Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

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.

Let Us Not Lose Heart

Today’s commentary is more personal. If you would rather find something about the shutdown or the debt ceiling, you won’t find it here today. Now’s your chance to go elsewhere before you read any further.

Okay, too late—you must now continue.

El PradoProfessors are people, too. Sometimes we get discouraged. Even those of us who are doing this as a ministry and sense the call of God on our lives to teach can, at times, wonder what we are accomplishing. Although I think I’ve learned over time that there are natural rhythms of peaks and valleys, the emotions can still threaten to take over during those valleys.

I’ve been valley-bound for a couple of weeks. It hasn’t affected how I teach in the classroom; when I’m there, I fulfill what God has given me to do with a whole heart. But I’ve been going away from my classes with an underlying sadness. It’s hard to tell right now whether anything I’m saying gets through, or if it has any meaning for the majority of the students.

I hit my deepest valley nearly a decade ago when I wondered if I had missed my calling. I began to search out other options besides teaching, but everywhere I turned, doors closed. Gradually, the Lord touched my heart again with the encouragement I needed, and I remained a university professor.

Encouragement has been a crying need lately. It has come.

The other day, while slowly trudging (that’s how it felt) from my car to my office, I ran into a colleague who said he had just been to a student panel on writing. One of the students thanked me for my historiography course because it taught her how to write effectively. She noted that I was a tough grader and didn’t accept errors in the writing. She said she was grateful for that toughness.

Needless to say, that lifted my spirits somewhat. But that was just the beginning.

Yesterday, a student who had taken the first half of American history with me, stopped by my office excited that she could now take the second half as well. She had changed majors and now the rest of American history was required for her. In her previous major, she had no room for it. What struck me was her joyous demeanor; not only was she looking forward to it, but she is recruiting another student to register for the class as well.

Then, last night, I got an e-mail from a former student who was inquiring about a book I had mentioned when he was in the second half of American history. That he had an interest in a certain book I had referenced was fascinating, particularly since this was a student who had struggled to pass my class. I knew him as a friendly fellow, but I had no idea he would remember my mention of a book. What arrested my attention the most, though, were his final comments. He wrote these words of encouragement:

May the Lord continue to bless you and be your rock of support this semester. Continue to allow Him to use you through the knowledge He has given you about history; it’s a real blessing to all of us students, even if, at times, it doesn’t show. I can honestly say, after taking your class, that history is definitely my favorite subject out of all the subject areas I have studied.

Frankly, I was floored. Was he reading my mind? How did he know what I have been going through? But of course that’s not it at all. The Lord is the One who knows the heart and the mind of His children, and He’s the One who directs others, often without their realizing it, to speak the right word at the right time.

The Lord also directed me back to one of those Scriptural passages He has used in the past to keep me on track. It’s found in the sixth chapter of Galatians:

SowingDo not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

I will take that to heart today.

The Real Critique of Common Core

Common CoreUp until now, I’ve not written anything specific with respect to the Common Core program being promoted from on high and apparently accepted as a guideline/goal by more than forty states. The promise is that it will set standards to prepare students for college and the workplace. Thus far, standards have been set for math and English language, with plans to extend them to other subject areas.

One reason why I’ve not waded into this field prior to now is that I have almost no interest in it. I realize that may sound strange, coming from an educator. As a university professor, shouldn’t I care about this? Well, I do care. It’s just that I’ve never had any faith whatsoever in any “plan” to raise educational standards, especially any plan imposed from those who consider themselves to be the experts. Above all, I’ve never accepted the rationale that education is a legitimate function of the government, whether at the federal or state level. Therefore, my interest level in what they propose is naturally low.

I have seen the critiques of Common Core from the perspective of those who believe it actually lowers expectations rather than raising them. The critiques sound reasonable. Even though there are some cultural conservatives backing this initiative, I think they are misguided in their support. They mean well; they want higher standards in theory. Yet there are solid reasons to doubt that Common Core will provide them.

Rotten Common Core

That’s the practical level of criticism. My critique, as I’ve already noted, is more basic. I’m opposed to any government-sanctioned and/or government-funded plan. Education is the responsibility of the parents who, ideally, should have a market in the private sector from which to choose the source of their children’s education. We messed that up in the mid-nineteenth century when we began to set up state educational establishments called boards of education.

All studies show that children educated at home or in private schools perform significantly better on standardized tests (another bugaboo of mine, but I’ll set that aside for the moment). As public policy, government at both the federal and state levels should be expanding the private sector in education, not seeking to curtail it or force it into a predetermined mold like Common Core.

Robert Small ProtestProponents have sold Common Core as a grassroots movement; it’s anything but that. All one has to do is look at an incident last week in Maryland where one parent, Robert Small, stood up and raised his objections to the orchestrated meeting parents were attending to learn more about the plan. He was frustrated by the lack of interaction allowed at the meeting; everything was prearranged to push parents into approving the new standards, with no other views allowed to be expressed. For his “repugnant” act of standing up to the educational establishment, he was ushered from the room by security and threatened with prosecution. A little bit of common sense prevailed when that specific threat was withdrawn.

