Activist Marc Edwards uses children to fight his battles.
Dr. Edwards is an environmental engineer, a professor of civil engineering, and an expert in the science of water treatment. He tried to use his scientific training to convince the Environmental Protection Agency that the lead levels in Flint’s drinking water were dangerously high. Frustratingly, his scholarship was dismissed by EPA scientists.
Instead of conducting their own experiments, regional EPA officials displayed an us-versus-them mentality. They were more committed to defending and protecting each other against outside critics than they were to serving the citizens of Flint. Scientific, logical, reasonable arguments could not break through the stubborn resistance put up by EPA leaders. They could not hear that they were wrong.
So, Edwards ridiculed their irrationality by teaching children to do lead-level tests and then used social media to publicize the results. The shaming tactic worked when the story was picked up by national media outlets. Finally, politicians were forced to deal with the public health crisis in Flint.
I was sitting in an auditorium on the campus of a major public university listening to Dr. Edwards describe his successful strategy, and I wondered if this tactic is being taught to students. It wasn’t when I was in college. My professors emphasized the value of critical thinking and well-reasoned writing. They never told me what to do when logic encountered the unreasonable.
Imagine a liberal arts education that is honest about the limited usefulness of the humanities. Undergraduates would learn to appreciate scholarly rhetoric, and they would also learn when to abandon it and what to replace it with when it fails to persuade.
Imagine a seminary education that is honest about the limited usefulness of a well-written sermon, a sermon with an attention-grabbing opening, theologically-grounded points illustrated with culturally relevant examples, and an inspiring conclusion, that still doesn’t encourage maturation in faith. What then? Use the Children’s Moment to shame the adults into more Christ-like behavior?
We need to have a Plan B that we can resort to when theological rhetoric fails.