Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: education

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.

 

Josiah Henson learns to read

It so haJosiah_Henson_bwppened that one of my Maryland friends arrived in this neighbourhood, and hearing of my being here, inquired if I ever preached now. I had said nothing myself, and had not intended to say any thing, of my having ever officiated in that way. I went to meeting with others, when I had an opportunity, and enjoyed the quiet of the Sabbath when there was no assembly. I would not refuse to labour in this field, however, when desired to do so; and I was frequently called upon, not by blacks alone, but by all classes in my vicinity, the comparatively educated, as well as the lamentably ignorant, to speak to them on their duty, responsibility, and immortality, on their obligations to their Maker, their Saviour, and themselves.

It must seem strange to many that a man so ignorant as myself, unable to read, should be able to preach acceptably to persons who had enjoyed greater advantages than myself. I can explain it only by reference to our Saviour’s comparison of the kingdom of heaven to a plant which may spring from a seed no bigger than a mustard-seed, and may yet reach such a size, that the birds of the air may take shelter therein. Religion is not so much knowledge, as wisdom; — and observation upon what passes without, and reflection upon what passes within a man’s heart, will give him a larger growth in grace than is imagined by the devoted adherents of creeds, or the confident followers of Christ, who call him Lord, Lord, but do not the things which he says.

Mr. Hibbard was good enough to give my eldest boy, Tom, two quarters’ schooling, to which the schoolmaster added more of his own kindness, so that my boy learned to read fluently and well. It was a great advantage, not only to him, but to me; for I used to get him to read to me in the Bible, especially on Sunday mornings when I was going to preach; and I could easily commit to memory a few verses, or a chapter, from hearing him read it over.

One beautiful summer Sabbath I rose early, and called him to come and read to me. “Where shall I read, father?” “Anywhere, my son,” I answered, for I knew not how to direct him. He opened upon Psalm 103. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name;” and as he read this beautiful outpouring of gratitude which I now first heard, my heart melted within me. I recalled the whole current of my life; and as I remembered the dangers and afflictions from which the Lord had delivered me, and compared my present condition with what it had been, not only my heart but my eyes overflowed, and I could neither check nor conceal the emotion which overpowered me. The words “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” with which the Psalm begins and ends, were all I needed, or could use, to express the fullness of my thankful heart.

When he had finished, Tom turned to me and asked, “Father, who was David?” He had observed my excitement, and added, “He writes pretty, don’t he?” and then repeated his question. It was a question I was utterly unable to answer. I had never heard of David, but could not bear to acknowledge my ignorance to my own child. So I answered evasively, “He was a man of God, my son.” “I suppose so,” said he; “but I want to know something more about him. Where did he live? What did he do?” As he went on questioning me, I saw it was in vain to attempt to escape, and so I told him frankly I did not know. “Why, father,” said he, “can’t you read?”

This was a worse question than the other, and if I had any pride in me at the moment, it took it all out of me pretty quick. It was a direct question, and must have a direct answer; so I told him at once I could not. “Why not,” said he. “Because I never had an opportunity to learn, nor anybody to teach me.” “Well, you can learn now, father.” “No, my son, I am too old, and have not time enough. I must work all day, or you would not have enough to eat.” “Then you might do it at night.” “But still there is nobody to teach me. I can’t afford to pay anybody for it, and of course no one can do it for nothing.” “Why, father, I’ll teach you. I can do it, I know. And then you’ll know so much more, that you can talk better, and preach better.”

The little fellow was so earnest, there was no resisting him; but it is hard to describe the conflicting feelings within me at such a proposition from such a quarter. I was delighted with the conviction that my children would have advantages I had never enjoyed; but it was no slight mortification to think of being instructed by a child of twelve years old. Yet ambition, and a true desire to learn, for the good it would do my own mind, conquered the shame, and I agreed to try.

But I did not reach this state of mind instantly. I was greatly moved by the conversation I had had with Tom — so much so that I could not undertake to preach that day. I passed the Sunday in solitary reflection in the woods. I was too much engrossed with the multitude of my thoughts within me to return home to dinner, and spent the whole day in secret meditation and prayer, trying to compose myself, and ascertain my true position. It was not difficult to see that my predicament was one of profound ignorance, and that I ought to use every opportunity of enlightening it.

