know things

    1. Appeal to reason
    2. Appeal to Authority
    3. Appeal to Senses
    4. Trial and Error
    5. Intuition
    6. Spiritual Knowing or “the light of Christ”

    A challenge we face is that not all knowledge is true. Each of the ways of knowing can produce false date. Some Items can not be shown to be true or False. Example: The Liar Paradox
    (Is the Statement “I am a Liar” true or false.)

    Man must walk by Faith and-or work by relative Truth.

    (If sufficient interest, give analogy of how this is good enough “for all intents and purposes” using math as an example. If further sufficient interest, Absolute Truth is only available to God.
    God is Omniscient. But what does that mean?
    Does God know the biggest number? )

    This is where Good Judgment comes into play. How to we foster the development of Good Judgment?

    (If sufficient Interest
    How do we recognize what is from God: (in accord with scriptures, in accord with Temple recommend questions, rule of witnesses, D&C 6, D&C 9))

    Explain Stature in the original greek meant he just grew from a baby to a man.

    How do we Increase in Favor with God?

    How do we Increase in Favor with Man?

    What is the Difference?

    (If Sufficient Interest, Compare Luke 2:52 to Samuel’s description in OT, need reference)

    Any suggestions of what of how to divide the wheat from the chaff here would be appreciated..

  9. Matt W. said

    Should I start with the Luke 2:52 and move the rejoice in Christ section to the end, time permitting?

  10. I would personally spend the whole time working on the question “Why was Christ born?” I think that is an incredibly profound question, and one that has many directions to go in scripture. I would study the question as much as possible, but go in there with no particular plan for answering it. I think that is “philosophical” enough for most kids’ tastes. Perhaps to make it a bit more “philosophical” (in the sense I think they mean philosophical), I would lead the discussion in the direction of the clash between the historical and the non-historical, the idea of an incarnation, etc. I would take a look at “the Word” and what that might imply (a word is a sign that points away from itself, except when it is the Word, where it both points to something and yet is itself: God and with God).

    If I were pushed on the wisdom business, I would probably explore the connections between Luke 2:52 and the first three chapters of Proverbs, which Luke is directly quoting here. I would take a look at the traditions of wisdom in the OT and try to think about what that would have implied for readers of the gospel of Luke: who is this Child of Wisdom? Etc.

  11. ed42 said

    It sounds like they want “meat” instead of “milk”.

    PS. Never ask a Primary question (i.e., one that could be easily answered by a child 12 or younger), it’s the surest way to provide boredom.

  12. Matt W. said

    If anyone is interested, my class went pretty well. I had 13 kids in class, which was about 5 too many, but all the kids but the 4 who wanted “Philosophical discussion” seemed to really enjoy the lesson. I asked the ring leader what was up, and he gave me a lame “We are just too tired to focus and pay attention.” (Though they were not too tired to talk to each other the whole time.) I am pondering bringing a couple six packs of mountan dew to class next week, but my wife tells me this would not be an effective way to handle the situation.

    I feel like I am getting the “I dare you to try and teach me something.” attitude from these kids, with it’s underlying “I dare you to care…”

    Joe, we did hang on “Why was Christ born?” for a bit, but it tied in really well with the rest of the lesson, as John 18:37-38 brought us to Truth.

  13. Interesting end to the tale. Would it be worth doing a thread on “I dare you to try and teach me something” situations?

  14. BrianJ said

    MattW: thanks for the report.

  15. Matt W. said

    That would be good. I guess more than that, it would be awesome just to have some room to brainstorm ideas for how to handle acts of rebellion in general. I am only 30, but feel completely out of touch with the Youth. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in the church and I haven’t had TV or bought a new CD in 7 years… I have definitely resolved that I want to be siginificant and not entertaining. I can not entertain the youth better than they can entertain themselves.

  16. Robert C. said

    Joe #13: I’d be interested. I don’t face that attitude too much b/c my SS students are usually younger and haven’t acquired that attitude yet, but I do sometimes get the older kids combined into my class and I don’t have a lot of great ideas on how to address such attitudes.

  17. Matt, your comment about TV and CD’s convinces me it is worth doing a thread. I don’t own a TV, and I have only bought classical CD’s for the past 7 years. I, like you, am a total dork from the kids’ point of view (they tell me that often–especially because I read so much; in fact, I got books for all my priests for a Christmas gift, and they all groaned). But I think, in the end, that this is a help to teaching, not a hindrance. I’ll have to articulate this in a thread opening.

  18. robf said

    Matt, its been almost a year since this post and I was wondering if you have an update for us? How did it go this year?

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