Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Learning

Poverty + Prejudice ≠ 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.

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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.

An abandoned child

In 1797 a child, estimated to be 9 or 10 years old, was seen living in the wild in the region of Aveyron. He evaded capture until 1800. All attempts to discover who he was or where he came from were fruitless. He was taken to Paris to be examined.
The leading minds were excited by such a find, expecting that this wild child would corroborate the ideas of Rousseau. Having had no adult influence or teaching, he should have been the perfect example of the innate goodness of uncorrupted humanity.

They were disappointed. The child made no sound, was not able to distinguish or understand sounds or voices, seemed to have no appreciation for the aroma of cooked foods, was not accustomed to clothes or beds and was disoriented in the presence of people. They finally concluded that he had been abandoned because he was so stupid.

Doctor Jean Itard obtained custody of the child the following year. He believed the child’s behaviour reflected a lack of human contact and teaching. In other words, he was stupid because he had been abandoned. Doctor Itard named the boy Victor and spent the next five years working to rehabilitate him.

Victor’s hearing was good, but he never was able to speak, When found he had many scars on his body, including a 4 centimetre gash across his throat. It is probable his vocal cords had been damaged when that wound was made. Victor’s progress under Dr. Itard was slow but steady and he learned to conduct himself in a socially acceptable way. He was cared for in a home in Paris until his death in 1828.

Francois-Xavier Bellamy uses the story of Victor of Aveyron to argue that it is teaching that makes us fully human. We need contact and interaction with other people to develop the skills that enable us to cope with life. A child left to himself degenerates into something hardly recognizable as human, as in the extreme case of Victor of Aveyron when he was found.

Taking this further, the teaching of language, grammar and vocabulary is essential for us to be able to describe how we feel, what we think about ourselves and the world around us. We cannot understand such things until we have the ability to put them into words.

Being taught the value system that his built our society, and the history of our society, enables us to understand why things are the way they are. It opens the door for us to become participants in our world, not just bewildered and frustrated observers.

M. Bellamy’s book is a passionate plea for us to abandon the failed theories of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and resume the transmission to the youth of today of all that is of value from our heritage.

A disinherited generation

This week I read a book that I feel to be tremendously important. Many people are disturbed by the disorder in the world today, but we have very different ideas about the cause and an even sharper difference in our ideas about a remedy. This book shines a clear light on the roots of the problem and the remedy.

The book is Les déshérités, by Francois-Xavier Bellamy. Unfortunately there is no English translation available. The title means The disinherited and is a reply Les héritiers (The Inheritors) by Pierre Bourdieu, a book published 50 years ago which has had a profound impact on education in France.

Les Déshérités ou l'urgence de transmettre - FRANÇOIS-XAVIER BELLAMY

Francois-Xavier Bellamy is young, only 28 when this book appeared in 2014, a professor of philosophy, and possibly the leading conservative thinker in France.
M. Bellamy identifies the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu as being an important part of the problem, but finds the root of Bourdieu’s thinking in the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that is prevalent in most of the world.

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.

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.

As I said earlier, those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see the evidence all around us 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 mor 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.

There are hopeful signs. Last fall the ministry of education in France called for a return to teaching grammar and spelling, recognizing that to not do so was simply perpetuating the poverty of those from poorer homes. The popularity of this book is another hopeful sign. As is the immense popularity of Jordan Peterson’s book Twelve Rules For Living. That book also teaches the usefulness of the values held by past generations. It was the publishing sensation of 2018 in Canada, selling over a million copies.

Just one parting thought. Francois-Xavier Bellamy mentions religion several times, but does not have much to say about it. He is a philosopher, not a theologian. But for those of us who believe the Bible is the foundation of all truth, how well have we been doing at passing on our spiritual heritage?

Lessons about writing from Claude Monet

This is the time of year when many businesses give out free calendars, with illustrations in varying shades of kitsch. As a counterbalance, I like to buy at least one calendar each year with pictures I will enjoy looking at as the months go by. This year it is a calendar with photographs of paintings by Claude Monet.
Monet is regarded as the founder of the French impressionist school of painting. He was definitely the most prolific of the group. Impressionism was a label invented by scornful critics and it stuck, no matter how much the artists themselves disliked it.

Impressionism is not abstract art, it is representational art with an emphasis on light, colour and movement, with all unnecessary details left out. Impressionist paintings are not posed indoor scenes. They were almost all painted outdoors and depict objects and people as the eye would see them. Close up, one sees only a jumble of short brush strokes and vague shapes in these paintings, from a distance, the scene is vivid and clearly identifiable.

It struck me that the techniques of impressionism apply to writing as well.

Lesson One: Leave out all unnecessary details. If a grandmother is puttering in her flower bed to calm her anxiety as she waits for her granddaughter to arrive for a visit, it isn’t necessary to describe the leafs and petals of the petunias. We are not writing a botany textbook. Show the grandmother pulling every little weed she can find, checking her watch, going into the house to see that everything is still just right, coming back to the flower bed, examining each leaf for signs of insect damage or disease, checking her watch again.

