Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

An Encouragement to All Who Teach

As a professor for nearly thirty years, my aim has been to instill solid Biblical principles and sound historical teaching based on original sources and insightful secondary works, with the ultimate goal that students would be able to see for themselves how those principles and sources reveal truth.

The trendy phrase is “to develop critical thinking.”

Professors/teachers sometimes wonder how successful this endeavor has been, especially when teaching a class that few of the students seem to care about or when mired in all that grading.

Despite discouragements along the way, I’ve never doubted God’s call on my life for any serious length of time. And then there are those encouragements that pop up unannounced, like the e-mail I received from a recent Southeastern history major who graduated and is now teaching high school at a classical academy.

With his permission, I’m going to share what he is experiencing.

He began by commenting that my blogs this past week on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were “wonderful.” That was the first encouragement, but it was only the beginning.

He just finished teaching an American history/literature class based on a Socratic method of questioning. He then related that he began the course with a thoughtful quote from the book I use in my American history survey courses, Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People. He used it to spur their thinking; it became the cornerstone of everything they studied during the semester. Here’s the quote he used:

American history raises three fundamental questions. First, can a nation rise above the injustices of its origins and, by its moral purpose and performance, atone for them?…

The Second question provides the key to the first. In the process of nation-building, can ideals and altruism—the desire to build the perfect community—be mixed successfully with acquisitiveness and ambition, without which no dynamic society can be built at all?…

Thirdly, the Americans originally aimed to build an other-worldly “City on a Hill,” but found themselves designing a republic of the people, to be modeled for the entire planet. Have they made good their audacious claims? Have they indeed proved exemplars for humanity? And will they continue to be so in the new millennium?

Is that typical fare for a typical high school? I doubt it. My former student was up to the challenge of helping these students think through American history with that as the backdrop.

What he described next stirred my heart:

My class spent a full two hours dissecting this quote in an attempt to mine its meaning and see what kind of answers we could put forth. To say the least, the students’ answers were antiquated and bereft of any deep historical knowledge.

So, for the rest of the year I used Paul Johnson’s work as a supplementary guide to my lectures, and tried my best to emphasize the principles you taught me in undergrad about self-government, constitutionalism, the need for citizens of a democratic-republic to adhere to moral/religious principles, etc.

I had students read and discuss the Mayflower Compact, Plymouth Plantation, the Declaration, the Federalist Papers, Jefferson’s anti-federalist essays, the Constitution, Democracy in America (which we spent two weeks on), the Lincoln-Douglass debates, Fredrick Douglass’s Narrative Life of a Slave, Walden, and much more.

Note two things here: first, the principles he saw as important; second, the original sources he used to explore those principles.

But he didn’t stop there with just the first part of American history; he went on to examine the philosophies that arose to undercut those founding principles:

Along with all these great works of American literature and political philosophy, I also spent a substantial amount of time teaching students about Marxism, communism, the eugenics movement (including Margaret Sanger’s contributions), and the advent of progressive welfare politics.

My students were horrified and amazed that although they had heard many times about the 11 million people killed by Hitler’s regime, they had never heard about the 19 million (or more) killed by Stalin’s regime, the 40 million (or more) killed by Mao’s regime, and the 200,000 (or more) killed by Pol Pot’s regime.

They were even more surprised to learn that “Nazism” stood for “National Socialism.” Our all-too-brief lesson on Whittaker Chambers and the Hiss Case was also a big hit with the students. Although most of my lectures focused on the overall narrative of American political/social history, I couldn’t help going off on these very important tangents.

What a joy it was to learn that these students were being exposed to facts, ideas, and principles that weren’t the focus of their thinking prior to his class. What did the students actually learn? What did they take to heart?

Yesterday was our very last class of the year, and I asked students to discuss Paul Johnson’s questions again to see if they could arrive at different answers based on what we learned this year. Their responses were absolutely fascinating.

They pointed out (without any prompting from me) that the ideals of human rights, the dignity of the individual, the fallen nature of man, private property, and self-government were principles that truly made the U.S. a “city on a hill.”

They also pointed out that nearly all of the many failures and injustices that our country has perpetrated were violations or rejections of these founding principles. I then asked the class “where do these ‘rights’ come from? What gives us the impression that all human beings possess intrinsic dignity? What grounds these American ideals?”

The answer to his question?

One of my very intelligent students pulled out the Declaration of Independence and read the opening words aloud with an emphasis on “our Creator.” It was a very fulfilling moment for me, and a confirmation of how important these lessons are.

