Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rifles against Armored Tanks

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling Charlotte campus

This summer, I taught Research Methods and Design to counseling students. I love teaching this course. One reason, of course, is that I spent several decades of my life in full-time research and I enjoy thinking about research methodology and sharing it with others. The other reason I love teaching this course, however, is the obvious impact that it has on students. Every semester, one (if not more) student tells me how taking this course has affected them: “I used to just read articles and believe what they said, but now I find myself asking ‘Is this true? How do they know? Was this a well-designed study?’” That encompasses my goals for the students in this course: to learn to think critically and read analytically.
Recently, I have been reading Creed Without Chaos: Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers by Laura Simmons. Dorothy Sayers is one of my favorite authors. In a chapter on Sayers’ theology of language, Simmons quotes from a book I have not read, The Lost Tools of Learning, which speaks to Sayers’ thoughts on education and propaganda. This book was written in 1948, and Sayers was very mindful of propaganda and its effects during World War II, and was concerned about the implications for the future of society. She wrote:
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armour was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armoured tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spellbinder, we have the impudence to be astonished.
I find this to be a remarkable observation. It has been my earnest desire for Christians to have a well-developed, self-conscious theology and worldview, and to be able to “always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Dorothy Sayers point is well taken: in order to resist the distortions with which we are constantly bombarded in the media, as well as to be able to present a winsome argument for our faith, we must be able to reason well, think critically, and craft our words effectively. This is not something with which we are born or develop merely because we acquire language. This takes effort, study, and sometimes struggling to understand and analyze an argument.
When my students begin the Research Methods and Design course, they are generally not happy with the prospect of reading all those research articles I assign, and trying to critique them to my satisfaction. Inevitably, however, by the end of the course, they are excited about their new capacities to think critically and analyze what they read. This is my gift to them: they are not facing armored tanks with rifles anymore. They have armored tanks of their own. My prayer is that we all are concerned to develop the critical thinking skills we need to not only resist the bombardment but also to mount a positive argument for our faith in the One who is called the Word of God.

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