Lesson Two: Show the effects of the light. When granddaughter arrives, don’t tell us details of genealogy and history, show the love and concern these two have for each other by their hugs, tears and questions.

It takes a long time to learn the lesson that good writing is just as much about knowing what to leave out as it is about what to put in.

My first experiment a success

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Not my bread – for illustration purpose only

Marc Loiselle, a farmer from Vonda, Saskatchewan has spearheaded a revival of interest in Red Fife. The Loiselle farm also grows a selected strain of Marquis. A growing number of consumers are discovering the superior taste of bread made from Red Fife or Marquis flour.

I bought a bread machine a couple years ago and always had the dream of making bread with Red Fife wheat. Yesterday I drove out to Vonda and bought a 10 kg sack of Red Fife flour, organically grown, nothing added, nothing removed.
Marc told me that this flour does not behave quite like other flours, the dough needs to be more moist and sticky. Today I made a loaf with 50% white flour and 50% whole grain Red Fife flour. It turned out great. That was the first experiment, from here I will continue to increase the proportion of whole grain Red Fife flour until I can, hopefully, produce a 100% whole wheat loaf in the bread machine.

The Loiselle family has an informative website which includes recipes: http://sites.google.com/site/loisellema/

 

Background on Red Fife wheat and the gluten issue
David Fife arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1820 when he was 15. His parents settled in Otanabee township, east of Peterborough, Ontario. At that time Ontario farmers were growing a winter wheat variety known as Siberian. It survived the winters, but was low yielding and susceptible to rust, a fungal disease that weakened the plant.

David Fife wrote to a friend in Glasgow asking for a sample of a better wheat. His friend found a ship unloading wheat in Glasgow harbour and managed to obtain a few kernels to send to David Fife. The wheat had been loaded at Danzig and had probably been grown in Ukraine.

The package of wheat kernels arrived just before seeding time in 1842. David Fife didn’t know if it was winter wheat or spring wheat. He planted half the seeds in spring, planning to sow the rest in fall. It must have been winter wheat, as the spring seeded grain did not mature — except for one plant that produced three heads of ripe grain. David Fife planted the seeds from those three heads the next spring and continued to multiply the seed, until he harvested 240 bushels in 1848. By then he knew that he had a variety of wheat that yielded better than Siberian, matured early and was not susceptible to rust. It also made excellent bread.

Since the kernels were red and the variety was introduced by David Fife, people called it Red Fife. By the end of the nineteenth century Red Fife wheat had the reputation of being the world’s best spring wheat. Thus, Red Fife wheat is descended from a single kernel of wheat picked at random from a boat being unloaded in Glasgow. David Fife’s careful work in multiplying the wheat grown from that single kernel made it possible to nourish millions of people

In 1908 my father, his brothers, and my grandfather homesteaded south of Old Wives Lake in Saskatchewan. The wheat they grew the first few years was Red Fife. The prairie growing season was a little too short though and sometimes it froze before it was mature. Dr. Charles Saunders crossed Red Fife with Hard Red Calcutta and selected plants that were early maturing, high yielding, had stiff straw and whose kernels had the best milling and baking qualities. Marquis began to be distributed to farmers in 1912 and by 1918 was grown on 20 million acres from southern Nebraska to northern Saskatchewan. This was the wheat that made the Canadian prairies a bread basket for the world. In later years Red Fife and Marquis were supplanted by new, higher yielding varieties

I remember as a boy picking a head of ripe whet, rolling it in my hands to thresh out the kernels, then popping the kernels into my mouth and chewing them. Soon I would have a gummy wad in my mouth, somewhat like chewing gum. This was the gluten in the wheat kernels.

Gluten is the major component of the protein in wheat and this gummy characteristic is what makes bread rise. The fermenting yeast in bread dough produces carbon dioxide which the gluten traps in small bubbles.

About 1% of people have a problem digesting gluten. There is even a scare campaign being spread today that says gluten is bad for all of us. If that is so, why didn’t gluten cause as much problems in past generations?

Gluten is actually a compound of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. In old varieties of wheat, such as Red Fife and Marquis, the gluten is roughly 1/3 gliadin and 2/3 glutenin. These grains do not appear to cause celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance. Modern bread wheat varieties may contain up to 80% gliadin.

There in a nutshell is the problem. Wheat varieties have been “improved” to boost yield and disease resistance. In the process, flavour has been lost and some people have health problems from eating bread made from these wheat varieties.Gluten is also added to a wide variety of other foods and this will be gluten from newer wheat varieties with a high Gliadin count. Those who are sensitive to this need to read the labels carefully when grocery shopping.

Now in paperback

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It seems a lot of people want a book they can hold in their hands rather than an e-book.  If you are one of those, we are happy to announce that my wife’s latest book is now available in paperback on Amazon.com for $10.99 US.

It is also available on amazon.co.uk and amazon.fr, but for some reason it does not show up on amazon.ca.  She is trying to find out why. I guess it’s not that big a deal, Canadians can order it from the US site; but if they go looking for it on the Canadian site they will only find the e-book version.

Chris is the pioneer in our home for self publishing; she did it all herself and now should be able to coach me through the process when I want to publish.

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.

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.

 

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