Posts tagged with: education

I came across a troubling essay in this month’s issue of Grand Rapids Family Magazine. In her “Taking Notes” column, Associate Publisher/Editor Carole Valade takes up the question of “family values” in the context of the primary campaign season.

She writes,

The most important “traditional values” and “family values” amount to one thing: a great education for our children. Education is called “the great equalizer”: It is imperative for our children to be able to compete on a “global scale” for the jobs that fund their future and provide hopes and dreams for their generation.

So far, so good. But from the somewhat uncontroversial assertions in that paragraph, Valade moves on to make some incredibly unfounded conclusions. (I say “somewhat” uncontroversial because it’s not clear in what sense education is an “equalizer.” Do we all get the same grades? Do we all perform as well as everyone else?)

Valade simply assumes that an emphasis on “education” as a “family value” means that we ought to push for greater government involvement in education, in the form of funding and oversight. “Education funding should be the most discussed topic of the campaign; it should be the focus of budget discussions,” she writes.

Let’s be clear that the immediate context for these comments are the national primary elections. It’s thus fair to conclude that Valade is talking primarily about the role of the federal government. This is underscored by her claims that “Head Start and pre-school programs are not a ‘luxury’ in state of federal budgets; they are an absolute necessity.”

The problem with Valade’s perspective is that it equates concern for education with concern for political lobbying: “Who will ask for such priorities if not parents? Who will speak on behalf of our children’s well-being if not parents?”

It is the case that the great concern that so many parents have for their children’s education have led them to move them into private schools and even (gasp!) to home school them. There is no facile and simple connection between valuing education and valuing government involvement in education. Given the performance of public schools in general compared to charter schools and private schools, there is an argument to be made that greater government involvement in education weakens rather than strengthens our children’s education.

Placing a high priority on a child’s education leads some parents to want their kids to be instructed in the truths about God and his relation to his creation, and this is instruction that by definition is excluded from a government-run public education. So there’s at least as strong a case to be made that valuing education means that we should lobby for less government involvement rather than more, or at least not think of education as primarily a political issue but rather a familial and ecclesiastical responsibility.

“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce,” said Lord Acton. “It must leave them to the enterprise of others.” One of those “good purposes” is an education centered on Christian moral formation.

See also: “Too Cool for School: Al Mohler says it’s time for Christians to abandon public schools.”

And: H-Net Review, Religion in Schools: Controversies around the World (Westport: Praeger, 2006).

Does a good education demand an appreciation for history? It would seem so. What arguments are there to support such a contention?

Neil Postman writes,

There is no escaping ourselves. The human dilemma is as it always has been, and it is a delusion to believe that the future will render irrelevant what we know and have long known about ourselves but find it convenient to forget.

In quoting this passage from Postman’s Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century, Ronald Arnett says that history is “the metasubject needed in a good education.”

This contention is a correlate of C.S. Lewis’ opinion that old books are critically necessary to learning. In his introduction to an old book (Athanasius’ De Incarnatione), Lewis writes, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Where Postman praises the study of history for what is constant in human nature, Lewis praises historical study for providing us a perspective from which to judge what is transient and contextual about our own times. Lord Acton, himself a greatly learned and distinguished historian once wrote, “History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.”

Lewis also makes an important methodological point about the preeminence of primary sources, as compared to secondary sources. That is, when we have a question about Plato or Platonism, the reader should first consult a book by Plato or a Platonist rather than “some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.”

Christians know too that “the human dilemma” is to be understood within the narrative of redemption history (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation).

Those paying close attention to the developments in Christian higher education will take note of the increasing popularity of “great books” programs (see St. John’s College and The College at Southwestern). These are in some sense an extension of the impulse toward a classical academy model of elementary and secondary education.

For more on “what makes a great book,” visit this Scriptorium Daily podcast, which includes the insights of faculty of the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books program at Biola University.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16 NIV)

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21 NIV)

Let’s not leave it to the worldly culture to teach our children the fear of the Lord.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

‘And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

‘Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!’” (Matthew 18:1-7 NIV)

I’ve heard it said from a number of leaders in the Reformed community that there is a great opportunity for Reformed churches to be a positive influence on the growth of Christianity abroad, particularly in places like Africa where Pentecostalism has made such large inroads.

The thesis is that as time passes and institutions need to be built, the traditionally other-worldly Pentecostal faith will by necessity need to embrace a more fully comprehensive world-and-life view. Reformed institutions ought to be prepared to step into the breach and provide that worldview education.

