Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Learning

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Sixty years ago that question was often asked of me and my friends during our high school years. The suggestion was being planted in us that we needed to become something important – to be Somebody.

Our parents had lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s and wanted a better life for their children. They constantly encouraged us to “get an education, so you won’t have to work as hard as we did.”

Thus was planted the subliminal suggestion that work was not really a good thing. And the way to avoid it was to spend the requisite number of years in an institute of higher education in order to obtain a certificate designating one as someone who was above such a menial status.

It turned out that work was pretty much a necessity, a necessary evil one might say. So people my age did what they had to do and dreamed of that magical day of retirement when they wouldn’t have to work anymore and could spend time with their friends doing all the things they had dreamed of doing.

Reality stuck it’s ugly nose in here too. It turned out that our friends were the people we worked with. When we retired we had nothing in common with them anymore. Many retired men having, by virtue of being men, the conviction that they could fix most anything began tracking their wives around the house and advising them how they could do their work more efficiently. Finally, the wives reached the breaking point and  said, “Why don’t you go out and get a job?” Many men did and found more satisfaction in the work they did after retirement than they had in their careers.

Maybe work isn’t such a bad thing after all. Surveys say that employers don’t care much for fancy pieces of paper offered as proof of sitting through so and so many hours of tenured duty in a classroom. They are looking for people who want to serve. People who want to learn the specific skills needed by their employer to serve their customers. People who find satisfaction in contributing to the success of a team.

The robots are coming, you say? I suppose, but so far more jobs have been lost to Asia than to robots. A renewed appreciation for good workmanship would go hand in hand with a renewed sense of dignity in work.

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Reality, Respect, Responsibility

A modest proposal to revitalize the education system

1. Reality

Education should be geared towards teaching children how to think, not what to think. This means equipping them to be literate, numerate and articulate. Those are the fundamental skills that will enable them to learn everything else they will need to learn in life. Children should master these skills at each level before moving on to the next level. Teachers who are unable to teach these skills may be social facilitators, but they are not teachers.

Great self-esteem may help you get a job, but won’t help you do the job. Self esteem without work skills will leave you unemployed and feeling the world has let you down.

2. Respect

Twenty-five years ago a co-worker mentioned that her high school daughter had come home and said that her teacher had told the class that it would be best if they didn’t tell their parents what they had talked about in class that day, “They might not understand.” It told me a lot about that mother’s relationship with her daughter that her daughter did tell her. It also told me a lot about that teacher’s lack of respect for parents.

Children are being taught in school not to respect the values of their parents or the historic values of most of the people of our country. That does not bode well for the future of those children in the work place and in society. It does not bode well for the future of our society.

The best and most natural environment for the development of children is a home with a father and mother, preferably the same father and mother all through their growing up years. Evidence shows that children from such homes grow up emotionally healthy and stable and make more useful contributions to the society they live in. Teachers, and the whole educational establishment, need to respect the home and its values. Then parents could also respect educators.

3. Responsibility

A child should not be protected from the consequences of his or her actions. Blaming someone else will not lead to a better outcome the next time. They should know that they are accountable for their school work and their conduct.

But children are not identical peas in a pod. There are differences in learning abilities and in learning styles. Parents and teachers should try to learn what works and what does not work with each child. The child should be accountable for doing the best that he or she can.

My wife has a younger sister who never learned to speak clearly and never did well in school. The school had a speech therapist and other resource personnel, but this girl was passed on from grade to grade with only minimal attempts made to help her. Her home situation was deplorable. We lived several thousand miles away. One time when we were home on vacation my wife tried to help her sister make the sounds that she did not say distinctly. I heard her begin to enunciate them more clearly. But we were soon gone and neither the home nor the school was any help.Her adult life has been miserable. We wonder if some intensive one on one help might not have made a big difference. Why does a school have these “experts” if they are not responsible to do that?

Reality, respect, responsibility. I have only brushed the surface, but I feel that much of the malaise in our educational system is due to the neglect of these principles. And far too much emphasis on things that do nothing to prepare children for real life.

What shall our children read?

What books are safe for children to read? Some Christian parents provide only  books about nice people who do nice things and everything turns out nicely for them. How realistic is that? Children know that there is evil in the world. There are scary things out there, things happen that they do not understand.

Other Christian parents believe that any book that turns out well in the end is sound reading material for their children. Even books where sorcery and witchcraft are used to attain that happy ending. The end justifies the means – or does it?

The Bible only promises a happy ending for people who use Christian means. Evil can only be overcome by good; in that sense the means are the end. We cannot live an overcoming Christian life by using the tools and methods of the enemy. Books that underline that principle can help to develop spiritual understanding.

