Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Reworking the SAT

Have you heard that changes are afoot again with the SAT tests? You know, those examinations by which you try to get into college? Already there have been changes since the 1960s that have “recentered” the scores. What that means in the real world is that a score today that is the same score one might have received along about 1963 is not really the same score—a 1200 today, for instance, would have come out lower back then. We’re making students think they are more advanced than they truly are.

The Mallard Fillmore comic strip has been having some fun with the latest changes, using exaggeration as its humorous tool. Exaggeration, though, can only be humorous if it has a basis in reality. Unfortunately, in this case, it does. Enjoy. Or cry. Whatever.

Scariest News

Arcane Vocab

Less Intimidating

Same Score

Doesn’t it make you feel good to know the professionals are in charge?

Noah Webster & the Wisdom of Earlier Ages

Noah WebsterI spent a number of years researching Noah Webster, who became the subject of my doctoral dissertation. He’s known primarily for two things: his Speller, which taught Americans to read and write correctly; his dictionary, a monumental effort of about twenty years of his life, and which defined terms in the context of his Biblical worldview.

Webster started out his career as a devotee of the Enlightenment, that movement of the eighteenth century that gave far more credit to human reason than human reason should allow. But he came to the end of his faith in human reasoning that sought to separate itself from God’s revelation. In 1808, he experienced a solid Christian conversion that affected all his works from then on. All his educational efforts were henceforth directed to pointing men to the One to whom they all must answer someday.

His conversion also provided a more Biblical concept of government and education. As he wrote to one of his personal correspondents in 1836,

An attempt to conduct the affairs of a free government with wisdom and impartiality, and to preserve the just rights of all classes of citizens, without the guidance of Divine precepts, will certainly end in disappointment. God is the supreme moral Governor of the world He has made, and as He Himself governs with perfect rectitude, He requires His rational creatures to govern themselves in like manner. If men will not submit to be controlled by His laws, He will punish them by the evils resulting from their own disobedience.

Any system of education, therefore, which limits instruction to the arts and sciences, and rejects the aids of religion in forming the characters of citizens, is essentially defective.

In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed.… No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.

When I was taking doctoral courses in history, more than once my professors hinted at the idea that we, in our day, are naturally more knowledgeable and possess more wisdom than those in earlier, more primitive, ages. Well, when I read comments such as Webster’s above, I just kind of smile inwardly at the arrogance of our learned elite today. No, there are some things that earlier generations understood much better than we do now.

WebsterIf you would like to delve deeper into Noah Webster, his thoughts, and his times, I recommend my doctoral dissertation, which is now in book form. The latest version is found at the Barnes & Noble website: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/defining-noah-webster-k-alan-snyder/1005377905?ean=9781591600558

A lot of time and effort went into this book, and I can say I’m pleased with the result. I believe it has stood the test of time and offers some real insights into a man who devoted the last half of his life to promoting God’s truths.

Cultural Collapse & the Remnant

A friend shared an article with me that I read late last night. It can be found here: http://publicreligion.org/2014/03/leaving-religion-lgbt-issues/. It’s from an organization called the Public Religion Research Institute. The point of the article is that the millennial generation is rejecting the Christian faith at a record high rate, and that the main reason for it is what they perceive as “negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people.” The report, based on a survey, goes on to say,

Most Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people, while roughly one-third (35 percent) disagree. Millennials remain most likely to believe that religious groups are alienating young people. Seven-in-ten (70 percent) Millennials believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

I felt a wave of sorrow and anguish wash over me as I was reading it. Here’s how I responded:

We’ve had nearly two generations now raised on the premises of non-judgmentalism. I think the source of most of that training has been Rogerian/Maslovian self-esteem teaching that has permeated our schools. The old cliché about getting hold of the minds of the children is coming to fruition in our day. We are seeing the results of this idea that has seeped into every part of our culture.

The medium through which this has occurred is government-controlled education. I think we will see very soon a more frontal attack on all Christian education, from homeschooling to evangelical colleges. We will be called—even more so than today—narrow-minded, bigoted, and out of the mainstream.

We will no longer be able to be comfortable with a large swath of our culture; in a sense, there will be a separation between the sheep and the goats. A divide will occur between those who hold firm to Biblical truth and those who are tossed by every trendy wind that comes along. The good news in all this is that the truth will stand out more clearly than ever before, and some will be drawn to the Lord through those who remain faithful to the message.

If this sounds too pessimistic, maybe I’m just revealing my affinity with Whittaker Chambers. Yet, as always, I believe the Lord can be seen in the dark times, and He can bring good out of evil if we stand with Him.

On the homosexual issue, I tend to agree with those who say the battle is already lost. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to shine the light in this darkness. We just have to be prepared for the consequences.

I truly believe we are at a tipping point.

