Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: schools

Reality, Respect, Responsibility

A modest proposal to revitalize the education system

1. Reality

Education should be geared towards teaching children how to think, not what to think. This means equipping them to be literate, numerate and articulate. Those are the fundamental skills that will enable them to learn everything else they will need to learn in life. Children should master these skills at each level before moving on to the next level. Teachers who are unable to teach these skills may be social facilitators, but they are not teachers.

Great self-esteem may help you get a job, but won’t help you do the job. Self esteem without work skills will leave you unemployed and feeling the world has let you down.

2. Respect

Twenty-five years ago a co-worker mentioned that her high school daughter had come home and said that her teacher had told the class that it would be best if they didn’t tell their parents what they had talked about in class that day, “They might not understand.” It told me a lot about that mother’s relationship with her daughter that her daughter did tell her. It also told me a lot about that teacher’s lack of respect for parents.

Children are being taught in school not to respect the values of their parents or the historic values of most of the people of our country. That does not bode well for the future of those children in the work place and in society. It does not bode well for the future of our society.

The best and most natural environment for the development of children is a home with a father and mother, preferably the same father and mother all through their growing up years. Evidence shows that children from such homes grow up emotionally healthy and stable and make more useful contributions to the society they live in. Teachers, and the whole educational establishment, need to respect the home and its values. Then parents could also respect educators.

3. Responsibility

A child should not be protected from the consequences of his or her actions. Blaming someone else will not lead to a better outcome the next time. They should know that they are accountable for their school work and their conduct.

But children are not identical peas in a pod. There are differences in learning abilities and in learning styles. Parents and teachers should try to learn what works and what does not work with each child. The child should be accountable for doing the best that he or she can.

My wife has a younger sister who never learned to speak clearly and never did well in school. The school had a speech therapist and other resource personnel, but this girl was passed on from grade to grade with only minimal attempts made to help her. Her home situation was deplorable. We lived several thousand miles away. One time when we were home on vacation my wife tried to help her sister make the sounds that she did not say distinctly. I heard her begin to enunciate them more clearly. But we were soon gone and neither the home nor the school was any help.Her adult life has been miserable. We wonder if some intensive one on one help might not have made a big difference. Why does a school have these “experts” if they are not responsible to do that?

Reality, respect, responsibility. I have only brushed the surface, but I feel that much of the malaise in our educational system is due to the neglect of these principles. And far too much emphasis on things that do nothing to prepare children for real life.

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Black day in July

Sunday, July 23, 1967. Detroit police officers raided an unlicensed bar in the offices of the United Community League for Civic Action. They found 82 black people celebrating the return of two soldiers from Vietnam and decided to arrest all 82. A crowd of people gathered on the street, largely outnumbering the police officers. The officers left, fearing for their safety, and people began looting a nearby clothing store. The looting spread through the neighbourhood and into other neighbourhoods.

State police were called in to assist and eventually Governor George Romney sent in the National Guard. The rioting went on for five days and only ended when President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in the army. Forty-three people died and 2,000 buildings burned.

The best-known song about the riot was Black Day in July by Canada’s Gordon Lighhtfoot. It contains lines such as:

Black day in July
Motor City’s burning and the flames are running wild

And you say how did it happen and you say how did it start
Why can’t we all be brothers, why can’t we live in peace

Why indeed? It helps to know a little of Detroit’s history. Huge auto assembly plants made Detroit into a booming city, drawing people from all over, many from the US South, both black and white. Anti-black feelings ran high. In 1943 the Packard Motor Company placed three black workers on its assembly line and all 25,000 white workers walked out. Three weeks later race riots broke out that lasted three days and left 43 dead.

White residential neighbourhoods made it known that they intended to remain white. If a black family moved in, they faced intimidation, threats, pickets, smashed windows and attempts to burn their house. In 1956 the mayor of Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, boasted that his city was more segregated than Alabama. Schools were completely segregated.

