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.

Historiography: Creating Christian Historians

Every year I teach my historiography course. The uninitiated will immediately respond, “What does that mean?” This is a required course for all history majors at Southeastern. The goals are the following:

  1. Provide a history of the writing of history throughout the ages (different perspectives and schools of thought);
  2. Think through how a Christian should understand and interpret history;
  3. Become proficient in researching, writing, and documenting papers on historical subjects.

Although some may think that sounds like a “dry” course, I actually enjoy teaching it and inspiring history majors to see history through God’s eyes and to be the best they can be in their thinking and writing.

I use a number of valuable sources to help achieve those goals listed above. One book I give students is Carl Trueman’s Histories and Fallacies.

Trueman writes in an engaging way and aids in showing how general theories of history can sometimes lead us astray. His focus there is on the Marxist interpretation, which doesn’t allow for any falsification at all. One must agree with the theory regardless of the facts presented.

He also does a fine job of showing how groups like Holocaust deniers attempt to gain respectability in the historical profession. Students learn how to analyze this particular movement and see why it lacks credibility.

Further, Trueman highlights some of the most common fallacies historians may fall into as they research and try to offer explanations. All in all, this is a valuable resource.

Ronald Nash’s Christian Faith and Historical Understanding (another out-of-print book I use—copies can be obtained online in other ways) lays out an argument for the development of a Biblical worldview on history as it critiques various schools of historical thought.

I especially appreciate his takedown of individuals such as Rudolf Bultmann, who try to say they have a Christian understanding of history even while they deny all the basic doctrines of the faith and promote the view that it doesn’t matter whether there was a real Jesus or not, and if there was, there really wasn’t a physical resurrection. Nash’s logic in the book is impeccable.

Then there’s an outstanding chapter from another book that is essential for the course. Herbert Schlossberg’s Idols for Destruction has one chapter called “Idols of History.” It concentrates on how people turn history into an idol and somehow believe that everything is historically determined.

This argument basically says that whatever happens in history is what was supposed to happen—therefore, one must get on the “right side of history.”

That “right-side-of-history” cliché is one that I despise. It omits human free will and makes our choices in life insignificant. Whatever is going to happen will happen, according to this view.

To help round out my students’ contemplation of how a Christian should view history, I also offer them my book called If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government. Although the subtitle centers on government, the principles in the book are applicable to all areas of life.

I go through them one-by-one with the students in the hope that they will generate further thought. I don’t claim that the principles espoused in the book are the only ones, but they are pretty fundamental and should guide students into the practice of evaluating whatever they read through Biblical principles.

And then, of course, there is that Turabian manual that becomes their guide into all of their writing techniques, from how to choose a topic, to how to develop an outline for writing, to the proper way to document what one has found (footnotes are a must), to even the rules for spelling, punctuation, use of numbers and abbreviations, and everything dealing with correct, scholarly writing.

I joke that we should refer to the manual as something handed down to us from St. Kate.

While students often struggle with all these details in the manual, it’s imperative they get the basics and then make it their reference work for all future papers.

Historiography is a course that is so fundamental that it is the gateway for taking the upper-level courses. I’m glad to provide the guidance these history majors need.

But more than merely a preparation for upper-level courses, the historiography course is a way to help each student develop a Christian philosophy of history. That’s a goal worth the time and effort.

Higher Education Sometimes Isn’t

Let’s compare the myth with what is all too often the reality about what occurs in a college education.

The myth is that the four years spent in the arena of higher education is a time when the student will be able, under wise direction from professors, to sift through a variety of worldviews and learn how to become discerning in a quest for what is genuine and what is not.

That has been somewhat fictional all along, simply because the culture will be a strong determinant in what is taught at colleges and universities. The idea that all sides will be fairly presented is not the usual fare. We need to remember that value-neutral education is a myth; everyone teaches from a distinctive worldview.

