Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Memorize THIS!

Let me say up front: I'm not a huge fan of AWANA.

It has its place, it has touched thousands of kids' lives over the years. Most importantly, it has instilled a love for the Word of God in their minds.

If you're not familiar, AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed- it comes from 2 Timothy 2:15- and you thought the Army's acronyms are bad! ;-) is a kids program that focuses on Bible memorization. There is game time, a lesson, and certainly friends- but the focus is the memorization.

That's my problem with it. I don't think memorizing Scripture is bad, mind you. Quite the opposite. And, I have to acknowledge that AWANA has changed since I was in it, 15-20 years ago. It has been updated and probably is a much more quality program now.

Here is the way I remember AWANA: memorizing verses from the Old King James, which had words I didn't know. Of course, they put the definitions for said words in the margins... in almost as incomprehensible language... for a 2nd grader.

My BIGGEST problem with it, though, is the rewards system. It worked great for ME! I am good at memorizing and often had my book completed well before Christmas. I was in AWANA for 10 years; by the end my leader was just giving me chapters to memorize, because I had done everything else.

But what about the kids who aren't inherently good at memorizing?

They can work at it, they can say their verses. But there was always this feeling that being a "good Christian" was synonymous with finishing your AWANA book. They probably already struggle with school; the last thing they need is to come to church and feel the same inferiority.

Do you not think that they make this comparison? By completing sections of the book, kids LITERALLY get JEWELS in their CROWNS!!! WHAT?!?!?!? You have GOT to be kidding me! These small plastic crowns and jewels (which have holes if they are not filled) adorn their uniforms. Again, I must say- I think the system and uniforms have changed since then. But, that is what I remember.

This only feeds the culture of American Christianity: spirituality is a formula. Did you pray and do your devos? Good. You get a gold star in God's book for today! Wait, what? You haven't done your devos (shortened for "devotions", aka "quiet time" for those of you who were not in a youth group in the 90s...) in THREE DAYS? Backslider!

I really react to that. Again, I think studying and reading the Word of God are great things for a Christian to do; that cannot be argued. There is also something to say for maintaining the discipline of it.

Jon and I plan to memorize passages (yes, passages- not individual verses which are so easily ripped out of context) with our kids, just as his family did.

But equating being a "good Christian" with a Pharisaical check-the-box to-do list (think they don't exist? You MUST not have been in a youth group in the 90s...) is far from the call to love to which Christ beckons.

Hm. I was not intending on going off on that rabbit trail.

The POINT of this post was actually more of a question. I'm sitting here studying for my midterm and found myself relying on some of the memorization skills I learned in AWANA. That made me wonder a "chicken-egg" kind of question- did I do well in AWANA because I'm a good memorizer, or am I a good memorizer because I did well in AWANA?

In days of old, grade school education relied MUCH more heavily on rote memorization than it does today. Is this a disservice to our kids? What do you think? Does memorization come easily for you? How do you think that is related to the amount which you had to memorize as a young child? (I don't mean high school- I'm talking about early elementary) I don't remember ever memorizing anything in school- even addition and subtraction had nifty tricks to it.

Just curious.

Anyway, back to my tangent. If you like AWANA, I certainly don't mean to offend (though, while I'm on the subject, can we all agree that the word does not have an S on the end? It is not AwanaS...) I certainly loved it as a kid- Wednesdays were the highlight of my week! I wished it wouldn't end for the summer- I wanted to do it year-round! I still remember many of those verses today (though, for some, it took until college to figure out what they meant...) I just wonder if maybe there is a better way, a way that instills in kids a love for Scripture that is not academic.

I suppose, if nothing else, it is indisputably helping me do well on my midterm this week...


Jesse Gardner said...

I know that sometimes forcing kids to memorize stuff sounds distasteful; but having taught English, I think it's an essential part of the learning process, especially during those formative years when children are doing less synthesis and more intake.

I like to think of it this way: we're giving them the raw tools that they can either use or abandon when they get older.

And let me say this as one who did *terrible* at memorization in school. I failed several Bible classes in both high school and college (a Pastoral Ministries major who fails Bible classes!); but having done poorly at memorization, those things that I have memorized have served me so well.

I know you don't want it to be academic, but at some point the practical aspects of learning a thing come into play. I mean, as someone who works in marketing, I know that the jingles and the repetition aid in helping people remember your message. At some point a kid is going to want to go out and play instead of learning, and you have to find a healthy balance between the two. You can call it something different, but it will inevitably come back to you trying to get your child to learn something that they don't quite grasp yet. And while I think trying all different approaches (for instance, we've supplemented our AWANA program with a daily reading they can get rewarded for) is crucial, it still comes back to the "academics" of hiding God's Word in their hearts.

Ultimately, memorizing won't make them spiritual just like reading the Bible won't make them godly. But all of this is leading the horse to water; you just can't make them drink.

(Whether or not we should reward kids for doing what's right is another discussion, but think about all of the promise/reward verses God has given to us.)

Very thought provoking post, thanks!

Jesse Gardner said...

One more thought:

The best teachers don't just give the kids the tools, they also teach them why they're important. Any memorization devoid of this, especially for older children, is incomplete.