Thursday, October 28, 2010

'It is in print that our words will live on'

A recent Financial Times column by Michael Skapinker makes the case for print compared to digital media: "We don't know how much of what is stored digitally will simply disappear. Books have stood the test of centuries. Whatever happens, print will always be there for us. "

Monday, October 4, 2010

Two Excellent Reminders

In October's issue of ASCD's 'Educational Leadership' there is an article on mastery learning. Whatever the merits of that particular approach, there were a couple of statements in the article that apply to all excellent teaching, whether in the classroom or beyond:

In mastery learning, teachers ensure the conditions for success before instruction begins.

In mastery learning, assessments are not a one-shot, do-or-die experience.

These are good reminders for all teachers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why Twitter Can't Save Education

In the age—not too far gone now—when industrialism reigned supreme, education tended toward specialization and efficiency. In the post-industrial age in which we live now educators have begun to embrace an approach that assumes new goals driven by computers, the Internet, social media and electronic media in general. This swaying with the current cultural winds is ultimately destructive of schools and students. The enduring quality of classical, Christian education is that it is designed for human beings in all times and all places. A classical, Christian approach to education, where it was preserved, provided unity in a time of fragmented specialization that was the industrial period, and it will provide coherence in our current time of pathless diversity.

The industrial mindset gravitated toward the assumptions of industrial production: standardization and uniformity of repetitious processes. The education of the time reflected this. It strove for assembly-line efficiency, with standardized curricula of basic information delivered (and later marketed) to mass audiences of students who were thought of in terms of the schools’ “products”. National tests were developed to ensure quality control of the process. People with this inherent industrial bias reached for the tools of the age thinking, naturally, that this was the solution to all problems, including the education problem.

The trouble was that this wasn’t education at all, it was mere training in the assumptions of the time in order to produce the easily-placed workers and consumers the age thought it needed. True education—the formation of thinking, wise, eloquent human beings who love and serve the living God—nevertheless continued in some places during this massive shift to factory-style education. The classical tradition wasn’t broken entirely, but the goal of education had moved significantly in the larger culture. From the industrialist and educational specialist to the average citizen with children, most assumed that education (and everything else for that matter) was best served by efficient, “scientific” processes. In schools this meant the production of masses of children in possession of some basic facts, or at least with usable job skills. Efficiency and utility were the guiding lights of the time.

With the end of industrial dominance and the rise of the post-industrial, electronic and computer age, there has been a change in what ends and what processes are assumed to be best. The trouble now is that the post-modernist education reformers, while recognizing the emptiness and ultimate failure of industrial education, have made the same mistake as the previous age in their drive to reform education. Multiple books and articles on the subject draw similar conclusions: we no longer live in an age where preparing workers is adequate; children live in a time of electronic, instant media and information available on a variety of devices, coming from all over the world, in a variety of forms—video, music, texts short and (occasionally) long, etc. Information is not delivered at a uniform pace in a logical progression, as it might have been done even earlier in the electronic age when the few television networks gave out the days’ “news” in predigested form. What students need today, these reformers say, is to learn how to sift through this tidal wave of distracting, often contradictory, information that sweeps over us, all crying out for our time and attention. Surely, they say, the old education is not up to the task.

Up to a point, I largely agree with them. What they are identifying is that the goal of education adopted in the industrial age is no longer adequate. (I would argue that it was not adequate then, either.) While I disagree that the great educational challenge of our time is to help students to be discerning users of information, (the “new literacy”) this is not necessarily my main problem with their program, since one of the results of classical education is the formation of wise, discerning people who are able to understand, interpret, and evaluate the flood of ideas that confront a 21st-century person.

My issue is not that educators must move from thinking that they are supposed to be producing workers to developing thinkers—so far so good—but that the contemporary reformers then make the fatal error of their 19th century predecessors, who also thought they saw a problem and wanted to solve it. To solve the problem they reached instinctively, reflexively for the tools of their time—as the saying goes, to a man with a hammer every thing looks like nail. And the current crop of reformers are doing much the same thing. Faced with the problem of helping children think about information they, astoundingly, promote the wide-spread integration of computers, electronic media, and social and interactive media sites (Twitter, Wikipedia, etc.) into the classroom. Their argument, in general, is that these are needed to get children interested in our subjects, or that these processes represent the future and so must be used. Sometimes it is even claim that students just think differently now. But these things are the very tools and artifacts of the age that children must learn to think discerningly about, the use of which is a result of, and a continuing contributing factor to, the shape of the contemporary person’s way of thinking.

