Friday, October 31, 2008

Mixing Learning and Voting

The 2008 presidential election is less than a week away. It's amazing how many political signs can litter the lawn of the public libraries where early voting is already in full swing.

Like most national events and social debates, the elections are a great source of learning and conversation about what it means to be American, to vote, and to have a representative government.

Philosopher and theologian R.C. Sproul (author of The Consequences of Ideas) posted a blog entry a few days ago about the relationship between Christians and society in the context of elections. It's called "Principles for Voting." The whole post is worth reading, whether you agree with Sproul or not, but here's the core argument:
As a Christian you have obligations opposed upon your conscience that in some sense other people don't have, although they should have. And the first thing is this: You have to understand what a vote is. The word vote comes from the Latin votum, which means 'will' or choice. And when you go to the ballot box and you vote, you are not there to vote for what's going to benefit you necessarily. Your vote is not a license to impose your selfish desires upon the rest of the country. You only have the right to vote for what is right. And not only do you have the right to vote for what is right, but when you vote you have the duty to vote for what is right...
As teachers and parents, your children get their first glimpse of civic responsibility by watching you. How do you explain the right and responsibility of voting? What principles do you hope your children will learn by the time they are ready to cast their first national vote?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Redefining and Refining the Foundations

With the economy at the forefront of our minds today, I am reminded how much the decisions to homeschool is tied to our understanding of what it means to work and learn.

Change is afoot, as Business Week and other magazines show more and more advertisements with parents working on computers with small children around their feet reading or coloring. Historically, jobs didn’t exist as much as a wide array of daily tasks to complete.

Moderns ask one another what they do when they mean to ask, "Where do you work?" Can you imagine asking Davy Crockett or Patrick Henry where he worked? They worked where the task required – mostly at home. Global technologies offer us an opportunity to return to this way of thinking.

As the economy changes, our paradigm also has to change. It is a big shift to think of working at a business as a couple, befriending your neighbors instead of coworkers, and including your children in your daily tasks. Choosing to center your children's education at home requires a similar shift in thinking.

When people talk about home schooling, one of their assumptions is that we don't "go to school." Well, they're right. But that's not exactly what they mean. They have trouble separating the idea of education from the building where it takes place.

That's one of the reasons I like the phrase "home-centered learning" better than "home schooling." We learn from home rather than strictly at home. In the future, more and more families may also work from home.

A lot of people find that scary.  My husband and I are so excited by our ability to both be at home while our children are young. We want to help many other families enjoy the same opportunity. 

Our response to these changes has everything to do with perspective (or rather, the foundation we have built our perspective on). 

Over time, if  life feels like we are drowning in quicksand, we may discover that we need surer thoughts on which to stand. When that happens, the only thing we can do is make our way back to the Rock who never changes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How Far Would You Go?

Browsing stories about home schooling in the news pulled up this one from the other side of the world, in New Zealand: Education, patterns and predictions.

Although the main point of the article was a man who wrote a book about predicting the weather, one of the side comments caught my attention:
"...when it came time for his own children to be educated, he opted to home-school them. In the 1970s, you weren't allowed to home-school children if you permanently lived within a certain distance from a school, said Ken, If you wanted to home-school, you had to move away.With this in mind, Ken purchased a bus and decided to go bush with his family, taking them to remote areas of the East Coast and living off the land."
Just like that. 

I can't home school my kids if I live near a school? Not - oh, well, I guess I'll just send them to public school. Not - well, maybe in a few years I could handle a move. Not - maybe by the time the next kid comes along. But - okay, let's start bus shopping.

Don't think I'm telling everyone to buy a bus and move into the wilderness: I'm not. But what a powerful testimony of being willing to make sacrifices for the good of our children! 

So often, we see the first sign of trouble and look for a detour, instead of reveling in the teachable moments and the chance to show how much we value the role we have been called to fulfill. 

Remember:

"The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come." - C.S. Lewis.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Buildings without Foundations

In the wake of testing frenzies like No Child Left Behind, some educators are pushing for a view of education that instead emphasizes "mind-training." One example is the CES (Coalition of Essential Schools) network.

One of the program's advocates, Deborah Meier, says educators should have a different standard of success:  
"I'd like evidence that [high school graduates] can exercise the 'five habits of mind' in assorted ways, that suggest their understanding of the nature of science, history, math, literature, the arts—but not any particular coverage. And I'd like to 'measure' their ability to engage publicly with such subject matter in contemporary contexts, including perhaps vocational ones" (posted on Bridging Differences).
At first glance, this sounds like what we do at CC: develop skills, not hurry through subjects. But as classical educators, we teach three skills needed to study any subject: grammar, or gathering knowledge; dialectic,or understanding knowledge; and rhetoric, or wisely using knowledge. Grammar means foundational knowledge.

As a Christian, the goal of education is to teach mankind to discover Truth, to teach others to know God and to make Him known. 

It is impossible to teach God’s Word effectively without understanding creation and human nature. Understanding the physical universe requires a foundational knowledge of math and science.  Understanding human consciousness requires a foundational knowledge of language, history, and literature. Without grammar, dialectic and rhetoric lack a solid foundation.

Consider, every study ever done by the National Assessment of Educational Progress has shown that American are at the bottom of the world's educational curve and at the top of the self-esteem curve. If you think being puffed up by knowledge is bad, try being puffed up by ignorance.

Our task as Christian educators, pastors, and parents is to examine all of our educational choices in light of Scripture rather than the latest emotional influence, for we will be presented with many options in this age of global technologies. This warning applies to everything we think, learn, and believe.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Defining the 'Great' in Great Books

Happy October!

In keeping with the reading theme, I found this post from Ligonier Ministries interesting. Gene Edward Veith, academic dean of Patrick Henry College, talks about how we choose a "canon" of secular literature. Some postmodern thinkers want to redefine the classics. Here's what Veith says:
"This mindset, of course, undermines, intentionally, traditional ideas and values. And yet, the effort to include women and minorities in the canon has unintended consequences. Many of those women admitted into the canon (Dame Julian of Norwich, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Flannery O'Connor -- who belongs in any canon of modern literature but who has a new prominence as a major female author) wrote about Christianity! The same is true of many minority authors (Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass). So we have the spectacle of liberal, feminist, politically-correct college classrooms having to wrestle with O'Connor's depictions of sin and grace, and Wheatley's evangelical fervor as a freed slave."
Isn't it fun to see how God works through the world's best-laid plans? 

Although the secular canon (literature) cannot replace the sacred canon (Scripture), this does not mean non-sacred books are worthless, or that we can only appreciate books written by people who share our beliefs.  Nor does it mean all secular books are equally worth reading.  Either one is a postmodern response, because it dismisses objective standards for judging right and wrong, truth and beauty (the foundation of discernment). 

As Christians, we can (and must) learn to discern truth from lies.  And that includes recognizing authors as human; they can be flawed and still write something with grains of truth worth reading. Veith reminds us that some of our greatest authors recognized this fact.  He says,
"It may be a mark of their greatness that our culture's greatest writers often draw on, quote, allude to, and are inspired by the canon of Holy Scripture."
If, as Veith suggests, we assembled another list, this one of Great Christian Books, what would be "must-haves" on the list?  How would you choose?