Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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School at home

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Man homeschooling young daughter – shutterstock_283575290 (2)

It looks like children will have to learn at home at least until the end of April. Does that seem overwhelming? Here are a few thoughts that might make it easier.

  • Begin the day with God. Read from the Bible and pray with your children.
  • Children have more time in the day now, since they don’t ride the school bus. Don’t let them sleep in. They should get ready for the day as usual, do their school work, and have more free time later.
  • If Mom is now the teacher, the children should help more with the meal planning and preparation, house cleaning and laundry. Home Ec is a legitimate life skill.
  • If there are multiple children, in multiple grades, the older ones should help the younger. This is also a valuable life skill.
  • Improvise. Age segregation is not needed for all subjects.
  • Don’t try to replicate the setting of a school classroom.
  • Do establish a schedule.
  • Don’t let Dad off the hook. If he is home, the children will be thrilled to have him help with their school work.
  • Learning to learn is an essential life skill. Let the children figure things out for themselves and do their own research as much as possible.
  • Don’t forget to have fun; children need recreation and physical activity to keep their minds clear.

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.

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.

Boyhood fears

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I was afraid of a lot of things as a boy, the two main ones being girls and dogs. Girls were different, mysterious; they didn’t look, talk or act like boys. The thought of actually speaking to one crippled my mind and my tongue.

Yet there was always a girl or two that I could talk to without stammering like an imbecile. For some reason they were all named Joan. Thinking back, it might have been because Joan was the most common girl’s name for that era, just like Robert was for boys. There were two grades to a classroom in our school and three Roberts in my class. In order to distinguish between us we were known as Bob Dixon, Bobby Adamus and I had to be Robert Goodnough.

There were two girls with whom, I never had a problem visiting and they weren’t even named Joan. But they were cousins and that was even better. By now I think I have pretty much gotten over my fear of girls, of any age.

Dogs were even worse than girls. Not all dogs, but any big dog that barked was surely some kin of the hound of the Baskervilles. I had a half mile to walk to school, straight down the west side of town. Halfway between home and school there was a house set well back from the street with a dog chained up outside.

Every day, when I walked by that house, the dog would bark. It was a big, dark coloured dog. And my friends said it was half wolf. I was terrified. This went on for a couple years as passed fro nine to ten to eleven. I didn’t pray much in those days, but every time that dog barked I prayed that God would protect me from that evil wolf dog and give me the courage to keep on walking.

There was a wide coulee east of ton with a little creek running along the bottom called the Arm River. At most places the river was about ankle deep. But there was a spot several miles out of town that was wider and deeper and was used as a swimming hole. It was just an old-fashioned swimming hole, completely unsupervised, the nearest house a half mile away.

I didn’t go there often, it was too far and I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, too. But I knew that I was in no danger of drowning in that swimming hole; if I stood up in the deepest place my head was above the water.

One day as I was walking home from school I saw that evil wolf dog trotting down the road toward me. I walked closer to the side of the road and he went by without paying any attention to me. I noticed two things as he passed – he was dripping wet, and the pupils of his eyes were rectangular horizontal slits, not like the eyes of any dog I’d ever seen before. He was a wolf dog for sure.

The next day I heard that he had been down at the swimming hole. A young boy who couldn’t swim had gotten into the deep part where the water was over his head. He was floundering, gasping for air and calling for help. The dog had jumped in, the boy had grabbed his long fur and the dog had towed him up and out of the water. Apparently the dog was quicker thinking than the children.

Thus ended my fear of the evil wolf dog. What had I been afraid of anyway? It wasn’t the dog, it was the overheated thoughts in my own mind.

Finding home

The factory where I found work made engineered rubber parts for the automobile industry. I was started on the press line, where rows of hydraulic presses produced vast quantities of rubber parts. The moulds were maintained at tempertures above 300° F to cure the rubber. I started when the weather was already hot and humid and it was even hotter and more humid working over those moulds. It was a shock to the body of this prairie boy, but soon I was acclimatized.

While I was being trained I could not help but be aware of Howie. He was operating several presses and every once in a while parts would not release from the moulds as they should. There would be loud yells and banging sounds coming from Howie’s direction. I decided I would do well to keep my distance from him.

