Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Matthew Effects in Learning

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Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who early learned how words are made up of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who were delayed in learning the letter to sound correlation fell farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but public schools are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. A large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else a child encounters in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of a statement I once read: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What children need is a flexible system focussed on results. In learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. The idea of teaching for mastery of the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages[First posted three years ago.]

Cousins who agree (about some things)

To set the scene, Ted and I are double first cousins — our fathers were brothers and our mothers were sisters. The average of our ages comes to a few months shy of 80. We live in different communities outside of  Saskatoon. Yesterday I took my car to the dealer for repairs and it wasn’t done until after  one. I went to a fast food restaurant for lunch and saw Ted sitting with a couple of other guys, his back to me. When I got my food I went and sat with them. Ted and I looked at each other — the shirts we were wearing were identical! Both made of plaid material like this:

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How did this happen?

  • Ted and I both have impeccable sartorial taste.
  • Ted and I are both out of touch with fashion trends.
  • Our common genetic heritage has programmed us to prefer subdued colours.
  • Our mothers taught us how to choose proper clothes and it has stuck.
  • This is just how old guys dress.
  • Who cares?

What do you think?

Celebrities should not be our role models

Celebrity-worship and hero-worship  should not be confused. Yet, we confuse them every day, and by doing so we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all role models.
-Daniel J. Boorstin

Baby steps

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Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

“God will provide.” We say those words glibly, so certain of their truth that we may appear to have no compassion for people in distress. That isn’t what they are experiencing day after day. Life seems to be stacked against them. Perhaps they don’t have the skills to find a job that will pay a living wage. So they eke out a meagre existence on welfare.

If they take part time work, the income is deducted from their welfare cheque. The government offers financial aid to get the training needed for a better paying job. But if they accept that offer, they no longer qualify for subsidized housing and they are worse off than before. What are they to do?

Some do escape from the welfare trap. That possibility exists for many more, but it looks hopeless who are caught there.

If they could just win the lottery that would give them a way out. Except it doesn’t; the lottery is just another trap. Those who win big are usually back where they started within two years.

The real problem is not a lack of education or a lack of money. Those problems are real, but the underlying problem is a lack of hope. Well-meaning people can’t inspire hope in the poor by telling them that there is work for anyone who really wants to work. All the listener feels from that is condemnation. Neither does it help to label them as lazy or stupid.

A baby watches big people walk around on two legs. Eventually she gets the courage to try it for herself, and she falls. The next day she tries again, and falls again. But she sees the big people doing it and wants so badly to do it herself that she keeps trying. Soon she can stand by herself. Then she takes a step or two, and falls once more. But she keeps trying and pretty soon she can walk; before long she is running.

That is the way life works. Winning the lottery does not instantly make one capable of walking, in whatever metaphorical context one may wish to apply it. None of the people who appear to be so successful in life got there without a shaky start. Everyone began with baby steps.

That is the way that God works in the life of a newborn Christian. Jesus told the disciples “ I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). The Holy Spirit does not dump the whole load on us and tell us the shape up; he gently guides us step by step, allowing us to concentrate on making the next step and giving us a gentle assurance that we are moving in the right direction.

This is the kind of help needed by those who feel trapped in a dead-end street. First, they need to grasp the hope that it is possible to get out of there. Then they need the courage to take just one step. Even if that step doesn’t get them very far, they need to feel that they have accomplished one little thing and that will give them the courage to take one more step. In time their steps become more confident, leading to possibilities they thought were forever beyond their grasp.

As Christians we have a reputation for thinking that the misfortunes of the poor are entirely their own fault, for lacking compassion. I’m afraid many of us have earned that reputation. Perhaps we need to begin making baby steps toward an attitude that inspires hope in others.

Winter grumbles

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Image by WordWarrior2 from Pixabay

It was -36° when I got up this morning, wind chill -47°. Those numbers are on the Celsius scale, but the Fahrenheit numbers don’t look any better: -33° and -52° wind chill. This is the depth of winter, the whole week is supposed to be like this.

There can be advantages to days like this.  Several years ago we were renovating our kitchen, dining room and front bathroom and the time had come to pick out new flooring. We drove into Saskatoon on a day like this and checked out the selection in four stores. In each place the parking lot was close to empty and  we had the undivided attention of the sales person. We found something we both liked, and it was on sale.

