Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: education

Point of View, Paradigms and Prejudice

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Years ago I was stopped at a red light on Weber Street in Kitchener, Ontario. I was in the right lane, beside me in the left lane was a police cruiser. There were no other vehicles in sight. Then I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw an old black car coming around the curve and I knew he was coming too fast to stop. I yelled a warning to my wife and daughter just before the crunch. I glanced to my left in time to see the police officer roll his eyes. He turned on his flashing light and got out of his car.

The other driver was charged and decided to plead not guilty. I was called to appear in court as a witness. The driver’s defence? He had been trying so hard to avoid hitting the police car that he didn’t even see my car. The judge found him guilty.

We all make decisions based on what we see, and we are sure that we see things exactly as they really are. Or we catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of our eye and were sure we know what is happening. That is point of view. Sometimes reality intervenes to inform us that we missed seeing something that was there, or saw something that wasn’t there. An old adage says “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.”

The way we understand things that others do is influenced by the experiences of our life. A young lady grew up in a middle eastern culture where it was considered rude to immediately accept if someone offered you a coffee. You said no the first three times and then it was fine to accept the coffee, sit down and  visit. She moved to North America and got an office job. Her co-workers asked her a couple of times if she wanted to come with them for lunch and she said no, to be polite. They accepted the no and quit asking. She thought they didn’t want her company, they thought she didn’t want their company.

We develop mental patterns of what normal behaviour looks like and they help us to instantly understand the meaning of what the people around us are doing and saying. Those patterns can be called paradigms and they help us cope smoothly with social life–as long as we are with people who have the same paradigms, people of our own culture.
When we mix with people of other cultural backgrounds we are apt to feel disoriented, frustrated, or perhaps frightened. If we understand why this is happening, we can begin to learn and adapt and get to know these other people, who really are not a whole lot different from us.

If we are unaware that our misunderstanding is due to a difference in cultural paradigms, we are apt to judge other people as unfriendly, ill-mannered and untrustworthy. Now we have slipped into prejudice. We judge people’s conduct without understanding how they think. We decide that they are ignorant, uncaring, probably dishonest and even immoral.

Some of us do our best to avoid contact with such people and go through life in a protective bubble where we only have to do with people who think just like we do. That confirms and hardens our prejudices. I don’t believe those prejudices can be educated out of us. We might learn to say the right words, but our inner feelings will be the same. The only solution is to step our of the bubble and get to know people who are different from us.

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.

Baby steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the future hold?

“We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” – Margaret Mead

In a world that is changing in bewildering ways and at bewildering speed, a statement like the above appears at first glance to make good sense. But if we stop and think about it for more than five seconds, it begins to sound pretty scary. We need to get ready for something we don’t know anything about. How do we do that?

I suggest that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, need to be firmly rooted and grounded in our faith. That is not the thinking of people like Margaret Mead, they tell us that Jesus Christ and the values we learn from Him cannot help us in the modern world.

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I beg to differ. Eternal values will be valid for all eternity. We need to cling to them in order to keep our head above water in turbulent times.

The last 2,000 years have often been turbulent times. A study of history brings before us the shipwrecks of those who thought the safe way was to adapt their faith to the predominant thinking of their time. There are also the accounts of those who clung to Jesus, no matter what the cost, and testified of the joy of salvation even in persecution.

How do we prepare for the future? Whether we like it or not, the future is in God’s hands. He knows where the world is going, and how long it is going to last. The only safe way to live is in submission to God’s plan for our lives. Some people don’t like the word submission, I don’t want to risk the consequences of the alternative.

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty“ (Revelation 1:8). “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

Hard work is not a Christian virtue

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

Several years ago a business magazine surveyed businesses to find what qualities they looked for when hiring employees. The top two items 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.

Christians have absorbed an idea from the world that values a person by the amount he produces. We 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 after World War II. It wasn’t until 1980, when Deming was 80, 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 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 expect employers to give them preferential treatment. The problem is that things learned in the classroom often don’t have much value in the workplace.

Employers want employees who are life long learners. They want to be able to direct their employees towards learning things that apply to their work and will benefit the business. 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 teach 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. The person who dedicates his efforts to the success of the whole group will be a valued member of any team.

