Monday, January 27, 2014

The "How" of Building an Effective Christian Community

I work at a Christian college.  A committee was tasked with created a document called "Working in Community" that describes what it looks like to build Community in a Christian workplace.  In reading the document, it struck me that the document does a very good job of describing what a successful Christian community looks like, but it doesn't seem to focus on how Biblical concepts actually are the foundation of an effective community.  Also, it doesn't indicate how those Biblical concepts are in actuality the same financial and managerial best practices used in all successful organizations, but in a Christian context using Christian lingo.

Much of the confusion in this area seems to come from differing definitions of terms.  I actually view “stewardship” as “delegated ownership” (which includes accountability), whereas most people seem to view stewardship and ownership as opposites.  The practical difference is that many people think the Christian view of management is to give up ownership (and therefore to give up control and responsibility), whereas I would argue that an enlightened understanding of wise, delegated ownership is key to building a good community.  Many times it is when “ownership” is unclear that people try to force others to do what they think is right rather than trying to persuade or trade to get what they want.  Note that the verses in the Bible that seem to argue against “ownership” actually presuppose ownership rights as being valid but then argues that people should trade to obtain greater value.  Also, I would argue that the Ten Commandments actually defines ownership.  For example, “Do not steal” actually presupposes and defines ownership of physical items to be a valid concept, “Do not kill” defines ownership of our own bodies, etc...

Also, I would view the concepts of “community” and “relationships” as actually the same concept as “trade”.  Note that trade is two or more people exchanging things (including exchanging time and information) such that, in the aggregate, they each believe they benefit in some way more than it costs them.  Healthy trade, community and relationships each increases value to all involved otherwise the trade would cease, the community would fall apart and the relationship would end (or at least it would be an “unhealthy” relationship).

The reason I am interested in this topic is that these concepts have been of significant value to my household.  We have eight kids so it is a necessity to maintain a good family community.  What we do when there is conflict is to clarify (delegated) “ownership” of particular areas.  So, when an inappropriate form of attempted control (physical, verbal, tantrums, whining, etc..) takes place we first ask who “owns” that decision, then we have the others involved try to persuade the owner and possibly trade with the owner to get what they want/need.  So, the only methods of control that we use are persuasion/debate and trade based on ownership.  The other methods of control: physical force, punishment, peer pressure, yelling/pouting, tantrums, etc.. are considered to be invalid attempts to control (steal) what other people own.  We teach them that to say “please”, “thank you, “yes ma’am”, etc.. is valuable because that indicates to others that they respect their ownership/choices and will not try to force them to do what they want (which intuitively indicates they will be good trading partners).  Basically, what I am arguing that the non-aggression principle is just a restatement of the golden rule, which is a summary of the Ten Commandments.

We also teach them that grace/forgiveness is very important (assuming they have the right motives), because they can only be motivated to try to do things well if they are assured that there is acceptance when they fail.  Also, emotions are mostly learned “reasoning shortcuts” that motivates us to action of some kind, so emotions should be managed and used for self-motivation.  Note that these ideas work the same universally so our relationships don’t have to change when they get out on their own, there is no need for rebellion (hopefully…) and they are also learning how to interact with others at church and in their careers.

So, I would argue that the Biblical concepts of wise delegated ownership (stewardship) and trade (community, relationships) are actually the power behind building a good community and that these concepts are the best way to resolve conflicts.  Conflicts can also be resolved by “giving up ownership”, but that also removes control and responsibility, leading to less that optimal solutions and many times more conflict in the future.  I sometimes worry that we are good at communicating what godly interactions should look like but that we don’t always communicate well the power of how Biblical concepts promote virtue in the workplace and in communities.

The Liberal Arts and the Ideal Christian Educational Institution

The ideal education system:
The ideal educational system is arguably one where everyone in the world is prepared with the "methods of thinking”, information, and relationships just before they need them in order to create "value", erring on the side of becoming prepared through education sooner rather than later. It would provide an overview and foundational ”ways of thinking”, information and relationships for all areas of knowledge, both the “Liberal Arts” areas and the (broadly defined) “Technology” areas. It would then also train each person to be an expert in at least one specific area such that they can monetize/trade that expertise with other experts to achieve division of labor/economy of scale and maximize value (note: “value” can be qualitative and does not necessarily mean monetized value).

Historical Trade-offs due to limited educational resources:
The problem is that because of limited time and resources we can’t yet reach that ideal. So the question for educational institutions is: what should we leave off? Trade schools and apprenticeships tend to focus on providing a marketable expertise but they tend to minimize training on foundational/broader technology and liberal arts. General undergraduate colleges that focus on technical degrees tend to focus on overview/foundational technology knowledge, but they tend to minimize training in the liberal arts and don’t typically provide a particular area of expertise (unless someone continues to get their Doctorate). The Liberal Arts colleges focus on the liberal arts, but they tend to minimize foundational/overview knowledge of technology and they don’t normally provide a particular area of expertise. And all colleges historically have focused just on the four college years, pre-caching "ways of thinking”, information and relationships for students during those four years that the faculty expect they will likely need in the future (rather than also providing resources the students could access in a just-in-time manner either before or after those four years of college education).