The final encouragement—a personal one—concluded his e-mail when he wrote, “I just thought you would like to know that your lessons did not fall on deaf ears, and are already being reproduced in the minds of my own students. Thank you for your commitment to Christ-centered scholarship and education.”

For all you teachers reading this, please know that what you do is significant. Even when you don’t see immediate results, you don’t know what’s going on inside your students. I had no doubts about this former student; I knew he was solid. But there are others you may never hear from who have been impacted by what you have said and, even more important, how you lived your Christian faith before their eyes.

Be encouraged today.

Teaching the Generations

Many of you know how you can read a Scripture passage and something jumps out at you that you never saw before. I attribute that to the leading of the Holy Spirit. A few days ago, I was reading in Psalm 71 when my mind (and spirit?) was arrested by just a few words—verses 9 and 18—separated from the rest of the text but united in thought.

Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone. . . .

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

What did this mean to me? Well, first of all, although I am certainly getting old-er, I don’t yet consider myself old in the classic sense. My strength is not yet gone, I am not yet seriously contemplating retirement, and I don’t feel forsaken of God.

I am gray; I’ll grant that one. But if none of the rest is totally applicable to me, why was I affected by these words?

One never knows when one’s strength will ebb more quickly, and I believe I have a lot to do still in my life and in the ministry God has given me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was grading students in finals week, another semester nearing its end.

It was those final words that meant the most to me, especially when coupled with the potential onset of older age: I teach the next generation; I want those students to know of God’s power, His mighty acts, and His abiding presence that He wants to implant within each one of them.

I began my university teaching career rather late. I didn’t receive my doctorate until I was 38, which was the time I got my first fulltime position. My 30th year of teaching will begin this upcoming fall, and I am now seeing, via Facebook, some of my former students beginning to send their children to college.

That is stunning to me. How can this be, I ask myself? The old cliché about time marching on is rearing its head. If any of my former students were to send their children to Southeastern to study under me, I would be teaching a second generation. Astounding. Why? Because in my mind, I’m not that old.

I am grateful for the many years the Lord has given me to teach those who will carry His light into this sad parody of a society we live in today. I look forward to continuing that quest. My health is still good; my strength is not gone; the vision remains vivid in my spirit.

And to all of my former students, I offer this word: send your children to me and I promise to give them all I can, everything the Lord has placed in me to pass on to the next generation.

Comics Commentary

I’ve been an aficionado of clever comic strips all my life. My favorite, throughout my childhood and into high school, was Charles Schulz’s wonderful “Peanuts” strip with all the memorable characters: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, etc. The strip was a cultural phenomenon back in the 1960s, in particular.

Schulz used his strip to communicate his Christian faith as well as offer commentary on cultural changes and the meaning of life. He never preached stridently; he allowed the message to come at you indirectly, making one stop and think a bit about what he was saying.

Later, I became a great fan of the “Calvin and Hobbes” strip. My students sometimes must feel they are awash in the insights from that one.

When Bill Watterson, the brilliant artist of the strip, brought  “Calvin and Hobbes” to an end in the 1990s, I was deeply saddened, but later some of my students presented me with the entire collection, from which I have helped “instruct” students ever since.

Nowadays, one of my favorite comics that touches on the foolishness/silliness of our modern cultural trends is “Mallard Fillmore,” a title with a nice touch for an American historian like me. The artist, Bruce Tinsley, is a conservative in politics and, based on what I’ve seen in his strip, a committed Christian. He takes on political correctness in a poignant way.

Lately, Tinsley has been on target with some of the most egregious modern trends and/or practices based on wrong ideas, one of which is that people really aren’t accountable for their actions:

In the wake of the Parkland shootings, Tinsley offered this commentary on the drift of society:

Just the right amount of sarcasm, in my opinion, in the pursuit of communicating truth.

He often pokes fun at education trends and the issue of free speech. Sometimes, he can combine them rather easily, as universities have become a haven for the stifling of speech that the prevailing “wisdom” decries:

While I am a devotee of expounding Biblical principles and trying to explain how they apply to each one of us individually and to our society as a whole, I appreciate the ability of comics such as these to help me make my points. Regular readers of this blog know that I punctuate many of my posts with what I believe are appropriate comics and political cartoons to aid in my explanations.

That will never stop as long as there are talented artists (and I do believe that is the correct term) who can highlight the concepts I want to expound upon.

