Homework and Grace
School has started and we’ve all seen much buzz about the Dallas Independent School District’s new grading policy. My first reaction, like so many others, was simply one of horror. It looked like school administrators were removing any incentive for students to complete homework on time—or even bother to turn it in--or study for tests the first time around, knowing they could take them later without grade penalty or other repercussions.
Later, however, I took the time to read the whole thing, not just the snippets announced on the news or printed in the paper. Reading the whole report much more clearly shows the intent: let’s find a way to help our students learn the material and pass their courses. Let’s make sure that parents know what is happening. Let’s offer the second chance that every one has needed from time to time and see if this will help keep young people in school until they have mastered the basics of education.
The school district is trying to implement what is basic to the Christian world, what I’ve often called “the do-over.” It’s the “do-over” that shows us the grace of God. It is the nature of the good news, announced by the angels on the night of Jesus’ birth: a savior has come and this savior reconnects a broken world and broken people with an unbroken and holy God. In the Incarnation, i.e., the act of God taking on human form, the impossible becomes possible. In the Incarnation, the ultimate “do-over” takes place. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus give the ultimate second chance. And I don’t know one single human being that has not needed a lot of second chances.
However, most of us will ask at some point: when do we stop giving those second chances? Especially when the pattern seems to be set: no preparation, no forethought, no mindfulness, no consequences, and continued failure, be it academic or moral. Again, when I first heard of this policy, my immediate thought: no employer will ever again want to hire a graduate from the Dallas ISD. I myself am a proud DISD graduate, so this is not a pleasant thought.
Who would want to hire someone who always assumes that someone else is going to clean up his or her messes? Who wants an employee who has never taken real responsibility for personal failure and expects the system to always smooth the path in front without ever having learned the lessons from the past? Nobody—nor is this what the new homework/test policy advocates. But is this what the church teaches with its emphasis on the grace of God and the endless forgiveness promised by the good news of Jesus Christ? Is that what we get: a free “bye” on responsibility because we live in a world of grace?
I can just hear the Apostle Paul yelling out, “May it never be!” For the first century Christians asked the same question: If grace is so free, and if grace grows even more when we sin irresponsibly, then let’s sin with abandon!!!!! No, for then one has only seen just the surface of a grace-filled life. Real grace offers much more than that. It offers not only the second chance, but also the opportunity to grow through that. Real grace is only understood when we face squarely the messes we have made and then do two things: First, we acknowledge the sorrow of the wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness—which is freely given by God. Second, while walking with a light and free step in the midst of that forgiveness, we receive the consequences and discover growth opportunities through them.
In other words, we grow up. There are times when it looks like much of the world has forgotten that childhood is not supposed to last forever. But more on that another time. In the meantime, let’s just all do our homework and study for our tests. If we mess up, let’s hope that the second chance does appear, and receive it gratefully when offered. And then be sure and give that second chance to everyone else. That could change your life.