The second week I was given presses to run by myself. The first time I had parts stick to the underside of the top part of the mould and began trying awkwardly to get them down, Howie appeared beside me and took the bar from my hands. He got the parts down and then showed me once again how much mould release to spray on that part of the mould. Then he was back to his own work leaving me to meditate on how mistaken a first impression can be. Howie was a loudmouth, but turned out to be a good guy, easy to get alnog with.

Chris began making arrangements to move as soon as she knew I had work. It took me a couple more weeks to find a place to live but before the month was over we were together again.Chris packed everything that could be put in boxes, sold the rest and shipped the boxes by train. Then she and Michelle rode the train from Moose Jaw to Toronto where I picked them up.

It was the last Sunday in June when we drove into the St Marys churchyard as a family for the first time. As we got out of the car, a young lad, almost eight years old, walked up to us and said “Welcome to St Marys.” And we did feel welcomed by everybody.

In September Michelle started Grade One in the Mapleview Christian School. She enjoyed school and we felt assurance in knowing that her friends were the children of our friends.

At first we had invitations to the members’ homes every Sunday, but after several months that tapered off. One Sunday the brother whom I had first met asked me how things were going. I replied that life was working out well for us, but we weren’t getting invited out much anymore. He pondered that for a moment, then asked if we had invited anyone to our home. Bingo! Immediately I felt reproved and knew what we had to do. We started inviting others for meals, most often Sunday dinners, and that warmed and strengthened our fellowship with the congregation.

We had several visits with the ministers and deacons and were asked to tell our experiences to the congregation one Sunday evening. The congregation voted their acceptance that we had truly met the Lord, were born again and were living as Christians by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sunday morning, February 11, 1979, we  were baptized by minister Robert Toews.

The day after our baptism, a vivid memory of a time long ago flashed into my mind. Just after being confirmed in the Anglican Church as an eleven year old boy I had knelt and gone through the questions in the little red book of self-examination before communion. Now God was telling me: “That was when I first called you to come to me. During all your wanderings I have continued to call you and now you are part of my family.”

And I was finally a Mennonite who wore a beard.

Bunny blues

rabbit-2414359_640.jpgIt was time to go back to school after the Easter vacation. I had put away my parka and winter boots. There wasn’t but a tiny bit of green here and there, but the snow was gone, the road was dry.

I crossed the highway and David came bouncing with excitement from the narrow pathway through the trees that hid his grandmother’s house from the road.

“The Easter Bunny brought me a whole bunch of eggs, red and yellow and blue, some chocolate, some filled with marshmallow and a chocolate bunny and . . . ”

He stopped and looked at me, “What did the Easter Bunny bring you?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? Why didn’t he bring you anything?”

I had enough sense to know I shouldn’t tell this strangely immature eight year old that  there was no Easter Bunny. Just then an opportunity presented itself to say what seemed in my eleven year old mind to be the next best thing. We had come to the railroad tracks and there in the ditch lay a dead jackrabbit. I pointed to it and said “It looks like the Easter Bunny didn’t make it as far as our place.”

Well, I guess that was about the worst thing I could have done. David gasped, his eyes grew wide and his lips quivered. “But, but, who is going to bring me Easter eggs next year?”

What now? I didn’t want to be responsible for a red-faced sobbing boy appearing at school. A thought came to me. “You know David, I bet that there’s always another bunny ready to fill in if something happens to the Easter Bunny.”

David stopped beating the air with his fists and gasping for breath. Pretty soon we were talking about other things and all was well by the time we got to school.

No longer alone

It was a small wedding, just a few of our family and friends. I remember that we barely made it to the church on time and I remember when we signed our marriage certificate. My meory doesn’t seem to have recorded anything else, but that’s the important stuff anyway – we were there and we got married. Later that afternoon we left to spend our honeymoon at Lake Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park. In the middle of our first night together Chris woke up, startled and a little disoriented, saying, “I just dreamed that we were married!.”

We’ve been living that dream for almost 48 years now. Like most dreams, it has had twists and turns when we wondered how it would turn out. Now we’re old folks and still together.

