Because life is a series of edits

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Well-Blown Mind: An Introduction

In Thought on August 30, 2011 at 5:44 am

Down on the Farm In spring of 2005, Craig and I and our four little girls were in the midst of a major life transition. We were moving from Colorado Springs, where we'd lived for a dozen years while Craig was on staff with The Navigators, to St. Louis, where Craig was was about to begin seminary. In the two-month interim (intentional for the sake of decompressing from the former and preparing for the latter), we lived in a farm house in rural Illinois. During this time we read a lot of books and watched a lot of corn grow. And Craig shot a lot of raccoons.

It was during this stint that we spent a week in Oklahoma, visiting my parents in Owasso and also seeing some old friends in Norman. These friends had recently helped start an interesting school called Veritas Classical Academy. The school was finishing up its first year, and we arrived just in time for the end-of-year roller skating party.

With kids who were then 6, 4, 3, and 18 months, we didn’t really enjoy the skating so much (even today, roller skating comes in at a very strong 2 on a fun scale of 0-10 for our family), but we did enjoy finding out more about the school – a blended model classical Christian school in which the kids only attended twice each week and were homeschooled the rest of the week. To a mom planning to homeschool her four daughters, this sounded pretty awesome to me.

I remember drilling my friend, Julie, about the school the rest of our time in Norman. I think my questions included (but were not limited to):

  • Help me understand what you mean by classical education?
  • Douglas who?
  • Dorothy who?
  • Veritas Press what?
  • And you just gathered a group of people together to start reading books together and suddenly you had a school?

Apparently it wasn’t quite as easy as that. Still, I was curious. When we left Oklahoma at the end of that week, I was sure of two things: 1) I wanted to know more about classical education; but 2) there was no way on the planet I was going to attempt to start something similar in St. Louis.

Instead, we returned to the farm and I hopped on Amazon and ordered what, at the time, I thought was the Bible of classical education: The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. I also got a copy of Susan's book for parents called The Well-Educated Mind. The epic volumes arrived. I began reading the former; Craig, the latter.

We might as well have been reading The Well-Blown Mind. Craig became depressed by all the books he felt he should have read but never had; I became depressed that what I was doing with our 6-year-old wasn’t cutting the classical education mustard.

It was a watershed moment for both of us, but neither Craig nor I had any idea at the time of how it might shape our family's future – either generally in educating our girls at the time or specifically in moving to Oklahoma six years later to lead the very school we had just visited.

A lot can happen in six years, and a lot did…

(Picture: Megan and girls on the farm in May 2005.)

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Some Regrets…No Doubts

In Calling, Family, Friends, Marriage, Oklahoma City, Places, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on August 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm

On Friday, the girls and I got home from school around 2 p.m., as Veritas is only in session on Fridays until 12:30. My normal "Daddy's home" routine is to greet Megan (usually with a hug), greet the dogs (also usually with a hug), and then head upstairs, change clothes, and collapse on the bed for a period of time in direct proportion to what kind of day/week it's been.

As we just finished our first week – a very good but exhausting one – my time on the bed went a little longer than normal. After 45 minutes of repeatedly falling asleep but then being awakened by one of four daughters, I gave up the idea of a nap and came downstairs. The girls wanted to watch something, but I was not in the mood for Phineas & Ferb; thus, we pulled up Chariots of Fire on Netflix and enjoyed.

There's a scene toward the end of the film in which Erid Liddell can only watch the finals of the race he was favored to win (the 100-yard dash) because his Sabbath conviction stood in the way of participating in the qualifying heats the previous Sunday. As Liddell is sitting in the stands waiting for the race to begin, a friend leans over to him and asks if he has any regrets. Liddell's response: "Some regrets…no doubts."

I resonated with Liddell's sentiment. Moving to Oklahoma has hardly been an awful thing and I have no doubts we are supposed to be here. But I'd be lying if I said there weren't some regrets that I've been processing and feeling this summer.

I suppose the first source of grief is just the loss of time and money that goes with any major transition. In thinking back through all the hours invested praying and wrestling with the pros and cons, asking questions and communicating decisions, selling a house and buying a house, packing, loading, moving, unloading, and unpacking, and paying for it all, I regret the toll our move required and the burden it placed on our family. A look at my minimal reading list or our bank account confirms that it's been a tough seven months.