Teaching students to be more thoughtful (no doubt a desirable outcome) by using social media is like trying to produce hand-crafted furniture on an assembly line. The tool is not appropriate to the job, and in fact requires a way of proceeding that is inherently contradictory to the desired result. The very process itself shapes the mind, assumes and validates certain behaviors and views of the world. The content, then, is not really the issue. This isn’t about furniture or Facebook. It is about the hidden, unconscious ways of thinking and being that the process brings with it to the user who thinks it a very familiar thing, but is completely unaware of how it is shaping his approach to reality. Only by stepping away, as much as possible, from the tools, and the assumptions implicit in the tools, can we truly evaluate their impact.

C.S. Lewis recommended that one ought to read one old book for every new one. The purpose was to help the reader avoid the chronological blindness that comes with hearing only the voices of one’s own time. Education, in general, ought to act the same way. Neil Postman wrote that education ought to be thermostatic—keeping the “temperature in balance by countering the prevailing climate” in the words of Gene Veith (‘Postmodern Times’). Veith summarizes Postman: “in a visual television-oriented environment, schools more than ever need to stress reading and writing”. Contemporary computer, internet and electronic media value the immediate, transitory, participatory and maleable, that which is, ultimately, under the control of the user. The formation of virtue and wisdom, however, requires the patient accommodation to someone else’s words and agenda, the sustained and thoughtful meditation upon immutable truths, and the acceptance of an authority beyond one’s one creativity.

Education, then, is the cultivation of wisdom, virtue and godliness, and the development of an eloquence that serves these characteristics. This education is accomplished primarily through words—spoken and written. Discussion, reading, writing are the means to achieving a God-honoring education, in addition to being skills needed for a life time of learning and expression. God has given his truth in words, spoken and written. God himself presented written documents to Moses, and the command to write the words of God appears from the prophets to Revelation, which ends with warnings not to tamper with the words in the book. The assumptions and values that printing and reading create are surely not a surprise to the Creator. And while schools ought to consider all useful tools that are available—Veritas, for example, maintains a Facebook page for alumni contact and is considering communicating with parents through Twitter—these tools need to be picked up with care and discernment, for while all tools may be lawful, they are not all equally helpful. Some may even be inherently counterproductive for the job at hand. The primary, defining tools of classical, Christian education have been—and must be—the written and spoken word.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Veritas Grads in the News

Our local paper, the Newberg Graphic, recently ran three separate articles on Veritas graduates.

Here are the students and the links to the on-line version of the article:

Andrew Gerlicher ('09):

Matt Jones ('08):

Ben Shelton ('07):

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Harkness: Discussion-based teaching

Several Veritas secondary teachers spent two days last week with Geoff Sahs of Regents School of Austin discussing the Harkness method of teaching. Harkness is essentially a student-driven discussion-based approach. It is not unlike more familiar socratic teaching (which many Veritas teachers use frequently) but it seeks to go beyond the dependence on the teacher to move the conversation that socratic discussion tends to create to a classroom where the students, well prepared by advanced reading and reflection on questions, demonstrate that they have thought carefully about the topic and are able to not only articulate their understanding but apply it in conversation with others.

These discussions do (at least) three very critical things for us as a school. Since the discussions are based on the content of the class, the curriculum is advanced in a way that requires the students to be heavily invested. In daily discussions around a table with a small group of other students (and the teacher, of course) there is, quite literally, no place to hide. Students must prepare, must know what they are talking about. Secondly, the discussions give feedback to the students as to how they are doing in understanding the content. Reading and reflecting on one's own may give the false impression that a concept was thoroughly grasped. In trying to explain it to another person, or to defend a position about it against an alternative, it may quickly become clear that the student hasn't really understood. Finally, the teacher also receives immediate, on-going feedback on if students are learning the content. While written homework may contribute to this, it is all too easy for students to draft answers or apply formulas without having the concepts truly sink down deep into their minds. Skillfully created and guided discussions will reveal this pretty quickly to an alert teacher, who may then, if necessary, interject into the conversation--or stop it temporarily, if needed--to clarify missed points, present to the class, or in other ways change the direction of the discussion. Follow-up questions and preparation for the next lesson can then be more effectively designed based on the understanding demonstrated in the discussion.

