Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Learning

Misfits

School tends to be a one size fits all proposition, and some children are misfits.

Despite the best efforts of schools and teachers, some children just do not do well in a large classroom. Home schooling parents have more freedom to find ways to adapt the curriculum and environment to make learning work for their child.

Children are hard-wired to learn from their parents, and parents know their children better than anyone else. Parents do not need special skills or training to teach their children, they just need to be parents.

Standard achievement tests show that home-schooled children score well above their peers in public schools. Even children with cognitive  limitations do better when home-schooled.

Now this is just a personal observation, but the home-schooled children that I know have much better social skills than their peers in school. Think about it: at home a child has to get along with her siblings and her parents. She learns how to communicate clearly with them all and this prepares her to communicate freely with anyone else, of any age.

Learning to learn

It looks like parents will be teaching their children at home for awhile. Here is something to keep in mind:

Education is not about teaching, it is about learning.

And the great advantage that home-schooled children have is that they learn how to learn.

Gifts my mother gave me

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Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

The Nelson Gage Dictionary has this note about teaching: Teach emphasizes giving information, explanation, and training, by guiding the studies of the person who wants to learn.

Every little child is a question box, wanting to learn about the world in which he finds him/her self. The questions become wearisome for parents. We don’t have all the answers; we don’t have enough time; sometimes the questions are embarrassing, such that we don’t know how to give an answer that fits the level of understanding of the child.

Let us beware lest we stifle the desire to learn of this little child of ours. Once that desire dies, it is very difficult to rekindle it. It never completely dies, but the child may redirect it to subjects and sources of information that are neither wholesome nor useful in developing a successful life.

Schools deaden the “want to learn” of a child. They teach literature and history in particular in a way that makes them deadly boring. Grammar and arithmetic are boring, unless the child sees their usefulness. When a child struggles in school, the teacher is not the first one to blame. A child is not a receptacle into which a teacher pours information; a child needs to be an active participant in learning. He/she must have the “wants to learn” mentioned by the dictionary.

A child learns step by step, each step built upon the one before it. If a child has not learned phonics, finds it hard to understand what is on the page before him, he will agonize over every succeeding step and find it near impossible to master.

We are often told that phonics are useless in English because so many words do not follow the rules of phonics. Children who have a good grasp of phonics can decode 85% of English words without hesitation. Another 12% of words in English have one sound that does not follow the rules of phonics. That sound is usually a vowel; by a combination of phonics and the context in which they find the word, children can successfully decode those words. That leaves only 3% of English words that present difficulties. Does it make sense to abandon phonics and force children to memorize 100% of words because 3% are difficult?

My mother did not speak English when she started school and only spent six years in school. She was the best teacher I ever had. Perhaps I owe that to my grandfather. He was nearly blind and depended on my mother to help with the financial affairs of the farm. She read the farm papers to him and when she read a book; she had to retell the story to him. She continued to be a reader, studied the dictionary, spoke English without an accent and with a larger vocabulary than many others. When she married my father, she took over managing the family financial affairs.

I never knew that she was teaching me. She gave me this big set of alphabet blocks and let me do whatever I wanted with them. When I asked about the symbols on the blocks, she told me what they were and what sound they made. I wanted to know more and more; she put a few blocks together to make words like CAT, DOG, MOM, DAD. From there I went on to larger words, even spelling my name (which took a lot of those blocks). Soon I was reading little books for beginning readers and anything I could get my hands on. Then I started school.

She taught me numbers, too. How to read them, how to add and subtract. I have no memory of how she taught that, I just remember that I knew it when I started school.
Above everything else, she taught me I could learn anything I wanted to learn. She didn’t teach these things explicitly, she just guided the “want to learn” of her little boy.

The greatest gift of all was that I always knew that Mom loved me. Even when I disappointed her, I still knew that she love me and believed in me, and believed that I could overcome my failures. That gave me the courage to try again.

When the schools fail, what are parents to do?

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Image by skeeze from Pixabay

The leaders of the public school system claim that only they have the tools and the understanding to prepare children for life in the modern world. It should be clear by now, to anyone who is not sleep-walking through life, that the schools have done a proper botch-up job of all things wherein they claim to be the experts.

