What is “practical?”

Man, it has been a long time since I last had time to blog. Which does not necessarily mean its been that long since I thought, but it might 😉

I am not a Trekkie of the first order, but maybe the second or third order. I was a big fan of the original series and watched quite a bit of the Second Generation shows. I mention this in the context of my question because I loved to hear that boilerplate phrase that Picard would use on the bridge. He would state what the purpose, mission, destination was and then say, “Make it so, Number One.” I loved that simple command. You know what I want, now do it. It made doing seem so easy.

My question is not very practical, but rather philosophical. And yet, that is the question, I think. Often I hear the plea made for things to be practical. In the classroom, the student wants things he can “use.” The parent wants his student taught things that will “get him somewhere.” It is very American and modern to want to be doing. And doing is at its heart a human and Christian thing to do, or else all the biblical notions of “duty” are for nought.

But I have faced my question most frequently in the Biblical text itself. I can remember considering the practice of a pastor of the past who spent only about five weeks on Ephesians 1-3, then spent thirty-three on chapters 4-6 and apologized for blitzing through the practical passages so quickly. I had problems with that. Real problems. Everything in 4-6 is based on what is laid in 1-3, and most listeners were poorly prepared to “do” 4-6 by barely hearing, let alone understanding, 1-3.

If Paul had, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, only given us 1-3, it would have frustrated us, to be sure. All that doctrine with no specific applications/examples would have been maddening. But the audience I watched listening intently to all the practical stuff from 4-6 were probably internally just as frustrated. So it would seem that yet again, there is a balance to be found.

Practicality comes from philosophy. No doctrine, no real application can be made. But if its all doctrine with no exemplification, then its in the other ditch. There are general principles that must be grasped, and if they are not grasped, then all attempts to “do” are gropping in the dark. But the general must become specific.

As much as I grappled with this in the classroom teaching students about Holy Writ, I still face it daily as a headmaster. Now my students are teachers, and the principles are not neatly formed into chapter and verse of a Sacred Text (though we still look for them there, to be sure). I find myself having to preach the same doctrines over and over to hopefully engender good application. But I must go beyond the doctrine to the doing, giving the teacher specifics for the generalities.

So in a school, between a head and faculty, practicality is result of time spent working with teachers one on one to work into their teaching the school’s vision. That necessitates frequent discussion of the vision and constant thinking about how that translates into each lesson. By modeling and questioning, the administrator and teacher learn together what a school should look like and how to make it so.


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