Stop Fed EdThis is the face of the Common Core establishment in action. I cannot support it. I’m pleased to report that Rick Scott, governor of my state of Florida, shortly after that incident, withdrew our state from the Common Core testing regimen. Hopefully, that is the first step toward complete disengagement from the plan. I have a feeling, as protests mount, that a number of states who originally signed on to this initiative will have second thoughts and withdraw as well.

Early Americans were always cautious about handing over control of their children’s education to the government. Their concerns were specific:

  • The threat of the government dictating the type of education, and of determining what is acceptable and what is not, thereby opening the door for tyranny.
  • The threat of removing the responsibility of education from the proper sphere of family, church, and locality.
  • The threat of higher taxes to pay for whatever the government deemed to be “legitimate” education.

In other words, they feared government control over the minds and pocketbooks of citizens.

By the way, search as you might through the federal Constitution, you will never find any authorization for the federal government to legislate or spend even one cent on education. It’s time to get that level of government out of the education business. Then we can work on getting states out of it also. The private sector will do just fine educating the next generation, particularly if we return all that tax money to the parents and hold out tax privileges to those who wish to contribute voluntarily toward helping those who might not be able to afford tuition.

Yes, there is a path toward better education, but it doesn’t come via Common Core.

Constitution Day at SEU: Religious Liberty & Social Justice

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men put their signatures on a document intended to chart a course for the future of the fairly new United States of America. Each year, we commemorate that event as we celebrate one of the best set of by-laws ever created by a nation. At Southeastern, we always seek to use that commemoration to help students, faculty, and staff appreciate more fully what these men did, as they labored over the concepts and wording to be presented to the people for ratification.

In past years, we’ve been blessed to have excellent speakers for Constitution Day: John Ashcroft, the former attorney general; Charles Canady, the current chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court and a former congressman who served as one of the House Managers for the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton; and Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College.

Snyder-AndersonThis year, we reached into the Heritage Foundation, one of the premier public policy research arms in the nation, and were pleased to invite to campus Mr. Ryan Anderson, Heritage’s William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society. Anderson is co-author of a book entitled What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. He’s also an expert on religious liberty and the essential nature of a civil society.

Anderson offered two sessions: “Threats to Religious Liberty in America Today” and “A Conservative Understanding of Social Justice.” Personally, I was gratified to see how well attended both sessions were. I had hoped the subject matter would attract great interest, and I was right.

In the first session, Anderson spent some time laying the groundwork for what the Founders did for religious liberty. How can one understand what the current threats are if one doesn’t have a working knowledge of what was intended? America, he showed, set up a polity whereby no one would be persecuted for one’s religious beliefs. That didn’t mean, though, that the Founders were apathetic to religion; instead, they grasped the truth that government should not be the judge of religious truth. That goes beyond the scope of the civil government.

After surveying the attitudes and reasoning of the Founders, Anderson then turned to the various and ever-increasing threats we now face with respect to religious liberty. He cited a flurry of episodes just in the past few months that have seriously curtailed religious liberty in general, but more specifically, the liberty of evangelical Christians to practice their faith publicly. The Obama administration has pushed an agenda to change freedom of religion into freedom of worship, meaning we can do whatever we want within the four walls of our churches but must never allow those beliefs to affect the public sphere. The “rights” of minorities—in particular, homosexuals—trump religious liberty rights, at least in the minds of those at the helm of our federal government at the moment. Those in attendance—an overflow with some sitting on the floor—seemed appropriately impressed with the danger we now face.

Ryan Anderson Session

In his second session on social justice, Anderson contrasted two extreme views of that term—the rigid libertarian vs. the government welfare models—and showed the weaknesses of both. The liberal, progressive welfare state, he said, does not achieve genuine justice; it merely redistributes money and traps people in poverty. On the other hand, a too-doctrinaire libertarianism doesn’t take into account the common good; it simply advocates individual license to do whatever one desires. A truly Biblical and conservative position, he contended, recognizes the essential nature of the free market as the only path to a vibrant economy and the way out of poverty, while simultaneously encouraging those who succeed to actively work on behalf of those who are struggling.

Anderson’s presentations were cogent, articulate, and well-reasoned. Many who attended have told me how valuable they were to the ongoing conversation we need to have on these issues and how much they appreciated what he brought to the discussion. This is what a university should be. We saw it in operation this week.

Now, let’s work to preserve what we can of our Constitution. We dismiss its wisdom at our peril.

The “Dangers” of Homeschooling–Part Three

We now come to the end of our listing of the ten top reasons not to homeschool. The final two are in the same vein as the first eight. Let’s throw in a financial factor first:

Most Expensive

The price tag for government schooling keeps rising. But of course we are always assured this is “free public education.” Why free? Because you don’t have to pay tuition. Yet if it costs thousands to educate one child, that’s hardly free. It’s a semantics game built on deception. The expense is really quite substantial—much more than the cost of homeschooling. What a wonderful setup. Those who choose to homeschool also have the privilege of paying for a system they don’t want or use.

Last of all is this:

Elitist

A parent can’t be too careful. I mean, why would you want your child to be so different?

Actually, I can think of manifold reasons for developing “different” children. I just want to take this opportunity to salute all those dedicated parents who are not averse to shouldering the responsibility for educating their children. It’s not easy, but the rewards can be great.