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Entries in Education (9)


The Legacy of Good Teachers

If you were to ask me what my preferred method of education is, I would likely say that if you can homeschool, do it; especially the Kindergarten to 8th grade years. But at the same time, I have to say that I am so thankful for the teachers I had who left me with enduring lessons. If you can leave high school with the memory of one or two teachers who left their mark, I say that is a good thing. As a 52 year old student, I am thankful for lessons given to me by teachers I have had.

First, my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Lunn. I didn't learn a whole lot of chemistry from him (not his fault), and he was often too technical for a bunch of 10th graders. But his suggestion of study methods, borne out of his own university years, was one of the best I received. Mr. Lunn shared with us how in university, he would buy spiral bound notebooks and just write and write his notes until the material was imbedded into his brain. I followed that advice, and today, even with many of the technical ways of note-taking, I still rely on notebooks. I was up early this morning, preparing to write a commentary on the difference between the Protestant view of justification and what is in the Council of Trent (in two double-spaced pages, no less), and I did a lot of writing by hand, and intend to do more. It has always been a useful study method. Thank you, Mr. Lunn.

Second, my high school history teacher, Mr. O'Hearne. One of the best I had. A kind man, and a wonderful teacher of Canadian history. Mr. O'Hearne taught me the principle of historical significance. For someone who became a history major, this was valuable advice. His question was always, "Why is it important?" He taught me about looking at the present reflectively: how did we get here? what forces in the past directed us? Mr. O'Hearne was also sensitive. That year I had him was a hard year, my last year of high school. I had just moved to that school from across the country. He told me it was a huge thing to have happened, and I should not be so hard on myself when I had struggles. Thank you, Mr. O'Hearne.

Third, Miss Dockerty, my 10th grade math teacher. She taught me the value of getting help. Me and math? Not good friends. Not since 3rd grade. She arranged for me to have a tutor, and because of that I did not fail math that year. We often try to muddle through on our own, and it takes a sympathetic teacher to reach out and help. I was resistent at first, mostly because of my pride. She persisted in suggesting help. Thank you, Miss Dockerty.

Fourth, Professor Westhues, my first year sociology professor. He taught me what true learning is. He always said if we can see where someone else is coming from, and how they got to their conclusion, while disagreeing, and maintaining our own conclusions, we have experienced true learning. As a new Christian in a class where one of the topics was "The Sociology of Jesus," I struggled with the content from a faith perspective, but I understood why he had arrived at his conclusions. I'm finding his encouragement about that matter very helpful as I study theology. Thank you, Dr. Westhues.

Good teachers, whether they are your parents or someone else, leave marks on students, even when they don't realize it. And one of the greatest gifts a student can receive is a teacher who first of all loves her subject matter, and second of all, loves to learn. I know that to be true about those four teachers whose memory stays with me. I am positive that my current prof, Dr. Fowler, will be among that list some day.


For me, it was the education, not the teachers

I had rather sworn of taking time from a busy schedule to blog about what others blog about, but the article Tim Challies wrote this week with the provocative title Stop Slandering Public School Teachers, has had me thinking. Education is important to me, and I am a supporter of both homeschooling and public schooling, having had experience with both.

The article did bring out a needed exhortation not to slander public school teachers. I know many public school teachers, and I know where their hearts are. For many of my teacher friends, their days consist of butting their heads against the wall of being made to teach this or that, lack of resources, or the lack of one-on-one time with their students. I agree with the premise of the article. I do, however, believe that the slander mentioned in the article works both ways, and I think it's worth facing up to the reality that both sides frequently speak in ignorance. Homeschoolers are also the subject of comments that border on slander. 

As we made our decision to homeschool, it was less about the teachers than it was about the kind of education we wanted for our kids. Trying to tailor an education system for the masses is a difficult thing. In any one classroom, you have the kids who will never struggle, and who can manage on their own in the face of a classroom that may have 30+ students. On the other end, there are those with serious struggles. These kids don't get ignored because their deficits may be quite serious. Teachers these days are often expected to work with special needs kids as well as kids who don't need the help. The ones who may fall through the cracks are the kids somewhere in between, the ones who just won't "get it" on their own, but who are doing well enough not to avoid being seen as really needy. 

We wanted our kids to have an education that allowed them to either soar or hang back as needed. For us, it wasn't about the teachers. When our kids did go to public school, they had good and bad teachers. I'm thankful that in high school they each met one teacher whom they look back on now with fondness, and say that the teacher really made a difference. So much of the success of the school is the board and the principal in charge. For us, the teachers weren't an issue, although my son did have one teacher whom we believe should have never been allowed to work with teenagers. We weren't alone in that assessment. 

