Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: teaching

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.

How did our education system get where it is today?

book-15584_640

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

The best description I have read of the thinking behind our public education system is Les déshérités (The Disinherited) by Francois-Xavier Bellamy, published in France in 2014. Bellamy traces the root of modern educational thinking to the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

René Descartes (1596-1650) believed that all knowledge could be attained by deduction. The human mind has the capacity to discover all truth, solely through reasoning with no outside input.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1798) went a step further. He believed that we are all born pure and all the problems of mankind are the result of impure ideas taught by our society. Therefore it would be best to let a child grow with the least restraints and the least teaching possible. In the purity of his simplicity he would be able to discover all that he needed for a fruitful and happy life.

In France, Pierre Bourdieu taught that the inequities in society were a result of the things inherited from the past. If we could avoid passing on the antiquated ideas of civil society, morality and religion, those inequities would disappear. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that prevails in most of the world.

Teachers in France today are told that they have nothing to pass on, their job is simply to help students discover for themselves how to read and write, how to do math and science, and to determine for themselves what is right and wrong. Those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see evidence of that kind of thinking and what it has led to.

M. Bellamy writes that we have finally come to the era that Rousseau dreamed of. People today have been disinherited of all the values of the past, and the result is not the benign bliss imagined by Rousseau. He dreamed of the noble savage (le bon sauvage in French), an outsider who has not been corrupted by civilization and thus symbolizes the innate goodness of mankind.

What we have wound up with is a generation of savages who are not very noble. The inequities in society have not disappeared, but rather seem to have become worse. The thinking of our day goes so far as to say that it is wrong for gender identity to be imposed on children. They must be free to choose their own gender. This is not liberating them, it is setting them loose in a labyrinth with no exit.

Bellamy says we urgently need to resume teaching our intellectual, moral and religious heritage. It does not liberate children to leave them free to discover math, grammar and spelling on their own. In fact, it tends to perpetuate divisions in society. Children of more prosperous parents will get help at home to make up for the shortcomings of the education system, while children from poorer families, or immigrant families, will not be taught the skills they need to escape poverty.

When one has been taught a value system which they believe to be liberating, they are blind even to such self-evident truths. Beyond that, they are blind to the values of history, culture and religion which enabled society to function in a more or less orderly fashion in past generations.

I found this book illuminating. It explains so much that is happening around us today. It explains why those who graduate from university with a bachelor of education degree have not been taught anything about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them. That’s not their job. Their job is to stand back and facilitate “discovery learning” in the children in their classes.

If we think that the public educations system has strayed far from its original purpose, we are badly mistaken. If we read what was said by the founders of public education we see that today’s system is what they had in mind all along. They saw family, religion, history and tradition as barriers to freedom. That teaching began in universities and has taken a century and a half to filter down to all levels of society. Useful, practical education was never the primary goal of public education. Public schools were intended to be the means of introducing modern thinking to society. By modern thinking they meant the philosophies of Descartes and Rousseau.

What happens in the brain when we read?

girl-2771936_640

Image by Наталия Когут from Pixabay

If we are a fluent reader we have a massive number of words stored in the occipital lobe of the left brain, which takes just 1/6 of a second to recognize each word and we read smoothly and effortlessly.

But that only happens if we have learned to read by recognizing the sound made by each letter. If we have learned to read by memorizing each word individually, our brain frantically searches the word pictures stored on the right side of the brain, then switches to the left side to decide what the word means. 20-25% of the oxygen used by the body is used by the brain, thus we soon become physically tired if we struggle to read like this.

It may sound contradictory to say that using memory storage on the left side is somehow different from using memory storage on the right side. The difference is in how that memory was stored in the first place. When we learn to read by phonics, we are teaching the parietal lobe in the brain how to recognize the word and what it means. After the parietal lobe has decoded a word a number of times it downloads that word to the occipital lobe for instant retrieval whenever needed.

When we learn to read by whole word recognition it is like having the pictorial part of the brain, on the right side, take a snapshot of the word. That takes far more memory and makes it more difficult to sort out all the pictures to recognize the one that matches the word on the page. Yet this is the method by which reading has been taught in the public schools for 75 years or more.

There was a time when most people in Canada and the USA were fluent readers; the literacy rate was at least 95%. That was back in the day when everyone knew that phonics was the only way to teach reading. The change in the method of teaching reading has been accompanied by an explosion of illiteracy and learning problems.

It is said that 40% of children will pick up the letter-sound correlation even if it is not being taught. Another 30% will eventually catch on. The remaining 30% will be labelled with some kind of learning disability. Many methods have been invented to help them learn to read, with only minimal success. Almost all of these individuals could learn to read if they were given direct instruction in phonics. That’s the way it was done years ago.

