Anne-girl

“…Fiction…communicates indirectly by inviting us into a reality that we live by means of imagination… Literature creates a world, and the writer invites your participation: you will not understand what the novel is about unless you step into that created world and live in it.” (Victor Shepherd)

The world that my Grade 5/6 class is currently inhabiting is the world of Anne of Green Gables. I didn’t know when I chose to read this novel with them that a new series based on the book would simultaneously appear on TV. As the students began to come into class talking about the series, I wondered if I should ask them to critically evaluate it against the book. As it happened, I didn’t need to say anything about that at all; they independently began making the comparisons and concluded that the series, although entertaining, was not true to the book.

That world depicted on the TV is another world, but it isn’t the world that L. M. Montgomery created. Somehow I didn’t expect that my students would be loyal to the book at all; in fact, I was almost dreading starting the novel with them, because I wasn’t sure that the boys would receive it enthusiastically. But I was wrong.

As we open the book together day by day and step into Anne’s world, my boys are the ones who laugh the loudest and longest at Anne’s exploits. While there is some eye-rolling at her flowery language from time to time, and some remarks about her extended monologues (“Was that whole chapter just Anne talking?”) on the whole, they are rooting for her.

What is it about Anne that endears herself to us? She is inexplicably relatable, while simultaneously unique and even eccentric. As we chuckle at her hapless, head-in-the-clouds ways and the scrapes she gets herself into, we’re actually laughing at ourselves. Her vanity, her pride, her stubbornness, her failure to control her tongue and temper – in all her failings, we see our own, and we’re invited to see the frailty and humor in the human condition.

Anne’s so-called heathen ways are an affront to Marilla’s stiff religious sensibilities. Her stiffness in the light of Anne’s child-like questions calls us to examine our own rigid ideas about God and their source, and invites us into the freedom of Anne’s childhood wonder and delight.

Anne has been like a familiar friend to me for decades. In my mind’s eye I see myself at eleven years old, sprawled out on a quilt beneath the blossoming tree in our front yard, an open box of Girl Guide cookies beside me. I’m stomach down, a cookie in one hand, Anne’s House of Dreams in the other, oblivious to all but the scent of the blossoms above me and the scene unfolding before me in my book.

Like Anne, I was fairly red-headed and freckled, and loved learning, nature, and romance. The descriptions of her Prince Edward Island home were not unlike my Vancouver Island home; apart from the red dirt, of course. In Anne, I felt I had found what she called a kindred spirit.

My grandmother also loved Anne. I once spent the evening with her, watching the Sullivan movie based on the book. Grandma delighted in Anne’s escapades, and it brought back memories of her own childhood on a farm in Star City, Saskatchewan. She vividly recalled to me her own one room schoolhouse, a hub in their small community, and farm life with both its charms and hard work.

Not long before Grandma suddenly passed away, the women in our family had taken her on a special outing to see the Anne of Green Gables production at the Chemainus Theatre. My sister pointed out afterward that Grandma had never stopped smiling at any point in the performance.

I brought the memory of that smile with me to Prince Edward Island last summer. Over thirty years after my first reading of the book, I was crossing the long bridge to the land of Anne. Part of me was resisting the association with Anne, wanting to enjoy the island for its own sake. Of course, PEI has fully embraced Anne devotees, a boon to its tourism industry. Yes, there’s a lot of kitsch (like gaudy straw hats with fake red braids attached) but you can almost completely avoid the tackiness if you try.

The spectacular scenery only improved upon the loveliness I had imagined while reading Montgomery’s descriptions of the island. Seeing the real-world PEI did not spoil my ability to live in Anne’s imaginary world, but rather enhanced it.

In Friday’s Literature class, my students were debating why Anne had such a fine imagination but Diana appeared to have none. One student put forward the idea that your imagination is a product of the family you grow up in, and perhaps Diana’s family didn’t encourage it; another argued that you don’t get your imagination from your family because Anne didn’t always have a family – her imagination developed because she had to survive somehow as an orphan. Another student thought that Diana should have a good imagination because she read so much, but another commented that some people just like to see things as they are and they don’t like to imagine otherwise.

I hope that in reading the novel, my students see the right use of the imagination as a good thing.

Singing in a Foreign Land

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The White House

 

I was in a foreign land this past week: the United States of America!  It’s amazing how foreign the U.S.A. can actually feel to a Canadian, even though it’s just across the border. Little things, from the all-green money to different names for common items, remind you that you’re not in Canada anymore.

For example, teachers have to become familiar with the American use of the word “grade”: that’s “5th Grade” instead of “Grade 5”; and as a verb, it’s “grade students’ papers” rather than “mark students’ papers”.

