Education or Bumblification

From Glenn Arbery in Teaching The Teachers, Broadening the Vision, an introduction to the Dallas Institute:

Our current, well-meaning educational reform, I am afraid, tends to prefer the fixed; it wants standards, and it bucks against what might yet turn out to be one of the wisest and best omissions of the United States Constitution: its refusal to provide any federal scheme of education. Any instruction primarily aimed at competency tests and constantly monitored for its standard “correlations” will tend, in the name of knowledge, twoard this pre-Promethean condition of the standardized, in which thought is implicitly understood as measurable test-behavior. But then, of course, there is real teaching.

Education takes place in a relationship between a teacher and a student. The only people who care more than the teacher about the child’s well-being and success is that child’s parent. Therefore, the people who have the most invested in the child’s well-being and success are the teacher and the child’s parents.

Anybody else who cares at all, cares for different reasons: abstract reasons. For example, the administrator cares that the school is well run, that the students do well on their tests, that they learn as a body. But his concern is more abstract, more general, than the concern of the parent or the teacher.

The concern of the school board is even further removed from the particular student. Farther out still are the employees and the government officials who speak about education.

They all care. But they all care about education in increasingly abstract terms as you move away from the particular student. The government wants statistical data that demonstrate that their programs are working. The teacher wants personal transformation in the individual student – in Jared or Eva or Kelly or Matthew.

But for the last 150 years, the power to make decisions has drifted further and further from the teacher/parent team to the decider of abstractions. Those who have the most power to locate resources have the least concern for the student.

If education is a means of social engineering by the wise men of the age, then it is easy to understand why they would transfer authority from the teacher to the state and then federal government.

But if education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue in the particular student, this transfer of authority CANNOT POSSIBLY SUCCEED under any circumstances.

Wisdom and virtue can only be nourished in a mentoring, discipleship relationship. There is no way our society would actually tolerate such a relationship in a school. The school is structured for management, not discipleship. Students lives are broken up into short units of specialized instruction, thus eliminating the risk that any adult could have a profound impact on any youth.

We may be confronting the ultimate test of our form of democracy. We have gradually shifted more and more authority to further and further removed powers in all areas of our lives. The Republicans champion the corporations, who are drunk on bureaucratic bumbling. The Democrats champion the state, which is a bumbling, bureaucratic drunk.

Both parties destroy what makes politics worth having: the community bound by friendship on the one hand and the soul that makes such a community possible on the other.

Certainly schools are no longer focal points of communities. They are laboratories and the community is their enemy.

What a Teacher Needs

Great Literature, as those of us who love it thought, is alive and vibrant with the capacity to change people’s lives. Similarly,… teachers need not so much techniques and strategies as participation in things of great substance. But even more… those who choose teaching as a vocation, whatever their experience, whatever their measurable abilities, have a potential depth of soul that, when they encounter a real body of learning, is bound to awaken in themselves and in their students the heroism and magnanimity that our times require.

From Teaching the Teachers, Broadening the Vision: The Teachers Academy of The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.


Why History Class Must Die!

Currently, the Peanuts comic strip by the late Charles Shulz stands out as a source of great wisdom and insight in our culture. I say this with partial sarcasm, only partial.

One particular strip showed Sally in Sunday School class, her teacher before her. He began, “Today we are going to discuss Church history. What do you know about Church history, Sally?”

She thought. Finally, she spoke up, “Well, I know our pastor is about 50…” Tragic insight. Tragic, accurate insight from Shulz.

American culture, Christians included, suffers from an odd sort of historical amnesia. Ours is a forgetful people. Of course, we do not realize we are forgetful because we have forgotten all we should have remembered. To make the memory lapse more bearable and seem less significant, we redefine history to make it a bit more cut and dry, stodgy, sanitized. Cue the modern history class.

Students around the country open textbooks written by men and women determined to let us know all that has happened in the history of the universe…in 1000 pages or less. Along the way, they happily interpret events to clue us into their “real meaning” and leave out details and events deemed forgettable. At the end of the process, we are handed a text free of the nagging baggage of primary sources, eyewitness accounts, original documentation, and literature of the period. Oh, what a burden lifted! Now we have a history we can live with, a history that can be taught in a semester! But, now we have a history that is faceless, revisionist, and inhuman.

Events of the past happened to real people – men, women, and children who endured or enjoyed it all in real time and real places. The modern “textbook” approach to teaching history removes those real people from the process. When primary sources, documents, and stories are removed, we are left treating history as fantasy. History courses must be taught using the literature of the period. We must do them the honor of hearing them out, considering their words, and evaluating the events of the past through those who lived it.

Loving the Truth

For many, the quest to know the truth is a purely rational quest. Thus, for example, Rene Descartes resolution to begin by doubting everything – all that he was told, and everything he perceived with his senses. Only by reasoning could he come to know the truth.

It’s easy to see why we would think this way. Truth is generally perceived as something we gain through intellectual endeavors.

However, what is overlooked in this approach is the health and effectiveness of the truth seeking instrument. The mind interacts with and is largely controlled by the heart, soul, and spirit of the person. Therefore the most perfectly trained mind cannot find truth if the soul of the seeker is disordered.

Consequently, and to the chagrine of some intellectuals, truth can only be gained by the soul that is actively loving his neighbor. If she is not doing so, then she is not healthy enough to perceive truth. Instead, she will reduce truth to something that fits within her self-determined parameters.

Caritas, Agape, Charity is an infinite act. When a person begins to perform it he comes in contact with an infinite reality deep in his heart. He gains a faculty of perception for things eternal, just as he gains a faculty of perception for things geometrical when he contemplates the definitiond and axioms of geometry and he gains a faculty of perception for things artistic when he contemplates and imitates works of art.

Only the actively loving person can ever know the truth because the truth is love and is bound to love.

Life Lessons from a One-year-old

A little over one year ago, I became blessed and immersed into fatherhood.  From what I have been told, it is always this way – overwhelmed by joy and terror, hope and responsibility.  The thought of all I must teach and instill in my daughter regularly traipses across my mind.  Yet, in the midst of my often weighty musings on this subject, I have come to notice that she is quite a teacher herself.  So, while reflecting on her first birthday, a couple of her favorite lessons stand out.  Thank your for indulging a proud father for a few moments. 

  1. God’s small gifts are a big deal – My daughter, Temperance, has big blue eyes that are almost always filled with wonder.  Whether watching her first snowfall, sitting in the grass, petting the cat or eating kiwi, her appreciation of God’s good gifts is more than obvious.  There are no “small things” in her view of the world.  She takes communion with a loud “mmm” and greets her mother and me with a bright smile when she awakes from sleep.  Temperance’s wisdom (yes, wisdom) reflects that of Solomon who wrote, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
  2. Laugh often – Few things bring a smile to the face as quickly as the laugh of a child.  Temperance has an infectious laugh and she shares it with abandon.  She has reminded me that life is either to be enjoyed or it is not.  God is sovereign and good and, because of these realities, we are ultimately without excuse for our all-too-persistent “mopey-ness,” regardless of the difficulties of life.  Does Temperance know that?  I do not know, but that is my point.  She has never had to know all of the answers in order to respond to life with joy and laughter.