They tell you that two become one when you marry. They don’t tell you (or maybe I just wasn’t listening when it was told) how hard it will be to change the old habits of singlehood. As a bachelor, I had washed dishes when I had nothing left to cook with or eat from. Socks and shirts stayed where they dropped when I took them off. Every couple weeks I would go round the house, gather my dirty clothes and take them to the laundromat. I kind of knew my bride wouldn’t be charmed by those old habits,  but they died hard.

I wanted a Christian home, but had little idea what that might involve. The first night after we settled into our home in Sperling, Chris told me she wanted us to read the Bible and pray together. That is, she wanted me to take the lead in doing it. I resisted, she insisted. Once begun it became a practice that has continued to this day.

Chris had finished Grade 11 when living at Kelliher with her uncle. Now she enrolled in Grade 12 in Carman, the second town west of Sperling and caught the school bus early each morning.  That didn’t last long. Being a newcomer and the only married person in the class left her out of the social whirl of school. She decided that she had more important things to do at home.

Before we were married, I tried teaching her to drive my pickup truck. It had a standard transmission with the shift lever on the steering column. We drove out of Belle Plaine onto Highway Number One, the Trans-Canada, and I sat close beside her to coach. This was easier back in the days before seat belts and bucket seats. An RCMP officer stopped us and asked what was happening. Chris showed her learner’s permit and I my driver’s license and explained that I was trying to coach a driver who was unfamiliar with manual transmissions. He was a nice guy, he didn’t snicker or give us a ticket, just suggested that Chris might manage better if I didn’t sit so close.

Now that we were settled down, she enrolled in Driver’s Ed in Carman. I had traded the pickup for a car with automatic transmission and soon she was able to do the grocery shopping while I was at work.

Chris had never heard of Mennonites before she met me, but decided that if I wanted to be a Mennonite she did too. There were Mennonite churches of various kinds within a 15 or 20 minute drive from Sperling. I didn’t know much about any of them and stalled at trying to find out. One day I came home from work and my young bride informed me that she had talked to a minister at Lowe Farm, a town straight south of us, and we had an invitation to go and visit him and his wife.

Chapter 6 – Learning about church

School was a half mile walk across the edge of town. We were 25 to 30 in two grades in each classroom, about the same number as for eight grades in the Bishopric school. I settled in, got to know my classmates and continued to get good marks without much effort.

The big change in our life was that we were now attending church. Of the three churches in town two were deemed unsuitable by my Dad, the United and Catholic, so more or less by default we became Anglicans. It didn’t take long to become at home with the rhythm of the services in the Book of Common Prayer. They were saturated with readings from the Bible and passages from the Bible that were spoken in unison or as responsive readings, one line by the minister, the next by the congregation. There were prayers for every situation, old written prayers that were very eloquent and meaningful if one was paying attention. Our lives began to be centred around church and its activities.

The congregation was small, but included a number of children from my class in school. My cousin Ron, 21 years older than me, owned the Red and White grocery store in Craik. Ron and Rose and their son Garry started attending around the same time we did. Mrs. Rutherford, the owner of Craik Realty and Insurance, was always the last person to arrive in church. A short, round lady,, she would march up to the third row from the front, the keys on her belt jangling for all to hear, take her seat, and then the service could begin. Alf Soper, a bachelor and jack of all trades, was another regular. Some folks had concerns about his lifestyle; I was little and didn’t know if the concerns were warranted or not. But he could sing. His deep voice was heard by all and he was always on tune.

The next summer I went to Anglican summer camp on the shore of Mission Lake between Fort Qu’Appelle and Lebret, in the Qu’Appelle Valley. We slept in bunk houses, spent our days learning Pilgrim’s Progress, swimming in the lake and hiking through the hills; in the evenings we all gathered around a campfire for singing and stories and an evening prayer.

I first took note of Norman when the camp leaders led us on a hike to Lebret. He was a quiet boy, walking with us, yet alone. He seemed like the rest of us, except that he could not hold his head up straight. It tilted towards his right shoulder, almost resting on the shoulder. Some of the other boys called him Leadhead.

