Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Educational History (cont.)

While my mind is on education, let me continue with a little more of the history of education in America. In previous posts, I mentioned John Dewey and his baneful influence. Known as the Father of Progressive Education, Dewey introduced a number of new ideas: no eternal truths; let the child decide what he wants to learn; minimize booklearning and magnify experiences [which can often be divorced from substance]; socialization of children to fit into his vision of a socialist society.

Grand new ideas, weren’t they?

I’ve also mentioned a couple of his disciples; another one I would like to note today is William Heard Kilpatrick. A colleague of Dewey’s at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Kilpatrick also served as president of the John Dewey Society. It has been estimated that he taught as many as 35,000 students during his tenure at Columbia, many of whom became leaders in this new approach to education throughout the country.

Kilpatrick believed that man only existed in society, meaning that the collective was more significant than the individual. He disliked any diversity in education: there should be only one school system for the nation, he declared. To have more than one will lead to disunity. So much for private education.

The function of a school, according to Kilpatrick, was to teach methods of investigating truth, but not truth itself. He said we should teach children how to think, not what to think. If you read that last sentence and said, “yes, I agree with that,” you may not really understand the implications.

How can one learn how to “investigate” truth if no concept of truth exists? Teaching someone how to think sounds good, but that is merely a process. The substance of what we think is essential. There is truth and falsehood, but progressive education, the banner under which Kilpatrick stood, did not believe in any concept of right and wrong from God. Man was to figure it all out on his own.

I believe that real education begins with premises drawn from Biblical principles. Without firm foundations, the edifice collapses. Learning how to think is important, but you must start with some idea of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Otherwise, you are trying to think in the midst of an intellectual and moral vacuum.

I make no apology for telling students that some things are right and others wrong, and that eternal truth does exist. They are then free, of course, to think through what I have said and determine if I am off-base in any way. I don’t have a problem with students asking questions if they are genuinely seeking to know and understand truth. But that desire must have a foundation first from which to question.

I realize that sets me apart from mainstream education. That’s fine. My first allegiance is to God and His truths. I firmly believe that students who are grounded in those truths have the potential to be the best thinkers.

An Educational Primer

I have colleagues who are education professors, and I want to make sure they don’t misunderstand what I will say today. I know their hearts—they are committed to doing the best for the students as they prepare to go out and teach others. They might be in the minority, however.

All too often, education degrees focus rather heavily on how to manage a classroom or on the latest trendy experiments. Now, managing a classroom is important—I know that from personal experience. But if an education degree is too heavily weighted toward the nuts and bolts of classroom technique, it can minimize the substance of what students need to learn:

Take history, for instance: it would be nice if the students actually learned some.

The education field is also all too often fascinated with every new theory, regardless of whether or not it is worthy to be emulated. The past few decades are strewn with the rubble of trendy movements that were all the rage for a while, then disappeared [fortunately]. Yet that fascination with all things “new” is hard to shake:

Real education is the victim. We’ve probably never had so many people enlisted in the struggle to educate children. So why are we suffering in achievement?

Could that be a major part of the problem? How about if we break up that monopoly and allow real competition? That sounds scary to many, but to me it makes eminent sense.

The New Academic Year

I love this time of year. This is now my 22nd year of teaching full time at the college level. When a new academic year begins, I experience an emotional rush. I’ve experienced that for 21 of those 22 years [no need to talk about the exception—that’s history]. Students also seem fresh and ready.

Yes, that early excitement will scale back as the semester wears on, but it never goes away entirely, particularly if you believe what you are doing is the will of God, and that the classroom is another form of ministry.

I am grateful to be able to teach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, a Christian university that is not only very beautiful, but dedicated to infusing Biblical principles into all subjects. And why not? God is the author of all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

We do face a multitude of problems, though, in modern education. Some of it has to do with ignorance:

Many students who show up for college as freshmen haven’t been taught well. They are especially ignorant of their own country’s history, the very subject I teach. Another big problem is the apathy of parents. They often just shuffle their children off to a school, happy that they can absent themselves from their children’s educational progress:

Parents used to believe they were responsible for their children’s education. That viewpoint seems to be more rare with each passing year.