My destination was the state of Maryland, where I attended a teacher training conference put on by Rockbridge Academy, a classical Christian school in Annapolis. It was wonderful to meet and interact with my American colleagues! It was a week filled with both worshipping God and learning, reminding me how necessary these are to one another if we are to glorify Him.

While I am still mulling over the many things that I considered this week, and I’m sure as they marinate I will eventually be able to articulate them better, these three points stand out to me right now:

  1. Our graduates will look like our faculty. Very sobering thought for teachers! (Matthew 10:24 says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”) We need to be passionate worshippers and lovers of God ourselves if that’s what we want our students to be.
  2. Our students should be able to hear the good news of the gospel woven in and through and underpinning all that we teach. Our discipline of them ought to be gospel saturated. It’s not about moralizing. It’s about continually pointing them to our need of Christ and His cross.
  3. Stories are powerful ways to communicate truth to our students without moralizing. We want to read them stories that help them to learn to love the things that God loves, and hate the things that God hates. That’s the goal.

Some deep thoughts, and I’m fairly certain the full impact of this week has yet to hit me!

Happily, I also had the opportunity to visit some local sites of interest. Annapolis has a historic downtown area, with many old buildings, brick streets, and a beautiful harbour.

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Maryland State House was once the Capitol of the United States

 

 

 

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One evening in the harbour we were even treated to the sounds of a jazz band made up of men in uniform. The city is the home of the United States Naval Academy.

I set aside an evening to travel to nearby Washington, DC and walk and pray through the National Mall.

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill (United States Congress)

I love the American people! I met so many kind and generous folks on this recent trip. Just one example (of many) was the lady ahead of me in the line up of cars on the interstate in Pennsylvania. We were backed up for miles because of construction, and were at a standstill. She could see that I was melting in the intense heat without air conditioning, even with the windows rolled all the way down in the car. She jumped out of her vehicle and ran over and handed me a frozen water bottle! God bless her!

As I prayed for America this week, my heart overflowed with God’s love for the people. I thought not only of them, but of Christians worldwide who are struggling with how to live Christianly in today’s culture.

Something many Christian educators and parents around the world are pondering is how we can teach our children to be joyful and impactful Christians in an anti-Christian culture. Many might feel like hanging it up and retreating. The Israelites faced a similar struggle in Babylon:

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

    On the willows there we hung up our lyres.

    For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

     How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4 KJV)

Should we simply hang up our lyres? Or how shall we sing? Yes, for Christians there will be times of confusion and perplexity, even of discouragement and genuine grief. But in verses five and six, we are told the secret to overcoming even in the midst of those times:

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!”

The answer is to remember. We remember our God and His faithfulness. We remember Jesus and His life laid down for us. We remember the Holy Spirit and His indwelling, comforting, abiding presence. And we remember the Kingdom of God and the promise of the New Jerusalem! If we do not remember, it is like our tongues stick to the roofs of our mouths, and we can’t sing of His goodness and glory. But if we remember, how can we keep from singing?

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:21-23)

Let’s Start A Phonics Revival

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Image: wikimedia

By Tina Olesen

Although I now teach grade one and two, the bulk of my teaching experience is in a public middle school. This is where I actually began to understand the importance of teaching phonics.

When I was teaching grade six and our principal asked if there was anyone willing to coach the grade six girls basketball team, I shuddered at the thought. I am about as far from athletic as a person can get. No one volunteered. As the time for the start of the season drew nearer and they were still without a coach, thankfully the dad of one of my students came forward as a volunteer. He was a basketball maniac but couldn’t see himself managing a bunch of 11 year old girls by himself. I could manage the girls but knew nothing about basketball. We teamed up and took on the challenge.

I watched him endlessly drill them on dribbling, bounce passes, chest passes, lay ups and pivoting. He broke down the game into its incremental basic skills and taught them one by one. Even I began to understand basketball! Then I saw the girls put these skills into action in the practice games, and eventually soar during the real games. Having these basics down freed them to be able to play the game without having to think about every move. It looked natural and seamless, but I knew better.

Can you imagine if the coach had just sat the girls down and shown them hours of NBA footage, and then expected them to get on the floor and do what they watched? Failure, right? That’s kind of what happens when we just read books to kids and expect them to learn how to read by watching us read.

They need explicit, direct instruction in the basic skills of reading before they can get in the game. Sure, just like in sports, some children seem to be naturals and they just pick it up without anyone teaching them much of anything. But for the majority of kids, that approach just isn’t going to work.

In that same middle school, I also worked as a learning assistance teacher. Here I met 12 year olds who had been struggling with reading and spelling for at least six years before coming to us. To them, reading was a puzzle they just couldn’t solve; a secret that they were not let in on.

