Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: reading

How I stay sane during a time of confinement

(Or at least try to)

  1. Talk to my cats. I know this probably sounds like I’m already losing it, but if there are not many people to talk to, cats are not a bad substitute. They are not persons, but they do have personalities, often a little eccentric, Both of ours are largely Siamese and they like to talk. Pookie is my Plautdietsch cat: he has blond hair, blue eyes and speaks a language I don’t understand.
  2. Drink coffee. I like A. L. van Houtte French Roast, from k-cups. I didn’t really like coffee before we went to Montreal in 1993, but driving by the van Houtte roastery on the way to church and inhaling the aroma changed that.
  3. Talk to people. That involves picking up the phone and dialing their number. It used to be hard to find my friends at home, but now they are in the same boat as I am and ready to pick up the phone and talk.
  4. Write to people. I get lots of impersonal emails and texts every day, I wish for more personal messages. Maybe other people do, too. There’s no better time than now to send a personal note.
  5. Exercise. I have a pedometer app on my phone and try to get 10,000 steps four or five days a week. At this time of year most of those steps are from jumping on my rebounder.  If our driveway ever dries I’ll do more walking outdoors.
  6. Try not to think about how late spring is this year. Complaining isn’t good for the state of my mind.
  7. Be thankful for every little spark of beauty in this dreary time.
  8. Be realistic about the Covid-19 virus. Ignore stories about conspiracy theories and quack cures.
  9. Find something interesting to read that takes me to a place and time where there is no Covid-19.
  10. Use this time to strengthen and deepen my relationship with God.

Gifts my mother gave me

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Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

The Nelson Gage Dictionary has this note about teaching: Teach emphasizes giving information, explanation, and training, by guiding the studies of the person who wants to learn.

Every little child is a question box, wanting to learn about the world in which he finds him/her self. The questions become wearisome for parents. We don’t have all the answers; we don’t have enough time; sometimes the questions are embarrassing, such that we don’t know how to give an answer that fits the level of understanding of the child.

Let us beware lest we stifle the desire to learn of this little child of ours. Once that desire dies, it is very difficult to rekindle it. It never completely dies, but the child may redirect it to subjects and sources of information that are neither wholesome nor useful in developing a successful life.

Schools deaden the “want to learn” of a child. They teach literature and history in particular in a way that makes them deadly boring. Grammar and arithmetic are boring, unless the child sees their usefulness. When a child struggles in school, the teacher is not the first one to blame. A child is not a receptacle into which a teacher pours information; a child needs to be an active participant in learning. He/she must have the “wants to learn” mentioned by the dictionary.

A child learns step by step, each step built upon the one before it. If a child has not learned phonics, finds it hard to understand what is on the page before him, he will agonize over every succeeding step and find it near impossible to master.

We are often told that phonics are useless in English because so many words do not follow the rules of phonics. Children who have a good grasp of phonics can decode 85% of English words without hesitation. Another 12% of words in English have one sound that does not follow the rules of phonics. That sound is usually a vowel; by a combination of phonics and the context in which they find the word, children can successfully decode those words. That leaves only 3% of English words that present difficulties. Does it make sense to abandon phonics and force children to memorize 100% of words because 3% are difficult?

My mother did not speak English when she started school and only spent six years in school. She was the best teacher I ever had. Perhaps I owe that to my grandfather. He was nearly blind and depended on my mother to help with the financial affairs of the farm. She read the farm papers to him and when she read a book; she had to retell the story to him. She continued to be a reader, studied the dictionary, spoke English without an accent and with a larger vocabulary than many others. When she married my father, she took over managing the family financial affairs.

I never knew that she was teaching me. She gave me this big set of alphabet blocks and let me do whatever I wanted with them. When I asked about the symbols on the blocks, she told me what they were and what sound they made. I wanted to know more and more; she put a few blocks together to make words like CAT, DOG, MOM, DAD. From there I went on to larger words, even spelling my name (which took a lot of those blocks). Soon I was reading little books for beginning readers and anything I could get my hands on. Then I started school.

She taught me numbers, too. How to read them, how to add and subtract. I have no memory of how she taught that, I just remember that I knew it when I started school.
Above everything else, she taught me I could learn anything I wanted to learn. She didn’t teach these things explicitly, she just guided the “want to learn” of her little boy.

The greatest gift of all was that I always knew that Mom loved me. Even when I disappointed her, I still knew that she love me and believed in me, and believed that I could overcome my failures. That gave me the courage to try again.

Matthew Effects in Learning

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Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who early learned how words are made up of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who were delayed in learning the letter to sound correlation fell farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but public schools are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. A large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else a child encounters in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of a statement I once read: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What children need is a flexible system focussed on results. In learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. The idea of teaching for mastery of the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages[First posted three years ago.]

Learning to see

Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.
–Pablo Casals

Writers do much the same thing, though I do not believe it is proper to call it theft. We learn something from everything we read and everything we see. Often it is just a little impression that adds a small detail to our understanding of the things happening around us. Occasionally it is a profound thought that jars us out of the rut are thoughts have settled into.

