Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Justice and Mercy by Virginia Knowles

Justice & Mercy
by Virginia Knowles
from The Real Life Home School Mom

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8

One of the greatest privileges of educating my own children is the opportunity to teach them about the themes of justice and mercy. Whether we are studying classic literature, history, geography, current events, careers, science & technology, health, home economics, and even math applications, these concepts can be woven through our curriculum. Take a few moments and think of how you can do this. Human nature being what it is, the drama of conflict and suffering unfolds down through the ages and across the world. I want my children to be able to respond not just with their heads, but with their hearts. I want them to evaluate ideas and actions in light of the truth of Scripture. In addition to what I have already listed in the “Nations and Generations” section, here are a plethora of ideas for incorporating the concepts of justice and mercy into all of the subjects of your education program.

Scripture: Study what the Bible says about the subjects of justice and mercy. You can do a search on these words in Scripture at www.ESV.org. For starters, take a look at the entire chapter of Isaiah 58. Think about it, especially in terms of how you can apply it in your own lives!

Family Life: Model justice and mercy in your family relationships through fairness and mutual respect, but also patience with others who aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. Teach your children to endure perceived offenses without undue fussing. Children love to cry, “It’s not fair!” Usually this means they haven’t gotten their own way. Life isn’t always fair, but a lot of the time we just need to go with the flow, allowing someone else to go first or get the bigger share. Yes, there is a time to stand up for yourself and for others, especially in matters of moral conscience or flagrant injustice, but much of the time we just need to yield rights and show preference to others.

Community Service: Foreign mission projects are exciting, but they aren’t the only ways for our children to serve God and others. There is so much to be done in our own communities! Part of this is just being aware of needs as they come up, such as babysitting for an evening without charge for a struggling family, or volunteering to serve at a church event, or mowing a neighbor’s lawn, or planting flowers during a community improvement day. But we can also take the initiative for regular, planned community service. One of our friends takes her girls to visit a nursing home every Monday night. Teens might tutor and mentor disadvantaged elementary age students each week through an inner city ministry. Our church organizes periodic service projects for the youth, such as packing food at a homeless ministry. Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org) also offers work projects building homes for the disadvantaged.

Perspectives: Learn to think from other people’s perspective and give them the benefit of the doubt. When we observe other people who are different from us or who disagree with us, it is easy to get judgmental, critical, and legalistic. This is a poor example to our children. We need to “walk a mile in the other man’s moccasins”, and to “take the plank out of our own eyes before we dig around for the speck in someone else’s eye.” As home school families, we probably look pretty strange to other people, and we want them to think well of us even if we don’t agree. Let’s extend the same courtesy. We may be strange, but let’s be gracious, too.

History and Literature: Read well-written books, especially biographies and historical fiction. Talk about how people in these stories made just or unjust decisions, how these affected other people, how they responded to one another, what they could have done differently, etc. If we are reading about slavery or some other time of great injustice, I want my children to think of how they would have responded. When she was 10 and we were studying the Holocaust, my daughter Rachel asked if I would have sheltered Jews during World War II. I would have done something in the anti-Nazi Resistance movement if I had lived then. But that begs the question: What am I doing about injustice now? How am I living out justice and mercy in the 21st century?

Government: This is another school subject that lends itself to a study of justice and mercy. For a civics class you can study your country’s executive, legislative and judicial systems to discover how laws are made and enforced. What does the constitution say? What checks and balances are in place to prevent corruption? How are freedom of speech and freedom of religion protected? How are criminals punished? How are minorities and women treated? Next, do a comparative study of various political systems around the world, including republican, democratic, monarchy (with our without a representative government like parliament), communist, socialist, military dictatorship, etc. Find out what life is like in Iran or Cuba. Reading about wars also provides many scenarios for discussion. There are at least two viewpoints for every conflict. No one is entirely right or wrong. Each side has reasons for acting as they did. Innocent civilians suffer for poor decisions made by their governments, and are not “the enemy” themselves. For example, Patricia Beatty’s book, Be Ever Hopeful Hannalee, is told from the perspective of a young Southern sister and brother cruelly uprooted from their home and family during the Civil War. You can discuss concepts such as “just cause” for revolt against an unjust government, reasonable force, aggression vs. self-defense, pacifism, etc. We should apply this to various conflicts, past and present. This is excellent material for logic and thinking skills.

