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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Is Education in the USA broken? Sunday mind meanderings.

Reading.  Learning.  Studying.  Thinking.  Considering.  Meditating.  Discussing.  Never stop learning and never stop questioning!  Mind meanderings and ramblings on a Sunday afternoon...

A good day.  Church was great as always, singing, hearing a good message, seeing lots of people I care about.   Then my wife snuggles with me for about three hours while we watch a bunch of recorded Country Music videos and try to decide what Country artists we like.   We have eclectic musical tastes but hard rock is the default setting so it was something we'd never done before.  Now I will do what Led Zeppelin suggested should be done on their second album and Ramble On...

from Zep album ever?

Thanks, Mom!

Looking through some photos and stuff my Mom gave me to poke through I found the check stub she received for her first national television commercial (filmed in Chicago) and, for a minute, I saw the world without me and with a mother who never was a mother but instead became a Mitzi Gaynor or a  Doris Day.   My father went to war in Korea and might have died before fathering me.   Both of them had college scholarships but they chose new roads, my Dad to war and then home again and my Mom chose love over fame and fortune.  Choices lead to choices lead to choices again.  My mother became a locally famed singer and appeared on television and performed on radio and spent 50 years as a big band singer and musician, so she still was able to use her gifts.  

I thank God for the choices my parents made to have me and love me and teach me to be a good citizen and to have an inquiring mind.  It would have been even better had they raised me to know Christ but fortunately I got there on my own eventually.

When I was growing up, my mother taught me to read before I entered school.   I know how she loved me and wanted me even before I was born.  She is a very small woman, so having me nearly killed her.   She was told having more children was dangerous.   I am so grateful that she chose me over fame and fortune.   But she not only gave me life, she gave me literacy and these are gifts that cannot be repaid.  I have blessed her with so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren after a period of time when she probably wondered and worried every day that I would kill myself with my crazy party animal ways. 

Thanks Mom and Dad!   I know my Dad is with Jesus now, but my Mom is so very proud of me.  Once I became a Christian I made sure to find out about my parents.  My father confirmed his faith in Jesus and my mother has done so, too.  She is always telling me how proud she is of me.  Justifiable pride in accomplishments is not the same as the self-serving pride the Bible warns us about.   She gave me life and literacy and love.   I've given her a great big family and they all love her.   What's better than that?

I am going to share a little of who I am from time to time with my readers. The short version is that I was a reader and an athlete and a singer and all sorts of things as I grew up and being drafted into the Army shocked me and sent me towards becoming hopelessly crooked, but Jesus straightened me out and books that had taught me to love learning may have helped save the day.   Drugs almost drew me down into the pit but that was then and this is now.   I climbed out of the hole and then Jesus put me on the road of peace and joy and that path is the one I will always follow.

Thanks, Dad!

One of the great moments of my life was when my Dad gave me a copy of "The Wreck of the Mary Deare" by Hammond Innes when I was just beginning third grade.   It wasn't a children's book.   If I remember correctly, I had not missed a day of school for at least two years and had certificates for perfect attendance from 1st and 2nd grade.   By third grade I was officially a latchkey kid who could walk home for lunch, as school was just maybe three blocks away.  I decided to start reading that book at lunch before walking back to school.   I never went back that day.   The book captured my attention and I could not do anything until I had read every last word.   I guess they made a rotten movie out of that book, but it had an interesting plot with twists and turns and multisyllabic words.  It had not been written for little kids, but it opened my eyes to books written for "big people."   My life changed and I became, as one relative proclaimed, "the world's youngest adult." (Not emotionally though, that is for sure)!

Reading became my best friend.  I still played sports after school with my buddies and I would watch the Rocky and Bullwinkle show while eating dinner, but once it was dark outside I might have the television on but I was reading books. (Now I read and watch television at the same time as a matter of course)   I read classics like Kidnapped and Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson and Black Beauty and other books considered good for older kids but I also began reading Dickens and Haliburton and Ayn Rand and Herman Wouk.  There were a few novels Dad had that just didn't connect with the younger me, like Mandingo for instance, but between my mother teaching me to read, my father letting me read anything he had and my trusty library card I went book crazy.  I would read books under the covers with a flashlight after I was put to bed while my good old tube radio played a nightly serenade.   Nothing like reading to the sounds of early 60's rock and roll and the frantic phrasings of guys like Cousin Brucie and Art Roberts or maybe Dex Card from WLS in Chicago or WABC in New York while my mother thought I was sleeping.