Children who have difficulty learning to read are often diagnosed as being dyslexic. A very small percentage of these children actually have the neurological condition that makes reading difficult. Even for those, the only workable solution is intensive instruction in phonics. Some children complain that the lines of type do not march straight across the page but wander up and down. Often the real problem is that their eyes are searching desperately here and there for some clue as to what this word means and the eyes lose track of where they started out. The solution to this problem is phonics, perhaps aided by a ruler or card to hold under a line of type.

There are programs in use that claim to use phonics, but don’t. Any program that uses flash cards or other visual aids is not based on phonics. Pure phonics focuses solely on the letters with no other visual distractions. Once the sounds are learned, a child learns how to blend the sounds together to make words. Every word needs to be sounded out, every time it is encountered, until the brain is able to instantly recognize it. Most children progress very quickly at this.

With proper instruction in phonics boys and girls learn to read at much the same rate. Without that instruction, girls learn much more quickly that boys. It seems that the female brain is more intuitive or flexible. What this means is that with our current method of instruction in the public schools most girls become fluent readers and at least half of the boys will struggle. The great majority of functionally illiterate people in the English-speaking world are men.

Some of the behaviour problems exhibited by boys in school may simply be due to the fact that they struggle to read and find it difficult to understand what is being taught. All subjects in school are dependent upon the ability to read. When a boy acts out the usual response is to implement some kind of discipline or behaviour modification. Maybe helping them learn to read would be more effective.

Matthew Effects in Learning

learning-164332_640

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.]

To be a disciple

The Great Commission tells Christians to make disciples from all nations. In practice though, it seems many evangelical efforts have thought it sufficient to get a profession of faith from new believers, to make converts.

That’s only a beginning. If I stop at being converted, I am not sufficiently rooted and grounded in the faith to stand when faced with temptation or persecution. How is becoming a disciple different?

A disciple does not just want Jesus to be his Saviour, he wants Jesus to be Lord of his life. That goes beyond conversion to a full commitment—being willing to accept teaching and discipline from our Lord and Master.

That sounds like it will put a crimp in my free-wheeling lifestyle. In fact, it will put an end to my former lifestyle. Why can’t I have both? The peace and assurance of being a Christian, plus the fun and excitement of the way I used to live?

It doesn’t work. If I try to have it all, I wind up with nothing.

Jesus wants my full attention, my full allegiance. Perhaps that sounds painful, dull, boring.

Painful it may sometimes be, but following Jesus without reserve will not be dull and boring.

Being a disciple brings a different joy and excitement that I had known before. It brings assurance that my life, my future, is in the hands of a Master that knows the way ahead when I don’t have a clue what might be around the next corner.

Is there a greater thrill than to be a disciple of He who said: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth”?  When I don’t find it thrilling, the problem has always been in me, not in Him. If I follow Him at a distance, because of fear or doubt, I am not a disciple and Christian life isn’t very interesting.

The Beatitudes in Braid Scots

Matthew Chaptir Fyve

  1. And, seeing the thrang o’ folk, he gaed up intil a mountain; and when he was sutten-doon, his disciples gather’t aboot.
  2.  And he open’t his mooth, and instructit them; and quo he:
  3.  Happy the spirits that are lown and cannie: for the kingdom o’ Heeven is waitin’ for them!
  4.  Happy they wha are makin their maen; for they sal fin’ comfort and peace.
  5.  Happy the lowly and meek o’ the yirth: for the yirth sal be their ain haddin.
  6.  Happy they whase hunger and drouth are a’ for holiness: for they sal be satisfy’t!
  7.  Happy the pitifu’: for they sal win pitie theirsels!
  8.  Happy the pure-heartit: for their een sal dwal upon God!
  9.  Happy the makers-up o’ strife: for they sal be coontit for bairns o’ God!
  10.  Happy the ill-treatit anes for the sake o’ gude: for they’se hae the kingdom o’ God!
  11.  Happy sal ye be whan folk sal misca’ ye, and ill-treat ye, and say a’ things again ye wrangouslie for my sake!
  12.   Joy ye, and be blythe! for yere meed is great in Heeven! for e’en sae did they to the prophets afore ye!
  13. The saut o’ the yirth are ye: but gin the saut hae tint its tang, hoo’s it to be sautit? Is it no clean useless? to be cuisten oot, and trauchl’t under folks feet.
  14. Ye are the warld’s licht. A toon biggit on a hill-tap is aye seen.
  15.  Nor wad men licht a crusie, and pit it neath a cog, but set it up; and it gies licht to a’ the hoose.
  16. So lat yere licht gang abreid among men; that seein yere gude warks they may gie God glorie.