The reality is that parents who go into debt in the hope that college will round out their child’s educational experience may instead find an entirely different child when the experience has been completed:

What Did You Learn

Now that the radicals of the 1960s and 1970s are filling most of the professorial posts in the liberal arts programs of the universities, what else should we expect? They are now attempting to clone themselves through this new generation. They haven’t done this alone, of course; they’ve had the help of the public school system nationwide and the larger entertainment culture.

Everything now offends some students (and I use that term loosely).

Trigger Words

Well, perhaps we should provide a trigger warning for those who are now embarking on their new path in life:

Trigger Warning

There’s always this possibility, though:

Grad School

All of this is quite disturbing to me, since I teach at a university. I’m not at your typical university, fortunately. Although Christian colleges and universities are not immune to these forces, there remains more sanity when you are at an institution that continues to hold up God’s Word as the standard for learning.

Sadly, though, what we see spreading across the nation is the epitome of what I have called Snyderian Truism #11: “Higher education sometimes isn’t.”

Lewis: Leavening Society

C. S. Lewis 4C. S. Lewis didn’t write extensively on government or economics; in fact, he had a hard time being interested in either. Yet he did have a grasp of the basics. In this excerpt from Mere Christianity, he offers what may seem to be a simplistic solution to our problems, but, if followed, really would take care of them:

Some Christians—those who happen to have the right talents—should be economists and statesmen, and . . . all economists and statesmen should be Christians, and . . . their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting “Do as you would be done by” into action.

If that happened, and if we others were really ready to take it, then we should find the Christian solution for our own social problems pretty quickly. . . . The job is really on us, on the laymen.

This is a call for Christians to realize that a spiritual “job” is not limited to that of a pastor or missionary. Full-time Christian service must include every career path that exists. We are to bring our Biblical worldview into whatever we do. So when the laymen take that challenge seriously, we make headway in the society.

It’s well past time to stop confining ourselves to our little Christian corner; we have a message that needs to leaven the entire society.

Jamestown: The Natives

This my third post this week on the Jamestown settlement. I’m not quite done with it. Next week, I’ll finish this portion of American history with some commentary on why Jamestown is significant. Today, I want to shed some light on the natives who crossed paths with those early settlers. What type of society did these Englishmen find when they arrived?

First, let’s dispense with unrealistic romanticism. All humans are sinful. They have a propensity to treat others badly. This certainly was evident in the New World. The rosy picture of natives living in perfect harmony with nature and then having all that disturbed by Europeans is not very accurate. When the Spanish saw how the Aztecs carried out human sacrifices, they were horrified. That’s not meant to absolve the Spanish from their share of the blame for how things turned out, but we need to have a balanced picture of the past.

PowhatansThe natives in the Jamestown area were part of a broader grouping called the Algonquin. The Powhatan Confederacy that the English came upon was one portion of that larger grouping. They had no written language, so we have no primary documents from them personally. What we have is the English explanation of what they saw and experienced. A one-sided view can be skewed, to be sure, but further research and archaeology have substantiated much of what they told us.

The Algonquin worldview was dark. Only the chiefs and priests had any hope of a kind of life after death; they supposedly were reincarnated. The common people had this life only—no hope of an eternity in the presence of a loving God. The culture was polytheistic, featuring many gods for many different purposes. The one they dreaded the most was Okeus, who had to be appeased continually. Throughout the Algonquin tribes, child sacrifice for that purpose was practiced.

Warfare was a staple of life. Tribes had shifting alliances over time, all for the sake of self-preservation. The natives did not view themselves as one big happy family suddenly interrupted by the English. Their perception of these new settlers was that of just another tribe in the region to be dealt with.

If you were caught in a war by the enemy, you could expect to be tortured in the most cruel ways. They had developed a rather sophisticated method of skinning people alive and cutting off body parts while the victim was still conscious, and even eating those parts while he watched.

If you were a young boy entering manhood, the practice was to give you a powerful drug to erase the memory of boyhood. This was how you transitioned into becoming a man.