By 1967 black people made up 30% of the population of Detroit, but the police force was 93% white. Many police officers had strong anti-black feelings. A survey showed that the black population of Detroit felt that police brutality was their number one problem.

The Michigan National Guard was almost entirely made up of young white men from rural areas. They were sent into an urban centre that was unlike anything in their experience, to face a mob of black people that was terrifying to them. They were armed with lethal weapons. Nothing good could come from that combination. The army units that were sent in were integrated, disciplined and able to communicate with the rioters. They were the ones who brought the riot under control.

The riots accelerated the movement of white people to the suburbs. The population of the city, once 1,850,000, shrank to 700,000. Some auto assembly plants closed due to mergers and loss of market share to imports. Downtown stores closed. There are thousands of empty houses, plus empty apartment buildings and at least two huge auto assembly plants that have been empty for years. In 2013 the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy.

Detroit city is now over 80% black, the suburbs probably close to 80% white. Prejudice and segregation are less blatant but have not altogether disappeared. There are hopeful signs that Detroit may be reviving, but it is not likely it will ever be the city it once was.

Beware. Prejudice is like a boomerang, it can come back at you and destroy everything you thought you were trying to protect.

The hoary head

Continuing with the events of the day I was writing about in my last post, after finishing my supper at Tim Horton’s I went over to Dollarama. Two young ladies were just coming out of the store, loaded down with their purchases. I stepped aside to let them through and then one of them held the door open for me. I thanked her and was rewarded with a happy smile. I walked into the store filled with respect for a young lady who wanted to show respect for me as a Mooshum.

My white hair mark me as a Mooshum (grandfather in the Cree language). You see, both this lady and the two I mentioned in my last post were First Nations, or Indians. I respected the two young mothers who stuck to what they knew was right. Their boys are evidently getting different ideas from somewhere else. “Warrior,” “bow to no one,” indeed! Such an attitude, if maintained into adulthood, is a guarantee of a troubled life.

Earlier, on this same day, I had coffee with a friend who is pastor of an evangelical church. He told me that he and his wife are now home schooling their children and spoke of the change that has made. Their children, who would hardly look at them when they spoke to them, now look up and respond appropriately. What kind of stern discipline did it take to achieve such results? None. It was enough to simply remove them from a setting where their peers were the only people who really mattered in their lives.

Over 100 years ago, the founders of the public school system were quite open about their intention to remove children from the influence of the home to shape them on more “progressive” lines. They proceeded to implant in parents the belief that they were incompetent to raise their own children by incessantly repeating that children had to go to school and be with children their own age to learn social skills. We see now what kind of social skills children are learning in that setting.

The apostle Paul described our day well in 2 Timothy 3:1-5: ” This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

Perhaps I am starting to sound like the story of the two old Quaker men sitting on the front porch in their rocking chairs on a fine summer evening. One of them says, “All the world has gone mad, except for me and thee.” Then his rocker stops, he peers over at his neighbour and adds, “And sometimes I wonder about thee.”

Is it only the younger generation that has gone mad? What about those of us who are Mooshums and Kookums (grandmothers)? Can we really expect the respect that the Bible says is due to the hoary head if we don’t want to admit that we are old? Are we part of the problem?

Natural affection

I started school in 1948 in a one-room school. The first order of business on the first day involved cutting and pasting and I recall the teacher assigning me to help a little girl who had apparently never done anything of the sort before. I was already quite a proficient reader and the Dick and Jane readers were far too simplistic to hold any interest for me. But I could always eavesdrop on the lessons being taught to the grades ahead of me and learned a lot that way.

A few years later we moved and I was in a larger school where there were only two grades to a classroom. My proficiency in reading and math made school easy for me. I’m afraid I developed some very lazy work habits because of that, but I managed to read every book in the school library.

Schools have kept getting bigger and bigger, and dumber and dumber, since those days. My first teacher probably only had a summer course before starting to teach, but she was a super teacher and managed a classroom with eight grades without any major upheavals. Teachers today need a B. Ed. degree and are held up as the experts in all things educational. Parents dare not question or interfere in the teaching program of this expert. What parents are not told is that wonderful sounding degree only attests to the teacher having sat through several years of courses on the psychology of child development. The university never tested the teachers knowledge of the subjects he was about to teach, nor did it offer any training in how to teach them.