Student writing is also a very important part of the process of ensuring that students are understanding the content of the class. Short responses, essays, and papers are all used to give opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have learned, and to give the all-important feedback to both students and teachers.

There are issues to be resolved as we seek to apply more discussion-based lessons. Assessing the quality of participation (and grading),while not complicated, does require thoughtful attention by the teacher. There are many ways to track who says what, when, to whom, and for how long, and this will need to be a skill we develop. Providing effective homework preparation, asking the right questions, guiding the discussion, and applying the method in age and subject appropriate ways will all need to be thought through carefully. However, the potential reward--students who are more self-directed in their learning, who can thoughtfully read an unfamiliar passage or work through a new mathematical concept, grasp the essentials, see the connections to previous learning and the implications for future learning, and then discuss all this with others, as well as write thoughtfully about it--will be worth the trouble to teachers of learning to do things in a new way.

I have to say I was impressed with the way Veritas teachers have been enthusiastically moving toward more Harkness-style teaching. They will be setting an example to students of an eagerness to learn.

The following links to the Regents School of Austin web site have more information on Harkness teaching as they execute it, which is very similar to how Veritas intends to do this:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mortimer Adler on teaching ('Firing Line' 1988), pt. II

Toward the end of Mortimer Adler's discussion with William Buckley and Midge Decter, the conversation turned to teachers and their preparation--or lack of preparation--for leading seminars and discussions of great literature and ideas. At Veritas this year we are focusing training for secondary teachers on using the Harkness method, which is essentially a seminar approach, so this part of the program is especially interesting to me.

I particularly appreciate Dr. Adler's comments on  the value of seminar teaching for both students and teachers. Also, his criticism of reliance standardized tests to measure learning and of the over-emphasis on vocational priorities to the detriment of a well-rounded, liberal education for all is extraordinarily relevant today. Many parents--I think unwisely--make 'practical use' their reason for choosing a particular school for their children, as if there were anything more useful than a classical, Christian education that gives children the ability to thoroughly understand, appreciate, and live wisely in the world God has made.

[The discussion below is taken from the transcript of 'Firing Line' taped May 6, 1988, and telecast a few weeks later. The transcript is copyrighted by the Southern Educational Communications Association.]

Dr. Adler:...When the great books are well taught in a seminar, they are not taught as antiquities, they are not taught as objects of art, they are taught as raising moral and political problems which are just as pressing today as when they were written.

Mr. Buckley: May I--

Ms. Decter: You and Allan Bloom and William Buckley, I presume to say, and I, are all in agreement on that point, I think. The real question is what to do with this total chaos we face here.
Dr. Adler: What we do, Mrs. Decter, what we spend all our money doing and all our time and effort is retraining the teachers. They don't have the faintest notion what a seminar is, they don't know how to conduct them. We go to schools and take--We have seminars for the teachers, we have them conduct seminars, we have them in seminars. They come out of schools of education, out of college totally untrained and fro the most part totally uneducated. The reason why I just said to Bill earlier today that it will take 50 years at least to get the Paideia Program installed in our schools is that we have to have a new generation of teachers. Our retraining of the present teachers is slow and cumbersome and not very successful because they are too old. Only when the teachers come through the Paideia schools, come up, and then we get a better corps of teachers, you. It's going to take a lot of time.

Mr. Buckley: Well, let me ask you this. Is there reason to anticipate resistance by the teachers or quite the opposite?

Dr. Adler: The interesting thing, Bill, is that wherever we have done this effectively--and sometimes we don't do it effectively--the teachers applaud it, and the reason why they applaud it is that teaching as they do--

Mr. Buckley: It enlivens their life.