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?

Africa rising

What picture comes to your mind when you think of Africa? A remote village of mud huts with scantily clad people scratching their subsistence from the soil with hand tools? Or modern cities with skyscrapers, factories, hospitals and universities?

Both scenarios exist, but far more people live in the cities. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa, with the largest population. There are 20,000 millionaires in Nigeria nd 20 billionaires.

The wealthiest man in Nigeria is Aliko Dangote with interests in the manufacture of cement, sugar and petroleum products. The fourth wealthiest person in Nigeria is Folorunsho Alakija, a lady who started out as a fashion designer and now also has investments in the oil industry. She has created a foundation to help widows and orphans through scholarships and business grants.

Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of university graduation. Emigrants from Nigeria are among the most successful immigrants in Canada, the USA and the UK.
I believe it was at least 10 years ago that someone said that the heartland of evangelical Christianity is now in Africa, not North America. Nigerian churches see North America and Europe as mission fields. In Saskatoon, our nearest city, there are five or six congregations of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, including one French-language congregation. There is also a congregation of the Deeper Christian Life Bible Church. The Anglican churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America have severed all ties with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA and are now guiding the establishment of a new Anglican movement in North America that is more true to the Bible, especially in the area of morality.

What is true of Nigeria is also true of other African countries in varying degrees. It is true that there is still much poverty in some places, but economic growth rates are astounding.

There are acts of terrorism in various places by hard line Islamists. I have no prophetic vision of how this is all going to play out in coming years, but I wonder if these acts might not a last ditch attempt to hold back the tide that they see sweeping over Africa.

Is it time to take a fresh look at Africa and African people? The evidence shows that these black-skinned people are in no way inferior to white-skinned people. We are equals, in intellect, in faith, in management ability, and we should respect each other as equals.
International aid has done more to hold Africa back than to help it move forward. Emergency aid in time of disaster is always in place, but it would probably be best to have it administered by local people as much as possible. Sending used clothing and mosquito nets may give us a worm glow, but does it undercut the local production of those goods?

Surely it’s time to revamp our selection of mission hymns. The idea of carrying the gospel to “every dark land” has always given a skewed idea of mission work; we need to find better ways to describe the practice of being ambassadors for Christ. The call to proclaim the faith once delivered to the saints and to make disciples in all the world has not expired. But we render ourselves unfit for the task if some illusion of superiority still lingers in the way we relate to others.

Reflections on turning 75

I remember the exact moment when I realized I was edging into the senior ranks. It was in 1992 and I was explaining to a younger friend how things had been when I was a boy. All of a sudden there was a little voice in my head saying, “Wait a minute! What’s going on here? It used to be that only old people talked like that.”

Twenty-five years have gone by since then; there’s no use trying to deny it any longer — I am officially an old codger. Today I am 75. And I am not 75 years young — I am not going to play that game. According to Moses, “ The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” By that reckoning I am five years past my best before date.

I have accumulated a ton of stories and anecdotes and some of them are even interesting to my grandchildren. My hope is that they will remember some of those stories in later years and realize that there are life lessons to be learned from the experiences told by the older folks. Lessons like the following:

The good old days weren’t always that great.
• Does anyone today remember tuberculosis and polio? There were epidemics of those diseases, and many others, when I was young.
• Does anyone remember dust storms that reduced visibility to zero and seeped into the best sealed houses? When I was a boy, most farmers had one piece of tillage equipment, a one-way disc harrow. They used it for seeding and for summerfallowing. The soil dried to a powder that would travel with any breeze. Today’s tillage equipment and farming methods conserve soil moisture and nutrients, making possible crop yields that were unthinkable years ago.
• Volunteer fire departments in small towns did their best, but they were untrained and under equipped. A grocery store in our town caught fire, someone rang the bell on the town hall and soon the volunteers were on the scene with the town’s fire equipment. In their rush to fight the blaze, they got the fire hoses tangled up. By the time they got them untangled it was too late.

New doesn’t always mean better
• Teachers are better trained, schools are bigger and better equipped, the curriculum is constantly being upgraded. Illiteracy rates have exploded, store clerks haven’t a clue how to make change if the computerized till breaks down, and people don’t know what country Ottawa is in.
• Thalidomide was used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. Thousands of babies were born with missing or malformed arms and legs. Thousands more did not survive. Seldane was a marvellous new non-drowsy antihistamine. It caused me to have heart palpitations, a few people died — it is no longer available. My wife was prescribed Vioxx to treat her arthritis. She had heart palpitations while taking the drug; it also is no longer available.
• Time was when most people went to church on Sunday. The Word of God was read, moral principles and respect for others were taught. Of course there were a lot of half-hearted Christians and outright hypocrites in the churches. But has abandoning the churches made our world a better place?

Weather changes
• There is no such thing as normal weather, at least not where I live. When I was five there was a blizzard that closed roads for days and almost buried a passenger train — the town people carried food out to the train until it could be dug out. In the early fifties southern Saskatchewan had summer temperatures up to 105° F and winter temperatures down to -50° F . I don’t believe we have ever experienced those extremes in following years.
• Saskatchewan is more familiar with drought, but in the past five or six years we have had a series of summers with much higher than average rainfall.
• Forty years ago there was a suspicion that the Soviets were using nuclear tests to manipulate our weather and cause unusual storms. There were serious scientific attempts to explain how this could be done. Years of living here have convinced me that every year brings something we haven’t seen before and yet it is all part of the normal weather cycle. There is no need to look for a human cause.

There were frequent nuclear bomb tests in the late fifties when I was in high school. The media kept us informed when the cloud of radioactive dust would pass over our area. One morning Jack Dosko came to school and reported: “ The nuclear fallout passed right above us in the night and this morning I saw little pock marks all over the windshield of Charles Kennedy’s pickup. I wonder what else we will find.” Sixty years have passed and I still see windshields like that. I think it has something to do with our gravel roads.

Let’s not get too excited when we hear scare stories. This too shall pass.

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.

Does the U.S. Postal Service know where Canada is?

Years ago, when I worked for Canada Post in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, I was instructed that the regulations of the Universal Postal Union required that mail to another country had to be sent to that country by the most direct route possible. Thus, if we received mail addressed to Boston we were not to send it to Montreal, the nearest Canadian centre to Boston, but to Minneapolis. The U.S. Postal Service would take over from there.

I have always wondered if the employees of the U.S. Postal Service have the same rules, or if they even know which direction to send mail addressed to some place in Canada. That question arises from a long history of receiving mail sent from places in Europe, Africa or Asia within a week, while mail from the USA takes anywhere from one to three weeks.

Thirty years ago, while we were living in Ontario, my wife had cancer surgery just before Christmas. Friends of ours were on their way to spend Christmas with family members who were missionaries in Belize. They bought a get well card in Texas and put it in the mail. They went on to Belize, spent almost two weeks there and then drove home. Their card arrived two days later – a full three weeks after the date on the Texas postmark.

Twenty years ago we were living in Montréal. I bought an Epson ink jet printer; the price was pretty hefty back then, but they were offering a nice rebate. This required sending a form and proof of purchase to an organization in Minnesota. I received a letter back explaining that the rebate was only available to people living in North America. I wrote back and asked them to look on a map, Montréal is a major North American city. I sent a copy of the letter to Epson. I got my rebate.

An acquaintance of ours told of how her family had moved from Montréal to Florida when she was still in elementary school. Her first day in school the teacher asked her to come up and tell the class about her trip across the ocean to the USA.

“But, we didn’t come across the ocean.”

“How did you get here then?”

“We drove.”

“How is that possible? Where is Canada?”

Whereupon the girl pointed out where Canada was on the classroom map.

“Oh. Is that Canada? I always thought that area up there was part of the USA.”

I suspect that at least some employees of the U.S. Postal Service had that same teacher, or one very much like her. I ordered three used books from Amazon last month. The first got here in a week, from England. The second, from the USA, took three weeks. The last one, also from the USA, came yesterday, a full four weeks after I had ordered it online.

There was a Royal Mail sticker over the top right corner of the address label and customs declaration. That mystified me. Why would a package from the USA have a postal sticker from the UK?

There seemed to be another sticker under it, so my wife tore off the Royal Mail sticker and there we read “La Poste, Paris, France,”still covering the corner of the original label.

I rest my case.

 

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