Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Researching C. S. Lewis

Now that I’m on sabbatical, projects have seemingly sprung up out of nowhere to keep me busy. One that has been in the back of my mind for a while has now taken a prominent place in my active imagination. I’ve always wanted to write something about C. S. Lewis. While reading a recent biography of him, I grabbed hold of an idea that I hope will come to fruition. I would like to assess, as much as possible, the impact Lewis has made on America and Americans individually. For some reason, America embraced him and his writings far more eagerly than his home nation of Britain. Why was that? How much documentation is there of his influence on Americans?

I thought that might be worth investigating, so since I was at Wheaton College this past week, I made sure to carve out some time to visit the Wade Center, which is a fantastic repository of all things C. S. Lewis and other key British authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. It’s really rather amazing that a small Christian college in America has all these treasures. Amazing . . . and a real blessing for researchers like me.

The Wade Center is not huge, but it is welcoming and very helpful to researchers. I was staying at a guest house on campus, and the Wade Center was just across the street, so this is what greeted me every time I left the guest house:

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Where else, in America, can one go to see some original C. S. Lewis artifacts? For instance, here’s the desk he used both at Oxford and in his home later:

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If you are wondering where he got the idea for children to walk into a wardrobe and then into a land called Narnia, perhaps you don’t need to look any further than this piece of furniture that belonged to him:

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I even enjoyed viewing his teapot, tea cup, and pewter mug. How very British of him:

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And there was the research room itself, a veritable sanctuary for those of us who love to immerse ourselves in musty manuscripts and really good books:

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I found a place to call my own:

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My time at the Wade was a time I could enter into another “world,” if only briefly. This was just the beginning stage of the research. Will a book result from this? Perhaps that’s where faith comes in.

The Core of Common Core

Common CoreI post on the subject of education quite often; that’s to be expected from someone in my profession. I share the concerns voiced about the Common Core initiative and have read many of the critiques with respect to the specifics of Common Core. I agree with most of what I have read.

Yet there are political conservatives who support this approach because they are enamored with the promise of enforcing a basic education for all, particularly when they perceive, quite rightly, that education overall is failing. Despite the glowing public statements we hear from politicians and those in the education bureaucracy, our students know less now than they did in previous decades. And they didn’t know all that much in those previous decades.

So some conservatives jump on board a program like Common Core, thinking it will provide the solution. Aside from the slanted political and cultural agenda that will undoubtedly dominate any educational endeavor today, there is a more basic critique that conservatives, and particularly evangelical Christian conservatives, should pay attention to.

Common Core, like all of its ancestors, is a program driven by government. Don’t believe the propaganda that tells you this is grassroots education reform; it’s thinly disguised government-directed education, and that should be the major critique. We long ago sacrificed our children to a government system. For a nation that prized liberty, I’m amazed how the wool was pulled over our eyes in this area. We rejected a state-sponsored religious establishment because it deemed to tell people what to think and believe, yet we then accepted an educational system that does exactly the same.

There is now an orthodoxy pushed by the government. We are told what to believe about religion, the environment, sex, and a whole host of other things. There is an officially approved list of aggrieved groups to whom we must be sensitive. And everyone must bow to the official wisdom. We are in this predicament because we continue to look to government as the source of education.

In early America, the sources of education stemmed from family and church. Today, we’re told those institutions cannot be trusted to handle that responsibility. We must trust the government to educate our children.

Common Core

This is the era of Obama. Trust in government is at an all-time low. Yet we keep wearing our blinders when it comes to education. It’s time to take them off and see what’s really happening.

Technology & Those Things That Matter Most

In order to stave off misunderstanding, before I get to my main point today, let me assure any and all readers that I really do like new technology. I mean, I’m using a computer right now, and there are still some who haven’t crossed that barrier. I’m not one of them.