Is it time for parents to rethink their own place and responsibility? The responsibilities of parents are the same as they always have been. We have allowed the public school system to usurp some of those responsibilities and thought we were doing what was best for our children.

A child’s first heroes are Mom and Dad. Young minds are hardwired to learn from their parents. That affords a precious opportunity for parents to establish a foundation for their child’s life. The opportunity slips away if we are intimidated by the confusing jumble of psychological opinions about how best to raise a child. If we squander that opportunity, our children will suffer the consequences throughout life, unless they can grasp hold of that foundation from some other source.

The public school movement has for years spread the propaganda that children can only learn how to get along with others by being together with their peers, children of their own age. How has that worked out? Honestly, does anyone see evidence of children learning consideration for others from children their own age?

Gordon Neufeld, a child psychologist in Vancouver, B. C., believes children must learn social skills from their parents. “The belief is that socializing–children spending time with one another–begets socialization: the capacity for skilful and mature relating to other human beings. There is no evidence to support such an assumption, despite its popularity. . . If socializing were the key to socialization, gang members and street kids would be model citizens.”

That brings us back to parents as the best placed people to teach their children respect and consideration for others. To parents who fear they are not qualified for such responsibility, Neufeld says: “We miss the essential point that what matters is not the skill of the parents, but the relationship of the child to the adult who is assuming responsibility.”

Bruno Bettelheim, a child psychologist who died thirty years ago, considered the ecological concerns that were being increasingly talked about and applied them to the family. He wrote that we should be concerned about raising children in the ecological setting that was most natural and helpful to their growth and development. That was a home with a mother and father. I believe we can safely ignore those psychologists who say anything different.

-Gordon Neufeld quotes are from Hold on to Your Kids – Why Parents Should Matter More Than Peers, © 2004 by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté.

How did our education system get where it is today?

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The best description I have read of the thinking behind our public education system is Les déshérités (The Disinherited) by Francois-Xavier Bellamy, published in France in 2014. Bellamy traces the root of modern educational thinking to the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

René Descartes (1596-1650) believed that all knowledge could be attained by deduction. The human mind has the capacity to discover all truth, solely through reasoning with no outside input.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1798) went a step further. He believed that we are all born pure and all the problems of mankind are the result of impure ideas taught by our society. Therefore it would be best to let a child grow with the least restraints and the least teaching possible. In the purity of his simplicity he would be able to discover all that he needed for a fruitful and happy life.

In France, Pierre Bourdieu taught that the inequities in society were a result of the things inherited from the past. If we could avoid passing on the antiquated ideas of civil society, morality and religion, those inequities would disappear. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that prevails in most of the world.

Teachers in France today are told that they have nothing to pass on, their job is simply to help students discover for themselves how to read and write, how to do math and science, and to determine for themselves what is right and wrong. Those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see evidence of that kind of thinking and what it has led to.

M. Bellamy writes that we have finally come to the era that Rousseau dreamed of. People today have been disinherited of all the values of the past, and the result is not the benign bliss imagined by Rousseau. He dreamed of the noble savage (le bon sauvage in French), an outsider who has not been corrupted by civilization and thus symbolizes the innate goodness of mankind.

What we have wound up with is a generation of savages who are not very noble. The inequities in society have not disappeared, but rather seem to have become worse. The thinking of our day goes so far as to say that it is wrong for gender identity to be imposed on children. They must be free to choose their own gender. This is not liberating them, it is setting them loose in a labyrinth with no exit.

Bellamy says we urgently need to resume teaching our intellectual, moral and religious heritage. It does not liberate children to leave them free to discover math, grammar and spelling on their own. In fact, it tends to perpetuate divisions in society. Children of more prosperous parents will get help at home to make up for the shortcomings of the education system, while children from poorer families, or immigrant families, will not be taught the skills they need to escape poverty.

When one has been taught a value system which they believe to be liberating, they are blind even to such self-evident truths. Beyond that, they are blind to the values of history, culture and religion which enabled society to function in a more or less orderly fashion in past generations.

I found this book illuminating. It explains so much that is happening around us today. It explains why those who graduate from university with a bachelor of education degree have not been taught anything about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them. That’s not their job. Their job is to stand back and facilitate “discovery learning” in the children in their classes.

