Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Reflections on This Life & the Next

The last paper is graded; the semester is over. That’s a good feeling. Breaks are always welcome, but I truly do live for the teaching ministry God has given me. I love the beginning of a school year, and there’s always something special about commencements.

This is Southeastern’s commencement this year; it occurred last Friday. For the first time we had to rent a larger facility to hold everyone. I’m on the stage in the distance, but don’t bother trying to find me. I’m a speck. Kind of provides some perspective. None of us are really that big and important, yet to God we were important enough for Him to come to earth in human form and die—that we might be united with Him. Astounding, really.

Teaching the students God gives me is normally not a chore, but a blessing, an opportunity. On days like today, when I can put another semester behind me, I sometimes reflect on the past twenty-two years as a professor. There have been some very bad times along the way, but not usually with the students. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve rejoiced that I have been entrusted with some part of their education.

Fulltime teaching started in 1989 at Indiana Wesleyan University. I had just earned my doctorate and was excited to be a new Ph.D. in my first faculty assignment. It also brought me back home to the Indiana where I had spent the first twenty-two years of my life. One year I was honored by the students voting me Professor of the Year, but what meant even more to me were the evenings when 20-30 of those students would come over to the house for the Snyder Institute for Advanced Conservative and Theological Studies. Yes, it sounds a little corny, but it was great.

Five years after my initiation as a professor, I moved to Virginia to take on a new responsibility, one that was even more enticing to me since it meant teaching at the graduate level. Regent University, in Virginia Beach, was my home for the next seven years. I have to admit that showing up for work each day at the building you see in this picture was, as students are inclined to say today, “totally awesome.”

Yet it wasn’t just the physical surroundings that made this time special. Again, it was the students. They came eager to be trained to go out into the government or into the private sector to influence government policy. The fond memories of those years will never recede.

Beginning in 2001, in the same month that my book on the Clinton impeachment was published, I took on a new task, teaching American history at Patrick Henry College. Once again, solid relationships were established with students, most of whom had been homeschooled for a significant portion of their lives. They were focused; they felt called by God. I’ll always remember being called to the front after chapel one day and being presented with the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, paid for by a collection taken up by the students. I wonder why they thought I would like that? Am I really someone who likes cartoons?

I’m sixty now. I’m taking the summer off from the classroom to spend more time with my wife who is undergoing chemotherapy to attack a very threatening cancer. At sixty, that’s what I want to do. I’m reminded of just how temporary this timeline is.

But the timeline that really matters is eternal. One of the nicest things about that eternal timeline is that we will spend it in His presence, and we’ll be sharing it with others who have chosen to be in His presence also. Many of those will be my former students. What began in this life continues in the next.

As the apostle John in the book of Revelation disclosed:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. … And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

All that I’ve experienced in this life, even the teaching ministry God has given me, has been a preparation for what is to come. He is the One who infuses what I do with meaning. Without Him, nothing I do has any value. I thank God for allowing me to carry out a part of His valuable work in this world.

Teachers’ Unions & Education

I haven’t said anything about education for some time, so I’ll enter that territory briefly today. Fortunately, the teachers’ unions can help us understand our current state of affairs. A little commentary on how those unions operate can perhaps show us how we ought to reform our education system.

Or perhaps not.

Hmm … could it be that some of the problems we’re experiencing could be because of the teachers’ unions? As someone who has taught at the university level for over twenty years now, I can attest that a rather large proportion of college students don’t really seem ready to do college-level work. What kinds of issues have I noticed?

I keep plugging away, however. For me, it’s a calling from God to do whatever can be done to help. It also requires a love for the students. When you have the calling, and you combine it with the right heart attitude, the Lord is better able to work in their lives. There is satisfaction in watching students begin to achieve on a higher plane.

Education can improve, but the system needs a dramatic overhaul.

Why We Are Where We Are

Since education is my primary occupation, I thought I’d let you in on some terrific insights I’ve been holding onto for a while. Remember that thing called the Constitution? Do you recall it has a Bill of Rights as well? Do you ever wonder what your children are learning about it?

Maybe it’s time to check on what they are receiving. Most parents don’t bother; they are confident in their school system and in the progress their children are making. You see it on bumper stickers everywhere:

Hmmm, I wonder if that’s the reason we are where we are educationally? You have to be careful about criticizing our educational system, though, whether at the elementary, secondary, or university level. You don’t want to be labeled:

This commentary has been brought to you by a university professor who sees the fruit of that system on a daily basis.

Does Anyone Remember?

Today used to be George Washington’s birthday. Yes, I know it still is, but how many people are aware of it nowadays? Instead, we have Presidents Day, always celebrated on the Monday of the week and apparently dedicated to all presidents regardless of merit. Washington had merit; some of the others have had very little.

I mean, do I really have this urge to celebrate the presidencies of Millard Fillmore or Chester Alan Arthur? Am I supposed to rejoice in the progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, or the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson? Should I extol the lack of Christian character in John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, to name only a few who demonstrated that lack?

There certainly are presidents I admire. Washington served his country without regard to personal desires. He led an army for eight years without pay; he came out of a comfortable life to lead a nation as its first president. Everything he did set a precedent, particularly his model for stepping down after two terms.

