Review: The Learning Cycle

learning cycle

The Learning CycleMuriel I. Elmer and Duane H. Elmer. Downers Grove: IVP Academiv, 2020.

Summary: The Elmer’s propose a five level process for learning that is not a transfer of information from the teacher to the student but the transformation of the life of the learner.

Most all of us remember cramming for an exam where we learned the information we needed just long enough to take the test. A week, maybe even a day later, it was gone. Part of the problem, according to the authors is that we often consider learning only a cognitive process, engaging our minds. Drawing on recent findings in neuroscience, the authors propose a learning process that engages the mind, the emotions, and our actions.

They propose a five step or level process, all build around the idea of recall, the remembering the information, and building on that:

Level 1: Recall–I Remember the Information. They look at how learning involves short, working, and long-term memory. Critical is getting to long term through rehearsal. One of the tools they talk about is the “memo to self,” a short note on one meaningful idea from a presentation. In this section, they also discuss lectures that transform. A key point is realizing that attention peaks at 10-12 minutes and then declines (a good time a change of pace, such as discussion or an exercise) and then rises again (a good time for summation). They offer a number of ideas for vibrant, memorable lectures and dealing with cognitive overload (like being the last speaker of the day).

Level 2: Recall with Appreciation. The aim here is for the learner to value the information. This introduces the affective aspect of learning, how one feels about the content of the learning. This happens in a setting that is safe, with a teacher that is credible, and where the learning experience is positive and self-affirming.

Level 3: Recall with Speculation. A learner who retains and appreciates the information then takes the step to consider how they will use the information. It involves visualizing how one might use the information in one’s life. This involves connecting new information with past content and thinking about how it may be incorporated in one’s life. It might mean adding, modifying, eliminating or strengthening a behavior.

Barriers to Change. Before moving to changed behavior, it is important to identify barriers and how to overcome them. They discuss the Reasoned Action Approach, which identifies the specific beliefs that control why and when we change our behavior and how convinced we are that the change will be beneficial. They then propose several learning tasks to overcoming barriers: the memo to myself again, role playing, accountability relationships, avoiding dangerous contexts, managing negative thoughts, and depending on Scripture and prayer.

Level 4: Recall with Practice. This is where one begins to change one’s behavior. It is important to recognize that practicing new behaviors may be uncomfortable at first and learning that at worst, we can’t do a new behavior yet. It takes time and repetition, dialogue and discussion in a community. This may be done through simulations, skill-training with practice, and the alternation of practice and debriefing, consolidating what is learned.

Level 5: Recall with Habit. This is moving beyond learning to act out a new behavior well to do that behavior consistently, where learning becomes habit. Habits involve a feedback loop of cues, routines, and rewards that we continue to practice long enough that we don’t give them conscious though. The authors discuss replacing bad habits with good ones and the importance of “keystone habit,” a small change that leads to other habitual changes. The author illustrated this with using the sound of a gecko to cue prayer.

While this learning cycle is useful in many learning settings, the authors, both committed Christians apply this to learning Christlikeness as habit becomes or forms character. They argue that no part of the learning cycle should be neglected if this is to happen:

  • Overemphasis on recall or remembering can incline people toward hypocrisy.
  • Overemphasis on valuing or emotion can incline people toward instability.
  • Overemphasis on barriers or obstacles can incline people toward paralysis.
  • Overemphasis on speculation or transfer can incline people toward inaction.
  • Overemphasis on practice or changing can incline people toward activism.
  • Overemphasis on habit or consistency can incline people toward empty routine.

The authors give us a biblically informed, and scientifically grounded approach to learning that transforms. I appreciate this, because the true aim of all education is the formation and transformation of learners in some way. Even more, the form of education that is Christian discipleship is far more than acquiring biblical knowledge, or even emotional dispositions toward the Christian faith and life. Unless truth transforms our thoughts, affections, and habitual actions toward Christlikeness, discipleship is just a bookshelf full of books, a notebook full of notes and a head full of ideas. The Elmers argue that so much more is possible, and shows the way for those who teach, and those who learn.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Reading for Human Flourishing

Matthias_stom_young_man_reading_by_candlelight

Young Man Reading By Candelight, by Matthias Stom — Holland, Public Domain

Last week, I reviewed a new book, Mathematics for Human Flourishing by Dr. Francis Su. Yesterday afternoon, I had the chance to facilitate a conversation with him. One of the observations I’m thinking about from his presentation was that we often talk about math in terms of educational success and job skills. Rarely do we talk about how math answers to deep human desires and cultivates the virtues that enable us to flourish. It occurs to me that we often talk about reading in similar ways to math: important to educational success and good jobs.