Reagan & Modern American Conservatism

Finals week is upon my students and me. Another semester nears an end. Naturally, I am relieved, but I do enjoy the teaching. When students ask which courses are my favorites, I have to say I like them all. Yet there are some that usually stand out because of my particular interests: my course on C. S. Lewis is one, as is the course on Whittaker Chambers.

Then there’s the one I just completed called “Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism.”

That course has two purposes: first, to highlight the life and accomplishments of the man I believe to be the best president of the 20th century; second, to understand him within a movement of modern conservatism, of which he was the prime example, exemplifying the various strands that comprise the movement.

To understand Reagan the man, as well as the president, I have students read his autobiography. It reveals what motivated him to aspire to the highest office in the land. They are pleased to learn about his Christian faith.

This course, though, is more than a simple biography of one man. It describes how some men and women responded to the drift in America toward the idea that government can manage our lives better than we can, as well as the cultural drift away from traditional moral principles (which most of them found in the Bible).

The most comprehensive book to deal with this rising movement after WWII is George Nash’s masterful work, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945.

It can be a tough read in some spots, as my students earnestly inform me, but it’s also an essential read.

Nash shows how modern American conservatism built on a philosophical basis, not merely as an emotional reaction to liberalism, socialism, or communism. Instead, it had bedrock principles that formed the core of a movement that eventually landed Reagan in the White House.

In addition to those two books, I offer selections from my own study of Reagan and Whittaker Chambers (yes, he figures in this course also).

My goal is to help these students grasp that conservatism has a good history. True conservatives are bound by the concept of the rule of law, they hold to the tenets of the Constitution, and they realize the necessity of a firm spiritual/moral grounding for our government to function properly.

I also hope they come away from the course with an ability to discern what genuine conservatism is in our day and what is not all that genuine. I don’t want them to fall in line with something trendy that may pass itself off as conservative when, in fact, it’s much closer to populist demagoguery.

My mission from God, if I were to put it in those terms—and I do—is to provide them with truths that will become the anchor of their lives and will stay with them to the end. This course helps achieve that goal.

I sincerely hope that everything I teach leads my students toward faithfulness to God and His purposes in their lives. He has given me this privilege—and this responsibility—and I do not take it lightly.

On Youth, Foolishness, & Mortality

I was reading in Psalm 39 this morning and this section jumped out at me:

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

Thinking about my mortality has become more prominent lately. Not that I’m in bad health or anticipating an early demise, you understand, but it’s only right that someone my age—I just turned 67—should take that possibility seriously.

I reflect back on what it was like being young, that time in life when you rarely consider the end of days on this earth; after all, one’s entire life lies ahead. What great things one will do!

Teaching the current university-aged generation is also a constant reminder of the passing of the years. I could be their grandfather, which is a fairly new and sometimes startling reminder of how quickly time goes by.

Yesterday, I was teaching them about the 1960s, that woebegone era when youth believed they were charting a new course for civilization that no one had ever thought about before. How silly so many of my generation were:

Each new generation, particularly the members of it that end up in college, always seems to think it’s smarter than the previous one, and the atmosphere in which they thrive is all too often one of promoting radical change, often without real understanding:

Far too many of the current crop of students are ignorant of history, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the nation:

As that last comic intimates, many students are being indoctrinated in the latest trendy social thought more than the basic knowledge and principles they need for life.

This has come to the forefront again recently in the reaction of many students to school shootings. Adults (so-called) are prone to present the students as the wise ones, the ones we need to listen to:

I was young once. I thought I had all the answers. I was wrong. I was immature. Immaturity is a feature of being young and inexperienced. A phrase bandied about (but probably not said in these precise words by anyone in particular) is “Youth is wasted on the young.”

This post is not meant to be a slight on young people. I love my students. It’s just that I know what being young is like. I look back on some of the decisions I made, even as a young Christian, and just shake my head, asking myself, “How could I have been so foolish?”

Psalm 90:12 is a fitting final thought for today:

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

May it be.

The Education Crisis at All Levels

I want to begin this post with a word of appreciation so I won’t be misunderstood. What do I appreciate? All those teachers who truly love the students in their classrooms and seek to do their best to expand their knowledge and understanding.

In particular, I want to commend all Christians who labor in the schools, whether public, private, or specifically Christian. A Christian teacher in a public school is a missionary, exhibiting the love of God to students. I know you all do your best to fulfill the ministry the Lord has given you.