Dr Adler: The dull lives that they lead, it enlivens their life and it wakes their minds up--They begin to think, they begin to learn, and in my judgement, only a learning teacher is a good teacher. Only the teacher who learns by teaching really teaches. The others are just reciting lessons, not teaching at all.

Mr. Buckley: What is he learning, technique?

Dr Adler: Thinking. His whole mind, shall I say, is at work.

Mr. Buckley: Well, if he comes in knowing that Antigone is by no means the principal victim in the story, how does that teacher go on to learn through a seminar?

Dr. Adler: Well, in the course of a seminar I've seldom had a seminar where--

Mr. Buckley: Is it refinement of the arguments?

Dr. Adler: --the students don't raise questions that are difficult to answer, where their objections aren't worth considering, where something that I don't get an insight that I didn't have before because of the movement of the discussion, you see? And most of the teachers that we expose to seminars, as you say, their minds are enlivened, they find the seminar process as interesting teaching experience and a learning experience for them as compared tot eh recitation of lesson plans they do in other kinds of classes. So we have very little resistance--if there is any resistance to the Paideia Program, it doesn't come from teachers and principals, it comes from colleges of education. I will tell you that the greatest opponent of the Paideia Program in the United States is Secretary Bennett. His model high school I regard as a complete surrender to all the wrong things--

Mr. Buckley: Because of the elite factor?

Dr. Adler: Elite, because it depends on these lousy, silly test scores as a measure of what's going on, and they don't measure anything worth bothering with, because he has a core curriculum with many electives, because he allows vocational training for those destined for labor rather than destined for leisure and learning...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mortimer Adler on teaching ('Firing Line' 1988), pt. I

While boxing up books this past week in preparation for new carpeting,  I came across a transcript of 'Firing Line', the William Buckley program that ran for many years on television. In this particular episode Mr. Buckley interviewed Mortimer Adler (editor of the Great Books of the Western World, and promoter of the 'Paideia Proposal' which was designed to encourage democratic, liberal arts education in K-12 schools) about the Great Books program. As a public school teacher at the time I had become very interested in the Paideia plan (as had some of my administrators) and had taken the Great Books discussion leader training, as well.

I had ordered the transcript of the interview because of some of things that Adler had to say about reading and teaching great literature. Re-reading the interview this week I was struck again--as I had been in 1988--by the vision Adler holds out of what education really is all about. While not a Christian approach to education, the classical methods and goals he and Buckley discuss are often very consistent with what we're trying to do. And the cautions, as given below, are worth hearing, as well.

In the part of the program I'll quote below, Mr. Buckley and Dr. Adler were joined by a Ms. Decter, an 'author and editor'.  They were discussing the seminar (discussion) method of teaching great books.

Ms. Decter: One of my children happened to go to St. John's, where there are these great seminars about the great books for four years. And I visited for a weekend, and we sat in a seminar discussing Antigone. And they all sat together in this great seminar form which had been refined to the point where they all sat together with two seminar leaders discussing with one another Antigone for an hour, and at the end of it I thought I was going to go right out of my mind. And I walked out of there and said, 'Will no one tell these kids what Antigone is about?' Because they didn't know what it was about, and they were telling one another--they were having a seminar. It was the most pretentious, empty thing I had ever seen.

Dr. Adler: Many of the St. John's seminars, I am sorry to say that you're right. I have the same criticism. A good seminar--and they are hard to do--one not only that is enjoyable in itself but where everyone's understanding, the teacher's as well as the students', increase. If no one's understanding increases, it is a terrible waste of time. It's endless chat. And I have conducted Antigone with fifth graders and sixth graders, not with college students, with marvelous results. But you have to ask the right questions. Some of the young instructors at St. John's think that they should not ask leading questions. That is wrong. They should ask leading questions. They think they are only to be used as chairman of the conversation which is not correct. I am as critical of some of the St. John's seminars as you are. But don't hold the seminar down. Those are bad seminars, and I agree with you about that. 

Mr. Buckley: These are accretions on a curriculum that in the '30s was very good...

Ms. Decter: But surely this is an elitist form of---
Dr. Adler: No. I beg your pardon.