Second, I regret distancing the relationships we had in St. Louis (as well as the ones previously distanced in Colorado Springs before we moved from there). We've always been fortunate to have surrounded ourselves with good people, but that fact is not always comforting when you have to leave them behind. I miss those I used to work with, went to church with, laughed with, argued with, and just loved being with. These are wounds that I don't anticipate healing completely.

Third, I miss the simplicity of "just being a teacher" and being able to focus exclusively on the science and art of teaching. I first felt this reality in May, when I finished teaching and started my new role as Head of School ten days later (moving in between), but being around kids this past week really made me miss the classroom and the discussions I got to have with students all day long.

Fourth, I miss the Midwest and the common sense spirit of keeping your head down and your nose to the grindstone because, well, that's what people do in the Midwest. Granted, the Southwest is perhaps not that different, but while I never thought I'd miss the weather in St. Louis, after living through the hottest summer on record in Oklahoma, I confess I miss that as well.

Finally, I regret the potential risks I've exposed my family (and others) to in leaving a well-established, well-respected, and well-funded school in an amazing brand new building run by seasoned leaders who know what they're doing in order to be a first-time Head of School in a fledgling education movement that rents limited space every week in two churches just to have a place to meet three days a week. I won't say the pressure's overwhelming yet, but there is pressure, and I feel it on a variety of levels.

Some regrets, yes. Plenty of them. But no doubts. None at all. I'll write about why in my next post.

Christian Education: A Summary and a Visual

In Educators, Pedagogy on August 26, 2011 at 8:53 am

As we finish up this series (and look forward to Megan starting a new and different one next week), here's a summary of our brief study from the life and book of Daniel on God as Master Teacher:

“And as for these four youth…” (student)

  • Who are our students as people and as products of their culture(s)?
  • Where are our students in terms of historical and cultural contexts – geographical, economical, political, technological?
  • When are our students – mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually – with regard to developmental theory?

“…God gave them…” (teacher)

  • Who is God as Master Teacher, and who does He call us to be as teachers?

“…learning and skill…” (pedagogy)

  • How does God’s initiation and generosity come into play through cognitive (learning) and experiential (skill) means?
  • How has God already gifted learning aptitude, facilities, and styles through Scripture, Spirit, and Community?

 “…in all literature and wisdom…” (curriculum)

  • What is God’s program of study and how do we use the Scriptures to discern culture’s truth, lies, and consequences?

 “…and Daniel had understanding…” (assessment)

  • How and when will we assess our students’ comprehension?

 “…in all visions and dreams.” (purpose)

  • Why will our students prayerfully consider and pursue God’s purposes, ideas, and goals on behalf of creation, culture, and the Kingdom?
  • How can our students benefit from our examples of prayerfully considering and pursuing the same purposes?

Daniel 1:17 and the River Life: A Metaphor
Having walked through a brief biblical exposition and summary of our application, perhaps a visual interpretation of the text would be beneficial. Let's use the metaphor of a river – what we'll call the River Life – as an illustration of our humanity.

Concept Map (Web)
Like human nature, the nature of a river is not stagnant; its waters move, change, and blend. Again like human nature, a river is not dichotomized; no divisions separate it into parts. In sum, our lives are neither static nor partitioned, but dynamic and fluid – shaped by the banks of culture even as we, at particular times and by God’s grace, shape them.

As alluded in Daniel’s story, God enables us in our educational capacities; He gives us learning and skill in initially understanding the how of the what. He does this through his Scripture, his Spirit, and his community (the Church), all of which create their own “ripple effect” within the waters of our fallenness, educating and enabling us to affirm what is good, to challenge what is not, but never to withdraw from the river altogether.

At the same time, as a result of his Creator image within us, humanity creates a variety of “literature and wisdom” flowing from our collective experience. However, whereas everything God creates is good (1 Timothy 4:4), our works are blemished because of our sin and are manifest in the world as “truth, lies, and consequences.” The “ripple effect” of all our created works is not without negative taint, but by God’s common grace, neither is it all without beauty or value.

