Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: reading

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.]

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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.

The first step in keeping your child out of prison

Teach him to read.

Maybe this sounds overly simplistic, but a young adult who is illiterate is unqualified for all but the most menial jobs. You can’t even work at McDonald’s if you can’t read the job instructions or the words on the screen of the till. 96% of the available jobs are out of reach for someone who is functionally illiterate.

Statistics from the UK show that 50% of inmates are functionally illiterate and 80% do not possess the writing skills to fill out a job application. There are supposed to be learning programs in the prisons, evidently they are not working, Two thirds of prisoners leave prison with no prospect of employment. Within two years the majority will be once again before the courts.

Systematic phonics is the one proven method for teaching reading. The public school system had abandoned it by the time I started school 68 years ago. Thankfully, I was already a prolific reader by then. The public school system has invested great gobs of money in new reading programs, remedial reading instructors, psychologists and other specialists. But they have no intention of ever returning to the one method that has been proven over and over again to work.

You cannot trust the public school system to teach your child to read. Reading to your child is the essential first step in introducing them to reading. Teach them the sounds of the letters and how they make words when blended together. Don’t trust commercial programs that are labelled “phonics.” The Society for Quality Education offers a free online reading course for children who are having difficulty in learning to read. You can find them here.

There are many other factors involved in crime and incarceration, including an unstable home life. But illiteracy is probably the number one factor in predicting who is going to have trouble with the law.

By the way, the masculine “him” in the first sentence was deliberate. Twice as many boys as girls struggle with learning to read and write.

 

Memories of the Inscribe Conference

You know you’re in a group of writers when a workshop leader asks each participant to name five of their favourite books from childhood and one includes the dictionary in her list. She says she used to read two pages a day. And nobody thought that was weird.

That happened in Colleen McCubbin’s class on writing for children. Our goal in writing for children should be to charm, inform and nourish on the intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual levels. She recommended a book by Mollie Hunter, a Scottish writer for children, entitled Talent is Not Enough. I have ordered the book and will share my impressions once I have read it.

Jack Popjes was probably the most entertaining attendee. At supper one day someone chided him for taking two desserts (they were small). “I only allow myself one dessert per day,” he said. “This one is for August 23, 2016 and this one is for August 24, 2016.”

There is another side to Jack. He and his wife spent 20 years living with an unreached tribe in Brazil. They learned the language, put it into writing, taught the people to read and write. At the same time they translated the Bible into this language and by the time they left there was a thriving congregation of believers.

We were told that the conference cost $265.00 per attendee. Of this, $100.00 per person went for the rent of the space we used, travel expenses for speakers, honorariums for the speakers and workshop leaders and miscellaneous other expenses. The other $165.00 was the cost of the meals and coffee breaks. Three meals and five or six breaks with coffee, tea, juices and snacks were provided.

As is usual in meetings like this, it is not permitted to bring in food from outside sources. We live in a litigation-happy world and if anyone got sick from food that was brought in, someone would be likely to sue the hotel. At least that is the fear. The conference was held in the Edmonton South Sawridge Inn. For those of us who stayed at the hotel, our breakfast was included in the room rate. This was a real breakfast, not the “continental breakfast” that many motels offer.

That’s all for today, I will write more about the conference in coming days.

The achilles heel of reference Bibles

An ancient Waldensian confession of faith states that their preachers were required, before being ordained, to memorize the gospels of Matthew and John, all the Epistles, and a good part of the writings of Solomon, David and the prophets. Of course that was necessary in their day, before the invention of the printing press. After all, a manuscript copy of the Scriptures was far too bulky to be carried about.

Nowadays we have reference Bibles and electronic Bibles that allow us to look up relevant verses on any topic that we are concerned about. With all that information about the Word of God at our fingertips, one would think that knowledge and understanding of the Word would be increasing at an exponential rate. Is it?

Not as far as I can see. The thing that is being missed in this reliance on search tools is that knowledge and understanding of the Bible is contextual and cumulative. If we do not understand the context in which one passage of Scripture was written, and how it is connected to all the rest of Scripture, we are pretty much Scripturally illiterate.

We need to read the whole Bible, and read it again and again. In doing that, we begin to see the whole picture; and we find that the Bible interprets itself. When we only read snatches here and there, we are reading Scriptures out of context all the time and then we need someone to tell us how it all fits together. Lots of people are quite willing to do that, but can we trust their interpretations? How can we even know if they are trustworthy if we don’t really know the Bible ourselves?