On that note, I pass along two items of interest. The first is a newly released book from Fortress Press, Christian Education as Evangelism, an edited collection of essays that argues that if congregations “are to be active in their evangelical outreach, solid teaching is necessary. Likewise learning ministries that are well grounded and alive will spring forth into vital sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christian education leads to evangelism and evangelism leads to Christian education.”

And as a counter-point to the potential for arrogance that might accompany a Reformed educational mission to the Pentecostal world, see this item, “Dutch Protestant leader apologises to Pentecostals,”

Utrecht (ENI). The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has apologised to Pentecostals for negative attitudes held in the past by Reformed and Lutheran Christians towards members of Pentecostal churches. “Even now, one still can often sense an attitude of negativity and condescension,” the church’s general secretary Bas Plaisier said at celebrations in Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium to mark the centenary of the Dutch Pentecostal movement. Such attitudes were also widely held among Protestants in the past, Plaisier said. “I hope that with this centenary celebration we can put an end to this [negative] way of speaking and thinking about one another,” he said. [355 words, ENI-07-0726]

Given the rather distinct lack of commitment to distinctively and confessionally Reformed education among the Christian Reformed Church at the moment (check out this synodical report), I wonder if this sort of educational impetus is something that Westerners find are good for other people, but not themselves.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 6, 2007

They say that those who can’t do, teach. But what if you can’t teach?

From the AZ Republic: “Hundreds of students in Arizona are trying to learn English from teachers who don’t know the language, state officials say.”

I’ve never been too attracted to the whole “English-only movement,” but I would think the language should at least be the sine qua non of our educational system.

That is, we should be teaching English and other languages. Some of the examples from the piece are pretty egregious, as teachers are employed who are clearly unqualified to comply with “Arizona law [that] requires teachers to use only English in the classroom and bans all texts and materials in any language but English.” I’m assuming that law is in effect for classes other than foreign language classes.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

There are a number of problems with Paul Krugman’s NYT piece earlier this week, “A Socialist Plot.” Krugman compares the American educational system to its healthcare system, arguing that because Americans aren’t inclined to disparage the former as a socialist threat, we likewise shouldn’t consider universal healthcare as a “socialist plot.”

“The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care. It’s just a matter of historical accident that we think of access to free K-12 education as a basic right, but consider having the government pay children’s medical bills ‘welfare,’ with all the negative connotations that go with that term,” says Krugman.

Krugman assumes that a defense of private versus public education is indefensible. After hypothesizing about making a case for abolition of public education, he purrs to his NYT audience who have never considered any practical option besides the government administration of education, “O.K., in case you’re wondering, I haven’t lost my mind.” Clearly to even consider getting rid of public education is insane.

First, let’s make a basic distinction between government mandates and government provision. The government mandates that I have car insurance before I take my car out for a spin, but I don’t sign up with the government for that car insurance. In the same way, drawing my own analogy, government could mandate K-12 education without being the primary provider of said education.

And as far as socialists plots go, government provided education should be ranked right up there. Even social observers who are largely sympathetic to socialism see the administration of public education primarily in terms of its utility as a means of social control rather than as a means of inculcating truth. Thus says Reinhold Niebuhr: “While education is potential power, because it enables the disinherited to protect their own interests by organised and effective methods, the dominant classes have suppressed their fears about education by the thought that education could be used as a means for inculcating submissiveness.” Whether the dominant class is the bourgeois or a politburo, public education as social control is a real concern.

Kristoff concludes, “We offer free education, and don’t worry about middle-class families getting benefits they don’t need, because that’s the only way to ensure that every child gets an education — and giving every child a fair chance is the American way. And we should guarantee health care to every child, for the same reason.” Socialism, apparently, is the American way. And middle-class families that send their kids to private schools aren’t “getting benefits they don’t need,” they are paying via taxes, often dearly, for education they don’t want.

There is an analogy between health insurance, car insurance, and education. It may be that the government mandate that all Americans have health insurance (although I doubt such a policy’s prudence), and yet not become the primary provider of such health insurance. Where market forces fail, nonprofits, charities, community groups, and churches must fill the gap. BlueCross and BlueShield is a nonprofit health insurance association providing coverage for about 1/3 of the American population. If need be tax credits and other incentives could be extended to promote private financing of such initiatives.

For more on the push for socialized health care in the US, check out this week’s commentary, “What’s Wacko about Sicko.”