Even more pernicious, however, is the blatant attempt to alter historical reality. In a recent column, analyst Thomas Sowell makes some incisive observations about what exactly is being taught in many classrooms:

The history of this country is taught in many schools and colleges as the history of grievances and victimhood, often with the mantra of “race, class, and gender.” Television and the movies often do the same.

When there are not enough current grievances for them, they mine the past for grievances and call it history. Sins and shortcomings common to the human race around the world are spoken of as failures of “our society.” But American achievements get far less attention — and sometimes none at all.

Our “educators,” who cannot educate our children to the level of math or science achieved in most other comparable countries, have time to poison their minds against America.

Why? Partly, if not mostly, it is because that is the vogue. It shows you are “with it” when you reject your own country and exalt other countries.

I don’t teach that America is perfect. I clearly point out the racial issues of the past. However, I also note that it is faulty analysis to reject everything about America just because there were some injustices. As Sowell says, where in the world do you not witness injustices? It’s the human condition; it’s called sin. America has done a pretty good job, compared to other nations, in rooting out many of those problems over time.

My perspective on American government and the policies we have followed, particularly in the past century, is often critical, but never in a way that makes students think they live in an awful place. Our Founders provided a system that can be corrected, but it depends on the character and the choices “we the people” make.

More than once, I’ve had students come up to me and say something similar to this: “Every president you praised was presented to me as bad in high school, and every president you criticized was highly praised by my former teachers. You’ve reversed everything and have made me rethink America’s history.”

If I am accomplishing that, I am satisfied. It’s time to continue that quest in this new academic year.

Losing Touch with Mediocrity

As a new school season is upon us, I thought I would be short and quick today in my commentary:

To all students everywhere: excellence is the goal. Try it, you might like it.

These Two Issues Again?

The Arizona illegal immigration controversy and the oil spill continue to dominate the news. That’s enough to make me want to write about something completely different. Well, maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve got some great cartoons to fill the space today—on those two issues.

We’re on the verge of the federal government suing Arizona. How ironic. There’s Arizona on the front lines of tackling the illegal immigration problem, and what does the federal government do? This is a pretty good illustration of what’s happening:

Then, on top of that, we get the news that Mexico’s government is joining the lawsuit:

The upside to that bit of legal chicanery is that Mexico’s involvement will probably make the Arizona law even more popular with American citizens.

Meanwhile, in the neverending Gulf incident, the panel of experts that the Obama administration said supported the moratorium on oil drilling . . . well, not quite:

Those who live by the experts shall die by the experts.

Obama’s most avid supporters are getting disillusioned. They expected more from their savior:

Some disappointments are harder to take than others.

If Obama is able to use this oil spill disaster to push his green policy of cap-and-trade, we’ll be in for more disappointment:

Well, don’t worry. Our education system certainly will save us. We’re undoubtedly raising a generation of highly informed and responsible adults who will turn things around, right? Right?

Weep for a while, then pray for wisdom and strength to continue your engagement in the ongoing battle for America’s soul.

Today’s Surprise: I Recommend My Own Books

In the nearly two years that I’ve written this daily blog, I’ve never, to the best of my recollection (how’s that for a lawyerly term that gets me off the hook if I’m wrong?), advertised for books I’ve authored. Today, though, I would beg your indulgence, since I’ve just had a new edition of one of my books come off the presses.

I first wrote If the Foundations Are Destroyed in 1994. This is now the fourth edition of it, complete with a new cover. Why might you want it? The subtitle, Biblical Principles and Civil Government, tells you what it’s all about. I go through what I consider to be Biblical principles and how they apply to government. These form the basis of all my analyses of current government policies. So if you are a regular reader of this blog, this book will provide a window into why I believe as I do.

I have excerpted some of these concepts on the blog already as an overview. If you are interested in a preview, just click on the “Biblical Principles” category in the right sidebar. To learn more about the book and to order it, go to:

http://ponderingprinciples.com/books/itfad/.

While I’m at it, let me talk briefly about the other two books I’ve written.

I did my doctoral dissertation on Noah Webster. While writing it, I had in mind that I wanted to make it into a publishable book. That’s not always easy with a doctoral dissertation, but I made every effort to ensure the writing style was accessible to a general audience as well as scholars. I hope I succeeded.