God directs the River Life to flow through the banks of culture, shaping them as it goes. Because God calls us to think Christianly and care about His world, He drops stones of learning and skill and literature and wisdom as means to teach us when, where, how, and why, and to help us understand “visions and dreams” – the ones He gives to us as His children – for the good of creation, culture, and Kingdom.

Christian education, then, as outlined in Daniel 1:17, is given by God, engages the world, and applies redemption to it – all while redeeming His chosen agents of redemption as well. This is our understanding from the Scriptures, and this is the worldview that both drives and powers our classical education methodology.

Because We Apparently Need More to Do

In Calling, Education, Family, Internet, Technology, Veritas, Young Ones on August 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm

You may or may not have heard, but Megan and I have started writing a new blog together about our journey (past and present) through the world of classical education. The blog's called Docendo Discimus. Here's our angle on the name and idea:

Seneca "The philosopher Seneca (c. 4 BC-65 AD) offers us his counsel: 'Docendo discimus.' Translation: 'By teaching, we learn.' As we seek to provide our children with a classical Christian education, we hope to gain that which we did not experience in our own. Granted, it is probably more difficult now at our current stages of life due to slipping memories, full-time jobs, and possible mid-life plateaus, but it is not impossible, nor do we have to do it alone; hence this blog."

For more on our rationale, you can click here to get an idea of where we're going with it (and why). We're planning to write every Tuesday and Friday and, while what's up there now (a short series on what makes education Christian) is mine, Megan's planning to launch her first series from the homefront next week, so you won't want to miss that.

In addition to the new blog, we've also created a Twitter account to go with it. You'll find us tweeting about most things classical education at @PagingSeneca, so retweet us every now and then if what we write resonates with you.

Rest assured, we'll still continue writing individually at Second Drafts and Half-Pint House, but we're excited to be able to contribute to this new one together. So, check out the site and/or follow us on Twitter. Hope they help.

Christian Education: God’s Pedagogy (Part 3)

In Educators, Pedagogy on August 23, 2011 at 6:25 am

5) “…and Daniel had understanding…”
Here the writer assesses Daniel’s grasp of the reality of his learning. Indeed, there is output from Daniel’s life because of God’s input into it; there is recognition of harvest coming from sown seed, a frequent theme and concept throughout Scripture, as God is not one to waste effort (educational or otherwise). This mention of measure is important, as its inclusion in the text signifies the writer’s (and presumably God’s) concern with honest assessment of learning.

As a teacher or as a parent – regardless of intellectual discipline – change in students is what we long to see: change in thinking; change in convictions; change in behavior; change in results. As educators, we cannot merely hope that understanding is happening without measuring for change, for if there is no way to measure for change, there is no way to measure for understanding.

Biblically speaking, assessment is not a dirty word. Paul implies as much in Romans 12:3 when he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” As Christian parents and teachers, we are to evaluate our students and ourselves as we journey together the road of teaching and learning.

While there are many means (tests, quizzes, presentations, papers, projects, discussions, etc.) to this end, perhaps frequency of assessment is as or more important than its form, as frequency focuses on the process of evaluation, whereas variety focuses on its event. The “teaching to the test” critique of recent years is precisely what we are trying to address here: if our mentality of assessment is more form- than frequency-based, then we will find ourselves teaching to the test rather than teaching to the student.

Without end-of-class “what did you learn today?” questions, between-class “what did you think of class today?” interactions, and outside-of-class “what are you thinking about from class today?” conversations, we have little comprehension of how our students may actually do on the test, quiz, or project until after it’s given, a practice that encourages students to master the assessment mechanism instead of the material over which they are being assessed.

Daniel and Dreams 6) “…in all visions and dreams.”
Here we begin to understand the ultimate why of God giving Daniel gifts. Simply put, everything God gives to Daniel has much to do with what the second half of his book records – specifically its prophetic revelations and Daniel’s ability to interpret visions and dreams concerning Israel’s future. Ultimately, we could say God’s goals for His pupil bring purpose to His pedagogy.