Many students who identify as Evangelical Christians and attend a state or public university are reporting severe bias against their beliefs in the classroom. “Tenured Bigots,” is the title of Mark Bergin’s article in World Magazine which highlights statistical proof of enormous prejudice by faculty members against evangelicals.

Surprised? Of course not! The findings about attitudes toward Evangelicals actually turned up in a study designed to gauge anti-Semitism. The analysis was conducted by Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. In the survey of 1,262 faculty members across 712 public colleges and universities, Evangelical Christians scored the highest unfavorable rating from faculty with a 53 percent, while Mormons placed second with 33 percent. Jews scored the lowest unfavorable score with 3 percent. Bergin also noted in his article:

Tobin was shocked. And his amazement only escalated upon hearing reaction to his results from the academy’s top brass. Rather than deny the accuracy of Tobin’s findings or question his methodology, academy leaders attempted to rationalize their biases. “The prejudice is so deep that faculty do not have any problem justifying it. They tried to dismiss it and said they had a good reason for it,” Tobin told WORLD.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), told The Washington Post that the poll merely reflects “a political and cultural resistance, not a form of religious bias.” In other words, the college faculty members dislike evangelicals not for their faith but the practical outworking of that faith, which makes it OK.

In another landmark case at Missouri State University, junior Emily Brooker objected to an assignment in which students were asked to write their state legislators and urge support for adoptions by same-sex couples. The evangelical social-work major was promptly hauled before a faculty panel and charged with maintaining an insufficient commitment to diversity.

Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told WORLD his organization can hardly keep up with intellectual intolerance and free-speech infringements against evangelical and conservative groups. “College campuses overall are not living up to the ideal of having a marketplace of ideas, of having true intellectual diversity to go along with racial and religious diversity,” he said.

The University of Mississippi, a public university, where I received my undergraduate degree may not entirely fit into the paradigm of this analysis. Of course I had the leftist professors who praised the Sandinistas, and extolled the virtues of Alger Hiss and Ho Chi Minh. Another professor had a banner in his office which read, “workers of the world unite!”

But I also had a criminal justice professor at Ole Miss who, in a class on terrorism, preached the doctrines of Christianity, cited Scripture, and railed against the horror of abortion and religious pluralism, almost on a daily basis. Still another professor discussed the importance of the American Civil Rights Movement in the context of a powerful Christian revival, which of course it was. And another professor spoke in a glowing manner about the intense Reformed Christian faith of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

There may be hope for some students who would like to attend a state university or college and get a solid education. Looking back at college for me, in many instances it was the hedonistic students, with their sexual trysts and binge drinking, who carried a more pronounced anti-Christian message on campus. In their own way, these students had a more destructive influence on campus than any “Tenured Bigot” on the faculty.

Here’s the text of a letter sent this morning to the editor at Woman’s Day magazine (don’t ask why I was reading Woman’s Day. I read whatever happens to be sitting in the rack next to our commode):

Paula Spencer’s commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance (“Pledging Allegiance,” September 1, 2007) sounds incredibly McCarthy-esque. Are we to now believe that having qualms about mandatory recitation of the Pledge constitutes an un-American activity?

Spencer dismisses the many reasons that one might object to the Pledge in the context of public schools. These schools are, after all, institutional arms of the government itself, and attendance is mandatory (unless one can afford private or parochial options). A cynic might suggest that when combined with an obligatory recitation of allegiance to the nation, such education runs the risk of becoming indoctrination for the purposes of social control. As to whether nationalism can be such “a bad thing,” consider Germany in the 1930s.

There are also religious reasons why a person might feel compelled to abstain from pledging to a physical object (the flag). For Christians, whose citizenship is finally in heaven and whose ultimate loyalty is due to God alone, concerns about idolatry might compel a person to conscientiously refrain from making such a pledge. Indeed, those two little words “under God” which have occasioned such controversy in recent days are perhaps the only elements of the Pledge that make it even permissible for Christians to profess allegiance to any particular nation.

Patriotism too often can morph into xenophobia and nationalism. Whatever your views of the Pledge, I would think that the educational potential contained in having a “conversation with your child about your family’s approach to the Pledge” would be the sort of engaged parenting that your publication ought to praise and endorse rather than disdain.

The free exercise of religion, not to mention the freedom of speech and independent thought, are thoroughly American. A coerced, perfunctory, and unreflective patriotism is no true patriotism at all.