Phonics went out of vogue in educational circles and so although I’d read about it, I hadn’t even been trained in university in using the phonics approach. Gladly I encountered phonics through an experienced teacher who was trained in that way. Once she introduced these struggling readers to the phonics approach, most of them were soon able to break that “secret” code and begin reading.

Why isn’t phonics being used from the very start? It’s viewed by many teachers as outdated and boring. There’s also the objection that there are just too many rule breaker words. In actual fact, about 84% of English words are phonetically regular. But phonics doesn’t fit neatly into the modern constructivist theory of education, where students are to construct their own subjective representation of reality.

In the constructivist model, students are to invent their own spellings of words as they learn to write, and the teacher is to accept their writing as is and not correct it, as it is assumed they will gradually pick up the conventional spelling somewhere down the road.

The constructivist theory is unbiblical in assuming that students can construct their own reality. The Bible affirms that there is a reality created by God, and that it is up to mankind to adjust to that reality, not to invent our own.

You may object that the English language is a human invention. Still, in training our students that there is a right and wrong way to spell English words, we are in a sense affirming the truth that they are not God; that they do not self-determine reality. Rather, they adjust themselves to what is. If a child wants to communicate with other English language users, he needs to learn the conventions of the English language, and not invent his own language.

To teach the conventions of English, explicit phonics instruction works from part to whole. It starts with training in the phonograms (sounds associated with letters). These parts are blended into syllables and words.

Once a student learns about 70 phonograms and some spelling rules, he will have the tools necessary to read and write most English words. There is a predictable relationship between the spoken sounds of our language and the letters that represent them.

This sounds really simple, doesn’t it? For some reason, explicit phonics instruction was largely abandoned and now it seems that the teaching of reading is more complicated and less successful than ever.

When the Puritans established schools in America, their main purpose was to teach their children how to read the Bible so they wouldn’t be deluded by Satan (see The Old Deluder Act,1647) .

Reading is no small thing in the life of a disciple of Jesus. If God thought it important enough to have His word written down for us, then obviously teaching our children how to read it well is important to Him.

Victor Hugo said, “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” If you were ever a Boy Scout or Girl Guide, like I was, then you were taught that in the laying of a fire, you must choose the correct logs, find good tinder and kindling, have proper air flow between the logs, etc. Everyone has probably experienced an improperly laid fire that soon fizzled out. But a fire that is rightly laid and fed will burn on and on. Together let’s lay the foundation to set our children’s hearts on fire for the love of reading God’s Word.

Is a Computer a Good Substitute Teacher?

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Image: Creative Commons

By Tina Olesen

When I was manning the Learning Assistance Centre in a high school, I often helped students who were taking online courses. One day a young man came to see me in the throes of immense frustration with his “distance learning” course. He wasn’t understanding the material and didn’t know what to do about it. He looked at me with pleading eyes and said, “I need a teacher!”

Computers have threatened to displace teachers for some time now, but it hasn’t happened yet. Those who think that a computer can deliver the content just as efficiently as a teacher overlook the relational aspect of education, which, I would argue, is one of the key components in how well a child learns.

As a recent Huffington Post article stated, “there is one thing technology will never replace: the value of the human element in helping schools, students, and communities succeed.”

Yes, technology has had an undeniable impact on modern education. But is it really as crucial to education as some would like to make it out to be?

A Forbes Magazine article quoted US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as saying that, “Technology isn’t an option that schools may or may not choose for their kids.”

Having just completed this most recent year of teaching without a computer lab, tablets, smartphones, or a smartboard, I beg to differ. I have used many such technological devices for teaching in the past, as well as specialised technology for students with special needs. Here is what I found this year: I didn’t miss it.

I didn’t miss policing the computer lab to make sure that students were not on unauthorized websites or getting distracted while playing at changing their fonts. I didn’t miss worrying about something inappropriate that might come up on a Google search and get through the filter. And I didn’t miss dealing with technological glitches.

What I found was that a small class size takes care of a lot of what I would have wanted a student to use a computer for. Rather than surfing the web, we used library books and articles printed from the internet, and I could take the time to read the parts to them that they were unable to read on their own. Their research was deeper, because they were not frantically clicking around but rather immersing themselves in their books.

They hand wrote their drafts and we edited them side by side. We used a dictionary to check our spelling. Then they revised and carefully re-wrote their good copies. And their writing was good, even without a spelling and grammar checker and fancy fonts.

I appreciate this grounding in the writing process, without technological distractions, at least in the early stages of learning to write. Do I appreciate my word processor? Of course – and yes, I couldn’t even post this article without it. But have word processors changed the way we write?

I learned recently about Thomas Aquinas and his writing method – how well ordered his thoughts were, even before he dictated them to be written down. His dictation to his scribe “ran so clearly that it was as is if the master was reading aloud from a book under his eyes”. Now that we use word processors, we edit constantly while writing. I am not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but it does make me think of McLuhan’s statement: “The medium is the message.