Our hopes for our students must be rooted in God’s goals for them; thus, our pedagogy must be formed not only by what and how to teach, but by why to teach as well. We are called to teach not because we are teachers, but because God is the teacher – One who teaches not just for the sake of comprehension but also for the sake of change in His students and within His created world. Because of this truth, we do not have the luxury of saying we teach subjects; no, we teach students, for subjects matter when God enables students to learn them and change as a result.

This mentality manifests itself (or should) in daily prayer – for God’s will to be done in the world, in the lives of our students, and in us as their parents and teachers. Our students need to see in us hearts for God through our own relationship with Him, that we might model dependence upon God as part of our gifting to help students interpret visions and dreams He gives to them.

Painting: Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's First Dream, Mattia Preti (undated).

First Day of School

In Education, Family, Oklahoma City on August 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Oncoming

Yep, it's a lot like that…only louder.

Christian Education: God’s Pedagogy (Part 2)

In Thought on August 19, 2011 at 8:43 am

 3) “…learning and skill…”
Interestingly, it seems the writer of Daniel is as interested in how Daniel and his companions learned as what they learned. The writer does not record that God simply gives them data, nor that God merely gives them facts; rather, the writer records that God gives Daniel and his companions “learning and skill” in being able to receive all that He is teaching them.

This feels very pedagogical, as it speaks to how God’s initiation and generosity come into play through cognitive (learning) and experiential (skill) means.[1] Though we still have not arrived at the actual what of God’s educational content here, the writer deems the how of what Daniel and his companions will discover as important. Content is coming, he seems to say, but God has already gifted the learning aptitude, facilities, and styles to process it.[2]

Though we are somewhat of a sovereignty disadvantage in terms of knowing our students’ initial learning and skill sets, we can evaluate their cognitive and experiential realities and establish in them a healthy pedagogy on a daily basis so they might better grasp how to learn what we teach. This involves lesson planning on our part, as well as consistency in the communication of that lesson plan so that students feel secure because they know what’s expected of them, when, and why.

It involves meta-teaching – helping students step outside the content itself by teaching them how to best interact with and learn the content – as well as intentional debrief and periodic evaluation in which students are given the opportunity to think about and communicate how they feel they are learning and what suggestions they might have for us teaching them. Such self-advocacy training can be enormously helpful to students in taking responsibility for their education, particularly if they feel safe in responding honestly to their teacher and our attempts at helping them learn not just what to think, but how to think.

First Map of the World4) “…in all literature and wisdom…”
Here (finally) is the what of God’s program of study: “all literature and wisdom,” in particular that of the surrounding Babylonian/Chaldean cultures. Interestingly, God does not limit Daniel and his friends to only learning and understanding the ways of Israelite life; while these are still of utmost importance in terms of identity and obedience, God gives the youths success in learning the culture and customs of the pagan civilization in which they have been exiled and forced to live. Theirs is not to be a dichotomized education, but a diverse one of curricula from the best (and even worst) the Babylonian/Chaldean cultures have to offer.

Pedagogically speaking, what we see here is God’s granting of freedom to use all sorts of original source material; that is, curricula need not always be “Christian-tested, Christian-approved” if we have done the “learning and skill” pre-work of teaching from and about a Christian worldview. While discernment is always necessary, material selection need not stem from fear of different cultures, but out of respect for them as human expression instead.[3]

In the classroom, this means teaching from a perspective and with principles that affirm God’s common grace in the world. It means having the mindset that to engage culture, we have to encounter culture, and while we shouldn’t be indiscriminate in what we expose students to (there is a place for content- and age-appropriateness), neither should we be fearful that the Christian worldview is limited in what it can explain of culture. This confidence needs to exude from our life experience and academic training, as well as be bathed in prayer for wisdom and discernment in the selection, presentation, and discussion of controversial material.


[1] See “Aspects of Learning,” pages 100-112 and “Avenues of Learning,” pages 113-128 in Teaching for Reconciliation by Ronald T. Habermas.
[2]
See “Learning Styles” by Marlene LeFever, pages 130-139 in Christian Education, edited by Michael J. Anthony.
[3]
In the words of Dr. Robert Peterson with regard to cultural reading: “Chew the meat, spit out the bones.”

Picture: This Babylonian clay tablet is the first map of the world. Circles were used to denote city centers, and this method has been adopted by cartographers ever since.

