Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christian schools

Learning the wrong lesson

Nelson was born with the umbilical cord around his neck, causing oxygen starvation to his brain. He was slower in learning during the early years of childhood and his parents were encouraged to place him in a school for children with special needs.

The parents were disappointed with the results, or rather the lack of results, in this school. They believed Nelson was capable of doing better. They approached the school board of their congregation and they agreed to accept Nelson in the school. They placed him in a classroom with three children in another grade to give the teacher more time to work with Nelson.

The teacher of that class got a marriage proposal during the Christmas holidays and promptly resigned. That was when our daughter got a call. She had taken a break from teaching because of voice problems, but felt she was able to teach again. So off she went to a congregation a thousand miles away.

She noticed that Nelson would often let his eyes roll up, his head hang down, his mouth hang open and begin to drool on his desk. I don’t know just what she saw that told her it was an act, but she realized that Nelson was just acting stupid to get out of doing his schoolwork. She decided that if he was smart enough to put on an act like that, he was smart enough to learn.

She didn’t let him get away with acting stupid any more and he began to learn. He was a little slower than others his age, but he did go on to finish school. I heard later that he got converted and was baptized.

Nelson learned this little act in the special needs school and found that it got him out of having to do much work in school. I’m not intending to bash the teachers in that school, or to heap praise on my daughter. (Though I’ve often wondered how it came to be that I raised a daughter who was so much sharper than her Dad.)

I’m just telling this as a cautionary tale. Our children, whether it be at home or at school, learn a lot of other things than the things we are trying to teach them. Most of their learning is from example and observation, and that is completely normal. But we need to be alert enough to see when they are learning something that is the direct opposite of what we think we are teaching.

If that happens, it usually means that there is something that we haven’t learned as well as we thought we had. Raising children is quite a learning experience for the parents.

Discovery learning

The Province of Alberta recently announced a complete transformation of their teaching methods. The new model is based on the wonderfully naive expectation that a classroom of 30 children of the same age will learn much better if the teacher is relegated to the background and not allowed to teach.

Where does this dewy-eyed credulity come from? Certainly not from any investigation into how such a classroom actually behaves. One has to wonder if the educational “experts”, having succeeded in excluding parents from the picture, are not finding too many teachers who actually want to teach some realistic values to their pupils.

Study after study has shown that children learn best from direct instruction, that the modern alternatives have resulted in a continuous decline in actual learning. The province of Quebec, for example, has resisted the move towards newer methods of teaching math. In Quebec they still teach the basics, like memorizing the times tables. The result is that Quebec students place 6th on the OECD comparison of learning outcomes, on a par with Japan.

Students from the rest of Canada are already far behind, discovery learning will put them even further behind. An article published in Educational Psychologist a few years ago, based on more than 100 studies over 50 years, stated that none of the research supported discovery learning.

Pardon my cynicism, but to me this just looks like the latest attempt of the “progressives” to seize control of our children’s minds and train them in their collectivist philosophy. I applaud all those parents who have removed their children from the abyss of public education. All the studies show that children who get their learning at home or in small private schools are far ahead in both learning and in responsible conduct.



Why parents need to be involved in their child’s education

Governor Jeb Bush of Florida was in Toronto at the end of October to speak on the educational reforms that have moved Florida schools from the bottom tier of educational achievement to near the top.  He spoke to the Economic Club of Canada at the Royal York Hotel, the talk was well-publicized and co-sponsored by the Society for Quality Education, yet the audience appears to have been remarkably free of any representatives of the Ontario educational system.

Perhaps they should have been paying more attention.  The OECD International Student Assessment statistics show that Canada is slipping one place per year in Math proficiency.  We are now down to 13th place, from 7th in 2006.  Even this ranking is higher than it would be if it only included the English-speaking provinces.  In Québec they still teach math by traditional methods and obtain the highest scores in the country.

In my humble opinion, the declining test scores are collateral damage from the all-out efforts of the educational bureaucracy to convince the public that education is a highly sophisticated process that is beyond the ability of mere parents.  It’s not that they don’t want to teach children to read and write, and to add and subtract, multiply and divide, but they want to do it in such a way that parents have no idea how they did it.

This does not appear to be an attainable objective.  At the same time that the public education system shows constantly declining results, studies in Canada and the USA show that home-schooling parents are obtaining results that are far superior.  Not only do those studies show that children do far better when taught by their parents, the results are the same for parents who never finished high school and those with a university degree or two.

The gurus of educational mystification react to those results either by ignoring them, or by suggesting that some kind of sinister brainwashing is taking place in these unsupervised home school settings.  Many of the rest of us believe the brainwashing is taking place in the public system and is the fundamental reason for trying to keep parents from understanding what is going on in school.  Blessed indeed is the mother whose daughter comes home from school and says, “Mom, the teacher said we shouldn’t talk to our parents about this because you probably won’t understand, but I really want to know what you think.”