First thing every morning when I get up  I go to my office and  plug in my phone. This morning it was charging very slowly. After an hour and a half I unplugged it, took it to the kitchen and plugged it into my wife’s charge cord. In half an hour it was fully charged. Must be the electrons were flowing sluggishly in the office.

Or maybe the charger is dying. Does that mean it’s time for a new phone? The protective case I put on this phone when it was new is now missing two of its corners. Maybe that’s another sign that it’s  time to trade it in. Or maybe not. Maybe these are just idle thoughts on a frosty morning.

Even our cats have shown no interest in going outside this morning. They were out for twenty minutes yesterday afternoon and that seems to have satisfied their taste for adventure.

Nevertheless, we have reason to hope for better days. Today we have two minutes and 15 seconds more daylight than we did yesterday. Tomorrow will be two minutes and 20 seconds longer. Soon the daylight hours will be increasing by more than three minutes a day.  We know the sunshine is going to win this battle, but we will have to endure weeks of cold and snow before the glorious springtime.

Where is global warming when you need it? Some very smart people are saying that the temperature in Canada is rising twice as fast as the rest of the world. I hadn’t noticed. The first summer we were back in Saskatchewan we had a few days when the temperature reached 37° (that is body temperature in Celsius, 98.6° F). That was in 1998 and we haven’t had temperatures that hot since.

Turns out that the temperatures in Kazakhstan, Nicaragua and every other country in the world are also rising twice is fast as the average for the rest of the world. How is that possible? The rest of the world includes the oceans.

© Bob Goodnough, January 14, 2020

Mennonites don’t have a social conscience!

During the first few years that we were members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, my wife was often puzzled about why other church members were seemingly unmoved by problems and injustices in the world that moved her deeply. One day a light came on, and she said to me, “Mennonites don’t have a social conscience!” She was right.

It was said of the apostles, “These are the men who have turned the world upside down!” The gospel changes the world one person at a time. The social gospel sees people as inherently good — it is the world that needs changing. Proponents of the social gospel have succeeded in implanting in the hearts and minds of a large portion of the population a deep-seated belief that we are personally accountable for all the evils in the world and that we must do something to right those wrongs. This is a social conscience.

Many of the larger Canadian churches, the Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and the Baptist Convention, adopted the social gospel program almost a century ago. One of their first targets was the sale of alcoholic beverages, believing that if such beverages were no longer available one of the greatest curses of society would be removed. Prohibition was established in Canada from 1913 to 1927 and in the USA from 1920 to 1933. Unfortunately, the real problem was that a large part of the population actually wanted alcoholic beverages. The net result of the experiment was a considerable expansion of criminal organizations.

Alongside the temperance movement was the women’s suffrage movement. In Canada it was Nellie McClung, a devoted wife and mother, an active church member and a writer of books for children who became the prime mover in pushing for women’s right to vote, temperance, and many other reforms. She was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1921. In later years she was dismayed at the results of the movement she had helped create. She had believed that women, with their gentle and maternal instincts, would have a purifying effect on society. She had never dreamed that women would one day demand the right to enter public drinking establishments.

Economic injustices also were a major concern. The churches were enthusiastic supporters of the co-operative movement. Large grain-handling and retail co-ops were established in the Prairie Provinces of Canada and also co-operative banks (credit unions), with the profound faith that these would eliminate the injustices inherent in the private ownership of business.

In 1932 a new Canadian political party was established on social gospel principles and named the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The aim was to provide justice for all through the promotion of co-operative and government-owned businesses as alternatives to private businesses run for the profit of the owners. This party was elected as the government of Saskatchewan in 1944, with a former Baptist pastor as their leader. Despite honest attempts to implement their program, the promised benefits never seemed to materialize.

In the 1920’s the Methodist Church, the Congregational Church and half of the Presbyterian Church merged to form the United Church of Canada, making it by far the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. By the 1950’s it was noted that a decline had set in. A well-known Canadian writer, Pierre Berton, was invited to write a lenten study book for the church. The result was The Comfortable Pew. This book describes a condition where people looked on the church as a comfortable social institution where their hearts and consciences were never challenged. His proposed solution was a revival of the social conscience and the social gospel, to become more committed and active in dealing with the evils in society. The decline has continued. People appear to have decided that if this is all church is about, they can more effectively pursue those goals through other avenues.