Translated by William Wye Smith, a minister of the gospel in Scottish communities in Ontario over 100 years ago. He translated the complete New Testament.

Glossary
braid – broad
lown – quiet
cannie – gentle
een – eyes
misca – slander
crusie – small open lamp
cog – vessel for holding liquids

An abandoned child

In 1797 a child, estimated to be 9 or 10 years old, was seen living in the wild in the region of Aveyron. He evaded capture until 1800. All attempts to discover who he was or where he came from were fruitless. He was taken to Paris to be examined.
The leading minds were excited by such a find, expecting that this wild child would corroborate the ideas of Rousseau. Having had no adult influence or teaching, he should have been the perfect example of the innate goodness of uncorrupted humanity.

They were disappointed. The child made no sound, was not able to distinguish or understand sounds or voices, seemed to have no appreciation for the aroma of cooked foods, was not accustomed to clothes or beds and was disoriented in the presence of people. They finally concluded that he had been abandoned because he was so stupid.

Doctor Jean Itard obtained custody of the child the following year. He believed the child’s behaviour reflected a lack of human contact and teaching. In other words, he was stupid because he had been abandoned. Doctor Itard named the boy Victor and spent the next five years working to rehabilitate him.

Victor’s hearing was good, but he never was able to speak, When found he had many scars on his body, including a 4 centimetre gash across his throat. It is probable his vocal cords had been damaged when that wound was made. Victor’s progress under Dr. Itard was slow but steady and he learned to conduct himself in a socially acceptable way. He was cared for in a home in Paris until his death in 1828.

Francois-Xavier Bellamy uses the story of Victor of Aveyron to argue that it is teaching that makes us fully human. We need contact and interaction with other people to develop the skills that enable us to cope with life. A child left to himself degenerates into something hardly recognizable as human, as in the extreme case of Victor of Aveyron when he was found.

Taking this further, the teaching of language, grammar and vocabulary is essential for us to be able to describe how we feel, what we think about ourselves and the world around us. We cannot understand such things until we have the ability to put them into words.

Being taught the value system that his built our society, and the history of our society, enables us to understand why things are the way they are. It opens the door for us to become participants in our world, not just bewildered and frustrated observers.

M. Bellamy’s book is a passionate plea for us to abandon the failed theories of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and resume the transmission to the youth of today of all that is of value from our heritage.

A disinherited generation

This week I read a book that I feel to be tremendously important. Many people are disturbed by the disorder in the world today, but we have very different ideas about the cause and an even sharper difference in our ideas about a remedy. This book shines a clear light on the roots of the problem and the remedy.

The book is Les déshérités, by Francois-Xavier Bellamy. Unfortunately there is no English translation available. The title means The disinherited and is a reply Les héritiers (The Inheritors) by Pierre Bourdieu, a book published 50 years ago which has had a profound impact on education in France.

Les Déshérités ou l'urgence de transmettre - FRANÇOIS-XAVIER BELLAMY

Francois-Xavier Bellamy is young, only 28 when this book appeared in 2014, a professor of philosophy, and possibly the leading conservative thinker in France.
M. Bellamy identifies the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu as being an important part of the problem, but finds the root of Bourdieu’s thinking in the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that is prevalent in most of the world.

René Descartes (1596-1650) believed that all knowledge could be attained by deduction. The human mind has the capacity to discover all truth, solely through reasoning with no outside input.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1798) went a step further. He believed that we are all born pure and all the problems of mankind are the result of impure ideas taught by our society. Therefore it would be best to let a child grow with the least restraints and the least teaching possible. In the purity of his simplicity he would be able to discover all that he needed for a fruitful and happy life.

In France, Pierre Bourdieu taught that the inequities in society were a result of the things inherited from the past. If we could avoid passing on the antiquated ideas of civil society, morality and religion, those inequities would disappear.

Teachers in France today are told that they have nothing to pass on, their job is simply to help students discover for themselves how to read and write, how to do math and science, and to determine for themselves what is right and wrong.

As I said earlier, those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see the evidence all around us of that kind of thinking and what it has led to.

M. Bellamy writes that we have finally come to the era that Rousseau dreamed of. People today have been disinherited of all the values of the past, and the result is not the benign bliss imagined by Rousseau. He dreamed of the noble savage (le bon sauvage in French), an outsider who has not been corrupted by civilization and thus symbolizes the innate goodness of mankind.