Painting with broad brushes is never a good idea. When I first heard of homeschooling, I tended to do that. I made my ignorant comments. I said I would never homeschool as I rolled my eyes, and when I homeschooled, I said I'd never put them back in public school with a similar eye roll. But we are often put in a position where we must stop talking and listen. 

I wish the debate didn't have to rage as it does. Why are we so prone to thinking that everyone has do live like we do? Why do we make non-essential life choices part and parcel with what defines the gospel? Is it because we really don't know what the gospel is? Or is is because we're threatened by people who don't live exactly as we do?

My children all have very different lives than I did at their age. I was married and with children by the time I was 25. My children are not making similar choices. Should I be threatened because they don't embrace every aspect of the life I lived? No. I think we should be a lot more charitable about those who live differently. I'm sure my comments will be considered by some as naïve and sound like a whiny "why can't we all just get along?" Sometimes, getting along is okay.


Middle age and inactivity

In the past month, since I broke my wrist, there has been a certain amount of frustrating inactivity. I won't complain, though. I have the promise of this ending, so the frustration of not being able to wash the windows on a nice day isn't earth-shattering. The fact that I have to get my shopping-phobic husband to take me for groceries will not be a concern after next week.

I am by disposition someone who doesn't like to be idle for long. While I do love to spend a few hours lost in a good book, I enjoy it much more when the house is in order and the laundry is folded. I don't think I'm as bad as my father or the next door neighbour, whom we call "The Veteran." He's 90 years old, and still drives (well, I might add) and walks his dog twice a day. On Monday, I saw him in his yard, with a lawn chair, sitting down and picking up twigs to put in a yard waste bag. Even if I had two good arms, had I offered to help him, he would have been offended. I'm not that bad.

But being aimless, without any specific thing to tackle, is hard for me. That is why I know that some day, should I be terminally ill, the illness won't kill me, but the discouragement of being able to do nothing might.

Recently, I was remembering how busy I was when the kids were being homeschooled. It was a good kind of busy, because it was domestic and inellectual. There was the challenge of details, but there was the always present thought of how to tweak the curriculum, the hope of really good materials, and ways to achieve goals. My mind worked fast, and I seemed to have a lot to say. Life was very focused. I knew exactly what my resonsibilites were every day.

With adult children and a big empty house, it's not always so clear. As my husband reminds me, my job is to live in a God-glorifying way. That's the big picture, and I know that. Without specifics, sometimes, I find myself at odds. What is my purpose? Where do I fit? Who cares what a wet blanket, 49 year old woman has to say? It's a young woman's world these days.

Sure, I could get a job, but I have seen what happens with women my age who go back to work, "part-time" they say. It turns into being away from home more than one wants. It means spending money on work clothes, on gas, on convenience food.

It means becoming unavailable. I know women who are so busy between their jobs and their service at church that there are completely unavailable when there is an unexpected need. I want to be available. I want to be able to visit my kids, or be here for them when they want to come home. Lord willing, I want to be a grandmother who knows her grandchildren.

Many afternoons, as I become aware of the quiet in the house, it occurs to me that this time in my life is a respite. I'm in a place of limbo, almost. I don't have grandchildren yet, nor are any of my children married. Both sets of parents are healthy. I have so much freedom. And while I like it, I often feel its weight. 

Young mothers with small children aren't the only ones who need encouragement.

A woman whose children are gone from home need to be reminded to find God in the every day moments; in the quiet moments, on the days when no one is coming home for dinner, and when she hasn't uttered a word to anyone other than her dog since her husband left for work. It is very easy for a woman to stop rejoicing in the Lord when she sits in an empty house all day long. Discouragement can come to women in all sorts of places; frantic and busy ones, and silent ones.

In response to this quiet life, I do what I have always done: I put my head down and I keep busy. I study. A lot. I read. A lot. I prepare my Bible lessons. I listen to sermons. I take pictures. And I find ways to serve others, whether it is a meal for a friend just out of the hospital, or a note to someone who needs encouragement.

This is a time of quiet. Like hibernating, I guess. What will I take away from this time? Will I waste it? I don't want to to. Whatever this time is for, I feel compelled to learn as much about God as I can.

Perhaps days are coming when that will be especially necessary. 

In the meantime, I'm thankful for this little piece of the world and for the God who has blessed me so abundantly.


Homeschooler theologian?

This past week, I added a book to my Westminster wish list: God in the Whirlwind, by David Wells. Seeing that book took me back to fourteen years ago this month. Then, I was coming to the end of my first month of homeschooling.