TypewriterHow I wish I’d had a laptop back in 1981 when I was completing my master’s thesis. Try typing a 138-page paper in time for graduation, knowing that if you make a mistake along the way, it might require retyping multiple pages. In fact, when I turned in my thesis, a fact-checker found technical errors that had to be corrected within 48 hours or I wouldn’t be able to graduate. The errors required a complete redo of the thesis, which, in pre-computer days, meant I had to hire two typists to do the job quickly.

No, I’m not a Luddite (feel free to Google that, if necessary).

When I teach, I love using whatever technologies might be available to help get the message out. As a new professor, back in the late 1980s-early 1990s, I still didn’t have a personal computer. All my teaching was done via writing on white boards in the classroom. Later, I graduated to the overhead projector and thought I had stumbled across a slice of heaven. Then, when I finally was issued a laptop, in the late-1990s, I discovered the wonders of PowerPoint and my life has never been the same.

I don’t yet have a smart phone. Mine is just semi-smart; I get e-mail without attachments and I don’t want to pay for internet access. My main objection to moving into that realm is purely monetary, not some kind of fondness for former days when all phones could do was call someone. Skype has been a joy, allowing me to connect with family in other places, even halfway around the world.

So why did I go to this length to make it clear I’m not a technophobe?

CellphonesI’m concerned that, in the midst of all these marvelous advancements, we don’t lose either our humanity or our ability to pay attention to anything not techno-oriented. When I’m walking through campus, for instance, sometimes it seems as if all the students are in their own little world. Everyone is texting, talking on their cell, or lost in whatever realm they may be connected to with those wires leading to their ears.

I know this is not just a student issue, but that’s where I live. A few years ago, I took the drastic step of forbidding the use of any technology—laptops, cell phones, whatever—in my lower-level survey courses, the ones that are part of the general education portion of our curriculum. You see, I already have a problem getting students interested in basic American history courses to begin with. Most take them because they are required to take at least one history course of some kind. They don’t really want to be there, so why not spend the time more profitably (in their view) on Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social networking sites?

So I decided to challenge them to see if it’s even possible for this current generation to set aside their devotion to their devices for a 50-minute period and concentrate on American history. Just 50 minutes. Is that too much to ask? For many, apparently it is. I won’t go to the next level and confiscate phones as they enter the classroom, but I will admit to some discouragement. The discouragement is not primarily that I am being disrespected as a teacher; it’s more that they are so unwilling to spend that small amount of time doing something as traditional as listening and taking notes.

My deeper concern is that they won’t be able to communicate in anything but shorthand (u no wht i meen) and won’t develop their powers of thought beyond soundbites. A people that illiterate—and I use that word advisedly—are like sheep to slaughter as they unthinkingly contribute to cultural degeneration and political foolishness.

Just so you know, I don’t have a stringent policy of forbidding cellphones and laptops in my upper-level history courses. For the most part, the students in those courses want to be there, and they seek to add to their knowledge and understanding. But I’m finding those kinds of students to be increasingly rare, at least in my personal experience.

Am I simply a curmudgeon who likes to complain about anything new? I hope not. I also hope I might be wrong in my analysis of what I now perceive as a societal malady. I see the great potential of technology and wouldn’t want to return to typewritten theses. Yet I wonder. What are we losing as we continue on this path?

ConversationA people absorbed in another world might not have time for other people who are staring them in the face. When I have meetings with individuals, whether a luncheon or just a conversation, I set aside my cellphone during that time. I won’t access it. I believe God wants me instead to devote my time to that other person, uninterrupted by the demands of texts, tweets, or Facebook messages. There is a time for that, but not when I’m supposed to be talking with someone personally, face-to-face.

Can we also be so absorbed by these media that we don’t have time for a face-to-face with the One who gave us the intellectual capacity to create the media in the first place?

All I’m saying is that we need to keep our priorities straight. We all need to examine ourselves regularly to ensure we aren’t crowding out of our lives those things that matter most.

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.