Sunday, 30 December 2007

Future and uncertainty

In completing this morning’s quite time and reflection, I was challenged by William Barclay’s commentary on II Corinthians 4: 16-18. He said that Paul looked toward a growing future glory while this world’s physical body was beginning to fade and weaken. The key point is that Paul had a vision of the future that provided him with sustenance for the task at hand. Despite this world’s struggles, there was a confidence that he was following a path planned for him and that there would be reward in the future.

I don’t want to claim that I am some great minster like Paul charting a clear path toward future glory. I don’t have that confidence in a call but what I do have is that there is a path forward into the future. The only certainty that I have right now is that I have a PhD to complete writing. After that, well we will wait and see.

But this doesn’t mean that we are without hope. We can look back over the journey to this point and realise just how things have worked out for good. There have been other down times when our plans looked like coming to nothing and then new doors opened. Let me relate a few that seem important now.

I originally went to university to do mechanical engineering but in part because it wasn’t really my desire and the papers never inspired me, I failed to pass the intermediate year. After feeling like my world had collapsed around me, I discovered that I had passed enough maths papers (maths was one of my strong subjects at high school) to take second year computing papers in the newly formed Computer Science Department at Canterbury University. This led to a renewed focus and grades that allowed me to return and do my M.Sc. and to a career in the computing industry.

Then in 1990, we made a decision to resign from a computer sales and support company with the belief that we would find contract work on our return from a month travelling in Japan and attending a friend’s wedding. On our return, we discovered that the computer industry had hit a slump. The old mainframe systems were in decline and the emphasis was on the use of the smaller micro-computers. Employment agencies told me that I had the wrong skill set and that I couldn’t be employed developing software for these new machines. This was despite having brought our own micro-computers and running a Christian bulletin board on the old FidoNet dialup networking technology. A six month period of being unemployed led to a switch to teaching and through the Christian Ministries Support Services Trust to helping Rev. Harold Turner to set up his computer. Harold introduced me to the writings of Michael Polanyi and his theories of personal knowledge.

This path has led us to the point where we are now at. That is working on a PhD in Education with a focus on a theory of learning that recognises that each of us has a different level of awareness or understanding of what we are learning. This isn’t to do with IQ or in built ability. It is more about the journeys that we have each taken and the variations in life that we have experienced. My focus in this work is in relation to teaching computer programming with specific emphasis on object-oriented programming. However, the principles of variation theory or at least my understanding of those principles could be applied to any field.

Now, as I write this, I am aware that I don’t have future employment organised although I obviously have my thesis writing to keep me busy for a while, involvement in a multi-national, multi-institutional research project on novice programmers, and the possibility of helping write a course for Joensuu University. The question that I keep getting asked is what happens next? What will I do next? Not surprisingly, I am not sure but I do have a confidence that the next door will open and we will move on along a path that builds again on what has gone before. It may or may not involve the teaching of programming although that is still my desire. It may or may not involve my other passions of photography and cycling.

The thing is that I have confidence in the passage from Jeremiah 29:11 that says ““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” They are not necessarily plans for financial prosperity or security but they will be plans that will utilise the skills and knowledge that we have to “enable” and “encourage” others on their journey through life (see my page on teaching).

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