I began to take lessons of Tom, therefore, immediately, and followed it up, every evening, by the light of a pine knot, or some hickory bark, which was the only light I could afford. Weeks passed, and my progress was so slow, that poor Tom was almost discouraged, and used to drop asleep sometimes, and whine a little over my dullness, and talk to me very much as a schoolmaster talks to a stupid boy, till I began to be afraid that my age, my want of practice in looking at such little scratches, the daily fatigue, and the dim light, would be effectual preventives of my ever acquiring the art of reading.

But Tom’s perseverance and mine conquered at last, and in the course of the winter I did really learn to read a little. It was, and has been ever since, a great comfort to me to have made this acquisition; though it has made me comprehend better the terrible abyss of ignorance in which I had been plunged all my previous life. It made me also feel more deeply and bitterly the oppression under which I had toiled and groaned; but the crushing and cruel nature of which I had not appreciated, till I found out, in some slight degree, from what I had been debarred. At the same time it made me more anxious than before to do something for the rescue and the elevation of those who were suffering the same evils I had endured, and who did not know how degraded and ignorant they really were.

The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, first published in 1849

Why learn French?

The World Almanac says that there are only 70 million French-speaking people in the world. That’s not very significant, why should I bother learning it?

Not so fast! If you look closely, the World Almanac is giving the estimated number of people for whom French is their mother tongue (even at that it is questionable, but I will get to that later). Beside that number is the number of countries in which French is spoken by a significant number of people. That number is 60, making French the second most widely spoken language in the world, after English.

More realistic estimates of the number of people who speak French vary somewhat, Wikipedia says 340 million. At present there are about equal numbers of French-speaking people in Europe and in Africa, but that is rapidly changing. As education becomes more and more accessible to the people of the francophone countries of Africa, French is rapidly replacing tribal languages. Thus estimates which assume that all Africans have tribal languages as their mother tongue are becoming less and less realistic. It is estimated that by 2050 there could be 500 million, or more, French-speaking people in Africa alone.

The numbers of people who know French in some other countries may surprise you: more than 10 million in both Germany and the UK, almost 3 million in Egypt, more than 2 million in the USA, around half a million in each of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand, and so on.

There are more than 10 million French-speaking people in Canada, it is one of our official languages. Many parents, even here in Saskatchewan, are sending their children to French immersion schools because they believe that knowing both French and English will be a tremendous asset for their children.

There are many rural communities scattered across Saskatchewan that were settled by French-speaking people from Québec, France and Belgium. (Even from the USA; my grandparents were born in upstate New York and my grandmother spoke French. Unfortunately, that knowledge of French skipped a generation — my father only learned a few words from his mother.) French is dying out in some of those communities, but not all.

Many French-speaking people have migrated to the cities where their numbers have been augmented by French-speaking immigrants. There is a francophone school division that operates schools in a few small towns and most of our cities. Young families are maintaining the language. When I overhear people speaking French in Saskatoon they are almost always from the younger generation. Many immigrants who have neither English nor French as their mother tongue want their children to be fluent in both languages.

With a burgeoning francophone population in the world, the opportunities for mission outreach are also increasing. We here in Canada are ideally placed to learn French to meet that need. The internet gives us access to Christian reading material in French plus opportunities to learn about the culture of other countries. I am a member of the French proofreading committee of our church, so I will suggest a website that contains some of the tracts that we have worked on:  http://gospeltract.ca/fr/index.php

The evidence is clear – and it’s being willfully ignored

VAS Blog

images I am alarmed that teachers are still doubting that a crisis exists in teaching infants to read.
I refer readers to Britain where, in a study of 150,000 children (“Sponsored Reading Failure”) Britain’s foremost researcher Martin Turner uncovered the greatest peacetime decline in reading standards since records were kept and traced the decline back to the introduction of Whole Language to beginner readers.
Slip over the border to Scotland where the Clackmananshire Longitudinal Study compared outcomes of three strategies and found that not only did the phonics-first group come out on top in almost every aspect of reading but that 10 years later, they maintain that superiority.
Just in case you have trouble thinking this is not a deliberate act of academic and bureaucratic concealment, look at Australia where our national inquiry into the teaching of reading concluded 10 years ago that a phonics-first approach produced the best outcomes and…

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Why parents still matter

Here is one paragraph from an article that appeared in the Autumn 2014 issue of City Journal. The writer is Kay S. Hymowitz and the subtitle states : Families shape their children’s prospects more profoundly than anything government can do.