No question that this is true. But I wonder if that is all we focus on, we miss some of the things that foster flourishing readers–children and adults who not only can read, but find that reading makes us more fully human. Reading connects to deep human desires and cultivates virtues, as does math.

“Tell me a story.” Human beings are story-shaped creatures. We love stories–hearing them, telling them, living them and making sense out of our lives through stories. Some of the very best stories have been written down in books, and we often find ourselves within those stories.

Reading fosters imagination. The words on the page become images in our minds, so powerful and real, that we are often disappointed that movie adaptations are not nearly as good as the story we’ve imagined. Imagination enables us to envision what is and what could be, and to capture the imaginations of others.

I learn to empathize with those whose experiences I may not have shared. I am neither a woman nor a person of color or a resident of any number of countries. I will never fully understand the experience of any of these. But reading their narratives with a openness to their lived experience  can help me understand a little better, or at least show me how much I don’t know, which is also progress.

Reading builds human connection, whether between a parent and child, or two friends who discover they both like a particular writer or series of books and love to talk about them together. Sometimes our differences in taste are interesting. Why someone liked something that left us cold or vice versa can be offer insight into ourselves or others.

Sometimes we have genuine questions about something we just don’t understand, whether it is the history of our home town, how to repair our car, or the fabric of the cosmos. Reading can enrich our understanding of our world, and empower us to engage more effectively with it.

Reading causes us to reflect on the human condition. What is admirable? What is despicable? And what kind of person do I want to be? How have people faced adversity? What makes the difference between those who become bitter and those who become better?

And lest we get too serious, reading can be fun. Silly rhymes can make us laugh. Stories can amuse us and bring us joy.

I wonder whether in the press to pass standardized reading tests, our children may miss the opportunity to discover these humanizing aspects of reading, that also make reading deeply satisfying. I also can’t help but wonder if parents and educators who are in touch with these deeply human longings and weave them into their practice will educate more highly motivated readers.

 

 

Review: The Pioneers

The Pioneers

The PioneersDavid McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019.

Summary: An account of the first European-Americans to settle the Northwest Territory, focused on their settlement at Marietta, the challenges they faced, key figures in the town’s early history, and three important conditions they established in the new territory.

I’ve long been a fan of the work of David McCullough. So it was only natural to pick up this latest work of his. Little did I realize that the focus of this work was on the settlement of the first town in my home state, indeed, all of the Northwest Territory. I suspect that many Ohioans are unaware that the scenic little town on the Ohio River in southeast Ohio, Marietta, was the first settlement of European-Americans in Ohio and the Northwest Territory.

The story begins with a minister, Manasseh Cutler and some of his friends, including General Rufus Putnam, who helped in forming the Ohio Company. When the Revolutionary War ended, the British ceded the Northwest Territory (now the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota) to the United States. McCullough tells the story of the critical influence of Cutler on the drafting of the ordinance for the governance of the Northwest Territory in establishing three conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and the prohibition of slavery.

While Cutler remained in Massachusetts except for a brief visit to the settlement, General Putnam led the initial expedition that established the settlement. One of Cutler’s sons, Jervis, was reputedly the first to set foot on the land. Putnam was critical to the first years of the settlement and McCullough describes his leadership in laying out the town, creating the fortification known as Campus Martius,  when the Native peoples arose against the influx of new settlers, while preserving pre-historic mounds within the fortification.

Between attacks of the Native peoples, their depredations on wild life on which the colonists depended for food, and illness, the settlement struggled in the early years of its existence. The eventual defeat the Native peoples, and removal combined with the solidarity of the settlers in their struggle for survival resulted in the endurance and growth of the town.

