Boring

Once a year, like clockwork, some student in a new class would utter the infamous, vacuous, student complaint against school work.  “That’s boring!!”  Said pupil would hold out the “-ing” ending, trying to make as much as possible of a point from a two word attack that one can make.  As I mentioned, this happened once a year; and only once.  The reason?  My response.

“The only thing boring about the subject is you.

Always met with a shocked expression, my Christian teacher retort allowed no reaction other than a wide-eyed, open-mouth expression.  “Considering the astonishing creation with which God has blessed us,” I would begin, “nothing in The Creator’s world is ‘boring’.  Every subject is full of discovery.  Every new piece of knowledge is a new opportunity.  Every world wonder is worth a party.  The problem with your negative remark,” I would continue, “is an assault on God and his world.  But that’s not all.  Your comment tells the class that you think you know better about what you should learn.  So here is your chance.  Tell the class what you think we should be learning.”[1]

An opportunity to defend themselves produced one of three student answers given over the years: (1) “Nothin’” (accompanied by excessive pouting); (2) “I just wanna’ have fun” (at least giving us something substantive to address); and (3) “I want to learn about the ‘real world’” (mouthing an oft used, and sometimes accurate, student lament).

“I don’t wanna’ learn nothin’” is a lazy person’s point of view.  The underlying ideal within some teenage psyches is someone else will do life for me.  Solomon was just as frank with his students as I was with mine.  “How long will you lie there, O sluggard?  When will you arise from your sleep?”  Proverbs 6:9 demands accountability.  I can hear the impatient[2] teacher speak to the slacker: “When you slack off someone has to pick up your slack!”  The teacher is understandably irritated according to Proverbs 10:26 comparing lazy people to smoke in the eyes and straight vinegar on the teeth.  Laziness also “craves and craves.”[3] Listless people long for, lust after, desire, covet, wish for, and get, absolutely nothing.[4]

“I wanna’ do something fun” at least lets us explore what “fun” is.[5] “Fun,” to my students was essentially, I want to do what I want to do.  Who doesn’t?!  But Solomon likens this person to one who chases fantasies.[6] “Chase,” in its Hebrew construction, means to persecute, hound, or pursue with abandon.[7] Picture a small child tricked into believing she could catch the shadows along the wall illumined there by her teasing sibling.  There goes the little one, giggling, reaching for something that is not there!  Not only is the student a child, who wants only fun—something ephemeral, a momentary pleasure, a mist that lasts for an instant—this pupil wants what they want, and nothing else.  But their scholastic situation is dire as Proverbs 28:19 well summarizes:

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. (ESV)

“I want to learn about the ‘real world’” is sometimes a short-sighted viewpoint.  A long range view is difficult with a short range life.  Teenagers have not lived long enough to behave responsibly with time.  Young people do not have a sense that their “real world” now is that of going to school.[8] [It is important that teachers demonstrate the practical nature of their disciplines.  A mathematics teacher should teach proofs and postulates as well as math habits and application.]  Furthermore, the ant has many lessons to teach in Proverbs 6:6-11.  Oversight is unnecessary: the insect is a self-starter (6:7).  Foresight is essential since the ant plans ahead, preparing for a time when preparation is impossible (6:8).  Insight into the ways of the ant is crucial for the sluggard to learn her lesson (6:6).

Cornelius Plantinga answers that school is no holding tank where students await the great day when they emerge.  Outside of the academy, people who hold full time jobs use the phrase “the real world” because of the pressure they feel over business and life in general.  In fact, Plantinga argues, if pressure is the “real world,” students know pressure very well!  Every occupation can become a preoccupation.  Working 9 to 5 can be just as insular a life as “cramming for tests and cranking out papers.”  Plantinga’s point?  Anyone can become so focused on their own lives that they don’t know “the real world” either.  “Someone who lives in the ‘real world’ lives with an awareness of the whole world, because the whole world is part of the kingdom of God.[9]

“Don’t you see?!” I beseeched the new class, “I’m on your side!  I want you to succeed!  But you have to get rid of some of the—let’s be honest here—stupid beliefs our culture peddles.  We are made to believe by television sit-coms that we can have all the fun in the world without any consequences.  Commercials assault our brain with the chorus, ‘You can have it all, and have it now!’  And TV dramas give us the impression that our problems can be overcome in 42 minutes (the real length of so-called hour long shows).”  My preaching was reaching a crescendo, “Don’t believe the hype!  Don’t fall for the line!  I want you to be wiser than your peers!  All that we study is full of discovery and wonder.  Boredom is a sluggard’s attitude.”

The battle against “boredom” has raged for over 25 years as Mark has taught junior high through graduate level students.


[1] While this scenario sounds caustic in print, it was always well received in person.  Shocking a student into thinking through what they were saying, supported by the class majority, taught an important lesson.

[2] Robert L. Alden. 1983. Proverbs: A Commentary on an Ancient Book of Timeless Advice. (Baker): 57

[3] Proverbs 21:26.  Robert L. Alden. 1980. awha. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 1:18.

[4] Proverbs 13:4; 21:26.

[5] Speaking to teachers I sometimes have to remind them not to teach and lesson and then announce, “Now let’s do something fun!”  The obvious suggestion is learning is not fun, something simply to get through so that we can have “fun.”

[6] Proverbs 12:11.  “Fantasy” is translated as “worthless pursuits” by the English Standard Version (ESV).

[7] William White. 1980. rdp. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 2:834.

[8] See my earlier articles in the STUDY series on “Student” as Vocation.

[9] Cornelius Plantinga. 2002. Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. (Eerdmans): 139-40.  Everyone should read this book: a popular overview of substantive Christian thought.

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