Powhatan Receiving TributeChief Powhatan (a title, not his actual name) was already advanced in age when the Jamestown people first encountered him, but he was still vital and strong. He had to be. His confederacy was held together by force and intimidation. Powhatan ruled over thirty conquered tribes: note the word “conquered” here; they didn’t apply for membership. Once in the confederacy, they owed him a tribute of 80% of their crops—in other words, he had an 80% tax rate. So how did they survive? It appears that Powhatan mastered the age-old system of redistribution of wealth. As long as you were trustworthy and obedient, he would, from his bounty, send some of it back to you.

Sound familiar? Sound rather contemporary?

Powhatan also had approximately one hundred wives, taken from the various tribes under his authority. He would then have one child with each, solidifying the connection with each tribe. One can say without too much exaggeration that he was the “father of his country.” Summary: Powhatan was an absolute despot who ruled with an iron hand.

Neither was Powhatan going to share power. When one of his priests came forth with a prophecy that a tribe coming out of the Chesapeake region was going to topple his empire, he immediately decided to kill off the Chesapeake tribe. He was efficient; they were slaughtered that day. Only when the English showed up, coming from that same region, did he wonder if they were the “tribe” destined to remove him. We have no evidence, though, of any remorse for his “mistake.”

When the Starving Time hit Jamestown in 1609-1610, Powhatan did all he could to withhold any aid, hoping they would all die out. Later, when his daughter Pocahontas married a settler, relations between the cultures relaxed for a time, only to destroyed by the massacre of 1622 that I described in an earlier post.

From the Christian point of view, what I see is a culture devoid of the light of the Gospel. It was a culture desperately in need of hope, that lacked the understanding that the Son of God—the only God—had reached out to His creation through His own sacrifice, which would take the place of human sacrifice. Pocahontas and Chanco, among others, gained that understanding and realized that hope. Most rejected it. In a previous post, I highlighted some of the true Christians who sought to minister to the natives. If there had been more of those type of men, this part of our history would have been more praiseworthy.

Snyderian Truism #2

Last week I introduced “Snyderian Truisms.” These are comments I’ve been making in class for quite some time, so I decided to turn them into official truths that I believe are undeniable. The first one was “Since God gave you a brain, He undoubtedly expects you to use it.” I give that one to my students in my American history survey courses on the very first day of class. Hopefully, it gets their attention and lets them know my expectations for the semester.

On the first day of class, I also present truism #2:

If you fill your mind with rot, don’t be surprised if you turn out rotten.

ThinkerProverbs 23:7 tells us, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” In other words, you will become whatever you put into yourself. It’s both a warning and a promise, depending on what you allow to come into your mind.

One of my biggest concerns for this new crop of students is their fascination with certain commentators on society who mask their anti-Christian worldview through comedy. I’m more than a little dismayed by how those who call themselves Christians get their information from such sources. One professorial colleague told me he asked his class how they know what’s going on in the news. The response? They watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, among other questionable sources of authority.

Consequently, I put my students on alert from day one. I show them a slide with the pictures of Stewart, Colbert, and Bill Maher, and I say on the slide, “If you rely on Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or Bill Maher for your worldview and your beliefs about American history, government, or politics, please let me know—I will pray for you.”

As you can see, I don’t just mount a blistering attack on those celebrities, but I do try to place doubt in the students’ minds as to the wisdom they might receive from them. Then, for good measure, I add this on a subsequent slide: “If you rely on Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, AND Bill Maher for your worldview and your beliefs about American history, government, or politics, please let me know—I will help set up counseling sessions with one of our psychology professors.”

Injecting a little humor into my warning helps get the point across that I’m not too keen on tapping into those sources for real knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. So I point them to the following Scriptures:

Colossians 2:8—See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5—We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

The Colossians verse is not an argument against philosophy, but only against the hollow and deceptive varieties. Philosophy, as originally defined by Noah Webster, is an explanation of the reason of things. I tell the students that Christians should have the upper hand for explaining the reasons for all things because we have a connection with the true Source who created all things.

