Learning to Love Learning

There are a number of different critiques of the state of American education. Some are most concerned about the lack of discipline in the schools. Others decry the dumbing down of the standards. They point to the decline in scores on standardized tests such as the SAT. A lot of that decline has been hidden by the trick of “centering” the scores. For instance, a 1200 on the SAT today means a whole lot less than it meant in 1963.

Then there’s the grade inflation technique, powered in many instances by adherence to self-esteem philosophy. We wouldn’t want our students to feel bad about their lack of knowledge. We need to understand, however, that eliminating the idea of failure also undercuts success. How do you measure the latter when the former is not allowed? All of this has led to a dumbed-down society.

The problem is deeper, though. It has to do with the desire to learn. Most students, at least in my personal experience, have never developed a love of learning. This malady has multiple causes: broken families, uninspired teachers, an educational bureaucracy more concerned about its perpetual existence than the good of students [this includes the teachers’ unions], and loss of purpose in teaching. When we dismiss the Biblical worldview, we no longer have a reason to learn beyond the mundane desire to make a living. We become earthbound creatures with no vision of the heavenly.

I have a “truism” I share in class that goes like this: “Ignorance can be corrected, but apathy makes learning impossible.” I was sadly amused recently when one of our culture’s iconic comic strips captured the spirit of apathy perfectly:

One of my goals as a professor is to help students develop that essential love of learning. Christians should have it naturally. After all, who created the mind? Who gave us the ability to reason? If God went to all that trouble to make people who aren’t simply marionettes, shouldn’t we explore the grand design He established? Some of my favorites Scriptures along this line come from the book of Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Fear—reverence—of God is the starting point for all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. If we have that reverence, it opens the door to a wide field of knowledge, a proper grasp of the significance of that knowledge [understanding], and the application of that knowledge to one’s life [wisdom]. What better rationale could ever be provided for developing a love of learning?

Most education in America ignores God. By doing so, it robs the individual of any solid basis for wanting to learn. Only by restoring reverence for God in our education will we have any hope of restoring education itself.

The Rot Doesn’t Start at the Top

Have you ever felt like this: so sickened by the ocean of dishonesty, lack of integrity, and arrogance of the majority of humanity that you just want to seal yourself off from the ugliness of it all? If not for the mercy I’ve received personally from the Lord, and His forgiveness for my own past dishonesty, lack of integrity, and arrogance, I would be tempted to find a nice isolated corner of the world where I could simply let the parade pass me by.

As if anyone can find such a corner.

There’s no escape from the pervasiveness of sin in our society. For me, the two most distressing places to find sin are among those who claim the name of Christ and in those who presume to lead us politically. The first—the church—is supposed to be the light in this dark world. When we act like the world, we snuff out the light. The second—our government—is supposed to be a servant of God, carrying out His will in the public sphere. When it decides to become its own miniscule god, it does the opposite of what the real God intended.

In my study of church history, I’ve often been grieved by the manner in which so many have dishonored the God they claim to serve. As a student of the history of politics and government, I’ve been almost as dismayed by the pride of politicians who believe they are bringing us utopia and by the outright lies they offer to achieve their goals.

Our current political leader, though, has set a new standard for arrogance and deception. Just when I thought no one in public life could ever top Bill Clinton for blatant dishonesty and love of self, along comes Barack Obama.

I don’t really want to go through a litany of all the dishonest statements he’s made or the growing list of things for which he denies all knowledge or responsibility, but some cartoonists have encapsulated them for me, so I’ll let them speak:

Didn't Know

Knows Nothing

He won’t even admit when he’s been wrong. Previous presidents have taken responsibility for failures and have won back public confidence: Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco; Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair. But this president? He won’t even acknowledge that his “guarantee” that everyone would be able to keep their health insurance policies if they liked them was a complete sham. He invents a new narrative of what he “actually” meant by words that could only be taken in one way. It’s obvious he lied to get Obamacare passed into law; it’s just as obvious his overall goal is to force everyone in the country into his system eventually.

It’s difficult for me to contain the disgust I feel for this man. I’m ashamed he’s the president of my country. Yet how did he get to be that leader? He didn’t just grab the title and run with it. He convinced enough of our fellow citizens that he was their savior—and I use that word advisedly, as he has always held himself up as larger than life. I mean, who else would ever say that their election was “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”?

I expect people with outsized egos to dominate our politics. The lure of power draws them. What’s most distressing is how easily fooled the people can be as they continue to believe the big lies:

Great Pumpkin

The rot doesn’t start at the top. It rises from the masses who are an unhealthy combination of ignorance and selfishness. At this point, there’s no excuse for ignorance about Obama or his agenda. The selfishness at the root of it all—we want the goodies government promises—can only be dealt with at the personal level. It’s back to the basic Gospel: recognition of our sinfulness, repentance, acceptance of the forgiveness offered through the Cross, and the development of a renewed mind so we can see the world more clearly—through the principles found in Scripture—and not be fooled again.

Snyderian Truism #3

Some of my “truisms” come from personal experience in the classroom. As I embark upon my twenty-fifth year of teaching at the college level, I can attest to the accuracy of Snyderian Truism #3, which states,

Ignorance can be corrected, but apathy makes learning impossible.