Mr. Buckley: I'm glad you asked that question. [laughter]

Ms. Decter: ...I didn't mean socially elitist. I meant intellectually elitist.

Dr. Adler: Not even intellectually elitist. The tragedy of Antigone, the problem that Antigone raises is a problem that every human being faces. The question I want to end up with in any discussion of Antigone, is, is that kind of problem with faces Creon having to change his mind about a difficult decision about his son and his fiance is a problem that can happen to any human being, and the children--young children of any age are very, very sensitive to the possibility that tragedy can enter anyone's life. The seminar on Antigone must end with their being conscious of the fact that tragedy can befall anyone.  It isn't for the kings and captains and statesmen only. The great books are not worth a darn unless they touch you and your life right now. I'm interested in their raising problems for you right now.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Are electronic media making our thinking shallower?

 A recent article in The Daily Telegraph (6/28/10) includes a brief review of a new book, The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr, in which he "argues that new media are not just changing our habits but our brains".

Some selections from the article:

"When we go online we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning."
"Deep thought, the ability to immerse oneself in an area of study, to follow a narrative, to understand an argument and develop a critique, is giving way to skimming. Young users of the internet are good at drawing together information for a school project, for example, but that does not mean they have digested it."
"This tendency to skim is compounded by the temptation of new media users to 'multi-task'"...Modern management tends to laud multi-tasking as an expression of increased efficiency. Science, on the other hand, does not. The human brain is, it seems, not at all good at multi-tasking--unless it involves a highly developed skill like driving.

David Meyer, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, says: 'The bottom line is that you can't simultaneously be thinking about your tax return and reading an essay, just as you can't talk to yourself about two things at once. People may think otherwise, but it's a myth. With complicated tasks you will never, ever be able to overcome the inherent limitations in the brain'". 

Having just re-read John Milton Gregory's The Seven Laws of Teaching, the following passage in the Telegraph article struck me as especially relevant to teachers and parents:

"Paying attention is the prerequisite of memory: the sharper the attention, the sharper the memory. Cursory study born of the knowledge that the information is easily available online results, say the worriers, in a failure to digest it. Perfect for our soundbite culture, but no so good for producing an informed, subtle-minded electorate. In addition, the brain needs rest and recovery time to consolidate thoughts. Teenagers who fill every moment with a text or Tweet are not allowing their minds necessary down-time."

[Gregory, in the chapter on the law of the learner, says something similar: "Teacher and textbook may be full of knowledge, but the learner will get from them only so much as his power of attention, vigorously exercised, enables him to shape in his own mind."]

Research into the impact of electronic media on learning is still on-going. But its effects are clearly not all helpful. Classical education emphasizes thoughtful and deep engagement with ideas and words, not the superficial, randomness inherent in much of the electronic media students use so frequently. While technology can be a helpful tool, there are potentially devastating dangers that we must be alert to.

Below is a link to the article:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Classical education in the 'New York Times'?

Of all places, the New York Times recently carried a piece by Stanley Fish called 'A Classical Education: Back to the Future' in which the author promotes the value--and perhaps the necessity--of a classical education.

While we might be tempted to say "it's about time", it is interesting that even at the NYT there is a beginning realization that standardized testing and career preparation do not make for effective education.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Learning and Teaching, chapter XIV, 'Types of Teaching': Exams

Chapter XIV ('Types of Teaching') of 'Learning and Teaching' continues with a discussion of 'examination'. The authors again make reference to the traditional Chinese educational system which prepared students for one thing--an end-of-process examination. For many centuries this examination determined the entrance into the very desirable state bureaucracy. Exams have been used more recently in the east and the west to assess learning and to allot places in universities.

While exams have their place, teachers need to beware of relying too much on them  for significant feedback on student understanding. In particular, teachers need to guard against creating testing situations that require study methods that do not impact long-term learning.

A brief quotation pretty well summarizes the authors' concerns in this section:

Even when they prepare a large amount of material it is often done by a process of "cramming" that enables the student to remember the material for a short time and then quite forget most of it later.