Christian Education: God’s Pedagogy (Part 1)

In Educators, Pedagogy on August 16, 2011 at 6:49 am

Ignatius Education God's Pedagogy in Daniel 1:17
More than a decade before I (Craig) had any formal educational aspirations, I remember reading Daniel 1:17 and marveling at what I perceived to be a rubric for the way God teaches.

While I had little formal language (and even less formal training) at the time to put into words my intuition, the passage stuck with me through the years, becoming more and more important as my desire to pursue the calling and vocation of teaching grew.

Finally, after five years of seminary training in theology and education, my instincts found support biblically and pedagogically. What I had known instinctively I now began to understand pedagogically: as God did with Daniel, so we must also begin with the student in mind.

1) “And as for these four youth…”
We’ve already discussed to a degree who Daniel and his companions were as people, but who were they as products of their dual cultures (Israelite and Babylonian)? Any consideration of education has to begin with the consideration of those we may be trying to educate. Who are our students as people and as products of their culture(s) – familial, church, community, national? Where are they in terms of historical and cultural contexts – geographical, economical, political, technological? And when are they – mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually – with regard to developmental theory and their own growth?[1] Questions like these have to be asked and answered to only begin to understand those we teach.

In the school context, the entire process of getting to know my students begins with learning their names, asking questions (both formally and informally) about their lives, and learning family backgrounds and education history. It’s connecting with other teachers who may have taught them in the past as to what they said or believed at the time. It’s meeting and talking with their support systems – parents, pastors, and counselors – about the issues and ideas that are unresolved. It’s identifying peer group associations and keeping loose track of whom they hang out with, for upper schoolers – as are all of us – are defined by our communities and what they believe.

In addition to the personal exegetical work, cultural exegesis with regard to the social environments in which students live and have grown up is crucial to understanding them. Familiarizing ourselves with media referents and memorable touchstones of their lives is key to earning their trust, not to mention understanding shifts across and within their generation. Entering into their spheres of existence – especially the digital one – in a natural way is an important avenue for learning about those we hope to teach.

2) “…God gave them…”
The second aspect of God’s educational pedagogy that we see in Daniel 1:17 has to do with the Teacher and the Teacher’s character[2] – one that is expressly initiating and generous. As previously discussed in Daniel 1:4, God has already been at work in the lives of Daniel and his friends, gifting them with the basic capacities they will need to handle the capabilities He will later develop in them.

This generous initiation, of course, has much to do with God and both His omniscience and sovereignty. While we possess neither of these two qualities, we as parents and teachers have been gifted with the capacity and capability to model God’s initiation and generosity with our students in other ways, namely by actively seeking to know them and generously granting them access to get to know us as well. Though we are not God, we have the ability and the authority as their parents and teachers to initiate and generously provide the structure, support, and challenge they need to learn about themselves and us…but we must make the first (and often risky) move.

Whether at home or in the classroom, this involves sharing our own stories – the successes and failures – rather than defaulting to more generic and nameless examples to illustrate key points and ideas. It’s bringing our own creativity in the form of an original song or poem, taking a risk by putting it out there for those we parent and teach to consider, evaluate, and (gulp) pass judgment on, all while resisting the temptation to endlessly qualify or defend our attempts at doing so. It’s letting our students see our heart for them not only as their parents and teachers, but also as friends and fans. Granted, this potentially compromises a degree of authority in the adult-child relationship, but the risk is worth taking because of what it may yield in true respect.


[1] See “Life Span Development” by Ellery Pullman, pages 63-72; “Moral Development Through Christian Education” by James Riley Estep Jr. and Alvin W. Kuest, pages 73-82; “Faith Development” by Dennis Dirks, pages 83-90; and “Spiritual Formation: Nurturing Spiritual Vitality” by Nick Taylor, pages 91-98 in Christian Education, edited by Michael J. Anthony. Also, see “Patterns of Growth: The Structural Dimension,” pages 65-83; and “Patterns of Growth: The Functional Dimension,” pages 84-99 in Teaching for Reconciliation by Ronald T. Habermas.

