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Patrick Halbrook

Liturgy vs. "Behavior Modification" (Rallens/Smith vs. Tripp?)

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A few years ago, as part of our professional development program, our teachers watched two sets of lectures which, afterwards, I realized appeared to deeply contradict each other.

In the first, "The Liturgical Classroom and Virtue Formation," Jenny Rallens, following James K. A. Smith's Desiring the Kingdom, speaks to the importance of developing rituals/liturgies in the classroom that will shape character and instill virtue. It is largely (perhaps even primarily) through these daily practices that students' loves will be ordered and therefore their hearts will be shaped.

In the second, "Your Christian School: A Culture of Grace?" Paul Tripp diagnoses the biggest problem with Christian schools to be the tendency to modify students' behavior--a "law"-centered approach--instead of addressing what is going on in a student's heart--a "grace"-centered approach. Tripp likes to compare the attempt to change outward behaviors to nailing apples to a tree in the attempt to make it fruitful--a total waste of time, when the nature of the tree itself needs to be changed. He doesn't address the concept of liturgy per se, but he certainly sounds like he would be skeptical of the idea, if not outright opposed to it.

Here's my question: are these two approaches fundamentally at odds with each other? Or do they merely appear to be that way, when in fact they are addressing different issues?

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Our school has also used bother of these resources for teacher development. It has been a few years since we did so, so I'm relying upon recollection more than recent review.

I do think that Tripp puts a heavy emphasis upon "getting to the heart" and in ways that don't always work well with younger children, who remain largely unaware of their motives. To be honest, some of his introspective focus doesn't fit with adults, as our own motivations remain unknown to us in many cases (and are often habitual). At the same time, I don't think that Rallens emphasis upon liturgy excludes "getting to the heart." Smith, in his book, says that he assumes the necessity of internal conviction, but sees liturgy as an "outside" way of affecting the "inside".

In short, I think there are ways of reading both sources that can allow them to be harmonized, even if Tripp or Rallens found reason to dispute each other's particular claims. Does that make sense?

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I agree that they both can be speaking to the heart and both have that as their goal. But perhaps Rallens would not presume she could know a student's motives, as Tripp seems to imply he can get at. And I think both would agree that outward behavior modification is not the goal. But surely neither would say,  therefore no structure or liturgy is necessary or beneficial. Structure brings security and can eliminate a LOT of behavior issues. How the day/class is structured as well as the elements. Her other video talks about how she transformed her "tests" and assessments right? It's not just about the order of the class but the elements as well right? 

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Here's some additional context for consideration. Tripp has used an anecdote before that perfectly fits the idea of liturgical training. He says that when he was a kid, his mom made him sweep the kitchen. He didn't enjoy it, but it was his chore, and his mom was faithful to make him do it again and again, without fail. At one point in his adulthood someone made a mess in the kitchen and he found himself automatically going to the broom closet to get a broom. He says that he realized that he had been trained by the habit into doing the right thing automatically, without complaint. So I would hesitate to say that Tripp believes all training comes about by conversations about the heart. He is mainly attacking those who would seek to gain righteousness through behaviorism.

I also would hesitate to claim that Tripp thinks he can see into a child's heart. I'm sure he falls prey to the natural fallen human temptation to impute motive when offended, but as a matter of principle his method isn't SIMPLY approaching the child with a predetermined plan of what sin the child is guilty of in order to train the child how to recognize his own sinful motives. Certainly there are many cases where the motives of a child are plain, and I think he's aiming at those kinds of scenarios with a lot of his teaching. You don't teach a rule only using exceptions to it.

At the same time, I do think Tripp's method gets conveyed far more simplistically than it really is to put into practice. For me, the most difficult part of handling my own child's sin is making sure that I've got control of my own pride and contempt. I don't want them to sin, and I don't want my expectations unmet, and if those things aren't mortified, I'm never going to be effective in helping my child get to the heart of what's motivating them, because I'm going to be focused by what motivating me, which isn't righteousness or a desire for truth. Tripp is helpful on that point, though he isn't always rhetorically sensitive in making that point. Similarly, I've had some correspondence with Jenny Rallens about some of the liturgical aspects of her classroom, and some of the things she is able to do require a great amount of preparation of the students as well as the teacher. Some of that has to do with the fact that some structural aspects are invisible and operate benignly (a student doesn't have to know why he raises his hand in order to speak, though it can be good to know why), while others are manifest and must be trained (students will engage in disagreement during discussion, but they must understand what disagreement is, why it is useful, how it can be done wrongly, etc. in order to make the structure of discussion work toward the liturgical end).