Along the way, numerous elements of pop psychology, social activism, environmental awareness, sexual awareness and tolerance for “alternative lifestyles” have been added to the curriculum, squeezing out time that would have been better spent gaining mastery of the essential tools of learning. History and grammar seem to have pretty much disappeared.

What is going on here? Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World, offers a chilling glimpse of where academic masterminds want to lead our world. First published in 1931, the book depicts a world without families, a world where even long term friendships are unheard of. Sex is purely a recreational activity, with no prudery or embarrassment attached. Babies are produced in factories, genetically manipulated into five levels: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. Those in the Alpha group are the managers and leaders. The Epsilons are slow thinkers, designed for the drudgery of any manual labour that is still needed. No one is ever sick or handicapped and everyone dies at the age of 60 without ever experiencing pain or sorrow. If anyone feels bored, annoyed or upset, they just take a Soma pill and and become blissfully unaware of whatever was bothering them.

Is this starting to sound uncomfortably like the direction our world is going? Brave New World is a work of fiction, not intended as prophecy. Yet it seems that already in 1931 Huxley saw the signs of where some idealistic people would like to lead our world.

The apostle Paul twice mentioned people “without natural affection.” In Romans 1:31 he is speaking of his own time and in 2 Timothy 3:3 he refers to”the latter days.” We don’t have to look far for evidence of that today: the value of marriage and family is being subtly, and not so subtly, disparaged. The abortion of potentially handicapped, or just inconvenient, babies is seen as beneficial.  More and more it is being viewed as a good thing to help the terminally ill, or those just weary of life, to depart this life as painlessly as possible.

Is there any hope? I would like to believe that natural affection, though greatly abused and undervalued, may be just what we need to keep us from going over the precipice. There is in every person a longing to be loved and to love. To care so much about someone else that you feel anxiety and anguish in their struggles, and joy in their triumphs. A longing to mean something to someone else, and to finding meaning in loving that person. Can that longing ever be completely erased? Even Huxley did not appear to think so.

That longing for a meaningful relationship with someone outside of ourselves is at its root a longing for God. No one else can ever completely satisfy that longing. Even though everything around us seems to want to destroy our awareness of that longing, I don’t believe it can ever be erased from the human soul. And when someone experiences the fulfillment of that longing in a relationship with God, all human relationships become more genuine and meaningful. That is the way God has made us: “It is not good for man to be alone.”

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.

Tongue-tied no more

I was painfully shy in my younger days.  The only child of older parents, I wandered the hills of our farm anddeveloped a lively imagination but felt inhibited in communicating with adults or in a large group.

In high school we had to give speeches once a year. I was good at researching and preparing a speech, but when it came time to deliver it to my classmates I would put my head down, read as fast as I could, and feel immensely relieved when it was over.

That began to change during the second half of my life. I found myself in circumstances where I had to get up in front of a group of people and talk, at church and at work, and I gradually began to relax and really try to communicate with my listeners. For a few years I was a missionary in the province of Québec and had to preach in a language that I was still learning.

This year I decided to go a step further and joined a Toastmasters club. This particular club is called the Christian Communicators Club and the core members are people I already knew. That made it easier to take the first step and as I see how Toastmasters works I wish I had taken this step sooner.

A friend of my wife joined at the same time as I did. She tends to get nervous and flustered in front of a group of people, but the talk she gave at last night’s meeting showed that she has come a long way in a short time. This is the beauty of Toastmasters, it provides a supportive setting to practice speaking and to receive advice on how to improve.

The talks are short, they are timed, there is a grammarian to count the number of hesitations and crutch words used, there is an evaluation. But we all take turns at these roles so that we are being evaluated by our peers, who know that we will also have a turn at evaluating them at another meeting. Weaknesses are pointed out, but with the aim of helping us do better. The whole format of a Toastmasters meeting is designed to give us the confidence to learn to communicate effectively.