McCullough tells the story of the established settlement through focusing on the lives of four individuals: Putnam, Ephraim Cutler (another of Manasseh’s sons, Samuel Hildreth, and Joseph Barker. Putnam gave leadership to the settlement. Cutler served a critical role in representing Marietta in the new capitol of Ohio, Columbus, translating the conditions of the Northwest Ordinance into reality: maintaining religious freedom, making provision throughout the state for universal free education, and resisting efforts to establish slavery in Ohio. Cutler was instrumental in the founding of Ohio University, and also Marietta College.

Samuel Hildreth was a physician, and along with his son, saw to the medical needs of the people, particularly through epidemics of influenza, small pox, and yellow fever. Survival rates under his care were higher than elsewhere, attesting to his skills and devotion to his patients.  He was an early leader of the Physicians Society of Ohio, and also kept journals and drawings of nature observations that qualify him as one of Ohio’s first naturalists. Joseph Barker was the builder and architect of Marietta, responsible for many public buildings and private residences, as well as the ill-fated Blennerhassett mansion on nearby Blennerhassett Island. The dream home of Harman Blennerhassett and his wife was caught up in the conspiracies of Aaron Burr against the United States, to the great loss of the Blennerhassetts.

McCullough’s account has been criticized for primarily looking at the challenges faced by the European-Americans who settled the Ohio country, and not those faced by the Native peoples who already occupied this land. McCullough shows cognizance of these issues in describing the motivating concerns of the aggression of Native peoples as they witness the large numbers of settlers with a very different idea of land ownership coming onto lands they occupied, the courageous and often skilled warfare they fought under leaders like Tecumseh, and the sadness of the eventual removals of these peoples. More than this would have resulted in a much longer and less focused narrative. What I think McCullough might have done is discuss the notable omission of the Northwest Ordinance to address the just treatment of the Native peoples and how their presence would be acknowledged and govern settlement patterns and practices. He addresses the positive distinctives, but not this critical omission. The assumption was that if you could survey it, you could occupy it, one reason why Native peoples especially targeted surveyors. Two very different ideas about land ownership clashed here and throughout the country, without a just resolution.

Nevertheless, I found this a fascinating study of the key figures in this book, and the early history of the settlement of my state. Ohio eventually played a key role in the Underground Railroad movement. The fight to prohibit slavery made the state a haven for fugitive slaves enroute to Canada (there is some evidence that the Cutler family even played a part in this). It was an early pioneer of public and higher education, the home of the McGuffey Reader and a network of public and private colleges throughout the state of which Ohio University and Marietta College were the earliest. McCullough gives us a narrative of the character, courage, and enterprise of these pioneers who not only survived but profoundly transformed the Ohio country during their lives.

Review: I Am Malala

i am mulala

I Am MalalaMalala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

Summary: A memoir describing a Swat Valley family committed to education, including the education of girls, Malala’s shooting by a Taliban fighter, and her recovery from near death.

Malala Yousafzai was a fifteen year-old schoolgirl who had advocated for the basic right of education for girls, along with her father, a school director. On October 9, 2012, she nearly payed with her life for that advocacy, having been targeted some months before by a Taliban cell, and nearly killed by a bullet to the head.

The larger story is one of a daughter born in a society that values sons who had an exceptional father committed to education, including the education of girls. She describes his struggle to build a school in their village in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, which she describes as a beautiful garden spot nestled in the mountains not far from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. She describes a setting where Muslim piety, education, and love of one’s place all wove together with a fair amount of harmony, given the tumultuous political history of Pakistan.

She traces the changes that came after 9/11, and when the Taliban, routed from Afghanistan, infiltrated her country, despite the official denials of government and military, who often seemed oblivious to what was right under their noses. She describes how they won the hearts of some of the native peoples through the use of radio broadcasts and then increasingly dominated the society, requiring burkas, and closing schools, especially schools for girls. Malala and her father were among those who spoke against this. Malala even kept a blog diary under the assumed name of Gul Makai.

