Diagrams can actually hinder learning. The problem is that they can look more impressive than the simple concept they represent. They take something unadorned and make it complicated. A really smart teacher does the opposite. He takes something very complicated and makes it simple.
Though an artist and a visual person, I am disinclined to believe in charts and graphs. I suspect that they are most often used to browbeat the witness. Personally, I have an unhappy history with diagrams, graphs and all manner of technical manuals. They do not help me much as a learning tool. All of my best learning has been accomplished hands-on.
Puts me in mind of when my Dad taught me how to drive stick shift. He had a cool VW camper van that was manual transmission. It was a way to have a car to himself, because my mother got her license later in life and could only manage to drive a regular car in the barest sense. Stick shift was beyond the pale.
I wanted to learn how to drive the van. The problem was, that my Dad really loved charts and diagrams. He used them as teaching aids for his students when he was a science teacher. Me learning to drive stick shift however, was the point where theory runs up on the shoals of real life. It doesn’t always work so well.
Before my dad would agree to teach me how to drive stick shift, he trotted all those charts and diagrams out, and gave enthusiastic lessons about gear ratios and fuel efficiencies. A myriad of graphs was paraded by. Truly, I didn’t understand a thing. It scared the hell out of me, and convinced me only that driving with manual transmission must be impossibly complicated.
Eventually the class lessons gave way to road tests. Over and again, I would stall the car into a jerking halt when attempting to shift gears. My dad started to become a bit irate, that I would strip the gears. He also began to suspect he was raising up an idiot child. Every time I wanted to shift gears, those charts and diagrams would swim through my head, and I would become very, very stressed, frozen and unable to think.
I bemoaned my fate to one of my friends. He said, “You dummy, it’s easy. You just have to slip the clutch.” “Slip the clutch?” “Yes, you just have to ease off the pedal until you feel the gear start to catch. Then you give it the gas. It’s that simple,”
Next time I got into the car, I tried out what my friend had said, and suddenly found myself driving stick shift. My dad was relieved and astonished that I suddenly caught on. I did not want to tell him that all the lessons he had tried to drive into my head did not work, because what he was saying was overly complicated.
And so it goes with life, I think. Things which are obvious need no further explanation. They are plain to the simple. There is a concept in Bible hermeneutics called the perspicuity of Scripture. “The main thing is the plain thing” some like to say. It means that the Bible’s meaning can be clear to the reader without fancy explanation.
The idea was central to the Protestant reformation, and inspired likes of John Wycliffe and William Tyndale to translate the Scriptures into common English for the lay people. There was a lot of push-back from the Church, which wanted to retain the use of Latin for the liturgy. Thirty years after Wycliffe’s death, the Catholic church was so enraged at his Bible translation, that the Council of Constance disinterred his bones, burned them, and drowned the ashes as those of a heretic.
John Foxe’s book of martyrs talks about this futile attempt to shut down those who would make the word of God available to the people. “… though they dug up his body, burnt his bones, and drowned his ashes, yet the Word of God and the truth of his doctrine they could not burn; which yet to this day...doth remain.”
We are approaching the feast of Pentecost. What mostly escaped me growing up Pentecostal, was that the miracle of tongues was one of hearing. The crowd which praised God, was suddenly hearing the Gospel, each in his own tongue as facilitated by the Holy Spirit. It is God who makes people hear.
The perspicuity of Scripture. Jesus himself proclaimed, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” No fancy diagram needed.