I didn’t like to hear the other boys making fun of Norman and calling him Leadhead. By the third day I overcame my scruples began to call him that myself.

The morning of the fourth day, I woke up with pain in my neck and shoulder. The pain became excruciating if I tried to straighten my head — overnight, I had become Leadhead II! I went through that day with my head in the same position as Norman’s and got the same unkind remarks from the other boys. Late in the day my muscles began to loosen up and the next morning I could hold my head up with no discomfort.

One would think that such a dramatic lesson in the Golden Rule would be unforgettable. I have found that there is a difference between remembering the lesson and learning the lesson.

The next winter the minister announced he would teach catechism classes for those who wanted to be confirmed. I had no idea what that meant, but my father enrolled me and four other fathers enrolled their sons. Once a week, we five boys walked to the minister’s house after school and studied the Anglican catechism, writing the answers to the questions in a notebook. Sort of a crash course in systematic theology for eleven year old boys. Some of it stuck.

Chapter 4 – Scenes from my childhood

I was three and a half years old the first time my parents moved. In the house we were leaving there was a telephone at the bottom of the stairs near the front door. It was on a party line rural phone system and I believe I had been frightened by this box on the wall that would suddenly make a loud ringing noise and sometimes my parents would feel summoned to go and talk into it and other times they would ignore it. This day I caught on that the box was no  longer a threat. I pulled a chair over to the phone, stood on it, picked up the receiver, turned the crank and began chattering into it. My parents had to drag me away when it was time to leave.

Dad had sold his homestead farm just south of the western end of Old Wives Lake and bought another farm just past the east end of the lake. Memories of early childhood are tricky – it is not easy to separate what I remember from what I have been told so many times that I think I remember it. I believe there is a fuzzy memory of the ride to our new home that is genuine and that I was told later that our family vehicle at that time was a 30’s era Buick sedan, chopped off behind the front seat and converted into a pickup.

One day the next spring, when my mother was planting the garden and I was lying in the shade of a spreading maple tree, the breeze carried a sweet scent such as I had never known before. I searched for its source and found a patch of flowers with delicate petals having rings of pastel colours. I knelt on the ground and leaned close to breathe in the fragrance and the intricate beauty of the flowers. Then I ran to ask my mother what they could be. She called them Sweet Williams.

C. S. Lewis wrote that such memories are given by God to make us homesick for heaven. Certainly my childish wonder at the beauty of the flowers and their perfume has not been repeated in this life.

When I was four our dog Penny would not let me walk to the barn. Whichever way I turned to get around him,he would always be in front of me. I think I cried in frustration and my mother came to my rescue and explained that it wasn’t safe for me to go out among the cattle.

Penny was a black and white land race collie and every farm seemed to have one. He was as big as I was and a gentle protector. Many years later my mother said that whenever she wanted to apply some discipline to me she had to ensure that there was a closed door between us and Penny.

A couple of years later I started school, walking a mile each way along the fence line into the little village of Bishopric to attend a one room school. Bishopric was a company town, all the houses, the school, the store and the railway station were built of brick and owned by the company that operated the Sodium Sulphate plant.

We lived in an area of rolling hills that rise up from the plains a few miles south of Moose Jaw and extend to the US border, known as the Coteau Hills or the Missouri Coteau. The buffalo wintered here years ago, drawing Lakota, Nakota and Cree hunters and later Métis.

Not far from us there was a little town called Ardill located on the side of a steep hill. One of the members of the crew who built the road up this hill was an Englishman who dropped his h’s. He called it an ‘ard ‘ill and the name stuck. One winter day we were trying to get to Mossbank and the hill was icy. We got about two thirds of the way up and lost traction. The truck began to slowly slide backwards, edging ever closer to the ditch, then gently laid over on its side in the snow. Dad helped my mother and me climb out the driver’s door and we walked a mile back to the nearest farm, where our relatives Ed and Julia Ludke lived. Ed and Dad went out with the tractor and righted the pickup and got it turned around.

There were no churches nearby. We once attended a service held in a country school house. My Dad must not have approved of the preacher, for we never went again. I don’t think we had family devotions in those first years. As soon as I could write, my parents enrolled me in Sunday School by correspondence and I dutifully did my lesson every week and sent it in. That was my introduction to the stories and themes of the Bible.