Finally, Pakistani military routed the Taliban, though they failed to capture the leaders. The threats went underground but still existed. It was thought that Malala’s father was the endangered one until the attack on her bus when she was critically wounded and two other girls were hit.

The last part of the book chronicles the fight for her life, both in Pakistan, and eventually in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, the skilled and loving care of Dr. Fiona and Dr. Javid, and her struggle to recover from the head wound, a severed facial nerve, loss of hearing, and the swelling of her brain. As she recovers physically, she and her family discover they are exiles in England, at risk if they try to return to Pakistan. (Since this was written, she returned once, in 2018 to meet the prime minister and give a speech in her home town of Mingora.)

The value of this memoir is to listen to a devout Muslim woman who is not a terrorist and does not want to enforce sharia law, but aspires to the things women around the world do–an education, dignity, the freedom to choose one’s entertainment, to be secure in her home. She shares the rich culture of a Pashtun Pakistani, the sincere devotion of her faith, and her love of her people. In her conclusion, she writes:

“I love my God. I thank my Allah. I talk to him all day. He is the greatest. By giving me this height to reach people, he has also given me great responsibilities. Peace in every home, every street, village, every country–this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish.”

Whether we share Malala’s faith, do we not share Malala’s dream? Wouldn’t it be a different world if we sought this dream for all of God’s children? Malala asks us, why not?

 

Review: Educated

Educated

Educated, Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 2018.

Summary: A memoir a young women raised by survivalists in rural Idaho, physically abused by an older brother, self-taught until entering Brigham Young, beginning a journey taking her to Cambridge, Harvard, ultimately at the cost of severing family ties.

She holds a Ph.D from Cambridge, has studied at Harvard, as well as receiving her B.A. from Brigham Young. And before her first classes at Brigham Young she had never set foot in a school classroom. She is Tara Westover. She was one of seven children of Mormon survivalists living in a beautiful mountain setting in rural Idaho. Tara did not have a birth certificate. Her father embraces theories of the Illuminati who had pervaded the Church and all government institutions.  He rejected all traditional medicine other than his wife’s herbal potions, which Tara helped mix as a child. Food, gasoline, and guns were stockpiled and Tara slept with a “head for the hills” bag in anticipation of the End Times. An older brother, “Shawn” (a pseudonym), having suffered multiple head injuries, violently and sadistically abused her, stuffing her face in a toilet, calling her “whore,” and breaking bones. No one intervened.

Westover’s memoir has been on a number of “best book” lists and has been a recommended read by the likes of Barack Obama and Bill Gates. For all that, this is a painful book to read, yet inspiring at the same time. Tara’s exposure to unsafe working conditions in her father’s scrapyard and construction projects, the verbal abuse and emotional manipulation she experiences from her father and the physical violence of her brother are horrendous.

Yet her journey, from performing in local plays, to getting jobs not dependent on her father, to the effort to teach herself enough to pass college entrance exams, and her near-miraculous admission to BYU and subsequent scholarships hint at a voice, an agency within, a sense of self not controlled by her highly controlling family.

She quickly discovers the holes in her efforts at self-education and what little schooling she received from her parents. In one of her first classes she reveals her ignorance of the Holocaust. Yet those gaps become the impetus for curiosity, and not only educational discovery but self-discovery. She discovers symptoms that match her father suggestive that he suffered some form of bi-polar illness.

Another form of inspiration comes in the form of mentors who recognize the intelligence hidden in this uneducated girl–a bishop in her church who provides financial assistance and lets her talk, a professor who encourages her by taking her on a summer at Cambridge, a Cambridge academic who affirms the quality of her scholarship, a counselor who helps her put her life back together when the tension between what her family and upbringing say she ought to be, and what her own inner voice aspires to become so great she experiences a breakdown.

Reading the book helped me understand how abuse victims who have experienced horrid abuse can blame themselves rather than their abusers. Tara internalizes their view of her and the world (including her brother’s epithet of “whore”). It shows us how even deeply dysfunctional families can still have deep bonds to and upon each other. The memoir helps us experience with Tara her struggle to come to terms with the reality that she was not the problem, and with that awakening the necessity to refuse her father’s “blessing,” which signified maintaining a relationship with her parents, indeed her identity, on their terms. It meant severing ties with her parents and some of her siblings in order to affirm her own voice, her own life.