[2] See “God for Us: The Trinity and Teaching,” pages 15-36; “God With Us: Jesus, the Master Teacher,” pages 59-86; and “God in Us: The Holy Spirit and Teaching,” pages 87-112 in God Our Teacher by Robert W. Pazmino.

Painting: Ignatian Pedagogy and The Ratio Studiorum, the original set of guidelines for those directing Jesuit educational institutions in Europe (1599).

Christian Education: God as Master Teacher

In Educators, Pedagogy on August 12, 2011 at 9:42 am

20110515182837!Rembrandt_-_Daniel_and_Cyrus_before_the_Idol_Bel,_1633

Above: Daniel and Cyrus Before the Idol Bel, Rembrandt (1633).

A Brief Theological Exposition of Daniel 1:17
In the Old Testament book named after him, we have the story of Daniel, an Israelite captured and living in exile in the ancient city of Babylon from 605 B.C. (Daniel 1:1) until the third year of King Cyrus (536 B.C.; Daniel 10:1).[1] The first chapter of Daniel tells us much about who he is as one included in King Nebuchadnezzar’s initial decree,

“to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans… They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.”[2]

As we continue to read the story, our tendency is often to focus on what Daniel does in order “not to defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.”[3] We read about how Daniel and his friends ask to be tested for ten days of non-Babylonian food, letting their appearance be compared to those eating the king’s food, for most certainly his breaks Old Testament food laws (among other reasons[4]). We also read how, “At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the kings food.”[5] Truly, Daniel and his friends are role models of faith for us now.

But then we come to Daniel 1:17, in which the writer records that, “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” Remembering Daniel 1:4, we recall that Daniel and his friends are already listed as “youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.” Why the double inclusion of this information in verses 4 and 17? What does it tell us about Daniel? What does it tell us about God?

The double inclusion is important in that it reveals to us that God has already given Daniel and his friends great learning capacity (1:4) in anticipation of their ultimate capability three years later (1:17). Keil and Delitzsch, in their Commentary on the Old Testament, write:

“Skillful, intelligent in all wisdom, i.e. in the subjects of Chaldean wisdom, is to be understood of the ability to apply themselves to the study of wisdom. In like manner, the other mental requisites here mentioned are to be understood, having knowledge, showing understanding, possessing a faculty for knowledge, a strength of judgment, in whom was strength, i.e., who had the fitness in bodily and mental endowments appropriately to stand in the palace of the king, and as servants to attend to his commands.”[6] (emphases ours)

The youths’ dramatic didactic development seems to have much to do with their obedient response to God’s gifts. Again, from Keil and Delitzsch:

“As God blessed the resolution of Daniel and his three friends that they would not defile themselves by the food, He also blessed the education which they received in the literature and wisdom of the Chaldeans, so that the whole four made remarkable progress therein.”[7]

Daniel’s story illustrates the fact that our progress depends on God’s process – one He has initiated, planned for, and provided structure, support, and challenge for to serve and educate as His creation’s Master Teacher.


[1] ESV Study Bible, notes.
[2]
Daniel 1:3b-4.
[3]
Daniel 1:8.
[4]
“It is unlikely that the king’s food would have been prepared in accordance with the standards of the Mosaic law. It is also possible that it would have been previously offered to Babylonian gods in a pagan temple.” (Handbook on the Prophets, 295).
[5]
Daniel 1:15
[6]
Keil & Delitzsch, p. 535.
[7]
Keil & Delitzsch, p. 541.

Christian Education: An Introduction

In Educators on August 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

“As for these four youths, God gave them
learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel
had understanding in all visions and dreams.”
Daniel 1:17 (ESV)

“To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner.
I am not a teacher, only a fellow student.”
Soren Kierkegaard

Several years ago, a friend had his second grader enrolled in a local Christian school. All seemed well. By the end of the school year, however, news broke that the second grade teacher had failed to teach any form of language arts to her students; as a result, our friend’s daughter expressed no vision, passion, or experience in language arts.

Throughout the school year, neither she nor her classmates knew what they were missing: none of them were wearing sensors that went off when their language arts tanks got low; no “check child” light came on mid-year to alert administrators and parents as to any malfunction.