These are the inputs into our mental processes. They all get jumbled up, then sorted out, and the output is our attempt to send out, via our writing, a glimmer of light to help someone else see something they might otherwise have missed.

Romans 12:2 warns us not to let our thinking be shaped by the zeitgeist, the prevailing attitudes in the world around us in the era in which we live. The danger for us, for me, is that I would tend to interpret that as meaning I need to remain entrenched in the zeitgeist that prevailed several generations ago when I was growing up. But the verse goes on to say that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind to prove the will of God for me, here and now in the era in which I am living.

The world is a place of dancing shadows. As I read, listen and observe, I become aware that everyone has a longing for truth and light. Many grasp a shadow and call it light, then are devastated when that shadow dissolves or changes shape.  Those who do not give up too soon are still finding true light. Reading, listening, observing helps me understand why other people are looking for light in places where there is no light.

As a Christian, I believe the Bible and the Holy Spirit are sources of light that reveal things as they truly are. Yet, if I see, then withdraw into the wilderness  I am shirking my responsibility to point others to the place where light is to be found.

If you want to be a writer, you first need to be a reader

The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading. In order to write a man will turn over half a library to make one book.

-Samuel Johnson, 1705-1784. Johnson was a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, biographer, editor and the sole author of A Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1755 and which remained the preeminent English dictionary until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928.

In memory of Julia

Julia was 18 years old when I was born. We were cousins, but she seemed more like an aunt to me. She started teaching in a one room country school in the fall of that year, taught for two years, then married Ed. Their first child, Doreen, was born a year later.

Ed & Julia lived a few miles from us and we often got together. As a young lad I was painfully shy of girls, with the exception of Doreen. I guess we saw each other often enough that I felt no need to run and hide from her. Ed and Julia had four more children, incluidng another girl, Edith, born on my eighth birthday.

I suppose it was Julia’s teacher instincts that led her to encourage my early interest in reading. Most of my little books for beginning readers were gifts from her.

When I was nine, we moved a couple of hours away, but our contact with continued through frequent letters. We eagerly looked forward to the times that we could get together again.

Time went on, I grew up, got married and moved to Eastern Canada. My parents retired and moved into Moose Jaw. My father died, leaving Mom a widow. Ed and Julia retired and moved into Moose Jaw. As Mom grew older, Ed and Julia kept tabs on her and helped her in many ways. They were often the ones who took Mom to the train station or airport for her annual trips to visit us, then picked her up and took her home on her return.

Mom had always had difficulty walking and the time came that she used an electric scooter outside of her home. When Mom was almost 90, Julia phoned to say that she was concerned about Mom living alone. Mom’s eyesight wasn’t very good anymore either, and Julia had seen her crossing the busy street at full throttle on her scooter, and sometimes cars had to stop quickly to let her pass.

Chris and I began to talk about returning to Saskatchewan. We came back for Mom’s 90th birthday and Julia repeated her concerns and we could see for ourselves that the time had come that we would need to take a more active part in caring for my mother. Ed and Julia weren’t able to be as much involved with Mom anymore, as Ed had been diagnosed with cancer.

Five months after Mom’s birthday we were back living in Saskatchewan. We settled in Saskatoon and Mom lived with us for some time, then spent her last year in a nursing home. She was almost 99 when she died.

We saw Ed and Julia occasionally on visits to Moose Jaw. Several times Ed was declared free of cancer, but soon they would find another spot. He had numerous surgeries and treatments and bore it all patiently. We felt in him a readiness for it all to be over and to go and meet his Lord. That happened in 2004, shortly after Julia’s 80th birthday.

Our contacts with Julia since then have not been as frequent as they should have been. She continued living in her own home for a few years, then moved to a suite in a senior’s residence, then to a nursing home and then to another. We have visited her in all those places and often joined the family for birthday celebrations. The last time we saw her was on her birthday in February of 2017. I believe she knew who we were, but doubt that she remembered after we left.

Julia died yesterday at the age of 94. I was going to say that another piece of my life is gone, but that’s not at all true. All the contributions she made to my life in my growing up years and after are still there. Her warmth, her kindness, her care, are part of what shaped me.

Belle Plaine years

In 1966 Belle Plaine had all of 16 houses, two grain elevators, three other small businesses and a school that was no longer used. UGG rented one of the houses for their elevator manager.

I had learned the basics of weighing and unloading grain by now, how to grade it and determine dockage and how to load it into boxcars for shipping to ports for export. I was also selling fertilizer, herbicides and other farm supplies. Saskatchewan seldom gets an abundance of rain, but the land here was heavy clay, making for good crops every year and the farmers were prosperous. I got to know the people in the community and soon felt at home.

I was 24 years old and didn’t own a car. I soon remedied that, buying a 1956 Oldsmobile that let me travel at my convenience, not someone else’s. I could buy some groceries at the little store, cafe and post office in town, but did most of my shopping in Moose Jaw. I did my laundry in Moose Jaw, too, at my parents.

I began to do some serious drinking, spending at least one night a week in the bars of Moose Jaw or Regina. My drinking buddies were Joe Zagozeski,  a local farmer, Henry Antemuik, a supervisor at the Kalium potash mine near Belle Plaine and my cousin Dennis in Moose Jaw.