In computer delivered instruction, for example, how is the embodiment of the message in a computer rather than in a human being altering the learning?

A teacher is the embodiment of the message that she teaches. That’s the relational dynamic in teaching. The message is brought home by a living, breathing embodiment of the message right before the eyes of the students. This means that we as teachers have to stop and ask ourselves what message we are giving our students with our lives.

The perfect Teacher, Jesus Christ, is the perfect embodiment of the gospel. As the Incarnation of the Word of God, He perfectly represents in His body the message of His Father in Heaven: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Although we as human beings are imperfect, nevertheless God can and will use the teacher who is wholly given to Him to put flesh on the gospel.

As Matthew Henry writes, “The more simply the believer relies on Christ for every thing, the more devotedly does he walk before Him in all his ordinances and commandments. Christ lives and reigns in him, and he lives here on earth by faith in the Son of God, which works by love, causes obedience, and changes into his holy image.”

The teacher who is indwelled by Jesus Christ has the opportunity to get out of the way and let Him be seen. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

In the words of P. Andrew Sandlin, “Christian pedagogy must always be incarnational… In teaching, we do not merely transmit facts or truths. We transmit ourselves. Education is a holistic transaction… while powerful ideas influence people, they do not change the world. Powerful ideas influence people, but only changed people change the world.”[i]

A computer cannot do that.

[i] P. Andrew Sandlin, “Pedagogical Ontology,” Center for Cultural Leadership, 2013.

Is Philosophy Making a Comeback?

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Image: Wikimedia

by Tina Olesen

 

“As they look at the church, the world ought to see that a head-on clash is coming between its philosophy and the philosophy of Jesus Christ, and that the one who is going to win is Jesus.”

– Ray Stedman

 

Philosophy seems to be enjoying some attention in educational circles as of late. The Guardian recently reported that “Philosphical discussion boost pupils’ maths and literacy progress” while The Independent stated that “Children from deprived backgrounds benefited the most from philosophical debates about topics such as truth, fairness and knowledge, researchers from Durham University found.”

It seems that these researchers did not understand exactly how the study of philosophy improved students’ performance in school.

Perhaps a benefit of the study of philosophy might be the development of critical thinking skills? Critical thinking is crucial in subjects like math, particularly problem solving. Critical thinking skills are also indispensable in reading, listening, and viewing, in order to be able to evaluate and discern the material.

There’s much I don’t know about this study and how it was conducted, but it leaves me wondering. What kind of philosophy are they studying?

There is good philosophy, but there is also bad philosophy. The type of philosophy we expose our children to matters.

If during a philosophical discussion a child gets a glimpse of the truth, and attempts to follow that truth to the best of his ability, it may result in moral character growth. If a student develops moral character, then that would result in improved academic performance.

The more a student is able to will himself to do that which is difficult for him, but that which he must do, the better he’ll do in school. In “setting himself to do the truth, he is on the way to know all things. Real knowledge has begun to grow possible for him.”[i]

However, the age old question which Pontius Pilate put to Jesus immediately comes into play: “What is truth?” Many philosophers have earnestly sought truth, which presupposes that there is such a thing as truth. The moral relativists in our day would have us believe that absolute truth does not exist (for an excellent exposé of moral relativism’s failures, watch Christian apologist Greg Koukl brilliantly demolish it in this video – it is well worth the time it takes to watch the whole thing).

Philosophy comes from the root words philo sophia meaning love of wisdom. A hunger for the truth, a desire for wisdom – these earnest longings in the human heart are meant to be satisfied in a Person: Jesus Christ, who is the Truth and who is Wisdom.

Jesus perfectly exemplified God’s moral standard. He embodied the highest and most beautiful ideals of truth, love, goodness, holiness, mercy, justice and compassion. While none of us can independently live up to that moral standard, most of us can readily recognise the surpassing excellence of it when we see it.

All that Jesus exemplifies in His perfect character is what we were created for, although none of us can attain it apart from Him, and not perfectly in this life. Yet He honors even our attempts to practice what we know of the Truth. The more we practice what we know, the further He leads us on.

The philosophies of this world have come up against the philosophy of Jesus time and again throughout history, and they eventually all crumble at His feet. Perhaps they enjoy a season of popularity and apparent success, but their shortcomings and weaknesses soon become apparent. The beauty and glory of Jesus and all that He stands for never fades and never fails.

It is the philosophy of Jesus that we want to train our children in. The only way to do this is to live it out before their watching eyes.

When we Christians train our children up in the philosophy of Jesus, to love His Wisdom and to trust Him as the Truth, we are giving them something of eternal value. Children who are planted in Jesus and His way of looking at the world have an anchor that will hold them in the storm of all competing philosophies that will one day blow away with the wind.