When the rest of the public school children went back after Christmas holidays, ours stayed home. It was a decision we'd been planning. They were, at the time in 5th grade, 2nd grade, and kindergarten. Eventually, they all graduated from public high school to ease the process of matriculation into university.

Those were good years. They learned a lot, and I introduced them to things they would never have been given in public school. Most adults aren't taught Church History; my kids were. It was good for me, too. In a post at Out of the Ordinary, I shared about how books were my tutors as I went through a time of examining what I believed and why. Homeschooling helped in two ways.

First, it made me much better reader. In addition to books about education in general, preparing lessons for the kids, especially in history, made me think more about what I was reading and summarizing it into a lesson format. I wanted to be as informed about what we learned, so I read up on everything we studied. When we teach something, we have to know it well, and we remember it better, too.

Later, as my oldest got into the junior high grades, I was re-introduced to sentence diagramming. I'm a firm believer in grammar instruction, and I think diagramming, while boring, is very useful. It made me think more about the words I was reading and how they related to each other and how the meaning was constructed.

Second, it introduced me to likeminded women. During that first tentative semester of homeschooling, I read Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind, and when September arrived, our education focus changed somewhat. I loved the histroy-driven nature of her approach to schooling, and that summer as I stocked up on supplies, I satisfied the inner desire I'd had as a teen to study Latin, and got my books to teach my kids.  

I began to hang out at The Well-Trained Mind parent forum and met women there. Staci was one of them. One of them lives locally, and we're still friends. At the forum, we did talk about schooling and parenting, but there was also conversation about religion and books. It was there where I first saw titles of books that drew my seeking mind's attention.

One of the first ones I read was David Wells' No Place for Truth. After that, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, by Marva Dawn. She and I would diverge in doctrinal foundations (she is Lutheran) but I learned a lot about worship from her book. After that, I read Knowing God, The Holiness of God, Grace Unknown, and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Those books seem like "oldies" now in comparison to what is currently available. It seems like Christian publishing has exploded these past few years. 

When my kids began to trickle off to high school, I visited the Well-Trained Mind forum less, and eventually stopped altogether. I'm glad for those years, knowing those women, and learning what I did. I suspect it was from someone on the board that I first heard of Monergism.

Everyone is a theologian. Even if a person says she does not believe in God, that is a theological conclusion. The question is what kind of theologian are we? These are questions my fellow homeschoolers discussed even as long as fourteen years ago. While I have graduated from being a homeschooler theologian, I am now an ordinary theologian. My life is much different now as I navigate the waters of a mother with adult children. But the hunger to learn is there. I pray to God it never leaves me.


Girls, education, and a Saviour

I've always been very vocal about the need for young people to be educated well. It isn't just a desire for them to have jobs which make them wealthy, or even necessarily for personal fulfillment. Ideally, education trains young people to think. Practically, it means they have options. 

It wasn't always this way. In The Stream Runs Fast, Nellie McClung describes a little different situation. In 1914, she and her family moved to Edmonton, Alberta. It was a very rustic environment at that time, unlike the Winnipeg she left, which had become a thriving city. 

Nellie relates the attitude toward education at that time:

Children were sometimes taken out of schools as soon as they were able to work and it was especially hard to persuade the fathers that education was a good thing for a girl. Early marriages were the rule of the community and were planned almost entirely by the parents. Many a promising pupil had her education cut short when some grizzled old widower thought a good strong red-cheeked young girl would be right handy around the house and it would be cheaper to marry her than to have to pay her wages. The father of the girl could usually be persuaded by a few loads of hay, or in extreme cases, a yoke of oxen. Women and children did not count for much in the grim battle for existence.

Nellie, a teacher herself, was passionate about education and for taking up the cause of those who could not fight for themselves. She was right to promote education for girls. The property laws were not favourable toward women, so unless she could marry, a young woman had few options. Education gave her options.

There are women today, in other countries around the world, who face a similar situation. We all hear the stories about girls as young as 12 or 13 being sold as brides, and are treated worse than slaves. They need education. But they also need a Saviour. They need the gospel.

Education on its own, divorced from faith in Christ, can give people options. But it won't redeem. Academia doesn't redeem; advanced degrees don't redeem; a 4.0 grade point average won't redeem. Only by grace through faith in Christ will we be redeemed. Education gives us the means to understand the gospel, but it isn't the gospel in and of itself. When we consider the millions of young women in other countries who are denied education, let us pray for their redemption as well. They need education, but they need the gospel, too.