Much like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (review), both extended family and educational mentors play an important role in Tara’s life, providing a safe space for her developing sense of self. We also see the power of education at its best as her academic work helps her understand her own experience. Some will respond critically that her education resulted in both estrangement from family and walking away from her faith. It seems to me that both family and faith as she experienced these were toxic (she is clear to distinguish this from Mormonism in an author’s note). It is also the case that there may be future chapters of this story to be written. If this book is any indication, Westover’s account will be one of strikingly compelling prose.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Cardinal Mooney High School

mooney sealYesterday, the most recent issue of The Mooney Messenger arrived at our home and we learned that Cardinal Mooney High School will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its first graduating class in 2019. So it seems appropriate to tell something of the story of Cardinal Mooney as it has intersected with our lives.

Personally, the only time I ever set foot in Cardinal Mooney was an early Saturday morning in the school cafeteria where I and hundreds of other Youngstown area high school students were taking college entrance exams. The real story of Cardinal Mooney is my wife’s story. She is the Mooney grad, and the reason we receive the magazine.

She remembers as a child when representatives of the Diocese visited her parents soliciting contributions for the construction of Cardinal Mooney. Growing up in Brownlee Woods, they told her parents that this was the high school she would attend. It was.

Cardinal Mooney High School is named after Edward Aloysius Mooney, who was named Archbishop of the Diocese of Detroit in 1937 and Cardinal in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. Cardinal Mooney and his family moved to the south side of Youngstown when he was five years old where his father worked in a tube mill. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1909, taught at St. Mary’s Seminary in 1916, served as pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Youngstown from 1922-23 before going on to Rome, serving as an apostolic delegate abroad, and Bishop of Rochester, before going to Detroit. He died on October 25, 1958 in Rome.

Previously, Ursuline High School had served the whole diocese but could not accommodate the growing population of Catholic students and the decision was made to build a second high school on the south side of Youngstown. Construction on Cardinal Mooney High School began in 1954 and the school was dedicated by Bishop Emmet M. Walsh in 1956, at the culmination of a successful three year funding drive. Six hundred and ten students enrolled as freshmen or sophomores (a freshman class had been formed in 1955 meeting at the old Glenmary Convent). Enrollments grew rapidly in the 1960’s, and in 1961, an addition was opened. In 2000 the school acquired two military annex buildings and in 2001 completed an athletic training complex.

In recent years there were discussions about moving the school to the suburbs of Youngstown. A study was done, and recommendations made that a move would enhance enrollments. A funding drive fell short and Bishop Murry made the controversial decision that the school would remain in its current location and renovations, presently underway, would be made to the current facility.

Cardinal Mooney’s website makes this statement about the school:

“Cardinal Mooney has maintained a tradition of academic, extra-curricular and spiritual excellence since its inception in 1956.”

My wife speaks of attending daily masses at the school. Today, 46 percent of the enrollment are not Catholics, but the school continues to offer:

  • Required religious education courses rooted in Catholic teachings and tradition.
  • Daily prayer.
  • All-school celebration of the Eucharist, Reconciliation and Liturgy of the Hours.
    Programs for community and school service.
  • Values-based education integrated into every aspect of the school.
  • A school atmosphere emphasizing individual responsibility and respect for all.

Mooney always has been known for academic excellence with 98 percent of students attending college in 2015, 77 percent of whom received scholarships totaling $15 million. The school offers 27 AP and honors courses and boasts a 12:1 student-teacher ratio. Over half the faculty have either Masters or Doctorates.

The school has been an athletic powerhouse. My wife remembers Coach Stoops and the great Mooney teams of the ’70’s. In addition to his sons Bob, Mark and Mike, Bo and Carl Pelini, and Tim Beck are Mooney graduates. Mooney grads in sports include Ray “Boom, Boom” Mancini, NFL players Jerry Diorio, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Ed Muransky, John Simon, soccer player Kiki Willis and Mark Malaska, a former major league baseball reliever. In addition to that former San Francisco ’49ers owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr. and current owner Denise DeBartolo York are Mooney alumni.