All through my life from childhood to adulthood I made a habit of devouring books, often reading everything by a particular author (It takes awhile to do Michener, by the way), many fiction novels but often novels with a message.   Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, Atlas Shrugged...Catch 22, Rabbit Run, Marjorie Morningstar...I also read lots of autobiographies and history books.   Read extensively on the Civil War as my father was a big buff and had gone to the sites of every battle and collected pamphlets from every one of them.   Later I began reading more science books and books on philosophy.   I studied Greek mythology and Eastern culture and Indian and Arabian histories and studied the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.   

I've seen the needle and the damage done (hat tip to Neil Young)

After I got drafted and got into drugs I read on various religions and almost got hooked by Satanic stuff and Eastern Mystery stuff and Magick and various goofy and/or evil disciplines.   I hung out with Satan worshipers and witches and warlocks and gang-bangers and bikers.  How did a guy who had read a library full of books get stupid enough to gulp LSD and eventually stick needles in his veins?   Well, it is amazing how sorry you can feel for yourself if you are not emotionally mature and do not have a firm moral foundation.  I was taught to be "nice" to people but my parents figured I should find my own faith and that meant that, at the time I was drafted and ripped from my planned-out life into the military I was shaken and sought solace in women and alcohol and eventually illegal drugs and usavory companions.

I remember picking up a couple on an empty highway in Northern California in my Volkswagen Camper Bus and giving them a ride up a dirt road to their mountainside cabin where their fellow commune inhabitants lived.  "In Watermelon Sugar" by Richard Brautigan was sitting on a table.  They might have killed me and taken all my stuff but instead they fed me and offered me some rather powerful weed.  When I saw the book I figured I was safe with a bunch of zen-blissed hippies.  I would pick people up hitching all the time, and I did a lot of hitch-hiking myself back in the day, not thinking twice about planning a thousand mile journey armed with a backpack and a thumb.  That was the 1970's and today hitch-hiking is obviously a very dangerous hobby so I am not recommending that you do it.  The worst that ever happened to me hitch-hiking was being dropped off in front of a Federal Prison named Folsom...yep, the one Johnny Cash sang about.   Or maybe it was the time I was left standing in the rain by the side of an interstate and with only enough money to buy one cup of coffee?  

Later I came to know Christ and then I had the Bible to study, which simply got me pointed towards even more books on philosophy and science.  But even when I was a junkie looking for that next fix I usually had a book I was reading while I was not chasing girls or getting wrecked or scrounging up money for food.   The last book I read before turning myself in to go cold turkey from the needle was Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."  I carried it with me into the facility where they dried me out.  Brautigan and Pirsig are bad philosophy and didn't convince me to quit drugs but the important thing was that reading kept my brain from focusing solely on drugs and sex and self.   Books may have helped me keep ahold of enough sanity to save me from myself in the days before Jesus saved me forever.   Maybe there were just enough heroes in just enough novels to cause me to get up out of the gutter and face cold turkey rather than surrendering to the treacherous comfort of the junkie life?  

Parents, encourage your children to read and question and seek answers!   Teach them to read as soon as they can and point them towards the libraries to find both challenges and understanding!

I passed my love of books on to my children.   Since I was the guy who hid Lord of the Rings books behind my textbooks in school I did not mind that my children did the same things.   My children all read lots of Tolkien and CS Lewis before they graduated high school, they learned to love to read the Bible and they learned so much about critical thinking from books and of course the Bible.  Shakespeare and Dickens have so much to teach us even today.   Jane Austen knew people and revealed them with style and wit.  I will grant you that "The Giver" may have its place in a curriculum of literature for grade schoolers, but "Pride and Prejudice" and "David Copperfield" are much better!