Chapter 2 – Alphabet blocks

I found the wooden alphabet block with the letter N and added it to the row that was beginning to spell my name — R O B E R T G O O D N . . . Now I needed one more O. I carefully rotated each of the blocks I had not used, but could not find another O. This was a familiar problem; there are just too many O’s in my name. Now I had to take the blocks I had already used, rotate them one by one to find another O, then find a block with the letter I had taken away. Finally it is done: R O B E R T G O O D N O U G H.

I was four years old and this set of blocks was my favourite toy. With it I could build fences, walls, barns, houses, towers. When night came, I gathered them all into the wooden box with wooden wheels and put them away for another day.

One day, I don’t remember when, my mother began to explain the meaning of the mysterious symbols on the blocks. She showed me how to spell words like M O M, D A D, C A T, D O G and then how to spell my name. Soon I began to sound out words I saw in other places and found that there was no end of things to read. My cousin Julia, 18 years older than me, had once been a teacher. She noted my love for words and began bringing me little books each time she and her husband made a trip to Moose Jaw.

The day that I began school, my mother went with me and informed the teacher, “Robert can read.” The teacher was sceptical; she stuck a newspaper in front of me and said: “Read.” I read it aloud, smoothly, pronouncing the words correctly, though I may not have understood all that the news story was about. Thus I began Grade 1, and was introduced to the mindless Dick and Jane books: “SEE SPOT. SEE SPOT RUN.” Not very interesting to someone who was way beyond that at home. After Christmas, I was in Grade 2.

How did it happen that I was already a fluent reader the day I started school? It never seemed like my mother was trying to teach me to read. Outdoors, I had a trike, a wagon and a whole big yard to explore. Indoors, my set of blocks was my multipurpose toy kit, useful for most anything my fertile imagination could dream up. The incident in the first paragraph is one of my earliest memories and it was oft repeated as I learned the sounds of letters. My mother did just enough to pique my curiosity, then forever after had to answer my questions.

My mother was my first and best teacher. Yet she had known only Plautdietsch until the day she started school. For six years she attended a one-room school run by the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church, spending equal time learning German and English. In 1920 the Saskatchewan government decided that all private schools would be closed. When Mom went to enroll in the public school that fall, they told her she would have to begin the sixth grade again. Her father decided that if that was the case, she didn’t need to go to school anymore. Despite having only six years of formal education, my mother was in many ways better educated than my father, who had considerably more schooling and whose mother tongue was English.

The explanation for my mother’s learning achievements lies in her physical handicap, her father’s disability and the special relationship between them. My grandfather was blind. Glaucoma had robbed him of much of his vision in his youth and he later became almost totally blind. He still ran a farm and raised fourteen healthy children.
My mother was number six and she was born with congenital hip dysplasia. Nowadays, this condition can be corrected in newborns without surgery. A hundred years ago, doctors didn’t know what her problem was. They thought she had a back problem, as that was where she had pain, but had no idea how to treat it. One day, long after I was grown up, she told me that she had never walked without pain. I thought back to the times that she would play ball with me, even run foot races with me and wondered if a mother’s love had eased the pain.

Because of his blindness, my grandfather needed help, and who was more able and ready to help him than this daughter who didn’t get around as easily or as fast as his other children? She read to him, letters, farm papers, books, whatever he needed or whatever interested him. She helped him with managing the business side of the farm, helping with correspondence and learning how to manage money. If her parents went away for a Sunday dinner and she stayed home, as soon as her parents came home her father would want to know what she had been reading. He would ask her to retell the whole story that she had read.

A large, well-used English dictionary was one of her prized possessions. She studied it assiduously, looking up every new word she found, learning its meaning and how to use it. Her brothers and sisters would tell her that she had swallowed the dictionary. She spoke clear, unaccented, grammatically correct English.

My parents’ home contained hundreds of books, the legacy of my father’s parents and of his brother who had abandoned the prairies for British Columbia. With a mother like this, and a house full of old, well-written books, how could I help but become a serious reader and a lover of good books?

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