For those of us who have opted out of the public system in favour of independent Christian schools, I fear that some of the attitudes of the public system still linger with us.  It is not the school’s responsibility to teach social skills to our children.  If my child is being a disruptive influence in school, it is my responsibility to apply corrective measures.  We should take an interest in what our children are learning and how they are learning it.  We should not be a disruptive influence on the school, either, but we really can help our children with concepts that they just don’t seem able to catch in class.  We should take an interest in the curriculum, too.  Our independent schools are apt to get the same mediocre results as the public system if they use the same curriculum materials.  There is a wealth of curriculum materials used by home schooling parents that are much more effective.

Back to Governor Bush.  Education reform was the main plank of his platform when he first ran for governor and once elected he began to implement his program.  All the schools in Florida were ranked by results as A, B, C, D or F.  The schools ranked A were given an extra $100 per student to spend as they wished.  Most schools used it for teacher bonuses.  Students in schools ranked F were given vouchers to switch to another school, either public or private.  Social promotion was banned after Grade 3.  Bush believes the first three years are spent learning to read and the following years in reading to learn.  It makes no senses at all to pass an illiterate child into Grade 4 and condemn him or her to a lifetime of ignorance.  The emphasis of his program was on providing measures of accountability and rewarding schools and teachers that were achieving excellence.

Other school systems in the USA are taking notice and emulating Florida’s measures, New York City, for example.  I’ve not heard of any Canadian public school authorities showing any inclination to follow suit.  Good education is not mysterious or expensive.  Our grandparents knew how to do it 100 years ago and those methods have not become outmoded, despite the pretensions of the educational bureaucracy.

As a final note, the Society for Quality Education offers free remedial programs for reading and math.  If your child is not doing well in these basic subjects, try these programs.  You will find them at: www.teachyourchildtoread.ca

Public Schools: mediocrity is the goal

There was a time, about 120 years ago, when almost everyone in Canada could read and write well, could do the math calculations needed in their daily life and work, often without pencil and paper, knew a good bit about world history and understood how governments worked.  It is not that way today.  It is said that a student finishing Grade 5 then knew as much, or more, than a student finishing Grade 8  today; a Grade 8 graduate then knew as much as a high school graduate today and a high school graduate then as much as a university graduate today.  How did this happen?

When I started school 65 years ago, the schools had already made the switch from teaching phonics to teaching sight reading – the Dick and Jane books.  i had been reading for a couple of years already, so this didn’t hold me back, but many others struggled.  My first few years were in a one room school, where a young single lady taught a group of 30 children in 8 grades – and she taught us well; those were the best years of my school life.

We moved to a larger town and now there were two grades to a classroom.  The teachers, most of them at least, were still very capable and maintained order in the classroom.  There was very thorough teaching in math, spelling and grammar, we were exposed to samples of the great English literature of the past, both prose and poetry.  I had skipped forward a grade at the beginning and could have gone faster, but my parents didn’t think that was wise.  So I read every book in the school library.

My parents were from an earlier era and believed that education meant that I should actually learn something.  My mother was always involved, helping me memorize math facts and encouraging me in any way she could.  She always got to know my teachers and invited each one over for at least one meal during the school term.   I understood that she wanted the teacher to feel free to talk to her if I was having any trouble in school – or making trouble!

The idea was already being circulated back then that parents didn’t know how to properly teach their children and should just leave education to the experts: the teachers.  It appeared to me that my mother was pretty much immune to that kind of thinking.

In the ensuing years, textbooks and teaching methods have been changed many times, following each new wind of doctrine about how children learn.  None of this works as well as the old-fashioned methods, but it has the great advantage, from the school’s vantage point, of cutting parents out of the picture.  They just don’t understand the new methods of teaching.  The children don’t either, but that’s beside the point.

Schools have become bigger and bigger and children have to travel further and further to get to school.   Many parents have little idea who is teaching their children.  This also serves to insulate the schools from parental influence.

Martin L Gross, in The Conspiracy of Ignorance – The Failure of American Public Schools, explains that a Bachelor of Education degree is the easiest of all degrees to obtain.  It consists of nothing but a bunch of pop psychology courses.  Aspiring teachers are  taught nothing about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them.

When one studies the origins of public schools, it becomes evident that the present situation is what was envisioned from the beginning.  The goal is not to educate children to think for themselves, but to indoctrinate them in the anti-family, anti-Christian agenda of those who consider themselves the elite thinkers.  Back in the days when most parents thought like mine did, they had to advance their program very slowly behind the scenes.  It is all much more open today.

I will return to this topic in future posts, but I want to mention two anti-family teachings that have become pretty much ingrained in the national culture.

One is that parents aren’t competent to teach.  Yet a national study a few years ago showed that home-schooled children scored much higher on standardized tests than children in public schools.  And it didn’t make any difference if the parents hadn’t completed high school or if they had a university degree or two.

The other is that children have to go to school with children their own age to learn how to get along with others.  Can’t parents see the evidence all around them that this is not working?  Children in years past had much better social skills when they learned them from their parents.

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