 

 

 

[i] From The Hope of the Gospel, by George MacDonald

Ontario’s Controversial Sex-Ed Curriculum

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Image: Wikimedia

By Tina Olesen

Ontario’s newly revised sexual education curriculum was presented at a news conference yesterday by Education Minister Liz Sandals. The curriculum is highly controversial due to the explicit content, causing many parents much concern. While parents are allowed to remove their child from class for some portions of the program, there are other elements which will be mandatory (no opt-out).

The title of this new curriculum is “Health and Physical Education.” Sex is not primarily a health issue, nor is it merely physical. Sex is a spiritual issue.

The unstated purpose of sex education courses is to free students from “ignorance” that could lead to their downfall; i.e., if they are taught how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, then they won’t get sick. Or if they are taught how to use contraceptives, then they won’t get pregnant.

If things were this simple, then why do we still have pregnant teenagers, despite all the education available? It’s definitely not for a lack of sex training in school. Some may even argue that sex education contributes to a teen’s decision to become sexually active, as it is separated from its spiritual and moral context and treated as a physical and emotional decision, like getting one’s ears pierced.

The real engine driving the sex education machine is an attempt to remake society, eliminating biblical morality and paving the way for a neutered anything-goes-as-long-as-you’re-happy-and-healthy culture.

The problem with “anything goes” is just that: anything goes. When you toss out biblical morality, where do you draw the line, and who decides where that line is drawn? Child pornography? Bestiality? Pedophilia? On what basis is that line drawn, if it is drawn at all?

Is that really the culture that any of us wants to live in? To have our children live in?

It is a culture of darkness, which pretends to enlighten.

“For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.”

The antidote to darkness is light. As has been said, darkness is merely the absence of light.

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

Our young people need a vision of light, life, and holiness to captivate their hearts – their moral imaginations.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

They need a candle in the darkness.

“…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”

“So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Let us “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” God is the one who has the most beautiful and excellent guidelines for sex, because He designed it for His glory, and put His parameters around it for our good.

BC’s Draft Curriculum and Aboriginal Worldviews

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by Tina Olesen

The draft of the proposed changes to the BC curriculum is out for review. Although our School Act states that public schools are supposed to be conducted upon secular principles, if I’m reading it correctly the draft curriculum looks to be proposing the inculcation of a worldview that is anything but secular.

The Ministry of Education in British Columbia has long included Aboriginal history and culture in the prescribed curriculum for BC students, but the new draft curriculum appears to be making quite a dramatic shift. There are indications in the draft that the province may move toward inculcating what the curriculum designers call Aboriginal worldviews. “Aboriginal worldviews are an integral part of the …curriculum, as all students learn about themselves and others as British Columbians and Canadians.”[1]

What are worldviews? A worldview is “the lens through which you ultimately look at reality… a worldview is a set of assumptions or assertions you have made through which you look at every choice and every decision that ultimately comes in life, to shape, especially, your values and your spiritual commitments that are made in your day to day living,” explains Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist.

While many people firmly believe in the viability of separation of religion from education, religiously neutral education just doesn’t exist. Education always addresses the ultimate questions of life. Ravi Zacharias suggests that there are four such ultimate life questions: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. The answers to these questions form one’s worldview. Schools cannot avoid these questions; they will either look to the Bible for the answers, or they will look elsewhere. Either way, they are not neutral.

The government’s proposed plans are to “…embed Aboriginal perspectives into all parts of the curriculum… ensuring that Aboriginal content is a part of the learning journey for all students…” The  draft curriculum “…extends Aboriginal perspectives into the entire learning journey…” so students will  “…experience Aboriginal perspectives and understandings as an integrated part of what they are learning” while the “…curriculum content embeds Aboriginal knowledge and worldviews.”[2]

Worldviews attempt to answer spiritual questions, such as “How was the world created?” or “What happens to us when we die?” Aboriginal spiritual teachings are not only cultural stories, but spiritual answers to spiritual questions. In local Aboriginal spiritual teachings about cedar bark, for example, the cedar tree is considered to be sacred and is personified with god-like qualities. This is consistent with animism, “the belief that all plants, animals, and objects have spirits.”

A document referenced in the draft curriculum plans, “The First People’s Principles of Learning”, says this: “Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.” That’s not a religiously neutral statement.