So was this response the result of staying up too late and being too tired? Am I too negative? Or have I caught the drift correctly? I do sense our culture is on the verge of collapse; I also sense that Christians need to wake up to this looming collapse and not pretend it’s all going to turn out alright. Can it be reversed? I don’t know, but my hope is that the Lord will once again use a remnant to make the difference, and what I do know is that I’m going to be part of that remnant. I hope you join us. Perhaps God will be able to show mercy to our society once more.

Finney & Effective Communication

Charles Finney 1Charles Finney had a lot to say about the effective means of communicating a message, particularly the most important message of all—the Gospel. He was continually criticized by other ministers for using plain language in his messages; he should show off his learning with superb rhetoric, they argued. Finney argued back in this way in his autobiography:

The captain of a fire company, when a city is on fire, does not read to his company an essay, or exhibit a fine specimen of rhetoric when he shouts to them and directs their movements. It is a question of urgency, and he intends that every word shall be understood. He is entirely in earnest with them; and they feel that criticism would be out of place in regard to the language he uses.

So it always is when men are entirely in earnest. Their language is in point, direct and simple. Their sentences are short, cogent, powerful. The appeal is made directly for action; and hence all such discourses take effect. This is the reason why, formerly, the ignorant Methodist preachers, and the earnest Baptist preachers produced so much more effect than our most learned theologians and divines. They do so now.

The impassioned utterance of a common exhorter will often move a congregation far beyond anything that those splendid exhibitions of rhetoric can effect. Great sermons lead the people to praise the preacher. Good preaching leads the people to praise the Saviour.

Finney’s exhortation here doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for great learning and wonderful rhetoric. He’s simply saying you have to be careful not to speak over people’s heads. They have to understand what you are saying. When I teach, I try to do the same. Even though I possess a history doctorate, it does no good to show off in-depth knowledge that many in the class cannot follow. It’s far more important to ensure they grasp the essentials of what I’m teaching. Plain language, directness, and, in my case, really good cartoons, are what accomplish that purpose.

Snyderian Truism #11

Another semester comes to a close tonight with the fall commencement at Southeastern University. I’m in my twenty-fifth year of teaching at the college level and have now witnessed a multitude of these. As I watch the graduates cross the stage and receive their diplomas, I hope that the four years they have invested were worth all the effort and the money that was spent. At least I have a higher comfort level at a university like SEU, knowing that a significant portion of what they received came from professors, for the most part, who are dedicated to providing a Biblical grounding for their subject matter. But that’s not the norm nationwide, which is what leads me to share another Snyderian truism. This one’s quite short and to the point:

Higher education sometimes isn’t.

Harvard CollegeA new report has just been made public. At Harvard College, the undergraduate school for its Arts and Sciences program, the most common grade is an A and the average grade is A-. Back in 2001, 91% of its students graduated with honors; the grading system has become even more lenient since then. Even in 2001, the Boston Globe called Harvard’s grading system “the laughingstock of the Ivy League.” And this is supposed to be the “gold standard” for university education in America?

I’m sure this story could be repeated at a great many of our institutions of higher education. Personally, I believe that university education as a whole has been dumbed down over the last few decades. The basic American history courses I teach are what students should have learned in high school, yet most of my students are fairly ignorant of even the most noteworthy people and events in our history. A college education now can be equated with a high school education of yesteryear. Now you need a master’s degree to obtain the type of education you would have received at the undergraduate level decades ago.

We’re also on a “critical thinking” bandwagon. We say students need to be critical thinkers, but we don’t offer them any solid worldview from which to do their thinking; most wander in the realm of moral relativism and nihilism, without any grounding at all. Critical thinking degenerates into uninformed, but firmly held, opinions.

Another hobby horse is “diversity.” We apply it externally to admissions policies, focusing on percentages of minorities entering the institution; internally, we say we value diversity of views in teaching. Right. Do you really think most public universities would welcome my views on American history and government, complete with Biblical principles for arriving at those views? Diversity is a sham, but it’s trendy.

Thought Diversity

Of course, as the above comic reveals, real diversity must operate within a certain framework of general agreement. That’s why a Christian university comes closer to the real definition of the term—we have a Biblical framework within which we can hash out different views in our subject areas. The secular university is a no-holds-barred free-for-all with no unity at all, except for a general disdain for the Biblical worldview.

So, anyway, those are some of my thoughts today as another commencement looms. I want to do all I can to ensure the students who pass through my courses are challenged to do their best, are grounded in a Biblical worldview to enable them to do critical thinking, and when they graduate, are closer to the ideal of what a higher education should provide for them.

Snyderian Truism #10

When I talked about the dangers of government-controlled education last week at a 9/12 Project meeting, I shared with the group one of the truisms I use in my American history survey courses. It goes like this:

Value-neutral education is a myth; everyone teaches from a distinctive worldview.

Education CollageWhen certain groups wanted to change education in the nineteenth century, one of the goals was to take education away from the influence of the churches. They said it was wrong to have what they called “sectarian” education. Instead, they promoted a more general approach that everyone could agree with, leaving out the distinctives of Biblical principles.