I hope that helps with what I want to say next.

Despite all the fine teachers who are doing their best, we are in an education crisis in the nation. I see it in two ways.

First, I see a lack of basic knowledge that earlier generations would have considered mandatory. As I continue my ministry to university students, I have concluded I have to take nothing for granted. The majority of my students come to my American history survey courses with only cursory information about what has occurred in the past.

I teach those courses as if I were teaching at the secondary level simply because I see such large gaps in their knowledge. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my students; ignorance is not primarily their fault, and it can be corrected.

Second, and more disturbing, is the trend toward a kind of indoctrination in whatever trendy movement is sweeping the land. All the walkouts that stemmed from the Parkland tragedy have a distinct political bias. We’re told these are student-led but I don’t believe it. Rather, the students are being led, and from the comments I hear from student “leaders,” one thing is significantly lacking:

“Critical thinking” has become one of the trendiest clichés of our day. Yet there is little of it in evidence. All “right-thinking” people are supposed to support gun control and/or the scrapping of the Second Amendment. After all, “guns kill people.”

A recent report notes that London now has a higher murder rate than New York City. The primary weapon used in these murders? Knives. Are they going to be banned now?

Sending young people to college is supposed to be a higher education. Is that always true?

Sadly, the worldview of most college and university administrations is illustrated nicely in that comic strip. In some of those institutions, Christians and/or conservatives are being forced to go along with such things as promotion of the LGBTQ agenda. If they refuse, they are made “sensitive” to the agenda through special seminars just for them or they find they are no longer employable.

That’s not the case where I teach, and I am grateful for it.

Yet universities such as mine are in the minority now. We truly have an education crisis.

Gratitude for My Calling

While I don’t write this blog every morning, most mornings I do consider whether to write and what needs to be said. Specifically, I pray for God’s guidance. It’s easy to write a blog that critiques the government and culture—and often that’s what I believe I should do—Jesus didn’t spare His words toward the sinfulness of the culture in which he walked, particularly the hypocrisy of those who considered themselves leaders.

Yet I also want to highlight the good and help readers recognize the blessings the Lord bestows. That’s where I am today.

I think of what God allows me to do as a professor of history as I attempt to direct university students into the renewed mind that should characterize all Christians.

Take this semester, for instance. I’m teaching four courses that permit me to showcase Biblical principles.

In my historiography course, I do this quite specifically as we examine disparate worldviews in the philosophy of history and survey the various schools of historical thought over time. The Biblical worldview and the principles associated with it contrast nicely with what secularists want us to believe.

My American history survey course introduces the facts of history (of which many of the students are unaware) and shows how to evaluate what has happened in light of Biblical truths.

My course detailing the American Revolution, which should be more properly called the American War for Continued Self-Government (but that’s a topic for another time), is more than an account of battles. It deals with all the historical background that led to the conflict and reveals that the controversy had a Biblical basis.

Ending that course with an examination of the Constitution and with a book that delves into how the Founders understood issues that continue to bedevil us today is illuminating.

A new course I’m teaching is on America from 1877-1917, in which I show how the thought processes of many changed with the advent of evolutionary theory; again, that lets students know why we are where we are now. I can also lead them through an analysis of the nature of progressivism, the pros and cons of big business, and the principal leaders of the era, both positive and negative.

There’s so much talk about critical thinking in edu-crat world that the term has become nearly a meaningless cliché. I hope that my courses actually fulfill that goal.

On top of those opportunities, I participated in a forum where I could present my viewpoint on the unbiblical nature of socialism and nanny-state government. The room was packed to overflowing. While I afterwards thought of a hundred and one other things I wish I had said, the feedback on what I was able to say in a limited time has been encouraging.

There are very few institutions of higher education that allow someone with my views to openly declare them. My thanks to my institution, Southeastern University.

I’ve been free to develop specialized courses, some of which one would be hard put to find anywhere else: Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism; The Witness of Whittaker Chambers; C. S. Lewis: History and Influence.

Outside the official classroom, I’ve had other opportunities. Starting in January, I will be teaching an evening class on Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters at a local church.

Some people my age think of retirement. I’m not there, at least not seriously, despite my jokes on that subject at times. God has given me so much to do, and it is so productive, that it would be wrong to let go of it at this time.

So today I reflect with gratitude on my calling, and I continue to carry it out with enthusiasm. Thanks be to God for His great love and favor.