For understandable reasons, the teacher was fired. But what really happened here? Perhaps the teacher was never properly trained in rationale and methods for teaching grammar and writing skills to children; maybe she didn’t have or use proper resources when faced with the unrelenting challenges of teaching young students day in and day out; possibly there was little structure in place to support her when she needed it.

What we do know is that the fired teacher was hired by another school (and fired later for the same reasons), while our friend’s daughter and classmates have been playing language arts catch up ever since.

When parents and teachers do not learn to teach, students are not taught to learn. What we hope to provide in this first series at Docendo Discimus is a philosophy of Christian education to overcome such realities and to guide our classical methodology.

On Teachers, Students, and Social Media

In Education, Internet, Politics, Technology, Thought on August 3, 2011 at 10:27 pm

1984

In yet another example of ridiculous government over-reach, the governor of my previous state of Missouri signed into law a bill banning public school students and teachers from communicating and being "friends" on Facebook. Here are some article excerpts:

"'Teachers cannot establish, maintain or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian or legal guardian,' the law states. Teachers also cannot have a non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. The law is not limited to Facebook and applies to any social networking site. Although Facebook fan pages will still be allowed, direct communicaton between teachers and students on the site will be banned."

And:

"Although some critics have said the concept sounds positive on the surface, they worry it may imply that teachers may not be trusted on the site without legal intervention. Others worry that restricting sites such as Facebook could hinder the educational process in the future."

And:

"In 2010, Lee County school district in Florida advised teachers not to friend students on social networking sites, claiming that teacher-student communication through this medium is 'inappropriate.' This was the first school district in the state of Florida, possibly even the country, to issue teacher-protocol guidelines for social media."

I have a hard time believing this last paragraph. 2010? Seriously? In 2008, my administration at Westminster Christian Academy, knowing that I used social media and was "friends" with several of my high school students, asked me to draft a document that later was adopted as part of the school's social media policy. Here's what I submitted:

  • Never initiate the friend, wall-to-wall, inbox, birthday, or other functions; always be a responder to students, but even then, refrain from excess posting on their pages.
  • Unless you have a pre-determined set of relationship criteria (i.e. males only, females only, etc.), do not discriminate among friend requests; accept all or accept none.
  • Always maintain a degree of formality despite the informal medium; keep titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss) and try to relate with as similar a classroom tone as possible.
  • Realize that conversations you may have in other networks may be privy to those in your network unless you set up different access levels. Use discretion, as you are exposing students to your college/post-college discussions and topics, which may or may not be helpful to your students.
  • Use good punctuation and grammar whenever possible; avoid slang and model excellence as an educator in your communication.
  • Do not post pictures of yourself that are questionable, sensual, or ridiculous; if other friends include you in such pictures on their profiles, ask to remove them or untag yourself from them.
  • Do not delete inbox or wall-to-wall conversations; always keep a record.

These guidelines were helpful as I related to students online. Some teachers were more reticent than I was to be online "friends" with their students; others not so much. The school did not take a hard and fast stance on the issue; the point was that all of us were encouraged to think about what we were doing and to use common sense concerning our online interactions with students.

The problem, of course, is that common sense is not so common, and the American response to the ills of the few has increasingly become a legislative knee-jerk against the good of the many. Maybe I've just been fortunate enough to know and work with too many caring, dedicated teachers, but I don't know anyone (public or private school) who has abused or been accused of misusing Facebook with his or her students. (Actually, I've read a whole lot more in the past six months about congressmen sexting pictures of themselves to interns. Where's the "no social media" law against them?)

I'm sad for my public school teacher friends in Missouri who just lost a way to be an invested, influential voice among the milieu of madness that is a teenager's online world. And, I'm a little nervous where this kind of thing might go for my private school teacher friends, as some fearful parents, school boards, or administrations may over-react with their own knee-jerk policies in the wake of the new law.

Just today I got a Facebook message from one of my first students (now a college sophomore at Ball State University in Indiana) with whom I've been "friends" since his freshman year of high school. In reading his words, walking through high school with Daniel – even from a distance via Facebook as I was only his teacher for one year – obviously meant something to him.

I'm just glad I moved to Oklahoma so he could tell me.