IgnoranceThe word “ignorance” sometimes gets an undeserved image. To be ignorant is not to be immoral or foolish or stupid or anything necessarily negative with respect to character. It simply means to be uninformed. I have no problem with the task of helping the uninformed come up to speed with the knowledge they need. Isn’t that the basic goal of teaching?

With respect to the average college student’s grasp of American history, ignorance is nearly epidemic. Most of the students I have in my survey courses have little or no real knowledge of what has occurred in the past. Their understanding of American history is spotty at best, non-existent at times. What they think they know has been filtered through a public education system that has its own agenda, concentrating on the latest trendy topics. The history they’ve received is stuffed with the grievances of minorities, the unfairness of American capitalism, and/or some variant of radical environmentalism.

They know little of the sacrifices made for the current generation, the Biblical principles upon which the culture was based, the concept of the rule of law, or the strides made to correct abuses of the past. They lack context: they don’t know to compare America with other nations throughout history and see some of the stark differences. Consequently, they develop virtually no appreciation for what has preceded their limited time on this earth. For most, history doesn’t go back much further than what they remember personally.

I’ve had more than one student, after taking one of my survey courses, tell me they had no knowledge of almost everything I taught them. A few have even said that I presented the history in a way that contradicted what they learned previously. I distinctly recall one student saying, “Everything you said was good, I was taught was bad, and everything you said was bad, I was taught was good.” Yet all I did was present my interpretation of history based on the most reliable primary sources. I seek accuracy above all.

ApathySo ignorance is not the real problem. It’s apathy that diminishes learning. Ignorance is not a character issue, but apathy is all about character. Although I do my best to make learning enjoyable and interesting, with some students, no matter what I do, there is no desire to learn. One phenomenon I’ve witnessed is that if you have too many apathetic students in a course, their attitude spreads to others and a heavy, oppressive spirit seems to dominate in the classroom.

That’s why I make this truism known to them very early in the course. I want them to ponder the implications of their lack of initiative. I hope it will at least challenge them to make an honest effort. There’s nothing better, perhaps, than to hear students tell me later that, for the first time, they actually wanted to learn history—that my challenge to them and my approach to teaching converted their apathy into an active interest in the subject.

God never promised that ministry would be easy. Neither did He promise that everyone would appreciate what we do. Yet it’s all worthwhile when He uses us to reach into the hearts and minds of others. I thank the Lord for this opportunity He has given me.

The Love of Learning

There are a number of different critiques of the state of American education. Some are most concerned about the lack of discipline in the schools. Others decry the dumbing down of the standards. They point to the decline in scores on standardized tests such as the SAT. A lot of that decline has been hidden by the trick of “centering” the scores. For instance, a 1200 on the SAT today means a whole lot less than it meant in 1963. Then there’s the grade inflation technique, powered in many instances by adherence to self-esteem philosophy. We wouldn’t want our students to feel bad about their lack of knowledge. We need to understand, however, that eliminating the idea of failure also undercuts success. How do you measure the latter when the former is not allowed? All of this has led to a dumbed-down society.

The problem is deeper, though. It has to do with the desire to learn. Most students, at least in my personal experience, have never developed a love of learning. This malady has multiple causes: broken families, uninspired teachers, an educational bureaucracy more concerned about its perpetual existence than the good of students [this includes the teachers’ unions], and loss of purpose in teaching. When we dismiss the Biblical worldview, we no longer have a reason to learn beyond the mundane desire to make a living. We become earthbound creatures with no vision of the heavenly.

I have a “truism” I share in class that goes like this: “Ignorance can be corrected, but apathy makes learning impossible.” I was sadly amused recently when one of our culture’s iconic comic strips captured the spirit of apathy perfectly:

One of my goals as a professor is to help students develop that essential love of learning. Christians should have it naturally. After all, who created the mind? Who gave us the ability to reason? If God went to all that trouble to make people who aren’t simply marionettes, shouldn’t we explore the grand design He established? Some of my favorites Scriptures along this line come from the book of Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Fear—reverence—for God is the starting point for all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. If we have that reverence, it opens the door to a wide field of knowledge, a proper grasp of the significance of that knowledge [understanding], and the application of that knowledge to one’s life [wisdom]. What better rationale could ever be provided for developing a love of learning?

Most education in America ignores God. By doing so, it robs the individual of any solid basis for wanting to learn. Only by restoring reverence for God in our education will we have any hope of restoring education itself.

It's Both, Not Either/Or

The private sector lost 39,000 jobs last month. I’m waiting for the president to claim that’s an indication we’re moving in the right direction. What is the source of his incredible [a.k.a., not believable] outlook on the future of the economy over the past year and a half?

There are two real possibilities under discussion: either he has no understanding of how an economy works or he has an ideology that seeks to undermine the private sector so the public sector can take over. For me, it’s not so much a discussion of either/or—I suspect it’s both. On the one side,  I think he is genuinely surprised when his strong-arm tactics don’t work and he assigns blame to the wrong party:

Then there’s the other half of the Obama worldview that seems to be rooted and grounded in a certain ideology:

In both cases, he’s blind to the problems and to the solutions [both ignorance and ideology will do that]. Blindness of that type will lead to fanciful hopes and dreams:

I’m not a journalist and I’m definitely no Hollywood celebrity, but speaking on behalf of the professoriate, I can confidently say that the profession is glutted already, and there’s no room for a big influx of newcomers. I’m hoping the majority of Americans will continue to think the way they do currently, and that they won’t change into something else—for their own good.

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.