My appreciation for Abraham Lincoln grows with each new piece of research on him. Grover Cleveland was, as one biographer tagged him, “an honest president.” Calvin Coolidge understood constitutional limitations and decided not to run again for the office in 1928 because he didn’t want the position and the power to change his character for the worse. Ronald Reagan, in my view, was the most effective president [in the positive sense of actually doing something worthwhile] of the twentieth century.

I wouldn’t mind if we celebrated all of those presidents on their own birthdays. Of course we used to do that with Washington until the 1970s when Congress decided to create three-day weekends for a number of holidays. In the process, they excised a special recognition of our first president. I like three-day weekends as much as anyone, but the decision to relegate Washington to the dim recesses of our history was inexcusable. We do still see representations of him occasionally on Presidents Day when actors dress up like him to sell cars—but that’s about all.

Why do most people not miss it? Perhaps there’s a dismal reason educationally:

Am I kidding? I wish I were. Generally speaking, we don’t know our own history. My experience teaching American history at the university level confirms this sad diagnosis.

Anyway, for those who remember who George Washington was, have a happy Washington’s birthday.

Mallard-Fest

I’ve stored up a number of Mallard Fillmore cartoons. It’s time to unleash them. For those unfamiliar with this daily comic strip, I hope you find its willingness to take on political correctness refreshing.

For instance, when it comes to civil discourse and hate speech, here are a couple of offerings:

It gets pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Education is also in the “crosshairs” for this cartoonist frequently. Often he bases his cartoons on actual studies:

Now, to be clear, I love the college students I teach, but overall, I cannot really dispute this finding. I can only hope this is not the case with students I get the opportunity to teach. Here’s a followup:

That reminds me of the progressive educator who commented that illiteracy is not so bad—illiterates won’t be reading anything worthless. Of course, there’s the other side of that—they won’t be reading anything worthwhile either. And their ability to evaluate and analyze will be severely impaired.

Well, why should we worry about the future of education? After all, President Obama is on the path to make college a reality for everyone:

Far-fetched? I hope so.

Education Warning

Criticism of the Obama agenda has centered primarily on the most visible projects, such as taking over the healthcare system and the massive stimulus packages. I have also spent most of my commentary time on these. Along the way, though, I have called attention to a quieter revolution that most people have missed. It’s time to bring that one to the forefront now.

In an op-ed in the Denver Post that appeared last month, two former Republican senators who are involved with higher education—one a current college president, the other a former president, Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown—sounded a warning about the intentions of the administration. The U.S. Department of Education, they said, is going “ahead with its proposal to turn both private and public schools into ‘authorized’ institutions.” Here are the details, as they describe the proposal:

As a practical matter, the department’s power grab carries with it an implicit invitation for various pressure groups to seek legal mandates requiring colleges and universities to implement their pet theories about curriculum, degree requirements, faculty qualifications, teaching methods, textbooks, evolution, phonics, ROTC, climate change, family policy, abortion, race, sexual orientation, economic theory, etc.

This is not only an assault on academic freedom, but it’s an attempt to destroy an institution’s liberty to carry out education in its own particular manner. Private colleges, especially Christian ones, are in great danger of being subjugated to state control.

An article last week in The Chronicle of Higher Education talks about how the president is going to use federal funds as leverage,

offering carrots to colleges and states that embrace his goals, and sticks to those that hinder them. More than any of his predecessors, he has demanded results in exchange for federal dollars, requiring grant applicants to set benchmarks for improvement and threatening to withhold aid from programs that fail to prepare students for jobs.

I will repeat my concern again: whenever Christian colleges take money from the federal government, they eventually will have to face demands that will challenge their ability to teach as they believe God wants them to.

Expect an attack on home-schoolers in the future. After all, they are the height of independence from the government-controlled education system. And you know how dangerous they are to the republic:

Absolutely dangerous—to government control.

Education's Inconvenient Truths

There’s a new movie out—a documentary—entitled Waiting for Superman. It’s an indictment of what some people call public education. The more accurate name for it is government-controlled education. I haven’t seen this documentary yet, but the director, Davis Guggenheim, is a liberal who directed Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which will never qualify as one of my favorite movies. This time, though, he has some genuine inconvenient truths regarding the educational establishment. Apparently, there are some liberals who are scared about the quality of education the current generation is receiving. Will this film wake up the general public?

Now we come to the real problem—the teachers’ unions. They have a stranglehold on the educational profession. Part of the problem is the circle-the-wagons mentality that wants to hold on to tenure and make quality secondary. The other part of the problem is the ideology to which the unions are wedded:

As I noted in a previous post about the NEA, the resolutions it passes every year at its annual convention are the essence of radicalism: the focus is on every progressive icon—racism, feminism, environmentalism, homophobia, etc.

When you combine a radical ideology with a mania for job security, you don’t want anything to interfere with your near-monopoly, no matter how poorly it’s performing:

We keep tinkering around with the externals rather than rooting out the false ideologies. We continue to trust government and the teachers’ unions rather than allowing the free market to determine educational success. I remember when Bill Clinton made a big deal about wanting to put an extra 100,000 teachers in the classrooms. What does that really solve if you don’t deal with the more fundamental problems?

And woe to any students who might really want to learn:

Unless we attack this problem at the root, we’ll never find a real solution.