Tests and exams should be nothing more or less than another way for teachers (and students) to get feedback about the learning that is going on in the classroom. Teachers should be careful not to put too much emphasis on exam scores in grading. Certainly tests should make up part of the grade, but there are many more, and often more effective, ways to find out what students really know, understand, or are able to do. But in any case, as the authors warn, we want to avoid situations where students are either required or are able, by the type of test, to cram information that is soon lost. Testing of memory work is a sound practice, but the test needs to be a way of making permanent, of fixing, long term and often-used knowledge in the mind of the student.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Learning and Teaching, chapter XIV: Types of Teaching

In the chapter on 'Types of Teaching' the authors explore classroom methods from lecturing to drilling. They make a contrast between methods that resemble the "old system of Chinese education", which stressed memorization for an exam, with methods that emphasize depth of understanding. Although this book was published in 1918, the issue of cramming for exams hasn't gone away, here or in China. In 'Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization', author Yong Zhao demonstrates that the educational system in China still stresses the preparation for high-stakes entrance exams to the detriment of deep and/or creative thinking.

Sheridan and White first address the limitations of 'giving information':

It is often said that "telling is not teaching at all". The method certainly has many disadvantages...In the first place, people forget most of the things that they are told. Still another difficulty is that at the end of a course of lectures the students are often little better able to find out things for themselves than they were at the beginning.  

Gregory says something similar in the chapter on the teaching process ('The Seven Laws of Teaching'):

The chief and almost constant violation of this law of teaching is the attempt to force lessons by simply telling. "I have told you ten times, and yet you don't know!" exclaims a teacher of this sort, who is unable to remember that knowing comes by thinking, not by being told.

Althought these authors recognize there are some benefits to "telling", they assert, I think rightly, that this method should be used only rarely in classrooms of younger students.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Learning and Teaching, chapter XIII, conclusion

Sheridan and White conclude the chapter on 'Getting and Holding Attention' with the following:

Attention follows interest. Holding the attention is not a problem for the teacher of an interested class. but for emphasis it must be repeated: The interest, to be worth anything, must be interest in the lesson itself because the pupil feels that it has some relation to his own life.

Gregory addresses this idea in the chapter 'The Law of the Lesson' (Seven Laws of Teaching):

There are some who go so far as to say that no attempt should be made to impart knowledge unless the child feels a distinct need for it--unless he sees that it is essential to solve some problem that is real and vital to his life. This is doubtless an extreme view, but it is none the less incumbent upon the teacher to know what the problems of child life are and to utilize them in making his instruction just as rich and meaningful as possible.

Excellent teaching draws upon the interests and problems of students, not to determine what is learned or how, but to reveal possible connections that will attract the interest. Where this is done getting attention and keeping it take care of themselves.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Learning and Teaching, chapter XIII, continued

In the section, 'Interest in the Lesson', the authors briefly quote John Dewey. While Dewey may be, at least partially, responsible for many of the ills of American education today, not everything he wrote on the subject of education was equally false. Although certainly no friend of classical education, he, perhaps inadvertently, got at least one thing right.

Dewey wrote that, "I know of no more demoralizing doctrine, when take literally, than the assertion...that after subject matter has been selected then the teacher should make it interesting." And: "When things have to be made interesting, it is because interest itself is wanting." The authors quote him to support their argument that "external" and "superficial" means of exciting interest should not be overly depended upon, that these appeal to the child's "love of pleasure" rather than developing genuine interest.

Sheridan and White write "These methods have their place, but their place is not that of making the lesson interesting and holding attention. There are many and various methods that may be used to make the lesson more real, to illustrate, to help fix the lesson in definite form. But these methods should involve the use of nothing that does not bear directly and vitally on the lesson. They should direct attention to the lesson rather than to the device used."

Much of what is said about the use of technology in education certainly has the feel of what they call "artificial devices". Technology is often defended or even insisted upon because it is needed to get the attention of 21st-century students. If we don't use computers, or cell phones, or the latest software we will lose students, we are warned. This replaces an idea or a subject with a method or a mere tool, which in turn sets the parameters of what is to learned and how all future learning is viewed. The medium is the message, after all.