How prevalent is Aboriginal spirituality in BC? The National Household Survey (NHS) Aboriginal Population Profile for BC in 2011 at Statistics Canada recorded that about 4% of BC’s Aboriginal population identified their religion as traditional Aboriginal Spirituality.[3] Approximately 44% of the province’s Aboriginal identity population identified themselves as Christian,[4] while around 51% reported that they have no religious affiliation.[5] Roughly 5% of the total population in British Columbia reported having Aboriginal ancestry.[6]

To compare this to the total population of British Columbia (including those of Aboriginal descent), about 0.002% of British Columbians identified their religion as traditional Aboriginal Spirituality,[7] while roughly 45% of British Columbians identified themselves as Christian.[8] Approximately 44% of British Columbians reported having no religious affiliation.[9]

Why would the BC Ministry of Education propose the inculcation of a spiritual worldview associated with only 0.002% of British Columbians, using a taxpayer funded public education system?

The inculcation of Aboriginal worldviews in our public school children would not reverse the devastating damage done to so many of BC’s Aboriginal people in Indian Residential Schools, where their parents were forced by the government to send them. The crimes that were committed against those children were horrific, as was the religious hypocrisy and tyranny (for background, see this article in the Province). Child abusers in those schools falsely represented the name of Jesus Christ. Aboriginal parents had no means of protecting their children from this abuse of authority.

Is the government now attempting to reverse the harm done by obliging all public school children to learn Aboriginal worldviews/spirituality?

Curriculum is always based upon spiritual assumptions, even when it is portrayed as neutral or secular; the question is which spiritual worldview is being conveyed? If it claims to be Christian, how truthfully is Christ being represented?

Thankfully BC parents today are no longer compelled, as Aboriginal parents once were, to educate their children as the government dictates. Parents are free to voice their concerns over curriculum, and they have options they can exercise in their children’s education, unlike parents in many other places in the world.

Governments will choose the worldview that they wish to inculcate in state schools for their own ends, which are not always disclosed. We have to examine the lens that our schools are holding up for our children to look at the world through, and decide if that lens truly corresponds to reality, or not.

 (The BC Ministry of Education is seeking feedback on this draft curriculum. You can submit your feedback here or see https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/sites/curriculum.gov.bc.ca/files/pdf/review_process.pdf)


[3] Out of 232,290  Aboriginal people in BC, there were 9,715  people who reported practicing “Traditional (Aboriginal) Spirituality” (see 2011 NHS Aboriginal Population Profile for BC)

[4] Out of 232,290  Aboriginal people in BC, there were 101,400 people who identified as “Christian” (see 2011 NHS Aboriginal Population Profile for BC)

[5] Out of 232,290  Aboriginal people in BC, there were 118,435  people who reported having “No religious affiliation” (see 2011 NHS Aboriginal Population Profile for BC)

[6] 232, 290 people identified as having Aboriginal ancestry out of a total population of 4,324,460 British Columbians (see 2011 NHS Aboriginal Population Profile for BC)

[7] Out of 4,324,455  people in BC,  there were 10,295 people who reported practicing “Traditional (Aboriginal) Spirituality”  (See NHS Profile, British Columbia, 2011)

[8] Out of 4,324,455  people in BC,  there were 1,930,415 people who identified as “Christian” (See NHS Profile, British Columbia, 2011)

[9] Out of 4,324,455  people in BC,  there were 1,908,285 people who reported having “No religious affiliation” (See NHS Profile, British Columbia, 2011)

Critical Thinking

thinkerby Tina Olesen

Many of our students are wading perilously through the glut of misinformation and propaganda proliferated by the media and internet, without the tools to think critically about what they are taking in. We have the responsibility to train our future leaders to evaluate the credibility, reliability, and quality of information.

Before the internet, mainstream media remained competitive by providing high quality information. Accuracy was valued, and procedures were in place to verify information. To a degree, accountability was built in to the process.

In the internet age, we now enjoy free flowing information and up to the minute news, which is mainly uncensored. Anyone can publish anything at any time, without having to convince anyone to publish it. There is no “gatekeeper.”

This means virtually no earthly accountability – which can be a recipe for anarchy. Scammers, con-artists, crooks, propagandists and predators have made the most of this environment, and many children are unprotected from these outlaws.

On average, children are exposed to 7.5 hours of media a day, seven days a week — that’s more time than they spend in a classroom.  Children watch an estimated 40,000 TV commercials per year (over 100 a day).

The US Department of Education reported that 81% of children aged 2 – 7 watch TV unsupervised. In a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48% of kids surveyed had no rules about what they are allowed to do on the computer. 71% of these kids had a TV in their bedroom. 66% of them had a mobile phone (about 25% of 9 and 10 year old Canadians have a cell phone). That’s a lot of potentially unsupervised access to media.

Advertising to children is now big business, with American companies spending approximately $17 billion on this in 2009, at least doubling what they spent in 1992. The US Federal Trade Commission reported that 80% of R-rated films and 70% of adult rated video games were targeted to children under 17.

Marketers attempt to shape values, change attitudes, and direct behaviour. While in the past, stories were used for the moral training of our children, in today’s culture, stories are used by marketers to sell their products.