UGG bought a lot in Belle Plaine, built a basement, moved in a house and thoroughly remodelled it. In 1967 I traded in the Oldsmobile on a 1965 GMC pickup. I needed to haul water for the new house as there was neither running water in the village nor a well. UGG had a warehouse in Regina and now I could simply drive in and pick up whatever was needed and bring it home.

When I made those trips I often stayed in Regina enjoying the night life until midnight. On nights like that I found it hard to keep between the lines on the highway and in my befuddled mind it seemed like a logical thing to speed up to 80 mph. I found that concentrated my attention sufficiently to keep in my own lane. I would often wake up in the morning unable to remember coming home. I thought that was evidence that I must have had a good time the night before.

Other things were going on at the same time. I was reading all kinds of stuff, from occult to Ayn Rand and none of it impressed me as offering any real hope to me or anyone else. Then I began to get interested in church history, which also seemed like kind of a hopeless mess until I got to Mennonite history. Here I found people who really believed and lived what they professed and suffered persecution without hating the persecutors. I began to think that if there were any real Christians left anywhere on the planet, they would be found among the Mennonites.

The couple who ran the store, cafe and post office had a teenage daughter named Christine. I didn’t pay much attention to her, she was just a young school girl. But girls don’t stay young and after a couple of years she began to seem interesting to me.

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?

 

 

Chapter 1 – Why couldn’t I be the healthy one?

My cousin Dennis has often been a friend in time of need, knowing just when to show up. He came over the morning after my father’s funeral and we sat around a table with my mother, reliving bygone days with the help of her old photographs. There were photos of my father breaking land, of my father when he attended auto mechanics school in Tennessee, of my mother in her younger years, of me as a baby, of my cousins.

Then we came to a photo from when I was in Grade 2, all the students and the teacher grouped in front of our one-room school. There were two little boys in the front row, one bright-eyed, smiling and healthy-looking, the other wearing a heavy sweater and making a feeble attempt at a smile. Impulsively, I pointed at the healthy looking boy and said “That was me!” Dennis glanced up, his brow furrowed, and said, “No, that was David Harlton.” Then pointing to the sickly-looking boy he said, “This is you over here.”

He said no more about my mistake, just carried on talking about school days. I carried on too, hoping the pain inside me was not visible to others. I knew he was right, but why couldn’t I believe for just one moment that I was the healthy one? I guess a true friend helps keep you real.

I had frequent bouts of colds and flu as a child and was well-acquainted with Buckley’s White Rub and other home remedies. I am a genuine phlegmatic; it’s not often that I don’t have some nasal congestion and a frog in my throat. This affects my inner ear, causing vertigo and a poor sense of balance. When I was four my parents took me to the fair and put me on a merry-go-round, expecting I would be thrilled at the ride. My head began to whirl, my stomach to churn and I cried to be rescued.

I had frequent outbreaks of hives as a child. Eventually we figured out that they always happened when I had oatmeal porridge for breakfast two days in a row. Later in life I realized that the cold and flu symptoms were usually allergic reactions to dust, pollens and other stuff in the air. These reactions often led into sinus infections and recovery times were a matter of several weeks.

My mother told me that I was raised with cow’s milk formula because my father thought that was more modern and sanitary than breast feeding. I had an allergic reaction at the beginning that caused my face to puff up until my eyes all but disappeared. The cure was to give me only water for awhile, then gradually reintroduce the milk. Perhaps that is where my allergies began. Or it may have happened at birth. Doctors today have linked birth by cesarean section to allergy problems in the child. The doctor had opted for cesarean when I was born because of my mother’s hip dysplasia. In the end it doesn’t matter, it won’t make me healthier to find someone to blame for my poor health.

When I was in my twenties I discovered antihistamines and they have helped me cope with life. A little pill once or twice a day, a corticosteroid puff in each nostril once a day, a saline nasal spray plus a decongestant when needed, keep me going – most of the time. But I can’t always escape those times when allergy symptoms leave me feeling wiped out. Those episodes can hit any time of the year but spring and fall seem the worst.

I have learned by experience that some occupations are best avoided. I’m just not the robust type who thrives on outdoor activities. It isn’t that I’m always sick, but when I do get sick it takes several weeks to recover to where I can breathe freely and my body doesn’t ache.

But maybe that’s alright. My frequent sicknesses kept me indoors more than most other children and facilitated my love for reading, and writing. Perhaps God has allowed these circumstances to steer me in the direction He wanted me to go. In any case, here I am, with all the things I have experienced, observed and learned in life, and I want to use them all to His honour.

[All comments and critiques are welcome. Please help me improve this writing.]

Matthew Effects in Learning

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who, at an early stage, gained a good understanding of how words are composed of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who do not rapidly develop an awareness of the spelling to sound correlation will fall farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but our public school systems are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. I believe a large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else that a child will encounter in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of the quote in my last post: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What we need is a more flexible system that is focussed on results. In both learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. This concept of teaching for mastery in the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages.

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