Later on, as the government education system gained greater favor and spread to every state, an even bolder demand was made: all education should be devoid of values; it should have no reference to religious beliefs; students can get what they need without the intrusion of the Biblical worldview.

That demand wasn’t entirely honest. The desire to remove Christianity from a student’s education was real enough, but it wasn’t going to be replaced by anything value-neutral. The agenda was to replace it with various brands of secular humanism.

A value is always being promoted. If one says education should be separate from religion, one is promoting the “value” that education is a completely secular endeavor and that religion has no role to play. That’s hardly neutral. In fact, neutrality is a value in itself—an unattainable one, but a value nonetheless. No one teaches in a vacuum; all educators, even if they don’t realize it, teach from a worldview of some kind.

TextbooksSo let’s quit trying to fool others and ourselves. We all have certain ideas/beliefs we claim as truth, even those who say there is no truth. For them, their “truth” is that there is no truth.

Instead of masquerading agendas behind spurious claims of value neutrality, let’s be open and above board. What we really need in this nation is a competition of ideas. Allow the free flow of teaching from whatever worldview one possesses. Let the market determine who is doing the best job of explaining how their worldview best fits the reality of the disciplines we teach.

That is one of my dreams: a nation in which we divest ourselves of the false concept that government is the arbiter of education and we put all education on the same playing field. Stop taking taxes from those who don’t believe in using the government system and let them use their money to buy the type of education they seek for their children. The education establishment would be aghast at the suggestion; the National Education Association would fight it to its last breath. I know that. But I would relish the opportunity to tackle and eventually topple the failing system to which we are currently chained.

Government Education: The Problem, Not the Remedy

I’ll be speaking tonight at the Winter Haven 9/12 Project meeting. The topic will be one of my favorites: government control of education. It’s not a favorite because I’m in favor of government controlling education, of course, but because I’ve seen the danger signs for years and want to be sure others understand them also.

Education in American began as a mostly private affair; the only thing even halfway resembling what we have today was when a New England town collected local taxes to cover the costs of a “common” school. Yet even during that time, private schooling prevailed, whether at home, with a paid tutor, or at a private academy.

The big change occurred in Massachusetts in the 1830s. That state became the first to set up a state-level board of education. One of the biggest concerns back then was having education in the hands of the churches. The Unitarians, who denied the divinity of Jesus, were the driving force behind this change. As the idea spread, orthodox Christians dominated early “public” schooling, but they also adopted the Prussian system that eventually led to the view that education was the proper sphere of the government.

As the nation’s foundational thinking shifted toward evolutionary humanism, so did educational philosophy, and eventually the Christian influence waned. The only saving grace was that the federal government hadn’t yet entered the field, attempting to force one philosophy on everyone. That changed also, with the Common Core experiment being only the latest scheme.

The loss of Christian foundations in education has led to abysmal results—in learning, in bureaucracy, and in student behavior. The best public school teachers know this is true. What’s the evidence?

Last One Is True

Twice As Many

The government-controlled education system is awash in political correctness and enamored with every new trend or innovation in educational theory. Rare is the school where real education can be found:

Dark Days

We’ve also bought into the belief that nearly everyone needs to get a college degree. Well, perhaps one reason for that, on the practical side, is that many of our college degrees give students what they used to receive in high school. I know, because I teach American history survey courses, which are basic information about what already should be common knowledge for anyone with a high school diploma. Yet few of my students have an understanding of those basics. But it’s not as though they are finally getting it in college either. Studies have shown that graduating college seniors have about as much knowledge of American history as they did when they entered college as freshmen. That’s only one example, from my field; I’m sure examples could be multiplied as we examine what is learned in disciplines other than history.

So college graduates leave their institutions after four years with a piece of paper saying they have achieved something, but how many have actually achieved what that paper signifies? There is one thing, though, that a large majority do leave college with:

College Debt

I would submit that the root of our problems is the acceptance of government’s role in education. Early Americans resisted government involvement for three reasons:

  • First, they feared any system that allowed the government to tell you what you should think. They already rejected the concept of a state-sponsored church because that would be the government saying what you should believe. Isn’t it rather ironic that a people who said no to a government church would later say yes to government education, which would set itself up as an imitation of a government church, telling everyone what they should believe and think?
  • Second, they believed education was the proper sphere of family, church, and locality. They never envisioned the bureaucratic juggernaut we deal with now.
  • Third, they knew it would become expensive, since bureaucracies always end up costing more than advertised. Whenever anyone tells you the public schools are offering free education, remind them that you pay taxes, and that, in most states, the majority of those taxes go into the education system. You’re not getting what you are paying for.

My approach is not to tinker with the current system and try to improve it. That’s somewhat like Gorbachev tinkering with the Soviet Union’s system and thinking he could make socialism work. Our education system is built on a faulty foundation of government control. Only when we realize that and allow for expansion of the private sector in education will we ever come close to the remedy for our current ills.