While Dewey may have meant that we should only choose subject matter that already interests children--an assertion that classical education utterly rejects--the point that is made in this section is a good one. Attention is best gained and held when the subject itself is interesting, and is presented in an interesting manner. "Attention follows interest" says Gregory, and "it is folly to attempt to gain attention without first stimulating interest." What teachers need to give thought to is not what things students are interested in learning today, but how the enduring truths or concepts that they need to learn can be presented in such a way that they can see the connection to them, can become interested in them.

Classical education seeks to teach that which is true, good, beautiful and of lasting value. These things are naturally and inherently interesting to human beings, whatever their age, and so creating interest in them should not be such a difficult task as it seems to be. Unfortunately, there are many more temporarily enticing distractions clamouring for the attention of our students. We do need to give careful and diligent thought as to what is taught and how it is taught, so that we present the excellent things we have to teach in an excellent way. The result will be that we will capture the on-going and fruitful attention and the interest of our students.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Learning and Teaching, chapter XIII, continued

In the chapter, 'Getting and Holding Attention', Sheridan and White emphasize approaches that are familiar to readers of Gregory, and to classical teachers in general. The primary responsibility for getting and keeping the attention of students rests with the teacher. Of course, the student has the duty to attend, but the teacher must make the lesson so interesting that the students simply will not be able to help themselves--they will attend because the lesson in interesting, not because they are being compelled, by the teacher or by duty,to do so.

In the section 'Good Teaching' they make the following observations:

"...the question of getting and holding the attention is chiefly a question of good teaching. Good teaching means, among other things: A lesson adapted to the capacities, interests, and needs of the pupils...genuine interest and earnestness on the part of the teacher; alertness and ability to use unexpected opportunities.."

"Demanding attention is a poor way of securing it...The ideal is to teach in such a way that the interest of the pupil is aroused, and thus his attention is gripped and held."


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Alumni Survey

[This post was originally sent as an email recently to Veritas School's parents.]

We recently conducted an on-line survey of our 60+ graduates, of which twenty-six responded. The survey was taken from the elements of our 'Portrait of a Graduate', the points of which were converted into twenty-one personal statements, such as 'my education at Veritas School taught me to reason precisely and to articulate persuasively.' Responders were asked to rank their level of agreement (Completely Agree, Somewhat Agree, Not Sure, Somewhat Disagree, Completely Disagree). We wanted to see what our graduates think of our efforts at fulfilling our mission and of realizing our goal of the Portrait of a Graduate.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, with the 'Agrees' heavily outweighing the 'Not Sures' and 'Disagrees'. On 15 of 21 items 'Completely Agree' was the most frequent response. On two items, there was equal response between 'Completely' and 'Somewhat'. On the others, 'Somewhat Agree' was most frequent.

While the survey was taken for our internal use, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you some of the results. I have selected only a few representative items from the survey for this email, but they give you an excellent idea of what our graduates think of their experience as a Veritas student.

My education at Veritas School encouraged/prepared me to:

  • reason precisely and to articulate persuasively: 96% Agreed
  • evaluate my range of experience in the light of Scripture, and to do so with eagerness and joyful submission to God: 89% Agreed
  • speak and write persuasively and wisely in any situation: 89% Agreed
  • persevere in difficult settings: 85% Agreed
  • initiate respectful dialog with those in authority: 92% Agreed
  • use logical reasoning to draw valid conclusions, recognize invalid reasoning, and make wise decisions: 93% Agreed
  • love the elements of a classical education, and gave me a desire to grow in understanding, while fully realizing the limitations and foolishness of the wisdom of the world: 85% Agreed
  • show in my speech and writing a mastery of the core knowledge of the liberal arts: 93% Agreed
  • know and love the Lord Jesus Christ: 89% Agreed
  • practice my Christian faith in thought, word and deed: 85% Agreed

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Learning and Teaching, chapter XIII

In Chapter XIII of 'Learning and Teaching', the authors address the issue of getting and holding the attention of students. Many of their points echo what John Milton Gregory says about the subject in 'The Seven Laws of Teaching'.

These are excellent reminders for us, especially as we near the end of the school year.

"[The teacher] must have the undivided attention of his class if he is to teach well. If the pupil's attention is somewhere else, the pupil himself might just as well be somewhere else...for either the pupil is getting nothing at all or he is getting the wrong impression and distorted notions and is being established in the habit of inattention."