What we have wound up with is a generation of savages who are not very noble. The inequities in society have not disappeared, but rather seem to have become worse. The thinking of our day goes so far as to say that it is wrong for gender identity to be imposed on children. They must be free to choose their own gender. This is not liberating them, it is setting them loose in a labyrinth with no exit.

Bellamy says we urgently need to resume teaching our intellectual, moral and religious heritage. It does not liberate children to leave them free to discover math, grammar and spelling on their own. In fact, it tends to perpetuate divisions in society. Children of more prosperous parents will get help at home to make up for the shortcomings of the education system, while children from poorer families, or immigrant families, will not be taught the skills they need to escape poverty.

When one has been taught a value system which they believe to be liberating, they are blind even to such self-evident truths. Beyond that, they are blind to the values of history, culture and religion which enabled society to function in a mor or less orderly fashion in past generations.

I found this book illuminating. It explains so much that is happening around us today. It explains why those who graduate from university with a bachelor of education degree have not been taught anything about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them. That’s not their job. Their job is to stand back and facilitate “discovery learning” in the children in their classes.

There are hopeful signs. Last fall the ministry of education in France called for a return to teaching grammar and spelling, recognizing that to not do so was simply perpetuating the poverty of those from poorer homes. The popularity of this book is another hopeful sign. As is the immense popularity of Jordan Peterson’s book Twelve Rules For Living. That book also teaches the usefulness of the values held by past generations. It was the publishing sensation of 2018 in Canada, selling over a million copies.

Just one parting thought. Francois-Xavier Bellamy mentions religion several times, but does not have much to say about it. He is a philosopher, not a theologian. But for those of us who believe the Bible is the foundation of all truth, how well have we been doing at passing on our spiritual heritage?

Four kinds of Christians?

In musing over the many directions taken by Christians I have encountered over my lifetime, it seems that they fall into four basic categories: ritualists; activists; survivalists and disciples. I don’t pretend that this is the nec plus ultra of analyses, but it is something that has helped me sort things out in my own mind.

Hmm, nec plus ultra, that says exactly what I am trying to say, but I wonder now if it helps anyone else understand what I am trying to say. It is Latin and means “nothing more beyond.” I think it would be understood if I were writing in French, which I’m not. What I wanted to say back there is that this explanation works for me but somebody else might be able to do a better job.

I’m not sure that I’ve found the best word to typify each category either, but here is what they mean to me;

  1. Ritualist. I would include here all those who feel the need to regularly sit in on a worship service at a certain day and time. This includes those who are strongly attached to a liturgical form of worship, but I would include all those who feel the important thing is to be there. They are not specifically drawn by the preaching or the fellowship, they just want to be part of what’s happening. Perhaps the best way to describe them is as consumers of spiritual food, rather than contributors.
  2. Activist. This includes all who feel they are called to change the world. this might include the Christian ecologist, the one who feels a burning call to enlighten the world about him about the need to prepare for the sounding of the sixth trumpet of the Apocalypse, or one who feels he has to share the message of salvation with every person he encounters, on the street, in stores, at football games.
  3. Survivalist. The opposite of category two. They have given up on the world and all their efforts are focused on just hanging on. They see danger everywhere, are suspicious of everyone. Sometimes they gather in  communities and protect themselves from outside influence by restricting social contact, sometimes even speaking a different language.
  4.  Disciples. To disciple means to teach. To be a disciple means to be a learner. This is a life-long process where one never gets to the point where he has nothing left to learn and no need of others. One cannot really be a disciple in isolation from others, or according to one’s own plan or schedule. Discipleship includes the idea of being part of a disciplined and orderly group where learning is possible.

Lest I be misunderstood, I want to emphasize that I have encountered true Christian believers in all four groups and I can recognize all of those tendencies within myself. Left to our own devices we all tend to go off on some tangent. As an elderly neighbour was wont to say “There is no moderation in the human race.”

The Great Commission is a call to make disciples of all peoples, including those next door if they are willing to listen. It is not enough to lead someone to salvation and then leave them to carry on as best they can by their own devices. The Great Commission is not fulfilled until there is a disciplined body able to function as a body, not merely a collection of disconnected body parts.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to paint a picture of a group of mindless zombies led by a dominating leader. Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Shepherd of the church. Yet He has called for the establishment of a servant leadership to watch over the spiritual health and growth of each assembly.

I mentioned moderation. It is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit and is not something that can be taught. Yet it seems that we need to be taught the need for moderation. Part of the whole life of discipleship is learning how to relate to one another in a way that is supportive and encouraging for all and will maintain a purity of faith and life. This is what our Lord and Shepherd expects of us and the better we come to know Him, the better we will be able to relate to one another.

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.

%d bloggers like this: