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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Biggest Dirty Little Secret Of All

Caution: Information I will be sharing with you over the next few weeks could change the way you look at education forever. Continue reading at your own risk.

In his Aims of Education Address, Professor John Mearsheimer called the University of Chicago "a remarkably amoral institution."

Did the Professor say "amoral?"

I've got a little surprise for him. Perhaps I should say, a "dirty little secret." Shhhh....There has never been, nor will there ever be, an "amoral" institution, or an "amoral" approach to any subject. Even math. From civil engineering, to business, to art, to psychology, to biology, to culinary arts, one thing is ever-present at school, running in the background, as certain as the ticking of time.

Even if there are no clocks on any walls, time still ticks in the background of every lecture, whether it is pointed out by the instructor or not. (Most teachers don't point it out.) It's this way with morality and ethics. If no teacher specifically mentions the word "morality" in class, and no teacher specifically talks about "ethics," the fact is, morality is an integral part of every subject, and this is true from the first day of kindergarten through the last day of graduate school.

I'm sure Comenius and Webster understood this. But somewhere along the way, this elementary truth got swept into the deep postmodern waters in which we are now adrift. Some of the most intelligent educators today, such as Professor Mearsheimer, talk as though they haven't really thought through this point. But surely they have. Yet...maybe...they haven't. And if they haven't thought through it, then how many parents have? How many third grade teachers? And how many high school principals?

Mearscheimer was propagating the great presumption of secularism which says it is possible to be "neutral" about morality, and that secularized education is "amoral." But it simply can't be. That's becauseand now for the the biggest dirty little secret of allsecularism (the accepted and celebrated foundation of American education today), is a faith, and every secularist is a person of faith, even the most rabid atheist.

Have I lost my mind? I don't think so. In fact, with the help of people like Albert Greene, Francis Schaeffer and John Dewey, I think I've found my mind. But I'll let you decide.

Did I say John Dewey? Yes! He helped me see something important. So for my first witness, I call to the stand none other than the Father of Progressive Education himself, the author of A Common Faith.

Lean in. Please.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

The President Asks Americans to Engage in Religious Activity

As I continue my series on education, I am mindful of followers of Christ who teach in state schools. Eric Buehrer (who graduated from the same high school I did) is president of an organization I respect and recommend, called Gateways To Better Education. His organization focuses on helping state school teachers to understand the full legal freedom they have to teach about the influence of Christianity in our history [yes, some states require it!], to educate students about biblical themes in great literature, etc., and to take advantage of teachable moments that afford fitting opportunities to bring up "religious" subjects for class discussion.

One such teachable moment occurred this week when our President issued the annual Thanksgiving Proclamation to the nation. Eric highlighted this in an e-mail I received from him on Wednesday, and I asked Eric if I could pass his comments on to my readers. Thank you, Eric, for permission to do so! Keep up the great work.       

The President asks Americans to Engage in Religious Activity

Yesterday, the President issued his annual Thanksgiving Proclamation calling the nation to thank God for His blessings. No matter what our politics may be, it is important that we highlight the Proclamation to our children and our students as an example of our nation's recognition of being "one nation under God."

The president begins by explaining that it is about "recounting the joys and blessings of the past year." This is an important statement because the majority of people (including teachers) mistakenly think that Thanksgiving is a nostalgic remembrance of the Pilgrims of long ago.

The President explains, "This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives." 

In his second paragraph, the President gives a brief overview of its history. He also highlights George Washington's prayer "to our Creator" as well as Lincoln's proclamation.

In his fourth paragraph, the President calls upon the nation to "spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence."

I recommend you print out the proclamation and read it to your family. It is important that we not only remind ourselves what God has done for us individually, but that we live in a country that officially does this as well. It is part of being "one nation under God."