Marketers use media and mind manipulation to sell a moral value system that supports the behaviour that they wish to encourage, creating a “need” for their products. Traditional biblical moral values and character qualities that were once readily recognized as admirable are now out of style.

The change over the last few decades has been dramatic. When I was a girl, a Nancy Drew mystery was considered junk food reading. She solved crimes and helped people. Today’s girls read stories about vampires, who suck the life out of people.

The vampire romance series for young people, Twilight, written by Stephenie Meyer, has spawned several films and much merchandise. The estimated total franchise sales of this series is $5,736,100,000 – no small potatoes.

Mind manipulation’s aim is moral sell out. Marketers want you to lust after their products. If the manipulators can move you away from making moral choices, they’ve done their job. The aim is to have you choose not to delay gratification, put another person’s interests ahead of your own, or discipline yourself to do something that you don’t want to do. Lust was defined by Oswald Chambers as an attitude of “I must have it at once!

Moral choice making, on the other hand, results in moral character development. Children who do not make moral choices and act on them do not morally mature. This arrested development affects every aspect of their lives, including intellectual progress; but especially their relationships with others.

We can help our children develop a taste for good literature and worthwhile media by cultivating in them a love for that which is beautiful and true. We have to feed their imaginations on the good and honourable, so they will recognise the counterfeit. We need to help them to rejoice with the truth, both in our words and in our actions toward them.

Moral premises function as a foundation for all rational thought. The wise man builds his house upon the Rock of Christ. Without this foundation, thinking and conclusions will not be whole or coherent. As Ray Stedman said, “In the secular realms of knowledge there are great missing elements, great blanks, that the people of the world try to fill up in a dozen different ways, but only the church possesses the truth, the bread that can feed the hungers of life.”

We can expose the aim and tactics of marketers to our children. They can be trained to recognize faulty logic, invalid deductions, bias, lies, propaganda, and over-generalizations that do not line up with the biblical moral truth they have been taught. We can show them examples of mind manipulation and advertising strategies and give them the opportunity to practice uncovering the errors in thinking. With training and repeated practice, I have witnessed twelve year olds do this with skill.

It is important to embed critical thinking in everyday learning. When watching a program or reading an article together, stop and question it out loud. Ask them to uncover the writer’s bias, or any errors in thinking. Require them to evaluate any sources that they select as reference materials for their papers, and give them guidelines and checklists for evaluating the reliability of those sources.

We can equip our children to recognise what is morally good, and teach them to defend themselves against mind manipulation; both are needful.

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Math Problems

fractions

by Tina Olesen

Canadian students seem to be having some difficulties in math class. As a recent international assessment showed, our students’ math scores are rapidly dropping. OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment ranked Canada as 13th, which is down three places from 2009 (see this article from the Globe and Mail).

Provincial education ministries are now rolling out new programs designed to address this crisis. Ontario will be investing $4 million dollars in math education – for teachers (Ottawa Citizen). Some provinces are insisting that it isn’t the math curriculum that’s the problem (Globe and Mail). Across the country, parents are pushing for reforms to the way math is taught, asking for a “back to the basics” approach (Global News).

My own experience teaching math leads me to agree with the parents. How do you teach students in grade six to reduce fractions if they do not yet know their multiplication tables? I had students come into the high school learning assistance room who couldn’t tell the time without a digital clock, prompting some remedial lessons. That was scary.

How and why did we get away from “the basics” in math education? It has to do with an educational philosophy known as constructivism, and it’s not just math class that this philosophy has infiltrated. The key component of this learning theory is that the learners construct their own knowledge; the teacher is no longer the purveyor of knowledge.

Constructivism focuses on subjective (as opposed to objective) reality. The idea is that the learners use their own subjective experiences to construct or represent reality. Practically, constructivism may play itself out in a classroom in these ways:

–        a focus on “discovery learning” or having the student explore materials and come to their own conclusions

–        an embracing of multiple perspectives and an openness to many ways of doing things; students are encouraged to come up with their own methods of inquiry and problem solving

–        the teacher takes on the role of coach or mentor rather than director or the voice of authority

Constructivists have been rightly criticized for promoting the idea that “there is no right answer.” This doesn’t hold any water, particularly when it comes to math. Teachers attempting to apply constructivist principles to math class will end up having to be the voice of the authority with the answer key at the end of the day.

Some constructivists are more radical than others, and there are varying extremes. On the opposite end of the scale from constructivism is behaviorism, which looks at students as being a blank slate for the teacher to write upon, and learning is viewed much like computer programming; the teacher inputs the knowledge and the student spits it back out. It’s quite mechanical and soul-deadening.

Neither constructivism nor behaviorism in their purest forms are biblical perspectives on learning. As Christians, how are we to think about the study of mathematics from God’s perspective?