One thing I hate about today's society is the complete disregard for good literature and critical thinking.   Public schools teach everyone groupthink and so-called tolerance (read 'compromise') in place of common sense and morality.  With the dumbing-down of public schools and the propaganda that is presented as higher education in liberal colleges,  it is no wonder our society is becoming more and more broken and wounded.  As they say in the programming world, "garbage in, garbage out!!!"  Our students are being given bad history and lies and liberal philosophy that is more and more pagan, less and less factual.   Kids go into Kindergarten and emerge from college with degrees and often still have no real skills in the arts of critical thinking and thoughtful discussion.   They are all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

I think this woman blogger hits a couple of these particular nails on the head so here she is:

Ann Frailey

Do We Live In A Literary Challenged Society? Part 1

I am a wife, a home-maker, a homeschooling mother of eight children and an author and  I am probably not alone when I surmise that we live in troubled times.  Over the years I have had the pleasure and honor of introducing my children to some of the greatest literature that the world has to offer.  As a family we have read works from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame to Shakespeare's Hamlet and we have had a wonderful time discussing and growing not only in our knowledge of great writing but also in an understanding of the human mind and soul - for great literature touches the soul in a profound way - either it lifts us up through understanding, compassion and conviction or it can, tragically lead souls into dark and terrifying territory where despair reigns.

After years of being introduced to the current trends in modern fiction through books that were being given or lent to my children I have come to the conclusion that our children are being fed a reality which is not necessarily real and I decided that in order to be a part of the solution I needed to act on my convictions.  I believe that good fiction can be both exciting and realistic but still enlighten and transform a soul from humanistic survival to supernatural striving for our greatest good - a relationship with the God who made us.
Thus I began writing formally several years ago.  My first book was a reflection on The Lord of the Rings for I would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see the influence this enormous work of literature was having on the hearts and minds of youth all around me.  When delving into the history of The Lord of the Rings I discovered that Tolkien was a man of firm and deep convictions and that he had in fact helped to convert C. S. Lewis to Christianity.  By a fortuitous opportunity my family and I was actually able to see many of his original writings and drawings in a collection at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.  I was also able to pick up a biography of his life and learn many interesting facts about him and his life. Thus my first published work - The Road Goes Ever On A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings is a reflection on the monumental literature which he bestowed on the world and the convictions and insights which informed his beliefs.  I also take an intense look at the virtues which make the heroic characters like Sam, Aragorn and Frodo so attractive and the vices which lead to the down fall of the villainous characters such as Sauruman, Gollum, and Wormtongue.  I then hold up these virtues and vices to our own modern world to view them through the perspective of our personal lives.

What we read, what we put into our minds, and what we allow our children to feed upon - literally speaking - can either nourish us or poison us.  I will write another time about schools and what they can and sometimes do offer our children and how we can help direct our children to their greatest good - a life of valiant hope and enduring faith in God.

Do We Live In A Literary Challenged Society? Part 2

It does not take a great deal of penetrating insight to see that our society loves good stories.  Why is that?  I think in large part it is because the imagination can go to such wondrous places - far away and long ago - and as Tolkien once said so very well "...the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God." (J.R.R. Tolkien:A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter)

Unfortunately not all fiction takes our children to God.  Some very palpably draw our children from Him. Our schools have an obligation to introduce our children to the highest quality literature but under the guise of "realism" sometimes some very dark and hideous material is presented to them.  I had a rather dramatic episode clearly demonstrate this reality to me this school year.  I had my son enrolled in an on-line creative writing class and after a few weeks my son came to me with a disturbing reading selection.  It involved a scene with an adult woman in bed with a 16 year old boy, her emotional manipulation of the boy to kill her husband, and a vivid description of the murderous deed.  When  I protested to the teacher about this selection she said it was a mistake and she purged it from the system.  Three weeks later another selection appeared worse than the first in which a young girl was being sexually molested by boys, her repeated rape by her father and then her eventual, vividly described suicide.  I again protested, this time taking my son out of the class and I was assured that it was another mistake.  The school has sincerely apologized and taken steps to assure me that these kinds of selections won't slip in again though the teacher didn't say anything other than "I respect your choice."  My concern here is two fold.  One - this class had been going on for some time and the assigned readings had been given, and undoubtedly read, by many students before my son brought it to my attention.  Why did no other student feel duty bound to protest?  And if they did why didn't any other parent take the simple steps of having this material purged?  My other concern is that these selections were taken from a school text book.  What in the world are our texts books putting out?

