The Parable of the Teacher
By Rodney Rountree
(from "God is Still Speaking: Parables for Today")
Some young children were taught about the atom by a good teacher. “An atom is made up of a nucleus and an electron. The nucleus is like a planet, while the electron is like a moon spinning around it” said the teacher. The students wrote down what the teacher said so that they would remember it. As time went on the children grew and learned many things. One day the teacher said to the children “Remember when I told you about atoms? Well now that you are older, I can explain that the nucleus is not exactly like a planet. Instead it’s composed of one or more neutrons and protons. The protons have a positive charge and attract the electrons which have a negative charge, kind of like the earth attracts the moon by gravity. Some students listened to the teacher and learned, while others did not. Instead when asked what an atom was they repeated the first description they had learned and when others argued with them, they pointed to the book and said that’s what the teacher taught them. When the children protested that the teacher had taught them a new definition, the stubborn children refused to believe them. As time went on, the teacher taught the students more and more complicated things about atoms until they were learning of things way beyond quantum mechanics, yet some still refused to listen and believed only what they were first taught. “You are all wrong” they said to the more learned children. “The teacher taught us this” they would say, “and teacher is always right, never changes and would never lie. We wrote it all down, so only what we wrote is right.”
Lesson: The lesson here is similar to that of the Parable of the Rule. A teacher or parent can’t expect young children to have an adult understanding of a topic or phenomenon. But for the child to learn, the teacher must explain the topic in terms that the child can grasp. Is the teacher lying to the child by not explaining things exactly as they are? Of course not; certainly not in the sense of attempting to deceive the child. It is often through imagery, metaphor, and allegory that a child can relate to and begin to understand complex topics. But it is vital that the child let go of the simplistic explanations and move forward in understanding as more and more things are learned. How do we know when to abandon an old cherished concept for a new one? When the new concept makes more sense. In the case of theology, it is when we listen to God our teacher as he speaks to us today.