Challenge to GBT V students
by Ashley Carr
· Don’t slack off; I know that this year will be a busy one, and it will be tempting to put GBT on the backburner (especially if you’re taking college classes), but it’s absolutely worth it to really make the time to read the books well and think carefully about them. You have more freedom, more responsibility to take your education into your own hands—use this freedom well, because if you do, you will cultivate habits which will serve you well later, whether in college or in work.
· Read as many books over the summer as you can! Pick the big books (War and Peace, Brothers K, Wealth of Nations, Nietzsche, Kant or Hegel); figure out which books are due the same week as the drafts for your paper and read those, too). Review your books before class by looking over your in-book notes and write notes on them the week before class.
· Realize that when you read these books, you are not mastering them, you are merely learning from them while simultaneously gaining skills and cultivating tools to ‘expand your intellect,’ your articulacy, and your ability to listen and put difficult ideas into words; you are learning skills which can make you a perpetual learner (on your own without help) and a critical thinker, and also learning skills with which you can help others do the same. Cultivate wonder, curiosity, and humility in your understanding; don’t push your agenda, ideas or point, but be willing to be wrong.
· Take notes before class: what is the author’s project (don’t settle for easy, superficial answers; really try to articulate a careful read of the text)? What are major themes in the text? What are themes in the texts which interact with other themes in other texts? Struggle over specific passages (and try to work through tough passages); try to work them out and figure out what the author’s saying.
o Try to work out the text before you get to class; with the philosophy texts, summarizing and trying to understand what Kant or Hegel is doing can be the most helpful way to grapple with the ideas when trying to understand them. Don’t be discouraged if Mr. H doesn’t cover what you cover, or if you get something wrong; these notes are less about getting the right answers and more about learning to grapple with the ideas and explain them, understand them, and put them into words (the idea, though, is to also get a better sense over time and through effort of how to engage an author’s ideas accurately).
· The more accurately you understand a text, the more you mind the meaning and substance of a work, the more fruitful the practical implications of the text will be; if I settled for a superficial read of Eliot, I would lose the rich rewards of laboring over his tough passages which yield deeper, further truths about what it means to live life well. In GBT and in Biola Torrey, I was so set on reaching the practical implications of a text, that I think I often sacrificed the meaning and content of texts and missed out on even more profound ideas.
· Meet with friends and your class to talk about the big ideas in the text and the implications; are you overwhelmed, intimidated, doubting? Be vulnerable about what the text is challenging you in with others and encourage each other and discuss and grapple with it together.
· Get in the habit of eating with each other after class (Everyone try to participate).
· Pray for each other; work on prayer requests with each other.
· Take advantage of this framework for community; GBT sets up a rich structure, context, and background for really meaningful conversations and friendships which you may not find anywhere else (in quite the same way). Cherish them, enjoy them, pursue them—the people, the conversations, the situations and questions that challenge you and sharpen you.
· Care about each other; feel responsible for each other. Think of your class as the church: this could be a group of people that you meet with for years after GBT to work through struggles or talk through hard ideas or concepts, people who challenge and encourage you. How can you cultivate relationships with these people that show them you care? How can you love them? All of these people don’t have to even be your friends, but you should do your best to cultivate caring, loving relationships with them. Be vulnerable and pray for one another. You don’t get to pick the people who are in your church, but you are called to love them. What does that look like in the church? What does that look like here? Try to have class time and times when you are at GBT not be times where you stick in your clique and remain comfortable; push yourself and stick your neck out for others. If every single one of you get behind this, and put aside personality differences, differences of opinion, friend groups, fashion, or years of ignoring each other, then you can create a really powerful community with each other, but everyone has to feel the weight of this responsibility.
· Pursue younger GBTers; how can you include them, mentor them, care about them, serve them?
· Take notes in class is you can do so while continuing to participate in the discussion.
· Listen well: help those who are struggling, try and get everyone to talk.
· Stay on-topic; feel personally responsible for keeping the discussion focused on the question and how you can use the text to give a thoughtful answer.
· An implication of listening well and staying on topic can be to slow down the discussion and comments so that everyone can have a chance to talk, and so that you all can work on staying on-topic (a good skill to learn, but don’t make it extreme by obsessing over it in class; that will be frustrating for everyone else and hinder discussion).
· Work as a team; don’t think of yourself as an isolated individual and merely try to say insightful or smart things for your participation grade or for others to be impressed. Do everything you can to get the group somewhere positive, so that means working on building your comments on others’ comments rather than making isolated comments which answer the question. Don’t just exposit your own opinions but work through the textual material together even if it means sacrificing your own point or point of view to get somewhere together. If each individual is trying to understand the text or answer the questions, then it will be easier collectively to tackle the project.
· Every person in class will have something unique to contribute; if your group maximizes the project and class time as a team, then each person should (and hopefully will) contribute in their role and person.
· Don’t assume you understand what a person is saying and immediately follow up with your comment on what you think he or she said, work on clarifying the other person’s point: “Is what you’re saying this?” “So you’re saying that…” It’s a really good skill to repeat back another person’s idea, or an idea which everyone shies away from saying because it’s so complex.
· GBT classes have a lot of energy; this means that someone almost always has something to say, and so it’s tough to really sit in an idea for any length of time, and in order to participate in the discussion, people have to move fast and be ready with something to say; I would encourage you, though, to advocate for those who are shy or not as aggressive; look at people’s expressions, be aware of people around you—are they trying to say something? Each of you do what you can to keep from running people over with comments and ideas. Be willing to hear everyone out rather than push your idea and make sure to get it out.