The Bible should not be treated as a black box that we can reach into and pull out a short passage of Scripture each morning to inspire us for that day. We are missing so much if we do not read a book of the Bible from beginning to end, reading a part each day. That is the way that our understanding will grow about what God has been doing in the world all these many years, and what He expects of us. The plan of salvation is implicit in the Old Testament, but we don’t really get it until we read the New. But we don’t really get what the New Testament is saying either if we haven’t read the Old.

All the Bible is interrelated and fits together in a way that reveals the hand of God at work over the many centuries it took to complete the book. It is a bottomless well of spiritual water, but we have to pump it up for ourselves. Let’s not drink from the stagnant pools that someone else has pumped and left behind.

It takes a village to raise a book

The difference between a bad writer and a good writer is that a good writer knows he needs help. Publishers used to have people on staff to provide that help. Not anymore. We are on our own. Yet we dare not trust to our own evaluation of how good our writing is.

There are three stages of editing and we need other people’s eyes and brains at each step.The first stage is substantive editing. Definitions vary somewhat, but you need someone to do a thorough review and give an honest evaluation of the whole story, whether its fiction, history, devotional, doctrinal or whatever. Are there holes in the story line? Is there missing information? Is there information that does not belong in this story? Is it interesting? Do you lose your way half way through and wind up going in a different direction? Word usage, sentence structure, grammar should all be analyzed.

After we get over the shock of this first evaluation and get up enough courage to make the changes needed, we then need copy editing. This will include things like checking grammar and spelling and may involve rearranging some text, finding overused words, eliminating unnecessary words, suggesting stronger or clearer words. It is a good idea to check that your characters’ names are spelled the same way throughout the book.

The final stage is proofreading. This is the last run through the proofs before the book is printed, to ensure that all needed changes have been made and no new errors have inadvertently crept in.

A professional editor can make the difference between a book that seems like it could have been rally interesting, and one that really is interesting. Gathering a circle of friends ho are knowledgeable and honest enough to tell you what needs to be done will make the job of a professional editor much easier, and hopefully less costly.

This is where the village idea comes in. You need first readers who will read your raw manuscript, tell you whether it has possibilities and suggest what they think needs to be improved. Ask as many people as you can and consider what they are seeing in your book and what you want people who buy your book to see.

After rewriting and polishing your manuscript to the best of your ability, you need beta readers. Not just your close family and friends who will tell you what a lovely book it is. You want people who will point out every last flaw that they can find. Trust me, you do. Better those things should be found now than when the book is in print and being sold.

Finally, you need final readers. People who have not read the manuscript before, so that those pesky little mistakes that you and all the others have missed will pop out at them.

And then when the book is being sold, some reader will notice an obvious mistake that slipped by everyone else. It’s embarrassing, but it happens to the best of writers. The more people you have helping you along the way, and truly trying to help, the more confidence you can have that you have done your best.

Less is more (and more is less)

Too many new writers have the idea that they have to use interesting words to entice others to read their prose. They load up on colourful adjectives and adverbs, the more syllables the better, and replace simple nouns and verbs with ones that are larger and weightier. Readers get weary trying to wade through that stuff and soon head for the exit.

We should not try to impress the reader with our grandiloquent vocabulary, just take him gently by the hand and show him what we see. The adverbs, adjectives and big words get in the way of that view.

Stripping away the useless words forces us to describe what we see. Don’t write “A magnificent vista opened before my awe-struck eyes,” describe what you see. Don’t make yourself and your feelings the focal point, the reader wants you to paint a word picture.

Some writers think that it gets boring to continually repeat “he said,” “she said.” They opt for “Eleanor sighed,” “George growled,” Nancy wailed,” “Eddie mumbled,” “Vickie sobbed,” and worse. There are two mistakes in this kind of thing. “Said” does not hinder the flow of the story, it is the simplest way to tell your reader that someone said something. Replacing it with something more creative may stop the reader in her tracks to contemplate this strange object on her pathway through the story. Secondly, if someone is shocked, hurt, surprised, it is more effective to describe the changes in that person’s face. Do her eyes grow wide, or narrow? Does her mouth fall open, or are her lips pressed together?

The goal in writing is to tell a story, describe an event, give instructions or give reasons why something should, or should not, be believed. It is not to draw attention to ourselves. There are times when a big word is the most appropriate word to use, but most of the time big words, adverbs and adjectives are just ways of saying “Look at me! See what I can do!” Cutting those words out will make our writing more effective, leaving them in could cause verbal indigestion in the reader.