Current Events: When you read the newspaper or watch a news program, talk about the concept of justice. Was the court decision fair? Why is this person claiming discrimination? What programs should the federal or state government fund? How does the welfare system work, and is it effective? What policies should the government set about issues such as euthanasia or stem cell research?

Writing: For language arts, you can study vocabulary (integrity, justice, righteousness, compassion) and assign creative writing projects relating to justice and mercy. “What would you do if you found an iPod on the floor of the science museum at a field trip?” “If you had $500 to give to five different charitable organizations, which would you choose and why?” Whom do you know who embodies the concepts of justice and mercy? Write them an encouraging letter! Many folks are discouraged in the midst of their service, and your kind words of affirmation could give them just the moral boost they need to continue. Think about it!

Careers: Discuss workplace ethics from your own family’s experiences as well as news stories. Talk about how one person’s actions affect others. If an employee embezzles money or is not a good steward of company resources, it ultimately makes prices go up for the customers. If an employer discriminates in hiring or firing, or allows harassment, this reduces employee morale as well as hurting the offended party. Our actions affect others!

Civil Protest: Talk about boycotting and picketing as a means of non-violent social protest. How have these been used throughout history? What has been the result in various circumstances? Are there any products or companies that you boycott? Why? Would you ever picket? If you have a TV, watch the news for labor union disputes, environmental activism, and other forms of protest.

Education: Talk about the ethics of education. What does it mean to cheat on a test or plagiarize writing? (One of my children seemed to make a huge leap in her ability to do addition using our homemade flash cards, until I realized that the paper was thin enough for her to see the answers on the back!) I need to teach my older children how to properly attribute a quote to another source, and how much word for word excerpting is appropriate in various kinds of writing. Home school moms obviously have to help their children with schoolwork, but do give some thought to how much is appropriate for each age level and situation. At some point, children do need to think for themselves. If they need to take a chapter test, go ahead and prepare them ahead of time for it, but then just let them do it! They need an honest appraisal of their performance. We shouldn’t always shield them from that! As long as we are on this topic, are you adequately complying with state requirements for home education?

Fairy Tales: Fairy tales often present a simplified view of justice. The lines between good and evil are clearly drawn since little people can’t always understand the nuances of more complicated characters and plots. In the older versions, the villain (the big bad wolf, the wicked witch, etc.) usually meets his or her doom in the form of death. The newer non-violent versions have the bad guy chased away “never to be seen again” or reformed due to the innocent example of the child hero. Most times there still is that sense of closure, the “happily ever after” that young children need to assure them that all is well and the world is safe. At some point in time, children need to mature to the point where they can appreciate a more realistic story that may not have a tidy ending. The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass, both edited by William Bennett, are essential anthologies of stories and poems for all ages.

Games and sports: A little healthy competition provides great opportunities to practice fair play, good sportsmanship, following the rules, taking turns, and being kind to someone who is less experienced or physically able. If your child is struggling with team cooperation, ask him, “What would you see to a player acting like this if you were the coach?” You can also find out what kinds of games and sports are played around the world, especially in Third World countries where they don’t have fancy toys. Can you send a box of soccer balls to an orphanage overseas?

Justice and mercy are so close to God’s heart. If we want to reflect his image, they must be close to ours as well. British ministry leader Mike Pilavachi encourages Christians to not turn away from news about injustice or oppression or poverty, but to act. “Because the truth is, if we don’t look properly, we’ll never cultivate a true heart of compassion. If we want our hearts to be changed, then we need to get involved. Often I think we’re afraid to see things fully because we know that once we have, we can never plead ignorance to God; we’ll have blown that excuse out of the water.” He quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. as saying, “We will have to repent in this generation for not merely the cruel words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” So I plead with you, my fellow home school parents, as you rightly shelter your children in some ways, don’t isolate yourself or them from the needs of the world that God has called us to serve in his name. If we don’t, who will?

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