I suspect there are many Mooney alumni who can add to this brief sketch of the history of the school. All I want to add are my congratulations to the board, alumni, leadership, faculty, staff, and students on 60 years of excellence in Catholic education in the Mahoning Valley.

 

Review: Beauty for Truth’s Sake

Beauty for Truths Sake

Beauty for Truth’s Sake, Stratford Caldecott, (foreword Ken Myers). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017 (my review is of the 2009 edition).

Summary: An argument for the unity of faith and reason, beauty and truth, the sciences and the humanities, and for the recovery of education as a lifelong pursuit of wisdom, both rooted in and eventuating in liturgical worship.

As one who has long worked around universities, the fragmentation of knowledge among the disparate disciplines is an established fact. Those who teach in the humanities, and in the sciences often hold each other in mutual suspicion if not contempt, and speak in languages often unintelligible to each other. One of the few things that unites a number of these people is a shared suspicion toward religious faith (sometimes, but not always, warranted by stupid or wicked things done in God’s name).

In this work, Stratford Caldecott contends for an ancient, and yet contemporary vision of a restored unity of knowledge that brings together arts and humanities, math and the sciences, the beautiful and the true, reason and faith in a “re-enchantment” of education that leads to wisdom, and worship. He writes in his Introduction:

“I believe it is possible to remain an active learner throughout life, and yet to maintain a moral compass in good working order. But vital though they are, adaptability and ethics are not enough by themselves. There is a structural flaw in our education that we need to overcome. It is related to a profound malaise in our civilization, which by progressive stages has slipped into a way of thinking and living that is dualistic in character. The divisions between arts and sciences, between faith and reason, between nature and grace, have a common root. In particular, our struggle to reconcile religious faith with modern science is symptomatic of a failure to understand the full scope of human reason and its true grandeur” (p. 12).

Caldecott would argue that our modern fragmented education divorces meaning from fact, dooming the humanities to solipsism and the sciences to sterility. He would argue, along with Dorothy Sayers (in The Lost Tools of Learning) for a restoration of the trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, and an adaptation of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music, expanded for additional disciplines). He believes that the key to the unity of these disciplines is beauty, which serves as a pointer to truth, as well as goodness. He connects the recovery of the poetic imagination with its focus on symbol to the recognition of the symbolic in the scientific study of the natural world, opening us to the wonder of what is beyond. He explores the beauty and symbolism in math and geometry, the structure and beauty of music, and concludes with how this “re-enchanted” cosmology finds its consummation in liturgy.

What I most appreciated in this work is the sense of the recovery of wonder in our inquiry. In the modern academy, it seems that one of the prices paid for advancing in proficiency, whether in “getting good data” in science, or in applying critical theory to historical events or literary works is the loss of wonder–the joy of a good story, admiration for a historical figure, appreciation of the structure of the cosmos. Certainly this is not always so, but to see the wide-eyed wonder of young scholars replaced by cynicism is grievous whenever it happens, and I cannot help but think that the educational flaws Caldecott critiques contribute to this loss.

Where Caldecott may be critiqued is in his “Christian Platonism” that views our language, our numbers, our physical world pointing to a world beyond–the world of forms, ideas, perhaps all found in the mind or person of God. I have to confess that I don’t have the philosophical wherewithal to critique or defend this idea, and I haven’t thought of things in quite these terms. I do believe that all human artistry, and the artistry of the physical world is a reflection of the Great Artist in a general sense. But I’m not as sure about the effort to “symbolize” all physical reality as a signifier of transcendent reality. There is something that feels as if it could be forced to me, akin to those who try to find some spiritual lesson in everything and sometimes reach some pretty wacky conclusions. I think I’d rather be open to beauty where I find it, to be attentive to what it points toward, and aware that we sing God’s songs, and think his thoughts after Him.

I’m not sure if that makes me a Christian Platonist or not. And perhaps that points to the goodness of this book, that it is making me think and re-examine my own understanding. It makes me think about how I relate goodness, truth, and beauty, how it is that I can claim reason and faith are not at odds and that there is an underlying unity to all knowledge. It poses the question to me in my work of how I can claim to suggest that the integration of faith, learning, and practice are a possibility in the modern university, and not just a slogan. Most of all, it inspires me afresh to think of how wonder might lead to doxology.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

A War on Public Education?