If you are a teacher, you can incorporate the President's proclamation in a post-Thanksgiving class discussion. Ask students specifically what they did for Thanksgiving Day. Then, ask them if they did what the President asked them to do. When they reply that they were not aware that the President asked them to do anything, give them a copy of his proclamation, read it aloud, and discuss it. This is a teachable moment -- a time to discuss a few of the following topics:

  1. What it means to be "one nation under God."
  2. The Bill of Rights and freedom of religious expression
  3. America's Judeo-Christian heritage
  4. The often-misunderstood phrase "separation of church and state"
  5. What it means to end the proclamation "in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve" (our calendar dating)

Download the President's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Yours for Creating a Better Future for Our Children,
Eric Buehrer

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Sights Have Been Removed From The Barrel

It takes three things to hit a target: 1) a front sight, 2) a rear sight, and 3) a trained mind to keep 1 and 2 aligned. What soldier removes the sights from the barrel?

For Comenius and Webster, education was a pursuit of truth. But not the kind of "truth-pursuit" I found on the streets of Seattle. The Comenius-Webster pursuit of truth involved using God's Word and God's works like two sights on a rifle. Those two sights, aligned by the reasoned eye of a person supporting the barrel, provided an intelligent way to hit targets. But this is an old-fashioned view of truth, and an outmoded view of education.

No doubt the motto Truth for Christ and the Church was put on Harvard's crest to keep the aim of education in sight. To say Harvard got disoriented along the way is an understatement. Not only has the target been changed, but the sights have been removed from the barrel. Yet not only at Harvard.  

The University of Chicago has a tradition of giving freshmen a lecture called, "Aims of Education." When Professor John Mearsheimer gave the Aims of Education Address to the Class of 2001, he stated: "Not only is there a powerful imperative at Chicago to stay away from teaching the truth [that is, the truth], but the University also makes little effort to provide you with moral guidance. Indeed, it is a remarkably amoral institution. I would say the same thing, by the way, about all other major colleges and universities in this country."

Mearsheimer told the freshmen, gathered in a chapel built in the nineteenth century, that the building's benefactor "cared so much about his chapel because he was deeply interested in promoting Christian values at Chicago." A statement declaring that a building which represents religion "ought to be the central and dominant feature of the university" is etched in stone on the back wall. [Etching in stone is a good idea.]

Professor Mearsheimer informed the students that the first president of the University, William Harper, required undergraduates to attend chapel services once a week. But went on to say, "The importance of religion at elite educational institutions like Chicago diminished greatly in the first decades of the twentieth century," and added:  "Moreover, I would bet that you will take few classes here at Chicago where you discuss ethics or morality in any detail, mainly because those kind of courses do not exist."

For the full speech, click here. Read the section called, "The Non-aims of Education at Chicago." For Mearsheimer's response to criticism of his speech, click here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Then, Mr. Webster?

Noah Webster (1758-1843), the "Father of American Scholarship and Education," said education was "useless without the Bible." His American Dictionary of 1828 contained more biblical definitions than any other reference volume of his day (and probably since). In the Preface, Webster wrote: "In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed...No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people."

In the March, 1788, issue of The American Magazine, Webster wrote: "...the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. Education, in a great measure, forms the moral characters of men, and morals are the basis of government." He went on to say: "...it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals, than to correct, by penal statutes, the ill effects of a bad system."

Webster referred to the Bible as "that book which the benevolent Creator has furnished for the express purpose of guiding human reason in the path of safety, and the only book which can remedy, or essentially mitigate, the evils of a licentious world." [Harry R. Warfel, ed., Letter of Noah Webster, pp. 453-57].

In a letter to David McClure, written on October 25, 1836, Webster declared: "Any system of education...which limits instruction to the arts and sciences, and rejects the aids of religion in forming the character of citizens, is essentially defective."

[The photo above, by Billy Hathorn, is of a painting in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., used here under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.]

Speaking of veritas, what exactly is "truth," anyway?

The answer provided by Professors William James of Harvard and John Dewey of Columbia could not be further removed from that of Martin Luther, John Comenius and Noah Webster. For the modern Professors, truth is what works. For you, for society, for the system…it just “depends.”