The women’s movement took on a life of its own, demanding equal rights with men in all areas. For some years feminists loudly proclaimed that differences between boys and girls were merely the result of parental training. Recent research indicates that, given a choice between a doll and a toy truck, even very small girl babies naturally reach for the doll and boys for the truck. It is sad that we need the social sciences to tell us what our parents always knew.

A Canadian psychologist has recently written a book explaining why women are still very much under represented in upper management. It is not discrimination, it is because they are intrinsically different from men and have different priorities. The writer, Susan Pinker, describes herself as a feminist, and is also a wife and mother.
In their continued quest to eliminate all injustice, the social gospel movement moved on to discrimination against gays. The social gospel churches now appear to be quite comfortable with gay marriages and gay preachers. The social conscience is now trained to see any hint of lack of acceptance of such things as outrageous prejudice.
Animals have their rights, too. The difference between humans and other life forms is becoming blurred. Sometimes it appears that the needs of animals take precedence over the needs of humans.

The intolerant, totalitarian attitude that has developed in these movements may puzzle us. But if we consider that these are all manifestations of the social gospel, it becomes somewhat easier to understand. These are people who sincerely believe that society is in need of salvation and that they have the gospel message that is able to work out that salvation. Never mind that society actually seems to be growing worse as a result of the social gospel. It is only that unenlightened people stand in the way of the full realization of the redemption of society. The social gospel seems to create a zeal for the welfare of people in the abstract, and at the same time to anaesthetize feelings of compassion for real people, especially those who lack a social conscience.

The social gospel transformed the purpose of the gospel message from the salvation of souls to a kind of moral salvation. More recently, it seems to be focussing its attention on the salvation of the planet.

© Bob Goodnough, first published in The Business Bulletin, May, 2008

Why wait for spring – Do it now!

I first posted this five years ago. Readers enjoyed it, and nothing much has changed.  So here it is again.

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Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay

A few days ago my wife and I got to talking about a catchy advertising jingle of fifty years ago that was heard incessantly at this time of year. My wife even remembered all the words and sang them. It was the theme song of a government of Canada campaign to help building trades people keep working year round.  It started with promoting the idea of homeowners doing interior renovations during the cold months, when carpenters, plumbers and electricians were readily available.

The idea of winter construction work took off from there. Nowadays the construction of new houses hardly slows down in wintertime. With the use of plastic sheeting and construction heaters it is even possible to pour concrete in sub-zero temperatures. The innovative campaign that began 50 years ago has been a resounding success, there is hardly a blip in employment for people in the construction trades during the winter months.

On another front there is still a need for some innovative thinking. It is said of Saskatchewan cities that they have the world’s most efficient snow removal system: it’s called spring.

It might have been better if my wife and I had never lived in Montreal. But we did spend four years in that city, which is reputed to receive the heaviest annual snowfall of any major city in the world. And they knew what to do when it snowed. It took an average of four days after a major snowfall to have all the snow cleaned up – major traffic routes, commercial streets, residential streets, sidewalks included. City crews and subcontractors worked in shifts around the clock; small tracked snowplows pushed snow from the sidewalks into the street, the snow in the street was plowed into a windrow down the centre of the street and then a loader would come along and blow the snow into a steady stream of trucks who hauled it to snow dumps. It was a marvel to watch the coordination and thoroughness of the job.

We had four inches of snow a week and a half ago. My wife and I were in Saskatoon four days later and the main thoroughfares had been cleaned fairly well. That was it, and the city seemed to feel they were doing a better job than in other years. Residential areas will probably not see a snowplow all winter. For most streets of the city the snow is left to be compressed by traffic into a rutted ice pack.

There was another eight inches of snow last Saturday and I have a doctor’s appointment in the city tomorrow morning. That will no doubt further my education on how to drive on icy, rutted streets.

I’m all in favour of reviving the old jingle and applying it to snow removal: Why wait for spring  – do it now!

© Bob Goodnough, December 2, 2014

Sister’s Last Good-Bye

This is my wife’s account of her sister’s funeral. I think Rose was nine when I first met her. Her older sister was pretty young then too, and I didn’t pay much attention to either of them. In time the big sister became much more interesting and through her I  had the opportunity to get better acquainted with Rose and her family as well.