Yesterday, I came across an article in our local paper that I found alarming. It seems that our State (of Ohio) Board of Education is seeking to relax a rule that requires all of our state schools to provide 5 of 8 of the following services in our schools: elementary art, music or physical education teachers, school counselors, library media specialists, school nurses, social workers and “visiting teachers.”

What was deeply concerning to me is that this represents both a narrowing of our idea of “education” to what is tested on proficiency tests, and seems to eliminate some of the activities that make an education experience rich for our children. It also strikes me that some of the services like counselors and librarians play an important part in helping kids, especially from low income backgrounds stay in school and get into college.

State board of education members by district

State board of education members by district

What was also unsettling to me was how unrepresentative our State Board of Education is of the population they are serving. From what I can tell, only one of the nineteen members is a person of color. At most, only three come from the large urban school districts in our state, yet I suspect these rule changes could have the greatest effect on these districts and the economically disadvantaged students in these districts. Richer districts that can support these programs with property taxes would seem more likely to continue them.

A couple of my posts this week have dealt with the continuing challenge of overcoming the class and racial divides in our society. I am deeply concerned that these rule changes reflect at best a lack of grasp of how these changes will deepen the divides of race and class in our state.

I am also saddened that art, music, and physical education are considered “dispensable”.  In an era where obesity and diabetes are childhood diseases, physical education seems more important than ever. Fit minds without fit bodies just doesn’t make sense. Also, it seems that artistic intelligence is key to many technological innovations as well as enriching our lives. One of the things Steve Jobs taught us is that the aesthetics of our technology matter as much as their function.

At large members

At-large members of State Board of Education

Do I think public education is the best it can be? Hardly! Do I think people should have the right to home school or send children to private schools? Yes. But both I and my son were publicly educated and the services that could be cut played important parts in our lives and success. I’m concerned that changes in rules like this will gut the the existing quality of our public schools. I don’t want to see public schools gutted and education farmed out to for-profit schools. This has been highly ineffective at the university level and of questionable effectiveness at primary and secondary levels. All of us try to get our kids into the best schools possible. That won’t stop. The question is whether we will continue to support quality public education for those who can’t afford private options or don’t have the time to home school because of needing to work.

I sincerely hope the representatives of our State Board of Education will remember that they serve ALL the citizens of Ohio. I sincerely hope they will pursue policies that bridge the real divides between classes and races that still exist in our state rather than accentuate them. This, too, I think, would have been part of Dr. King’s dream.

Review: Hear, My Son: Teaching & Learning in Proverbs 1-9

Hear, My Son: Teaching & Learning in Proverbs 1-9
Hear, My Son: Teaching & Learning in Proverbs 1-9 by Daniel J. Estes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Proverbs 1 to 9 is an extended address on the value of wisdom from a father or elder teacher to a son or student that introduces the wisdom sayings of the remainder of Proverbs. Daniel J. Estes has taken a novel approach to this literature and written a monograph exploring the philosophy and practice of teaching and learning reflected in this instruction given in these chapters. It is part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series of monographs.

That may sound like dry, stodgy stuff but what Estes does is outline in a very straightforward fashion what we might learn from these texts about teaching and learning. The book is not an exposition of Proverbs 1 to 9 but rather a study of this discourse through the lens of what it teaches about education.

Here is the outline of the book. After an introduction describing and giving a rationale for this study, Estes looks first at the worldview underlying Proverbs as one seeing the universe as God’s creation, one with a moral order and rationality that reflect the character of God, and thus implying a proper reverence for God by humans and other creatures. He then turns to values for education, of which the top one is wisdom which is understanding how to live well and in accord with God’s order in the world, teachability, righteousness and life. Then follows a consideration of education’s goals: commitment on the part of the learner, growth in character, competence in living, protection from folly and its consequences, prosperity and the knowledge of God.