I suspect most Americans in Webster’s day could not have conceived of the darwinized notion that truth evolves. Some of them, when pressed, would have said truth is “self evident.” For the eighteenth-century mind, schooled in the biblio-centric education of Comenius and company, it would, of course, have seemed that way. But today, what is “self evident” to some is not “self evident” to others.

Webster said "morals are the basis of government." Now here’s an interesting question for you: what happens to a nation when morality becomes “what works for me?”  What then, Mr. Webster?
What then? Then you see nearly half of a class of 279 students cheating at Harvard. Then you see accountants cooking the books at a multi-billion-dollar corporation in Texas. Then you see traders on Wall Street designing financial derivatives that the head of the Federal Reserve Board says he could not comprehend. Then you see 5.2 billion dollars in U.S. tax refund fraud last year. Not to mention no-fault divorce and state-sanctioned sodomy. You see exactly what we see today.

Truth? By what measurement? The measurement of unbridled reason? Or is reason to be submitted to a higher authority: the Book of God's Word, and the book of God's work?   
A couple of years ago, I did some man-and-woman-on-the-street interviews on a sunny afternoon in Seattle, asking a very basic question: “What is right and wrong, and how do you determine the difference?” I found no shortage of people ready and willing to answer on camera, giving written permission to share their comments with you and others.

In well over an hour of nearly back-to-back interviews, I did not find a single individual who made reference to the Bible, or to the God of the Bible. Not one. I invite you to witness what I did. And then spend a moment in prayer for the post-Christian West. Click here.
What do you think? Is there any room left for the idea that morality is based on objective, universal truths that remain the same, yesterday, today and forever? Weigh in below.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Where Enduring Revolutions Start

John Dewey (1859-1952) was the Father of American Progressive Education. As a world-class philosopher, and head of Teacher’s College at Columbia University, Dewey made a lasting impact on American educators and American schools. 

Dewey’s ideas were influenced by William James (1842-1910), who championed the darwinized notion that truth is always in a state of flux. Truth, according to James, “happens" to an idea, ever evolving and ever in process. Truth adapts to fit its environment. Truth which was once fitting for a particular social environment may not be fitting today. Only the fittest truth survives, and if it doesn’t fit, it is no longer truth.

"Objective," "absolute," "universal," or "total" truth, for James, did not exist. Truth was what works. This way of thinking, called pragmatism, is America’s distinctive (and destructive) contribution to Western thought. It was a radical departure from Luther, Comenius and Webster.

According to social pragmatism, society itself becomes the shaper of what is truly fitting for the times in which one lives. Right and wrong, true and false, good and evil are relative to the current aspirations of the group. As culture changes, values change. As values change, culture changes, and so the evolutionary process of progressive truth goes on and on.

Dewey sought to merge social pragmatism with American education, and helped the process along through “progressive education." The public school is the natural place for social formation to take place. What better place to shape truth? Change requires a certain suppleness of mind, and young minds lend themselves better to the process.

Elementary school. That's where enduring revolutions start.
Progressive education resists unchanging dogmas, such as those taught by the Bible. The very word "dogma" has a negative connotation. The idea of absolute, unchanging, universal truth is shunned, and people who hold such outmoded ideas are "narrow-minded." Puritanical.

Education for the progressive educator is a process by which a person becomes "open-minded," guided by independent human reason, unencumbered by Revelation. People clarify their own values. The "imposition" of values by The Book, is o-p-p-r-e-s-s-i-v-e.

In My Pedagogic Creed, Dewey refers to the teacher as "the prophet of the true God and the usherer of the true kingdom of God." I'll share more about Dewey's "God" and "kingdom" later.

What recently took place among 125 classmates who cheated on the exam at Harvard began in third grade.

John Dewey in 1902. That's not a Bible in his hands. I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd wager he's holding a volume of William James' Principles of Psychology.
[Photo public domain]

William James spent the bulk of his career teaching at Harvard. A nice-looking man! His concept of Veritas, however, would not have passed muster with Harvard's first board. But Professor James posed no problem for the Unitarians who took over the school in 1805. [Photo public domain]