Jordan J. Ballor
Associate Editor
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “The nation will always claim a portion of man’s loyalties. Since it usually claims too large a portion, it is necessary that other communities compete with it.”

By my way of thinking, for Christians the Church ought to be that community of primary loyalty (for Niebuhr, it’s the class: “There is no reason why a class which is fated by its condition of life to aspire after an equalitarian society should not have a high moral claim upon the loyalty of its members”).

It seems to me that American churches have a particularly hard time separating out what elements of their worship and piety are merely the trappings of civil religion and which are the indispensable elements of catholicity.

At the recreation center where my wife plays softball, and which is explicitly supported by the denomination, players, coaches, and umpires only pause to pray after the national anthem has been played. In itself its a small thing, perhaps even unimportant, but when combined with all the other similar elements (American flags near the pulpit, for example), it raises in my mind the perennial questions about ultimate loyalties and the proclivity for Christian denominations, particularly Protestants, to align themselves along national boundaries.

See also: “Which of These is More Offensive?”

I like to think of J. Gresham Machen as the American Presbyterian Chesterton — though he is sometimes more explicit in his societal commentary than his British Catholic counterpart. In my Sunday reading, I keep coming across interesting lines from his selected shorter writings (edited by D.G. Hart) that call to mind current campaign rhetoric, especially from senators Obama and Clinton, about the need for expanded or universal preschool and state-subsidized education in general. Here are a few quotes from Machen’s 1933 address titled, “The Necessity of the Christian School”:

…The tyranny of the scientific expert is the most crushing tyranny of all. That tyranny is being exercised most effectively in the field of education. A monopolistic system of education controlled by the state is far more efficient in crushing our liberty than the cruder weapons of fire and sword. Against this monooply of education by the state the Christian school brings a salutary protest; it contends for the right of parents to bring up their children in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and not in the manner prescribed by the state.

Every lover of human freedom ought to oppose with all his might the giving of federal aid to the schools of this country; for federal aid in the long run inevitably means federal control, and federal control means control by a centralized and irresponsible bureaucracy, and control by such a bureaucracy means the death of everything that might make this country great.

Against this soul-killing collectivism in education, the Christian school, like the private school, stands as an emphatic protest….The only way in which a state-controlled school can be kept even relatively healthy is through the absolutely free possibility of competition by private schools and church schools; if it once becomes monopolistic, it is the most effective engine of tyranny and intellectual stagnation that has yet been devised.

A Christian boy or girl can learn mathematics, for example, from a teacher who is not a Christian; and truth is truth however learned. But…the bearing of truth, the meaning of truth, the purpose of truth, even in the sphere of mathematics, seem entirely different to the Christian from that which they seem to the non-Christian….True learning and true piety go hand in hand, and Christianity embraces the whole of life — those are great central convictions that underlie the Christian school.

Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama has gained support from some Evangelical Christians. I recall some students and faculty at the Wesleyan Evangelical seminary that I attended supported Obama. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, when on the lecture circuit, constantly compares Obama with famed British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce.

This week, Obama spoke to a Planned Parenthood gathering where he reinforced his support for sexual education for kindergarteners. To be fair, Obama said the education should be age appropriate and that he “does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten.”

However, let’s keep in mind the audience to whom Obama was speaking — Planned Parenthood. When I attended public school in the state of Hawaii, I was introduced to Planned Parenthood in my mandatory health class in 7th grade. Planned Parenthood tried to teach us how to use condoms with cucumbers and instructed the class about spermicidal jelly, dental dams, and other birth control devices and methods. I was 13 years old.

I remember taking a survey which Planned Parenthood brought to my class. The group wanted to gauge our sexual knowledge and experience. I remember wondering if I was abnormal because I had not experienced the depth of extensive sexual activity that Planned Parenthood was asking me about. I recall one of the questions was, “How many times are you laid in a week?”

This survey information was taken by Planned Parenthood workers and was never seen by students again. I also specifically recall one Planned Parenthood worker reminding the girls in the class that, if they became pregnant, they could tell or visit them before informing their parents.

The problem that arises from “age appropriate sexual education” is who decides what is appropriate? Is it parents, public school administrators, Senator Obama, or Planned Parenthood? When Planned Parenthood is involved, all of the concerns about social engineering and radical sexual agendas should be taken seriously.

[Ed. note: See also Acton's Jennifer Roback Morse, "Get the Government Out of Sex Ed."]