If we think that the public educations system has strayed far from its original purpose, we are badly mistaken. If we read what was said by the founders of public education we see that today’s system is what they had in mind all along. They saw family, religion, history and tradition as barriers to freedom. That teaching began in universities and has taken a century and a half to filter down to all levels of society. Useful, practical education was never the primary goal of public education. Public schools were intended to be the means of introducing modern thinking to society. By modern thinking they meant the philosophies of Descartes and Rousseau.

What happens in the brain when we read?

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Image by Наталия Когут from Pixabay

If we are a fluent reader we have a massive number of words stored in the occipital lobe of the left brain, which takes just 1/6 of a second to recognize each word and we read smoothly and effortlessly.

But that only happens if we have learned to read by recognizing the sound made by each letter. If we have learned to read by memorizing each word individually, our brain frantically searches the word pictures stored on the right side of the brain, then switches to the left side to decide what the word means. 20-25% of the oxygen used by the body is used by the brain, thus we soon become physically tired if we struggle to read like this.

It may sound contradictory to say that using memory storage on the left side is somehow different from using memory storage on the right side. The difference is in how that memory was stored in the first place. When we learn to read by phonics, we are teaching the parietal lobe in the brain how to recognize the word and what it means. After the parietal lobe has decoded a word a number of times it downloads that word to the occipital lobe for instant retrieval whenever needed.

When we learn to read by whole word recognition it is like having the pictorial part of the brain, on the right side, take a snapshot of the word. That takes far more memory and makes it more difficult to sort out all the pictures to recognize the one that matches the word on the page. Yet this is the method by which reading has been taught in the public schools for 75 years or more.

There was a time when most people in Canada and the USA were fluent readers; the literacy rate was at least 95%. That was back in the day when everyone knew that phonics was the only way to teach reading. The change in the method of teaching reading has been accompanied by an explosion of illiteracy and learning problems.

It is said that 40% of children will pick up the letter-sound correlation even if it is not being taught. Another 30% will eventually catch on. The remaining 30% will be labelled with some kind of learning disability. Many methods have been invented to help them learn to read, with only minimal success. Almost all of these individuals could learn to read if they were given direct instruction in phonics. That’s the way it was done years ago.

Children who have difficulty learning to read are often diagnosed as being dyslexic. A very small percentage of these children actually have the neurological condition that makes reading difficult. Even for those, the only workable solution is intensive instruction in phonics. Some children complain that the lines of type do not march straight across the page but wander up and down. Often the real problem is that their eyes are searching desperately here and there for some clue as to what this word means and the eyes lose track of where they started out. The solution to this problem is phonics, perhaps aided by a ruler or card to hold under a line of type.

There are programs in use that claim to use phonics, but don’t. Any program that uses flash cards or other visual aids is not based on phonics. Pure phonics focuses solely on the letters with no other visual distractions. Once the sounds are learned, a child learns how to blend the sounds together to make words. Every word needs to be sounded out, every time it is encountered, until the brain is able to instantly recognize it. Most children progress very quickly at this.

With proper instruction in phonics boys and girls learn to read at much the same rate. Without that instruction, girls learn much more quickly that boys. It seems that the female brain is more intuitive or flexible. What this means is that with our current method of instruction in the public schools most girls become fluent readers and at least half of the boys will struggle. The great majority of functionally illiterate people in the English-speaking world are men.

Some of the behaviour problems exhibited by boys in school may simply be due to the fact that they struggle to read and find it difficult to understand what is being taught. All subjects in school are dependent upon the ability to read. When a boy acts out the usual response is to implement some kind of discipline or behaviour modification. Maybe helping them learn to read would be more effective.

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.]