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Even though they might appear contradictory on the surface, I don't think the two ideas have to be. I think most people would agree that behaviorism and mere outward conformity to rules is not the goal of education. But, at the same time, lawlessness is no object, either. Charlotte Mason's ideas about habits sometimes seem to me to lean closer to behaviorism than I'm comfortable with, but at the same time, she is aware of their limitations.

Quote

...the habits a child grows up with appear to leave some sort of register in his material brain, and, thus, to become part of himself in even a physical sense. Thus it rests with parents to ease the way of their child by giving him the habits of the god life in thought, feeling and action, and even in spiritual things. We cannot make a child 'good'; but, in this way, we can lay paths for the good life in the very substance of his brain. We cannot make him hear the voice of God; but, again, we can make paths where the Lord God may walk in the cool of the evening. We cannot make a child clever; but we can see that his brain is nourished with pure blood, his mind with fruitful ideas. (Formation of Character, p. 141-42)

I encountered the exact same idea in Comenius's Great Didactic--the idea that until a child has both the desire and the strength of will to choose to do good, habits are the means of keeping on the desired path, even if you haven't "arrived" yet.

Quote

Fortitude should be learned by the subduing of self; that is to say, by repressing the desire to play at the wrong time or beyond the proper time, and by bridling impatience, discontent, and anger.

The principle which underlies this is that we should accustom boys to do everything by reason, and nothing under the guidance of impulse. For man is a rational animal, and should therefore be led by reason, and, before action, ought to deliberate how each operation should be performed, so that he may really be master of his own actions.

Now, since boys are not quite capable of such a deliberate and rational mode of procedure, it will be a great advance towards teaching them fortitude and self-control if they be forced to acquire the habit of performing the will of another in preference to their own, that is to say, to obey their superiors promptly in everything. (The Great Didactic, p. 364-65, emphasis mine)

It's not so much that the ideas are contradictory, I don't think, as that the speakers were discussing/emphasizing one part of a greater whole.

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Thanks for the thoughtful input on this one! I think these are all great ways to flesh out how these concepts are compatible. This is what I've more or less concluded as well, but I still think there is tension there that is worth pondering (a tension rooted not necessarily in conflicting theories, but in reality itself).

JTB--I love the broom anecdote, and can't recall if I heard it before. I definitely agree that Tripp's ideas can be difficult to apply effectively with younger children. An adult who does so badly can create confusion and cynicism, especially if kids who are simply demonstrating childish immaturity are told, "you have a heart problem." Unfortunately, I've seen this happen a lot.

Karen--both of those quotes are great, and I think they'd apply equally to adults as well. In our case we have more control over being able to choose our habits/liturgies, but once we've chosen them they proceed shape us beyond the mere decision to think or act a particular way.

Have any of you also read Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit? It's written from a secular social science perspective, but definitely overlaps with and buttresses these sorts of discussions. Really interesting.

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1 hour ago, Patrick said:

Thanks for the thoughtful input on this one! I think these are all great ways to flesh out how these concepts are compatible. This is what I've more or less concluded as well, but I still think there is tension there that is worth pondering (a tension rooted not necessarily in conflicting theories, but in reality itself).

JTB--I love the broom anecdote, and can't recall if I heard it before. I definitely agree that Tripp's ideas can be difficult to apply effectively with younger children. An adult who does so badly can create confusion and cynicism, especially if kids who are simply demonstrating childish immaturity are told, "you have a heart problem." Unfortunately, I've seen this happen a lot.

Karen--both of those quotes are great, and I think they'd apply equally to adults as well. In our case we have more control over being able to choose our habits/liturgies, but once we've chosen them they proceed shape us beyond the mere decision to think or act a particular way.

Have any of you also read Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit? It's written from a secular social science perspective, but definitely overlaps with and buttresses these sorts of discussions. Really interesting.

I haven't read The Power o Habit, but perhaps you could summarize some of its best points?

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