When I think back to my school days, I suspect that my teachers didn’t really know how to help us become effective speakers. It was just part of what we had to do each year, with not much guidance on how to do it. I wonder if it’s still not that way in most schools. As a result, boys and girls are becoming men and women and still don’t have the skills to speak effectively and to the point when they are called upon to do so.

None of wider aspects of Toastmasters interest me, the local, regional and international competitions. It is not my goal to become a professional speaker. But if I can learn how to say the things I want to say more clearly, leaving out thoughts that ramble off the topic and avoiding distracting mannerisms, then I will feel the time spent at Toastmasters has been worthwhile.

I believe that many Christians would benefit from such a program, and it would be entirely possible to set up a group within a congregation. All that would be needed would be enough people willing to make the effort to learn how to share their thoughts more effectively.

 

Food for thought

It is a high German notion that life is explainable before it is experienced, and that it must submit itself to change according to the dictum of the learned. Wherever this fanciful idea is incorporated into the educational structure, all such schools become workshops for dissolution and death where the worms live high at the expense of life itself.  I completely reject this fanciful notion and maintain that if the school, as an educational institution, is to realize its potentialities for benefiting life, then this school, first of all, should not give the highest priority  to purely intellectual activity or to its own institutional status, but set as its chief educational goal thetask of helping to  solve life’s problems.  Secondly, the school should take a realistic approach to life, it should strive to teach about life and promote purposeful living.

N.F.S. Grundtvig, 1838. Grundtvig was the founder of Denmark’s folk high schools

Somebody ought to do something

Just about every day the media presents new evidence of bullying, neglected and mistreated children, juvenile prostitution, verbal, physical and sexual abuse, youth gangs and all the other problems that seem to afflict the children and youth of our society. Cries of distress and outrage go up and there is a universal feeling that something needs to be done.

Most folks seem to think it is the government that should be doing something. However, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of agreement about what needs to be done.

Governments are already doing a lot, but is it working? Social service agencies have developed into huge bureaucracies and are given extensive authority to intervene in situations where children are deemed to be at risk. The number of children at risk continues to balloon. In the province where I live there is an ongoing investigation into problems in the foster parent system.

For anyone who does not have his eyes blinded by utopian fantasies it should be evident by now that governments are impotent when it comes to fixing these problems. In fact, the problems have been exacerbated by ongoing government interventions over the past 100 years. The thinkers behind the public school system made no secret of their goal to reduce the influence of parents. There has been an ongoing attempt, couched in idealistic terms, to set children free from their parents. I could have said ideological; however it seems that many of those involved in this nationwide sociological experiment did not have a clear vision of where they were going.

Now we see the results, but it has happened so gradually that most parents don’t have an inkling that things could, and should, be done differently. Yet parents are the only ones capable of making a difference. Top-down solutions do not work. Bottoms up, grass roots, solutions are presently making a difference for the children of those parents who have dropped out of the top-down, government run system.

If we want different results, we have to march to the sound of a different drummer. We should not harbour any utopian dreams, there never was an era where parents did all things in the best possible way and it’s not going to happen in our era, either. “Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Psalm 39:5). We are fallen people in a fallen world, yet by the grace of God we can make a difference.

The Word of God has some essential guidelines for parents: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7); “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

There are many other such instructions. There are some Christians who seem to think that corporal punishment is the most essential part of child training. It is not. The essential part is patient, consistent teaching, by word and example, from the cradle to adulthood.

The thinking of the times in which we live has invaded the churches, causing them to fall short in encouraging and supporting parents in their responsibilities. It is important for Christian parents to raise their children in a community of believers who share their faith, their convictions, their goals. But it is not the responsibility of others to train our children, not the church, not the school, not the government. God has entrusted these tender children to the care of their parents and the Holy Spirit will guide parents in fulfilling that responsibility if they will ask.