In 17th century France, Jean de La Fontaine took ancient fables, many of them from Aesop, and rendered them into charming verses with a touch of humour and a clear moral teaching woven in. The fables of La Fontaine were once part of the school curriculum in all French-speaking countries. I’m afraid their moral teaching is now considered old fashioned.

In the same era, Charles Perrault collected and rewrote old folk tales and created others, all having a clear moral teaching. Almost 120 years later the brothers Grimm included some of these tales in their books of fairy tales, leaving out the moral teachings.

Perrault’s tale, La Belle au Bois Dormant, is much more gruesome than the Sleeping Beauty that I read as a child. In the end the innocent children are rescued by the return of their father and the evil woman who wanted to consume them comes to a horrible end. There is nothing here to lull children to overlook evil with the idea that the poor woman was just misunderstood. She was out and out evil and their father was pure and good.

One of Perrault’s stories does not have a happy ending. In Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, when the young lady gets into bed with the wolf that is the end of her. Perrault wrote: “There is one kind [of wolf] with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!” That lesson is lost when Little Red Riding Hood is allowed to escape unharmed from the wolf. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a copy of Perrault’s tales that has not been Disneyfied, even in French. Don’t expect clear moral teachings from that source.

In the 20th Century British writers created several series of Christian fantasy novels.  I am thinking specifically of the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald’s Princess and Curdie books and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I know Christian parents who will not let their children read such books because they describe fantasy worlds, fantastic creatures and fantastic events. Yet in these books evil is always evil and the good people do not use evil means to accomplish good. I am of the opinion that it is better for children to read books where evil exists and is overcome by good than to read books where evil does not appear to exist at all. Isn’t that a more dangerous fantasy?

 

 

Hard work is not a Christian virtue

The robots are coming. Technology already exists that could eliminate almost half of all jobs over the next ten years. Working harder isn’t going to save your job if it is on that list. Working smarter isn’t going to do it either. The economy is changing and the best way to ride the wave of change is to change our attitude about work.

Several years ago a business magazine did a survey of the qualities that businesses were looking for when hiring new employees. The top two items on that list were a desire to serve others and an aptitude to work with others in a team environment. Those sound like Christian virtues, don’t they?

Let’s stop telling young people entering the job market that if they are willing to work really hard they will always have a job. T’aint necessarily so. Especially not in the coming economic transformation. The old ideals of individualistic effort are about to be cast on the scrap heap.

We Christians have absorbed an idea from the world around us that values a person by the amount he produces. We also expect that success equates high production with the ability to spend more on the things we consume. Could we shift our attitude to value a person by what he or she contributes to the common good? That would seem more like a Christian value system, unless we would try to measure that contribution in dollars and cents.

W. Edwards Deming became a hero to Japanese industry when he showed them how to drastically improve the quality of their products in the years after World War II. It wasn’t until 1980, when Deming was 80 years old, that US business started to pay attention to what he had to say. His analysis of American management methods were devastating. He told companies that they needed to drive out fear and eliminate barriers between departments so that everyone could work together for the good of the business. He condemned annual performance reviews, saying they forced employees to compete against each other rather than working together for the common good.

In the survey I quoted earlier, educational accomplishments came far down the list of qualities that business leaders were looking for in new hires. Graduates who have a piece of paper showing their success in the classroom may well expect prospective employers to give them preferential treatment. The problem is that things learned in the classroom usually don’t have much practical value in the workplace.

Employers do want employees who are willing to be life long learners. They just want to be able to direct their employees towards learning things that will directly apply to their work and thus be of benefit to the business. Many years ago Henry Ford said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

To put this all together, as Christians we should be teaching the value of a servant spirit. This should be evident in every area of life. Can we really serve God and not be willing to serve our fellow man?

Ideas like “I know better” or “I can do it better” should have no place in Christian life. We should not expect them to be useful in our work life either. Success in the coming economy will not go to the one who works the hardest to prove that he can do things faster and better than someone else. The person who dedicates his efforts towards the success of the whole group will be a valued member of any team.

 

Cloud based writing

One morning almost 60 years ago I entered a classroom to write my Grade 11 Composition final exam. I breezed through the first few pages, confident that I understood English grammar. The last page stopped me cold. It called for an essay on one of the topics in a long list. None of those topics stirred the slightest interest in my mind.

I glanced out the window. It was a glorious June day with puffy cumulus clouds drifting across the sky. I would rather have been outside, but I was stuck in that desk until I wrote the essay, or ran out of time.

Watching the clouds had a calmchild-830988_640ing effect. I saw a sheep being chased by a dragon. As I watched, the shapes slowly shifted and suddenly it was a Spanish galleon sailing through the skies. Cloud followed cloud and each one took on a recognizable shape then slowly morphed into something different.

Somebody coughed and with a jolt my mind came back into the room. The clock was ticking and the page in front of me was still blank. The list of topics was as uninspiring as ever.