I had another mother come to me recently and tell me she had to pull her daughter out of her freshman literature class because two of the books were clearly inappropriate - one being unashamedly pornographic.  She had me look at the book and after perusing it for only a few seconds I came upon a scene in which a man was taking a woman's under clothes off and basically describing what he planned to do with her in vile language.  Is this what we are paying for?  Is this what we entrust our children to?

I have been a teacher for a lot of years and I have worked in both public and private schools and I have known heroic teachers who work very hard to ensure that our children receive the best of educations but I have seen examples of the opposite too.  There is something wrong when students are given such horrendous material and only a few voices are raised in  protest.

Are we too busy to see what is being given to our children or are we perhaps fed the lie that "Well, this is the REAL world and we best let our children know the TRUTH."  I had to ponder this possibility and I came to the simple conclusion that yes - pornography, rape, seduction, and corruption of all kinds, is the REAL world - IN HELL.  But that is not where I plan on sending my kids.  That is not what I want them educated in -  Elementary Evil 101.

We are a busy people, parents especially so, but we have a higher calling than even our earthly supervisors can supersede and that is to be the authorities and mentors of our children.  We must know what they are reading and being exposed to and we bear responsibility when their souls are turned from God because we did not do what we ought to by protecting their purity and guiding their values. Schools can be wonderful places for education in so many ways but parents are the primary educators of their children and as such we must be on guard.

Next time I will discuss other fiction sources in our society and my hope for a better future.


Well, I will keep an eye out for whatever Ann writes next.

I was more fortunate than she in that my kids went to a public school with Christians in place as Supervisor and Principal.   When my oldest child (daughter) was inducted into the Junior Honor Society (she was in that during Jr. high and then the normal National Honor Society in Sr. high) in seventh grade, the Principal opened the ceremony with a prayer and ended in the name of Jesus Christ and I knew I had found a school where I could send my kids.    I'd tried home schooling and Christian schools, but the local Christian school had a big bunch of rebellious kids who hated it and were very bad influences.   Better that my kids go where the Christianity was going to have to come from within them but the school leadership would not try to fight them but would rather encourage faith.   Our school had a day every year where they would gather at the flag pole and pray.   There were Bible studies organized by students.  So I knew I could send all of my kids there and they would encounter challenges to their faith but they would not be punished for it there.   That was good enough.   In an environment where some of the students and teachers challenged their faith, they learned to stand up for themselves and were allowed to speak their minds.   If a liberal atheist teacher was dumb enough to challenge one of my more outspoken kids, they would discover that the teenager they challenged could defend his or her position...because they learned to think critically!

A personal note to commenters

Wilkie Collins wrote a brilliant book entitled "The Moonstone."   It is sometimes credited as being the first modern mystery novel.   One character (Betteridge) has apparently memorized "Robinson Crusoe" and continually quotes from it as the book rolls wonderfully along.   I have studied the Bible like Betteridge did the Daniel Defoe novel.   So if you bring in weak anti-Bible arguments, prepare to be shown to be horribly wrong.  No more stupid "The Bible teaches slavery" arguments, please!   If you are going to talk about the Bible, know it first, okay?  I am not the world's greatest Bible brain but I am one and whoever is writing the default atheist "How to challenge Christians" handbook needs to be upgraded or ignored, one.  

It is appropriate to end this way, since I found my one and only, my best friend and soulmate for life:

God gave me my wonderful wife and also my oldest son.   God has blessed me with a big and happy family. 


Anonymous said...

"Do We Live In A Literary Challenged Society?" - priceless. Apparently she does.

christian soldier said...

didn't know that you and your wife were homeschoolers-
I chose HS because - after teaching for 10 years in the public system- I knew that the basics were no longer being emphasized-
I give you a couple of my HS posts :-)

christian soldier said...

BTW-Homeschool does work-my off-spring was accepted at USMA and AFA-

radar said...

Once I home-schooled but local laws were too strict then. But many of my students are home-schooled through Jr. high and then attend regular high schools. One of ours is valedictorian of the local HS and I believe she was raised that way - homeschool first, then public school as a teen. She also won a full academic ride to a pricey college, so that system sure works!