The verse in 2 Corinthians allows me to remind them they have a ministry—as all Christians do—of tearing down false ideas and philosophies. They also have an obligation to submit their minds to the Lord and His truths. So don’t fill your minds with the rot the world offers, I tell them; instead, fill your minds with the thoughts that come from God Himself. By doing so, they will not only be blessed themselves, but they will be a blessing to others.

The Case Against Barack Obama: The Summary & a Challenge

All week I’ve detailed the reasons why Barack Obama should not remain as president. Today, let me summarize and talk about the electoral challenge before us. As I said in the first post, one must begin at the beginning—a person’s worldview. His supporters usually try to skip over this, but it is the essence of the man. It consists of one part false Christianity, one part Marxism, and one part anti-Western civilization. The combination is lethal for the country because all of his policy initiatives flow from this worldview.

Another toxic ingredient is the character he has developed over time, which is dominated by a spirit of privilege, self-righteousness, and outright arrogance. He is always right; opponents have no valid points to make. Add to that a kind of disinterest in the daily details of his responsibilities and a penchant for spending time with the trendy/celebrity culture, and you have someone who can’t be trusted with the highest office in the land.

On the economic front, nearly four years of his policies have left us weak as a nation, with unemployment over 8% during his entire term. This hasn’t occurred since the Great Depression. The question Ronald Reagan posed after four years of Jimmy Carter is being raised once again: are you better off than you were four years ago? Incredibly, yet somehow unsurprisingly, the Obama campaign is claiming we are better off. Well, perhaps some segments of the population can say that:

Small businesses, in particular, have been hard hit. The uncertainty and proposed taxes on them depress hiring. Obama doesn’t understand the free market; what’s worse, he doesn’t even like it. Obamacare has already begun to drag us down further. So what’s his prescription to those who are looking for relief?

Obamacare also has become the front line of attack on religious liberty. In the guise of helping people, religious organizations are forced to provide abortifacients. As I noted in the post two days ago, lawsuits over this are springing up, and they should be. This is a fundamental abrogation of the First Amendment. It’s also part of his overall disdain for basic Biblical morality, showcased by his abortion-on-demand belief and his promotion of homosexuality. The only “sin” he seems to want to recognize is the “sin” of bigotry, defined as holding to traditional moral standards.

There’s so much more on the domestic side that I didn’t cover, but everything else he has supported, from green energy to Fast and Furious, also emanates from his aberrant worldview.

The War on Terror, from Obama’s anti-colonial, anti-Western lens, is over. He as much as declared it to be when he took office. The term itself was replaced by “overseas contingency operations.” He sympathizes with what he believes are the oppressed of the earth, not the least of whom are Muslims, while simultaneously undermining the security of Israel. Only yesterday did the first crack appear in the administration’s blatant lie about the attack on the Libyan consulate that resulted in the murder of our ambassador. Before yesterday, the cause, supposedly, was the trailer for an anti-Muslim film that could be seen on YouTube. Now, according to Jay Carney, it is “self-evident” that it was a planned, coordinated terrorist action. Why the change? Simply put, the lie couldn’t be sustained; too much evidence to the contrary was making it ridiculous. It was an attempt to shield Obama from political damage. It didn’t work. Now, will the media call it the lie that it was?

Here’s the challenge: can the electorate awaken from its stupor and see clearly enough to reverse the direction in which America is headed? My biggest concern is illustrated perfectly in this political cartoon:

Will voters allow their emotions to control their rational thinking? It’s very easy to become cynical about the intelligence of the American electorate:

Frankly, our future as a nation might be more secure if fewer people vote. I know that sounds like a heretical statement if you believe in representative government, but if the majority of the electorate are unprincipled and reject a Biblical worldview, that majority will lead us into deeper spiritual darkness by their votes. I want to believe we aren’t that far gone yet, but I wish I could be more certain. This election will probably provide the answer. If we keep Barack Obama in office, we may have sealed our fate.

May God have mercy on us and preserve us as a people. May He give us another chance for national redemption.