Then inspiration struck: why not write about the things I had been seeing in the sky? I picked one of the topics that more or less fit and filled the page with my imagination. I handed my paper in and went outside into the sunshine.

I received full marks for that essay, 95% on the whole exam. Years later, I read in Writers’ Digest that a writer is doing the most real work when he is staring out the window. When he takes a pen in his hand or sits down at the keyboard that is just clerical work. I felt vindicated.

I still plot my stories and articles the way I did that long ago day in June. Only now the shapes I see are in my mind, not out the window. Clouds, people, ideas, arguments, incidents imagined or real, go drifting across my mind, often changing shape and becoming something totally different from the original idea. Some drift away, never to return. Some will drift through my mind for days, weeks, months, even years, before I put anything down on paper.

Sometimes I will think of a title and write it down. I might even write a list of words under the title, or a sentence or two. I have no idea how or where those words will appear in what I plan to write, but I think they will fit somewhere. Usually they do, but sometimes the whole shape of the story changes before I get it written.

I believe those idea clouds drifting through my mind are inspirations from the Holy Spirit. At least the ones that keep coming back. The changing shapes are the Spirit refining my perception so that I can understand how to put those ideas on paper so others can see what I am seeing.

Writers tend to classify themselves as either outliners or pantsers. An outliner has the whole plot down on paper before she starts – complete with descriptions of the characters, the main incidents and the conclusion. Pantsers start with an idea and proceed “by the seat of their pants” without a predetermined idea of where this is going to lead or what will happen along the way. Which category do I fall into? I don’t really know. I prefer to think of myself as a cloud-based plotter.

If you are a writer . . .

If you are a writer . . .man-29749_640.png

– you love words, you study words, their origins and all the nuances of their meanings. You don’t aim to dazzle readers with the knowledge you acquire, you want to be able to select the best words to make your readers see what you are seeing.

– you know that words are inadequate for what needs to be said. So you spend time searching for the words that come closest to saying what you want to say and avoid words and expressions that make no contribution to what you are trying to describe..

– you know that the reader can only see what you show him. A reader in Saskatchewan doesn’t know what a trillium looks like, or that many people in Ontario say youse when speaking to more than one person. A reader in Ontario doesn’t know what a slough is or what a chokecherry tastes like.

– you know that inspiration is not enough. Writing is the craft that brings the inspiration to life for your readers, by using just the right words and removing all the useless words that distract readers from perceiving what it was that inspired you.

– everything you see, and hear, and dream, becomes grist for your mill. You notice the little wildflower that is invisible to others, you hear the song of a toad at dusk, you see and hear the way people do and say things. These all become part of your storehouse and sooner or later they appear somewhere in your writing.

– you are a writer all the time. You have a full time job, you are a student, a busy mother, a caregiver to an aged relative. In all you do you find insights, nuggets of truth, startling images, moments of tenderness, moments of hilarity, and you tuck the memories away to be brought out when you sit down with a pen or at a keyboard.

– you are delighted to hear a reader repeat something you wrote that gave him new light on a subject, even if he can’t remember who wrote it.

Matthew Effects in Learning

“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, at an early stage, gained a good understanding of how words are composed of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who do not rapidly develop an awareness of the spelling to sound correlation will fall 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 our public school systems 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. I believe a large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else that a child will encounter 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 the quote in my last post: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What we need is a more flexible system that is focussed on results. In both 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. This concept of teaching for mastery in 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.

Setting education free from the bureaucracy

It was the practice at one time to teach swimming by getting the learner to lie belly down on a footstool and practice moving his hands and feet in the way that would propel him through the water. That’s not done anymore, for the simple and obvious reason that it really didn’t work.

After making billions in the internet and cell phone business, French entrepreneur Xavier Niel decided a few years ago to open a school for anyone wanting to learn computer coding. The entrance requirements for the school are that one needs to be 18 to 30 years old and able to pass an online logic test. There is one more requirement: you have to be willing to work really hard.

The school is called 42, it has no tuition and no instructors; the students are just dumped in the pool and told to swim. For the first 30 days, students are required to work at the school 15 hours a day. Those who stick it out will learn as much in those 30 days as they would in a two-year university course. Then the real education begins.

In order to earn a diploma, the student must complete 21 levels of training. It is collaborative learning with peer-to-peer correcting and each one working at their own pace. Some might finish in two years, others may take longer, it doesn’t matter.
How effective is it? A study last year tested13,000 graduates in computer programming, or software engineering, from 700 universities worldwide. The graduates from 42 topped all the others.

Much of this information comes from an article in the French news magazine le Point, written by Idriss Aberkane. M. Aberkane then goes on to ask if the whole educational system wouldn’t benefit from being remade according to the 42 model.