The next sections turn to the nuts and bolts of education. Proverbs 1-9 describes a threefold curriculum of learning through observation of the world, through instruction in traditional wisdom passed along, and through revealed truth from God. He then turns to the educational process evident in this discourse which includes an address (“hear, my son”), description of the wise and foolish, various forms of commands, incentives, and an invitation to embrace the teaching. This then leads to a consideration of the role of teacher and learner in this process. Because the teacher alternates between expert authority and the role of facilitating wisdom’s embrace, he sees the teacher as functioning as a knowledgeable guide in the learning process. Conversely the learner must receive, respond to, value and assimilate wisdom. Estes then concludes the book by summarizing these chapters and outlining avenues for further exploration as well as by offering few comments on contemporary education.

What I most appreciate about this book is that it articulates an approach to education that integrates faith and rigorous study of the world rather than bracketing these off into separate ventures. In fact, the earliest scientists studied the world as well as theology to understand God’s order. Similarly, tradition, history, literature, and philosophy need not be opposed to either theology or science but all function together as a comprehensive curriculum to teach the fear of God, the order of creation, the cultivation of moral character, competence and common sense in the conduct of life. Competence and character, reason and faith walk together.

In sum, this book is a concise work that gives fresh insight into an aspect of Proverbs–teaching and learning–that has relevance for anyone engaged in the educational enterprise and particularly those who want to think Christianly about how education is done.

View all my reviews

Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is funny how someone speaking softly but with conviction can change a conversation. Susan Cain has done just that with her bestselling Quiet. The book is about the unique gift, the “quiet power”, introverts bring to the world, particularly American culture, which places a premium on extroverted behavior–group work, public charisma, being the life of the party. And this is important as she argues because one-third to one-half of all people are introverts. Cain is not arguing that we suddenly coddle introverts or that being extroverted is bad. Rather, she paints a compelling picture of what happens when introverts and extroverts can appreciate each other’s temperament and gifts. Her examples of this include Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

She introduces the book with a compelling narrative of her work with a young Wall Street lawyer and the negotiation she faced in terror that turned out with her being offered a job by opposing counsel. During the negotiation “Laura” turned to her “quiet power” and through persistent questions and proposal carried the day against her extroverted, brazen opposite. “Laura”, it turns out is our author.

The first part of the book focuses on the American extrovert ideal. Cain traces the history of this ideal and what she calls “the new Groupthink” and its manifestations in education, business, and even the church (she visits Saddleback Church at one point observing that it was “all communication” with no chance for reflection).

In the second part of the book, she turns to the research on temperament and argues that introverts are actually different in their sensitivity to stimuli, in how their brains process dopamine, and more. This is the most technical part of the book but Cain livens this up through first person interviews and illustrative stories including that of Franklin and Eleanor, and the contrast between the “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street and Warren Buffett. At the same time, she avoids a “biology is destiny” argument. Introverts can push the boundaries of their temperament in things like public speaking when it is for causes and purposes they care for deeply.

Part three is the shortest section, just one chapter, in which she proposes that all cultures do not share our extrovert ideals. Working in a university context with many Asian-Americans, I found this of interest because she suggests that the Asian ideal is different and that all the group discussions in our classrooms and the extroverted character of much of campus life poses real strains for many Asian-Americans. Part of the strain is the pull to deny one’s own cultural heritage and temperament, thinking the American is “better”.

Part four focuses on how introverts may constructively engage an extrovert world–when to act more extroverted than you are, how to talk to the opposite type and how to raise children who are introverted. Most enlightening to me was the idea of not “throwing them in the deep” when they fear something, but gradually and safely introducing them to new things. I’ve know introverts who received the former treatment in childhood who still carry painful memories of these experiences.

Perhaps it is part of her lawyerly training, but Cain writes with clarity, building a compelling argument in a quiet voice, with nothing extra. What I most appreciate, in contrast to some I’ve read on this topic, is that Cain does not come off “whiny” or with an entitlement mentality. She makes her case for cherishing the gift introverts bring to the world without downplaying the gifts of others. Her plea is one that plays not on guilt manipulation but the recognition of a tremendous opportunity to recognize what introverts add to our families, our organizations, and our world.

View all my reviews