Webster was the schoolmaster to early America. His speller and dictionary could be found in nearly all American homes. The subtitle, A Spiritual Biography, lets you know that my goal in this book was to chart the course of Webster’s thinking and worldview. At age 50, he experienced a conversion to orthodox Christian faith. How did that affect his scholarly work? The book compares the pre-conversion Webster with the post-conversion man, while offering along the way an accounting of his contributions to American life and culture. To find out more and order this book go to:

http://ponderingprinciples.com/books/webster/.

In 2001, I completed a study of the Clinton impeachment. My approach was different than any of the other books on the impeachment written at that time. I wrote it from the perspective of the thirteen congressmen—they were called House Managers—who went to the Senate to argue for Clinton’s removal from office. I personally interviewed all thirteen of the Managers in their Capitol Hill offices; this book provides their story on why they thought it was essential to go forward with these impeachment proceedings in spite of public opposition. It’s a study in character and the significance of the rule of law in society.

At the time of its publication, it was a main selection for the Conservative Book Club. Well-known author and editor of World magazine, Marvin Olasky, wrote the foreword for me. This is the only one of my books that is currently out of print (which I hope can be changed someday), but it is still available for those who are interested. For one of the limited number of new copies that still exist, you can order from this page:

http://ponderingprinciples.com/books/misimp/.

If you don’t mind getting a used copy, check out Amazon.

I don’t offer these with any expectation of becoming fabulously wealthy. My primary concern is to disseminate valuable information. I’ve promoted books by a number of authors over the past two years. I just wanted to make sure you are aware of mine as well. I hope some of you decide to add one or more of these to your library.

My Educational Philosophy: A Summary

As a university professor, I think a lot about what I should do in the classroom. What is the proper way to teach? How much do I let my beliefs enter into the subject? One of the biggest problems in many universities is when the classroom is used primarily as an indoctrination center for leftist ideology and all the trendy movements: multiculturalism, radical feminism, environmentalism (anyone notice an “ism” problem here?).

The response of most conservatives has been to call for a neutral classroom where, supposedly, facts are presented without any particular slant. Let the facts speak for themselves; allow the students to come up with their own rationales for what they believe. To a point, there is some truth in that approach, in that every student eventually is going to decide for themselves what they believe. But how much can the professor offer to influence those students?

I have it easier in one sense than many professors who are Christians teaching in public universities. Since I teach in an evangelical setting, there are parameters for my teaching. It’s assumed by the students that I will honor Biblical doctrines. Yet the issue remains the same since not every Christian professor applies those doctrines to their subjects in the same way.

Here’s how I explain to my students the approach that I take. First, I don’t believe that it’s possible for anyone to be totally objective in teaching. I reject the idea that education can be value-neutral. What we believe will come across in some way. Therefore, we are all subjective: our life experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs systems go with us into everything we do. This is not wrong. This is inescapable. As a Christian, I want it to be inescapable.

The late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer said it best, I believe, when he explained,

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

My presuppositions are Christian. It is then natural and right that I should share those presuppositions in all I teach. Knowledge cannot be separated into some tight compartment, isolated from a person’s basic worldview. I will interpret my subject area [history, in this case] in accordance with the grid through which I see the world. What I believe to be truth will impact both what and how I teach.

There is a difference, though, between being subjective and being biased. Bias is an attitude that never allows any new information. It approaches the world with a view that all things must be squeezed into a preset idea or interpretation. If facts don’t fit this prejudgment, they must be forced to fit. Any university professor who does this is not teaching; he or she is simply trying to create ideological clones.

Do I want my students to agree with my views? Yes. But I can’t force them to agree. I have to win them over by the logic of the facts I present. I have to show them how the facts fit into my interpretation, all the while staying open myself to new information that may modify what I teach.

For instance, in American history, as much as I would like to make all the Founders into evangelical Christians, to do so would be to set aside some facts and dishonestly disseminate false information. Now, I believe the founding of America was based on Biblical thinking, for the most part, but I cannot “make” Benjamin Franklin a Christian without violating my own conscience before God.

I always keep in mind this one thing: first, I am a Christian; second, I am a professor. My overriding concern has to be the one that Jesus left as a charge for all Christians when He said,

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.

So even when I teach history, my primary goal is to ensure that the study of history will lead my students into a stronger relationship with the One for whom all of life is to be lived. I’m in the process of making disciples. If I do anything that lessens their desire to know and love God, then I am a failure.

It’s an awesome responsibility, and one that I take seriously.