Universal preschool is by far the most popular idea for easing poor children’s early disadvantages. The theory behind it is similar to the argument for parenting programs: if we give low-income children a middle-class, school-relevant experience when they’re young and impressionable, they will be as prepared for school as middle-class kids are. Yet since the 1960s, when Head Start got under way, preschool’s effect on children’s academic futures has ranged from nil to modest. A notable paper by Brian Jacob and Jens Ludwig concludes that even when cost-effective, preschool programs don’t significantly reduce the achievement gap. The biggest problem is what researchers call “fade out.” In some of the best programs, children appear to be as “school ready” as middle-class kids. By third grade, however, they revert to the same academic levels as their non-preschooled, low-income peers. Experts have struggled to account for fade out, but one likely explanation is that whatever educational habits these preschools impart are not reinforced in the homes of low-income children and in the elementary schools that they go on to attend.

Universal public confusion

If an educated electorate is the best defence against arbitrary government, the survival of political freedom appears uncertain at best. Large numbers of Americans now believe that the Constitution sanctions arbitrary executive power, and recent political history, with its steady growth of presidential power, can only have reinforced such an assumption. What happened to the early republican dream? Universal public education, instead of creating a community of self-governing citizens, has contributed to the spread of intellectual torpor and political passivity.  (The Culture of Narcissism, © 1979 by Christopher Lasch)

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.

Don’t tell your Mom

The teacher told her class: “Your parents probably won’t understand what we’ve been talking about, so it would be better if you didn’t tell them about it.” One of the students in that class was the teenaged daughter of a co-worker. I could tell that her Mom was not impressed when she talked about it at work the next day. But what could she do? She was already doing one of the best things she could in such circumstances: the mother-daughter relationship was so strong that the daughter couldn’t imagine not talking to her Mom about things that troubled her at school.

That was more than 20 years ago. Nowadays we talk about “helicopter mothers” who hover around their children to protect them from bad things that might happen on the way to and from school, or on the playground. Others are convinced that the greatest danger is what goes on inside the classroom and have opted for other methods of teaching their children.

One alternative that is growing in popularity is for parents to teach their children at home. Many other parents are concerned about what their children are learning, and not learning, in school, but they can’t imagine that home-schooling would provide the education their children need. In addition, the time and effort that would be needed appear to be impossible for ordinary humans.

Would it be too strong to say that such parents have been brainwashed? From the beginning of the public schools, it has been the explicit goal of the educational establishment to convince parents that they are incompetent to teach their children. It took more than 100 years, but they have largely succeeded. And children are learning less and less all the time.

This quote from a study by the Fraser Institute blows the cover off the supposed superiority of public schools:

“Surprisingly, several studies have found that home education may help eliminate the potential negative effects of certain sociol-economic factors. Though children whose parents have university degrees score higher on tests of academic achievement than other home schooled children, home education appears to mitigate the harmful effects of low parental education levels. That is, public schools seem to educate children of poorly educated parents worse than do the poorly educated parents themselves. One study found that students taught at home by mothers who had never finished high school scored a full 55 percentile points higher than public school students from parents with comparable education levels.”1

Some exceptional teachers have inspired children from disadvantaged homes to accomplish great things. Such teachers do exist, but they are not the norm. The primary responsibility for instilling a desire to learn in children rests with their parents. They are also in the best position to teach proper conduct and respect for others.

Congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, of which I am a member, have chosen to operate private schools for their children. The key to the successful functioning of these schools is for parents to be parents — to be actively involved in their children’s lives and be the primary teachers of moral, social and spiritual values.

The long and short of it is that, despite the noise from the public system, parents are more qualified to teach their children than any professional teacher. Whatever form of education parents choose for their children, if certain foundational principles have not been taught in the home, the teacher has little to build upon.

1 Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, published 2007 by the Fraser Institute,Vancouver, BC, Canada. The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization founded in 1974. The Fraser Institute does not accept grants from government or contracts for research.

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