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

Illiteracy in Elementary and Secondary Schools

Is it possible that this timidity, this excessive appeal to “interest”, this consequent concern with the modern, the familiar and the simple in theory, combined with a multiplication of methods and techniques, is responsible for the well-known fact that up to the end of the intermediate or junior high school stage many Canadian pupils cannot read?  This is not a wild accusation.  It is based on statements in the programmes of study, all of which deal with the problem of remedial reading at every stage, some of them at considerable length.  Moreover, teachers in social studies and mathematics are warned that difficulties may arise from their pupils being unable to read.  One high school mathematics teacher asserts that this is literally true, and that pupils need help in deriving any meaning from problems expressed in perfectly grammatical and unambiguous English.  Programmes of study warn teachers to beware of this, to adopt remedial measures, and to guard pupils (aged thirteen to sixteen) against perils like “absolute owner” and “toll bridge” – children, by the way, who have received years of instruction in “dictionary skills.”  It is not suggested that if they can derive no meaning, either from the context or from the dictionary, they should not be in even a junior high school.  It is never suggested that there should be a pons asinorum over which non-readers may not pass.  It is simply assumed that many secondary school boys and girls cannot read.

To this frank admission of the schools that many of their senior pupils cannot read must be added the very frank accusations of universities and other institutions that too many secondary school “graduates” cannot write.  The matter has been much discussed, particularly in those universities which are compelled to introduce remedial English courses – from which it must be admitted students emerge still with a very feeble paragraph sense.  It is not easy to begin to teach things that should have been learned ten years earlier, and the student who has spent the years in poised if not polished oral composition undoubtedly lacks motivation for wrestling with the written word.  A recent comment on this matter comes from the University of Toronto, where, it is reported, the president, deans and professors join with becoming modesty that when the students fail in engineering and other examinations because they cannot write English, the fault undoubtedly rests with the university.  There is, in fact, just the faintest hint that some professors at this university cannot speak English.  Can these professors be the products of Ontario’s progressive schools?

– from So little for the Mind, by Hilda Neatby, Professor of History at the University of Saskatchewan,  copyright 1953.

Writing as a slave of Jesus Christ

When the apostle Paul wanted to write to Christians at Rome, he could have introduced himself by listing his credentials and experience, then said: “You see how important a man I am and I have something important to say. So listen up!”

But that’s not what he said; he introduced himself as a slave, putting himself at the very bottom of the social ladder. (Our Bible may say “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,” but the word Paul used was doulos, meaning slave.)

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Image by Hawksky from Pixabay

In order to honour Jesus who gave us the message, we need to interpret the message into words the recipients will find easy to understand. Most people won’t waste their time searching through a thicket of unnecessary words in the hope of finding a message. We need to skip the pompous words and bombastic writing style that some Christians think is the way to impress readers with the weightiness of their subject matter. The weight of those words will sink your message.

We need to consider ourselves as servants of the people for whom the message is intended. Paul wrote, in I Corinthians 9:19-52: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. . . I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

In all his epistles, Paul challenges the new believers notions of ethnic, economic or social superiority, telling them that none of these things matter in the kingdom of Christ. In Philippians 3:8 he says: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”

“All things,” that would include everything about who I am: education, social status, family, ethnic origin, even my church affiliation. Boasting of any of these things will not gain us a hearing with the people to whom we want to bring the message of Jesus.

This may sound alarming for those of us who are firmly committed to our church, its doctrines and history. But there is nothing there for us to boast of, we did not create the doctrines and history. We are children of the most high God, brothers and sister of Jesus Christ, we are living honest and pure lives. Where will it get us to boast of that? The people around us already suspect that we think we are better than they are.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” God says in Zephaniah 3:11-12: “then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.”

The mountain of God is holy, but we did not put it there, nor did we receive our spiritual heritage as an inheritance from our fathers. It is a gift of God that we have received and others are just as eligible to receive it, regardless of their background.

If we assume that other people think just like we do, our message is compromised before we put a word on paper. In order to be “all things to all men” we need to get out of our bubble, our comfort zone, and learn how other people think. That means that we need to listen and to read before we begin to speak and to write.

The words of Paul are timeless because he did that in his day. He was thoroughly acquainted with the Jewish way of thinking and with the Greek way of thinking. His discourse in Athens consisted almost entirely of quotations from Greek philosophers. He gained a hearing because those words were familiar to the men he was speaking to. Then he disrupted their complacency by introducing the resurrection of Jesus.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” That is our challenge today. To be servants, poor and afflicted, harmless and non-threatening. And yet be wise enough to see the chinks in the walls of complacency that people build around themselves and try to widen them a little to let the light of the gospel shine in,

If we are in earnest about the cause of Christ, let us come down to the bottom rung of the social ladder and become the slaves of Christ and of all mankind.

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