There is an obstacle though: the educational bureaucracy. To quote M. Aberkane, “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.” If that is true of the public education system in France, it is doubly true in Canada.

Prejudice + Poverty ≠ Hopelessness

Some years ago I read an article in Ebony magazine written by a man who had grown up in one of the worst black tenement ghettos in Chicago.Drug dealing, crime and violence were the everyday reality and the police felt the area was too dangerous to send in individual officers to patrol.

Like almost all the other children in this ghetto, this man and his two siblings grew up in a single parent home without much money. Their mother wanted her children to escape the ghetto and the first step was not to give in to hopelessness. She introduced them to the library and to museums and did everything that she could think of that was educational and free. When they went to the store to buy something she let the children pay and then count the change to see that it was right.

All three of those children finished school, went on to university and established professional careers. And they moved their mother out of the ghetto.

The man who wrote the article was now a lawyer. He wrote about going back to visit his old neighbourhood and trying to look up the boys he had grown up with. Some were dead, others were in jail, all the rest had criminal records. None had escaped the hopelessness of the ghetto.

There are a multitude of government programs to help children escape the effects of prejudice and poverty. Billions of dollars are being spent. What are the results? A lot of well paid government jobs to administer the programs. Besides that – not much.

One mother with hope and determination made a difference. No government program can create a mother like that.

Writng tips #2: 10 tips for writing more simply

[I have borrowed, translated and adapted these tips from a French website. That explains the references to French authors, in case you were wondering. These tips are intended for use in writing for the web, but would be useful in many other types of writing as well.]

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1. Thou shalt write short sentences.

You are not Proust! So do not write sentences of more than one or two lines. If you hesitate between several constructions, always choose the one with the fewest words. Your texts will be more rhythmic.

Tip: exchange semicolons for periods.

2. Thou shalt limit thyself to subject, verb and object.

The subject + verb + object scheme is the simplest grammatically. It is instantly recognizable and understandable to the reader. So avoid complex grammatical constructions, subordinate clauses, interpolations and parentheses within the same sentence.

Tip: turn most subordinate clauses into independent sentences.

3. Thou shalt write one idea per sentence.

One idea per sentence, one point per paragraph, one subject per article. Don’t try to say everything at once, at the risk of drowning your reader. Prioritize your ideas and start with the most important.

Tip: If your article is too long, divide it into several articles grouped by folder or series.

4. Thou shalt simplify thy vocabulary.

You do not write to amuse yourself but to make yourself understood. Don’t try to dazzle your readers with exotic words or literary style. Favour simple words known to all.

Tip: use only words that you know how to spell.

5. Thous shalt translate jargon.

You don’t need to eliminate all trade or professional jargon, but ensure the first occurrence of such a word is translated into plain English, including all acronyms and words from other languages. Not only will your readers thank you, but it will be easier for search engines to find your page because you will broaden your semantic field.

Tip: imagine you are writing for your grandmother.

6. Thou shalt avoid negations.

It is forbidden to forbid! It is not always easy (as in this article which intends to be educational), but avoid negative terms as much as possible. Opt instead for positive constructions, more involving and more direct. Flee double negatives that need to be read twice to get the meaning.

Tip: always replace “do not hesitate to do this” with “do this”!

7. Thou shalt avoid the passive voice.

Better to write “The cat eats the mouse” than “the mouse is eaten by the cat.” Not only does the passive use more words than the active form (7 words against 5), but it is also more complex to analyse. Therefore reverse passive sentences, transforming the object into subject.

Tip: choose action verbs like create, produce, decide, etc.

8. Thou shalt avoid adjectives and adverbs.

“Journalists (…) who want to use an adjective come see me in my office. Those who will use an adverb will be shown out the door,”wrote Georges Clemenceau in a memo while he was editor of L’Aurore. Years have passed, the media have changed, but the counsel remains valid.

Tip: first remove all useless instances of “true” and “genuine” from your texts.

9. Thou shalt avoid the subjunctive.

Avoid the subjunctive: limit yourself to the indicative. Also avoid the tenses we learned at school like the pluperfect, future anterior, etc. Try to stick to the present, the past, the imperfect, the future and the imperative.

Tip: use the infinitive as much as possible.

10. Thou shalt read thy article out loud.

Proofread your text carefully before publishing it. Locate the long sentences, overly complex constructions, etc. Check that you have applied all the above rules.

Tip: re-read aloud to identify difficult to read sentences. Flaubert called it the gueuloir test, you will see, it works!

(I presume Gueuloir was Flaubert’s invention; it’s not found in any dictionary. Gueuler means to speak very loudly, to yell.)

If you read French, the original article is found at: http://editoile.fr/10-astuces-pour-ecrire-plus-simplement/

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