The current day form of Reformation we are living through:
The Reformation was arguably enabled by the information technology of the day, the printing press, which allowed a few leaders to publish directly to the masses. Today we have technology that allows the masses to publish to the masses. So, if the information technology of the Reformation allowed every man to become his own priest (one form of education/motivation), then the information technology of today is allowing everyone to become their own evangelists (another form of education/motivation). As the Reformation had a significant effect on education and community, so too we are living through an era where we need to take these kinds of systemic changes into account.

Opportunity to transcend historical trade-offs:
Today Information Technology is bringing a revolution on the order of the Reformation and the printing press, such that we can now get closer to providing the ideal educational system. So, ideally, liberal arts colleges could offer their students overviews/foundational knowledge in both the Liberal Arts and the Technology areas of knowledge (which in fact I think we actually do in many cases, since in reality the Liberal Arts areas of knowledge create “value” by being the foundational supports to the, broadly defined, “Technology” areas of knowledge), as well as at least giving them a plan for obtaining a particular expertise as well. Also, we can help the learning be more broadly “just in time” and global by offering an asynchronous re-branded subset of our services (including access to training, feedback, a community and credentialing) to prospective students, alumni and the general public, including possibly supporting multiple languages.

Rather than the concept of the “ideal educational institution” being at odds with the “ideal Liberal Arts college”, instead what I am promoting is to allow the Liberal Arts education to transcend limitations that have been imposed on all three models of education in the past due to lack of available resources and lack of needed information technologies. I would argue that separation of the three types of educational institutions was necessary in the past to provide division of labor/economy of scale to deal with limited educational technologies/resources. But, as educational resources/capabilities increase and limitations are being removed, all three models now have the ability to grow into a combined model that also covers the areas that historically have been provided by the other two.

I am not arguing that liberal arts colleges should replace anything that they are doing as a college, because we are doing many things well. And I am not just arguing for online education, since face to face embodied education is the gold standard for many reasons. The disciples undoubtedly received a better face to face education with Jesus than we can get by studying the Bible (a book, which itself is a form of Information Technology). Rather, I am arguing that we need to supplement and expand the concept of our institutions to be closer to the ideal educational institution or we will likely lose out when other institutions expand their services into our areas of strength.

The Liberal Arts and Technologies - A New Model

Please Note: This is an earlier version of my thinking that I have left up for historical reasons.  Please see the updated model.

This model of education refines the concepts of the trivium, quadrivium and areas of technology education as follows (it is not really new, just refined and expanded): 

Please note the following implications of this model:

  • The Liberal Arts areas are separated by the “quantitative” and “qualitative” areas (as is the trivium and quadrivium)
  • Each area lower on the chart is foundational and prerequisite for each area above it
  • The concept of “technology” is more broadly defined than common usage, as being "the methods of doing something of value", and includes the qualitative areas of technology as well as the traditional quantitative-focused technologies (So with this definition we do actually already teach an overview of the various areas of "technology" because there are economic "technologies", social "technologies", etc..)
  • In this model, the liberal arts areas have inherent value because they are required foundations to creating value in the (broadly defined) "technologies" areas
  • The arts and music are included under the area of “social technologies”. They are special in that they have less restrictions on creative freedom than other technology areas, but they don’t get their own category because all areas of technology should include as much creativity as allowed (such as how architecture/civil engineering doesn't have as much creative freedom as art, for example).
  • Education and Communication are special, but they don't get their own areas because they are integral areas of "Information Technologies", in the broadest sense of that term
  • Each of the qualitative and quantitative liberal arts areas are interchangeable with their partner by a process of quantification or qualification (i.e., characterization). 
  • Theoretical science is separated from observational science. Observational science correlates well with recording of history and differs only in that one is quantitative and the other is qualitative.
  • Language includes logic/reasoning since logic is qualitative, so language includes both communication and reasoning (and logic is as key as communicating)
  • Math includes both quantitative reasoning and communicating, so formula literacy/communication is as key as computation

Note that this model doesn't directly address the concept of becoming expert in at least one particular area to be able to trade/monetize that expertise with other experts, in order to obtain division of labor/economy of scale and therefore maximize "value" (note: value is not the same as "monetized value"). So learning an overview of the areas of technologies is more akin to learning the liberal arts areas than it is in just training for a career/job.

Also, when discussing these “areas of knowledge”, I am actually thinking of the term "knowledge" in the “object oriented” sense (a computing term). So, I am using the term “knowledge” in the broader sense to include “ways of thinking”, information and relationships/connections (“Wisdom” might be a better term, but the term “knowledge” is more commonly used). That correlates well with constructivism, instructivism and connectivism, which correlates well with the human brain (thought, memory, and communication).

Using this broader definition of knowledge, what educational institutions do is "pre-cache" (sorry for the computer term) the "ways of thinking", information and relationships/connections/community, that we believe will be useful to the student sometime in the future.