Christine's Collection

Yesterday we as a family gathered to say our last good-bye to our sister Rose. Our son-in-law and daughter drove us down for the Celebration of Life, which was held at Moose Jaw. This was directed by a Celebrant who read the write-up of her life the family had written out. Then her oldest daughter came to the mike and read her memories of Mom, at times with a smile and at times pausing while the tear flowed.

I learned some interesting things I hadn’t known about my sister, including the fact that she and her husband met on a blind date set up by friends. She was only fifteen-and-a-half but it must have been love at first sight. Only six weeks later he popped the question in a unique way, simply telling her, “There’s something on the kitchen table for you.” She went to look, saw the small…

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All Christians are hypocrites

□ True
□ False

I think we have to check the true box on this one. Let’s be clear though, that we are not hypocrites because we are Christian, we are hypocrites because we are human. The desire to appear to be better than we are is endemic in humanity.

Becoming a Christian makes us aware of that fact, but we are very prone to forget. Perhaps we should write it in red lipstick upon every mirror in our home: “We are not better than other people.”

Would that help? Perhaps at first, then we would probably forget again. Oh, we would see it there and nod our heads in agreement. But, human nature being as it is, our thinking would gradually shift to believing that it applies to other people that we know, not so much to us.

The one thing that should make a difference between people who are Christian and those who are not, is the Holy Spirit in our lives. When I think back to the time before I was converted, I really and truly believed that I was doing the best that I could, under the circumstances. That is how we are made, and it is probably best for our mental health to think that way–as long as we know of no remedy for the all things in our life that we have messed up.

But there came a day when the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me I could not blame people and circumstances for all the things that I had messed up in my life. I had done them and I needed to own up to them. That condemnation was easier to accept by the invitation that came with it. If I would confess my sins to God, He would forgive them. I did, and He did.

My Christian life began at that point, when all my past sins were taken away. But that is only the beginning.  I did not suddenly become a “good” person, incapable of making the same mistakes that I had made in the past. The only difference was that now I had the Holy Spirit to warn me when I was about to sin. If I ignored Him, He would then prompt me to go back and clean up the mess I had made.

That should be the obvious difference between a person who is a Christian and one who is not. Both will make mistakes, do and say things they shouldn’t, often things that hurt other people. The Christian should admit his fault, apologize and try to make things right. And it should not seem in any way forced or artificial.

Restitution is difficult. It is often difficult to admit what I have done, apologize, and do the best I can to undo the damage that was done. But the more I will do that, the easier it becomes for me to hear and obey the warning voice of the Holy Spirit before I do such a thing the next time. It is when a Christian repeatedly quenches the warning voice of the Holy Spirit that he comes to appear more and more like a hypocrite.

© Bob Goodnough, January 05, 2020

Winsomeness

More than 350 years ago, Blaise Pascal described what he hoped to achieve with his writing this way:

People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of  reverence and respect. Then show that it is winsome, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.
-Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

I have often read this passage, given mental assent to it, desired that the things I write could be winsome and attractive. Yet it dawns on me now how far I fall short of achieving that goal.

I don’t do New Year resolutions. I tried years ago. They were largely futile attempts to make me feel better about myself with minimal effort. I took comfort in having noble aspirations, then promptly forgot them. Real change is only possible by taking an honest look at the not so noble part of my character.

Pascal used the word aimable in French. The above English version translates aimable by winsome in one place and attractive in the other. Apologetics, giving an answer for the hope that lieth within me, is only effective if it makes that hope winsome and attractive.

Giving an answer that carries the slightest whiff of self-righteousness or arrogance renders that answer unattractive.  Truth is important, right doctrine is necessary, yet if truth and right doctrine seem repugnant to the reader, I am an abject failure.

Effective apologetics then must be the putting Christian faith into words that bring out the winsomeness of the faith. As a writer, I need to get myself out of the way and think of how to present different aspects of the faith in Jesus Christ to the reader, who probably looks at life in quite a different way than I do. It is not my job to prove him wrong; it is not my job to prove myself an authority to be trusted. It is my job to show that Jesus Christ is worthy of our trust.

© Bob Goodnough, January 03, 2020

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