Just read the book of Numbers in the Old Testament and you’ll see that our God is a God of precision and accuracy! Our God is a God of order, and numbers express this aspect of His character. Even the hairs on your head are numbered.

He is the master Maker of shapes and patterns. The complex and intricate patterns we marvel at in nature far exceed the designs of any human being. God created symmetry. He gave us 10 fingers and 10 toes.

God instituted the seven day week and the 24 hour day. He is the Maker of time itself.

God insists upon accurate measurements and weights. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? (Isaiah 40:12)

So, according to the Bible, there is an authority on mathematics: the Lord God Almighty. There is an objective reality: reality created by God. There is such a thing as a wrong answer, because there is such a thing as a mathematical truth, as revealed by God. In order to be correct, the answer to a math question must conform to reality created by God.

Our job as math teachers, then, is to help students to recognize the way that God has ordered His universe mathematically. We are to honor the order that He has instituted, which includes His putting adults in authority over children (while we, the adults, are also to be under His authority).

We acknowledge that we aren’t the creators of knowledge; God is the Creator. We do not create math, He did. We uncover and examine what He created, while honoring God’s order and thanking Him as we do.

We can plan engaging math activities for our students while we still reflect God’s wonderful orderliness with the accuracy and precision that comes from exercises like diligently applying ourselves to memorize basic math facts.

2 plus 2 equals 4 because God made one thing distinct from another thing, and those individual distinct things can be numbered and counted.

“…Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations…

From everlasting to everlasting you are God…

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom…

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.”

(from Psalm 90)

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Sexual Health

wed_cake

by Tina Olesen

“Sexual Health” is the name that sex education courses are often given in schools. Why health?  The focus is on the body, especially its sexual parts. But the truth is that sex is about more than our bodies. While our bodies are intimately involved, sex has a spiritual dimension. Sexual health classes are always communicating a message about spirituality, whether or not that is their intent.

Who are we worshipping with our bodies? What do our sexual practices tell the world that we believe about God? These are questions not usually openly addressed in sexual health classes, yet these questions are fundamental to our understanding of sexuality. Sex education is never neutral. It either teaches the students to honor God with their bodies, or it doesn’t. Students are accountable to God for what they do with their bodies, whether or not they hear the truth about that in sexual health classes.

Even when a sexual health curriculum focuses primarily on the human body, i.e. anatomy, physiology, pregnancy, hygiene, diseases, etc., this does not mean it is spiritually neutral (see the BC Teacher’s Federation’s sexual health education guidelines posted here). Beliefs about sexuality are intricately tied to one’s beliefs about God. Many parents disagree with what their child is being taught about sex (see an example from the United Kingdom here, and the BCTF’s advice to teachers, here). The battle looks like an ideological one, but really it is spiritual.

We either believe what God says about sex (as described in the Bible) or we do not. Our sexuality and our worship of God are inextricably connected. Dr. Peter Jones, in his book One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (2010) writes, “Our thinking, our worship and our sexuality are fundamentally related… Mess with your sexuality, and you will mess with your worship. Mess with your worship and you will mess with your thinking about God. Mess with your thinking about God and you will mess with your sexuality. No matter which exchange you make, you will begin to adopt a One-ist spirituality and ultimately expose yourself to the judgment of God,” (p. 154). (Definitions of One-ism and Two-ism can be found here on the truthXchange website.)

Biblically, a marriage between a man and a woman is meant to be a Two-ist picture of the one flesh love relationship between Christ and His Bride, the church. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthian church: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” He wrote to the Ephesians, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” The beauty of the distinction between the masculine and the feminine coming together to paint this picture of the Bride of Christ and her heavenly Bridegroom is glorious.

This portrait is so precious and so vital to the gospel. For this reason, Paul strenuously warns us against sexual immorality. He entreated the Corinthians to “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Paul is telling us that our bodies were meant to glorify God; they do not belong to us – if we belong to Christ, our bodies belong to Him: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” In Romans, he beseeches us to “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” What we do with our bodies demonstrates who we worship.

While it is vitally important that as Christians we protect our young people from the lies and seduction of immoral sexuality, we must also shine the light on the Truth, so that they can see it in all its glory. Our youth need a cosmological [1] understanding of God’s wondrous plan for sex within a marriage between a man and a woman. I thank the Lord for those couples who faithfully live this out, to the glory of God. They are providing a portrait for our youth (and the watching world) of what God intended in His created order of relationships. At the same time they are pointing to the spiritual reality of the relationship between our Bridegroom, Christ, and His Bride, the church.

Our children need to know what their bodies were created for: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. They need to be taught the beauty and wonder of “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory,” (Colossians 1:26-27).


[1] Thanks to Dr. Peter Jones for this word!

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