"The best way--in fact the only way--to get attention is to arrouse interest."

"Voluntary interest...should be expected only as a result of interest in some ultimate purpose to which the lesson contributes. Interest is the motive; attention is the resultant state of mind. If we can get our pupils genuinely interested, we amy be sure that the attentive attitude, whole-souled effort and activity, mental and physical, genuine absorption in what is being said or done will be the result."

Learning and Teaching, chapter II

During the last break I found a book in our favorite book store in La Grande (Earth'n'Book) titled 'Learning and Teaching' (Sheridan and White, authors). It was published in 1918 by the Methodist church. It was written mainly for Sunday School teachers but it also was intended for day school teachers. While some of the theology is suspect (there is much about 'Christian living' and 'Christian service' but next to nothing about sin, justification or the work of the Holy Spirit) much of the discussion about teaching is excellent.

Chapter II: How We Learn

"...the first step in the learning process is realization of the inadequacy of present ways of acting and desire for better ways...Whenever an individual sets out to learn a better way of doing something he is driven to his effort by dissatisfaction with present ways of living, a sense of their inadequacy or incompleteness. This dissatisfaction may be manifested as an eager curiosity to know more--that is, dissatisfaction with present knowledge...In whatever realm, dissatisfaction with present knowledge is an important preliminary to the improvement of knowledge."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Education Is Not Neutral—Why Christian Children Need Classical, Christian Schooling

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart... renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
-Ephesians 4:17-18, 23-24 (ESV)

[This article first appeared in Verbatim, the newsletter of Veritas School, Newberg, Oregon.]

The life of the mind and the life of soul are inseparable. How one thinks determines how one lives. In these passages in Ephesians Paul points out this inseparable connection. He commands—this must be the sense of ‘testifying in the Lord’—believers to put away the failed thinking of the unbelieving culture around them and to be careful to live and think in a manner that pleases God.

But this way of life he tells them to avoid does not come by accident, rather it flows from the darkened understanding that is itself an inevitable by-product of hard hearts, of souls that reject Christ. So living and thinking are intertwined, and cannot be divided. How you live reflects how you think and how you think changes how you live.

This is where classical, Christian education comes in: in order for our children to live in a way that pleases God—in true righteousness and holiness—they must also learn to think in a way that pleases God. If we don’t want their lives to be futile we must instruct them to think in ways that are not futile. This is something that classical and Christian education is uniquely designed to do. Our education is Christ-centered, that is, it acknowledges that Christ is Lord over all creation—all history, literature, science, math, everything that exists, is meant to serve and glorify him. Students educated from a classical perspective become adept at doing many things well, and are thus prepared for anything. Our classical curriculum and methods are meant to form the mind to think clearly, to train students to speak and write eloquently and persuasively, and to conform the soul to the truth of God.

The mission of Veritas is to cultivate wisdom, virtue, and godliness through providing an excellent classical, Christian education. Our unique academic program, which includes a thorough integration of history and literature, robust theological study, critical reading of the great books of Western civilization, is assisting families to develop, by the grace of God, thoughtful and faithful young people who seek to honor and love Christ with all their hearts and minds. We have seen remarkable academic results, but more important to us is the kind of people our students are becoming.

The 6+ hours a day, 170+ days a year, students spend in school have an impact on their minds and hearts. This should have a forming influence or it will have been a waste of time. Actually, it will form, whether we like what is being formed or not. Education enculturates, that is, it is a process whereby ‘an individual learns the accepted norms and value emphases of an established culture through repetition’. The question is, what are those norms and values that are being learned? Are they the values and patterns of life that we want for our children? This training process can never be neutral. What is the culture you would like to be formed in your child? The school he or she attends will inevitably shape this.

School choices abound for parents—secular schools (public and private), home schooling, Christian schools, and classical and Christian schools. The chief question for parents should always be, in which of these places will my child be most guided in the ways of Christ? Where will he or she most likely be led to walk in ‘true righteousness and holiness’?

Martin Luther many centuries ago gave the answer: “where the Holy Scriptures are not the rule, I should advise no one to send his child.”