It is parents who ought to be doing something more than what they are presently doing. They are the ones who have the potential, with God’s help, to turn back the tide and raise up a generation that is respectful, responsible and compassionate.

The joys of English

Earlier this week, the sisters of our congregation had their last sewing day of the winter season. Why is sewing pronounced so-ing and not soo-ing? There is a word in the AV (KJV) Bible that is spelled shew. A lot of people pronounce it shoo, when it really should be sho; it’s just an old-fashioned way of writing show. A shoo is something that I wear on my feet, though to look at the way it is spelled (shoe) it seems like it should be pronounced sho.

These are the little things that trip us up in English. Since the language evolved from a mish-mash of five other languages (Celtic, Latin, Norse, German and French) there are frequent inconsistencies in spelling and pronunciation.

Some folks believe that this makes the learning of phonetics useless in learning to read English. However, 92% of the words in English conform to the rules of phonetics. It is much more effective to learn the rules of phonics for 92% of the words and memorize the remaining 8%, than to attempt to memorize 100% of the words in English. Yet that is the way our public schools teach reading.

The teaching of phonics was abandoned before I started school 66 years ago. Thankfully, my favourite toy was a set of alphabet blocks and through them , with minimal coaching from my mother, I learned to read almost by accident at the age of four.

It is said that roughly one third of children will pick up the sound-letter correlation very quickly, no matter how reading is taught. Another one third will take a year or two longer, but will eventually catch on. The reaming one third will be labelled as having a learning disability.

An article by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail five years ago described a private school in Toronto where children labelled with learning disabilities were quickly taught to read and gained confidence that helped them in other areas of their life. The head of this school says that the children were simply not taught to read in the public system.

There are enormous funds poured into dyslexia research and in developing methods to help dyslexic students learn to read. Some people doubt that there is such a thing as dyslexia; no visual or neurological cause has ever been discovered. This is not to deny that some physical or visual conditions may exist, but most dyslexic students experience dramatic recovery with the teaching of phonics. There is almost no dyslexia among people who speak completely phonetic languages, such as Hebrew or Korean. The massive increase in the diagnosis of dyslexia among English-speaking people occurred after schools stopped teaching phonics.

MRI studies show considerable activity in the left occipital lobe of people who are able to read quickly, smoothly and accurately. It appears that this is the area that stores information about the phonemes that make up language and make this information instantly available when reading. Those who struggle to read are shuttling information between different areas of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, but make very little use of the left occipital lobe. Approaches to reading which does not develop this phonemic awareness are the real cause of reading disabilities.

English has complex, puzzling, often hilarious inconsistencies. Yet learning it is child’s play.

Discovery learning

The Province of Alberta recently announced a complete transformation of their teaching methods. The new model is based on the wonderfully naive expectation that a classroom of 30 children of the same age will learn much better if the teacher is relegated to the background and not allowed to teach.

Where does this dewy-eyed credulity come from? Certainly not from any investigation into how such a classroom actually behaves. One has to wonder if the educational “experts”, having succeeded in excluding parents from the picture, are not finding too many teachers who actually want to teach some realistic values to their pupils.

Study after study has shown that children learn best from direct instruction, that the modern alternatives have resulted in a continuous decline in actual learning. The province of Quebec, for example, has resisted the move towards newer methods of teaching math. In Quebec they still teach the basics, like memorizing the times tables. The result is that Quebec students place 6th on the OECD comparison of learning outcomes, on a par with Japan.

Students from the rest of Canada are already far behind, discovery learning will put them even further behind. An article published in Educational Psychologist a few years ago, based on more than 100 studies over 50 years, stated that none of the research supported discovery learning.

Pardon my cynicism, but to me this just looks like the latest attempt of the “progressives” to seize control of our children’s minds and train them in their collectivist philosophy. I applaud all those parents who have removed their children from the abyss of public education. All the studies show that children who get their learning at home or in small private schools are far ahead in both learning and in responsible conduct.

 

 

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