Authenticity and tradition

On Saturday we travelled to Moose Jaw to attend a workshop for writers. We’ve only lived there for short periods of time, the last one being 37 years ago, but it still feels like this is where our roots are. I wanted to visit my 91 year old cousin after the workshop, but there was a disease outbreak at the nursing home and we were not allowed in. We did get together with another cousin and his wife for a two hour visit over supper before leaving for home.

I was inspired by the things we heard at the workshop — those things then linked to other thoughts that had been floating around somewhere in the back of my mind — and I have decided to share some of those thoughts in a few short posts over the next few days.

The first speaker was the librarian from Briercrest College who told us that college aged students are looking for authenticity in Christian fiction. They connect with realistic characters who struggle to live out their Christian values in the face of true to life temptations and pressures. The plot needs to be compelling, a reflection of real life. This does not mean that evil should be glamourized or made overly explicit, but it needs to reflect what young people are facing in their own lives.

Non-Christian characters need to be believable, not caricatures. They also struggle with temptations and with longings to do what is right. Their problem is that too often they make the wrong choices.

Characters need to have a real past and an unknown future. This does not mean that the writers need to tell the past of their characters, but they need to develop in their own mind a clear picture of how the character came to be who she is and where she is. This will lead to making this character act in a way that is consistent throughout the book, rather than appearing to be someone with a multiple personality disorder.

Christian fiction should honour God and gently point people to God, but it should not be preachy. There should be some mystery and ambivalence left at the end, to allow the reader to think through the issues that have been raised. Think about that for a moment. Jesus explained some of His parables but in most of them He made one main point and left us with many questions. Consider the discussions that we get into about the prodigal son and his jealous brother. Jesus didn’t resolve that question for us.

Another point made by this speaker is that young people today are longing to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Tradition appeals to them. I wondered if there might be a conflict between this thought and the  musical portion of the workshop. Do young people today find what they long for in the seeker-friendly contemporary worship music that is featured in many churches?

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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Eloquent words

I was a member of the Anglican Church of Canada during my youth and a faithful participant in her worship services. The services and prayers of the Book of Common Prayer presented the gospel message in simple, yet eloquent, words and I found comfort in the familiar liturgy.

As I entered my twenties, I realized that the familiar words and cadences of the liturgy were not enough to bring me into a relationship with God. My theological perspective has shifted since then from Anglicanism to Anabaptism. I appreciate the simplicity of our worship services and the way that ministers and lay brethren speak from the heart.There are a few things in the Book of Common Prayer that I no longer consider sound doctrine.

Despite all this, the gospel is there in the services of the Book of Common Prayer. They may become so familiar that one can repeat them without hearing what one is saying, yet many people have found a genuine saving relationship with God through those words. Many evangelical writers and missionaries have been Anglicans.

The Anglican Church of Canada stopped using the Book of Common Prayer some years ago. That seems to have gone hand in hand with a shifts in their position on abortion and homosexuality. Anglican bishops in Africa and Asia severed their ties with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA over those issues and helped begin a new Anglican movement in North America. This new movement is fervently evangelical and has returned to the use of the Book of Common Prayer.

You may note a certain ambivalence in my sentiments as I write this. I am no longer Anglican, I cannot unequivocally support their doctrines or their worship style, yet I still rejoice in seeing the stirrings of renewed gospel fervour in what appeared a few years ago to be a decayed and moribund body.

The worship services are saturated with passages from the Bible, from a translation that predates the Authorized, or King James, Version. The prayers and other parts of the services are written in much the same style. There may be a slightly archaic ring to the words, yet they are simple and easy to understand – and to remember. There is the other side of learning the words so well that you can say them without engaging the mind – they nevertheless remain embedded in the mind and may surface at times bearing precious truth.

I believe the old English Bibles and the Book of Common Prayer are proof that one does not have to use big words and complicated sentence structures to be eloquent. In fact, the opposite is true, the only way to be truly eloquent is to avoid complicated words and writing styles. Here is one example from the Book of Common Prayer, probably added at a later date, but written in the same style as the rest:

“We thank thee, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to build thy Church in many lands. We praise thee for the light of the Gospel, the labours of thy servants, and the ministrations of thy Church. We also bless they holy Name for those who have lived, and suffered, and died for thy sake; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may at last attain thy heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

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