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)

Susannah Wesley’s Schoolhouse

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by Tina Olesen

There is much we can learn from the past to inform our educational practice today. An admirable example of a Christian educator from 18th century Britain was Susannah Wesley, née Annesley (1669 – 1742).

Susannah is probably best known as the mother of John and Charles Wesley, who together with George Whitfield are considered to be the founders of Methodism.  Susannah and her husband had a large family and she homeschooled all of their children in a most commendable way.

Susannah herself had received a thorough education at home, at a time when girls were not often educated. Her father, Samuel Annesley, was a Puritan preacher who had a rich library which was not wasted on Susannah: “Reformation and Puritan writings, to be sure, but also the works of Anglican divines, Renaissance humanists, and the classics from the ancient world.”[1] Puritan preachers often held discussions in the Annesley home.

The youngest girl of twenty-five children, Susannah nevertheless distinguished herself as an independent thinker.  At 12 years of age she chose to join the Anglican Church which had so harshly persecuted her father and his dissenting friends.

A year later, Susannah met the man who was to become her husband, Samuel Wesley, at her sister’s wedding. They married when she was 19. Sadly, it turned out that Samuel and Susannah disagreed in some matters of conscience. They also had serious financial troubles. Samuel was not only absent from the family while in debtor’s prison, but also absented himself when he took exception to Susannah’s political opinions. Despite all this, they somehow managed to have 19 children, of whom 9 died in infancy.

Charged with rearing her children, Susannah devoted herself to serving the Lord in raising them for Christ. She wrote, “There is nothing I now desire to live for, but to do some small service to my children; that, as I have brought them into the world, I may, if it please God, be an instrument of doing good to their souls.”[2]

Susannah was grateful to God for many things, including the blessings of her own Christian upbringing: “Born in a Christian country: early initiated and instructed in the first principles of the Christian religion: good examples in parents and several of the family: good books and ingenious conversation…”[3] She now put this to good use in educating her own children.

John Wesley’s biographer wrote of her that,

“…it was almost impossible for the children to have had a better instructor. From several things which appear in her papers, it seems to me that she had acquired some knowledge of the Latin and Greek languages in her youth, though she never makes any pretensions to it. She had studied human nature well, and knew how to adapt her discourse either to youth or age; and without this, no person is properly qualified to instruct others. Her children were very early taught obedience to their parents, and to wait their decision in every thing they were to have or do. As soon as they could speak, they were taught the Lord’s prayer, and made to repeat it at rising and bed-time constantly. As they advanced, they were taught a short prayer for their parents, and some collects; a short catechism; and some portion of scripture, as their memories could bear. They were early made to distinguish the sabbath from other days; and were taught to be still at family-prayers, and to ask a blessing immediately after, which they used to do by signs before they could kneel or speak.”[4]

Susannah’s methods of discipline and education are further described here:

“When the child was one year old, he was taught to fear the rod, and, if he cried at all, to cry in softened tones. The children were limited to three meals a day. Eating and drinking between meals was strictly prohibited. All the children were washed and put to bed by eight o’clock, and on no account was a servant to sit by a child till it fell asleep…  Six hours a day were spent at school, the parents being the teachers. They were not taught to read till five years old, and then only a single day was allowed wherein to learn the alphabet, great and small. Psalms were sung every morning, when school was opened, and also every night, when the duties of the day were ended. In addition to this, at the commencement and close of every day, each of the elder children took one of the younger, and read the psalms appointed for the day, and a chapter in the Bible, after which they severally went to their private devotions…”[5]

It was important to Susannah that both her boys and her girls learn how to read. “Mrs. Wesley had taken great pains with all her children, to furnish their minds with useful knowledge, and to instil into them the principles of religion and virtue. The daughters were by no means neglected; they shared their mother’s care with the sons.”[6] In fact, she insisted that “no girl be taught to work until she can read very well… for the putting of children to learn sewing before they can read perfectly is the very reason why so few women can read fit to be heard, and never well enough to be understood.”[7]

She developed her own method of teaching reading, which she describes here in a letter to her son, John Wesley:

“None of them were taught to read till five years old, except Kezzy, in whose case I was over-ruled; and she was more years in learning, than any of the rest had been months. The way of teaching was this: The day before a child began to learn, the house was set in order, every one’s  work appointed them, and a charge given that none should come into the room from nine till twelve, or from two till five, which were our school- hours. One day was allowed the child wherein to learn its letters; and each of them did in that time know all its letters, great and small, except Molly and Nancy, who were a day and a half before they knew them perfectly; for which I then thought them very dull: But the reason why I thought them so was, because the rest learned them so readily, and your brother Samuel, who was the first child I ever taught, learnt the alphabet in a few hours. He was five years old on the 10th of February; the next day he began to learn, and as soon as he knew the letters, began at the first chapter of Genesis. He was taught to spell the first verse, then to read it over and over till he could read it off hand without any hesitation; so on to the second, & c., till he took ten verses for a lesson, which he quickly did. Easter fell low that year, and by Whitsuntide he could read a chapter very well; for he read continually, and had such a prodigious memory, that I cannot remember ever to have told him the same word twice. What was yet stranger, any word he had learnt in his lesson, he knew wherever he saw it, either in his Bible or any other book, by which means he learnt very soon to read an English author well. The same method was observed with them all. As soon as they knew the letters, they were first put to spell, and read one line, then a verse, never leaving till perfect in their lesson, were it shorter or longer. So one or other continued reading at school-time without any intermission; and before we left school, each child read what he had learnt that morning; and ere we parted in the afternoon, what they had learned that day.”[8]

Reading was not, however, the be all and end all of Susannah’s teaching. She was very concerned about the formation of Christian character. To this end, she took the time necessary to assist each of her children in Christian discipleship. She wrote, “I take such a proportion of time as I can best spare every night, to discourse with each child by itself, on something that relates to its principal concerns. On Monday, I talk with Molly; on Tuesday, with Hetty; Wednesday, with Nancy; Thursday, with Jacky; Friday, with Patty; Saturday, with Charles; and with Emily and Suky together on Sunday.”[9]

This time in discussing their “doubts and difficulties” with their mother was obviously valuable to the children: “Twenty years after John Wesley had left home, it is touching to hear him say−‘In many things you have interceded for me and prevailed. Who knows but in this too−a complete renunciation of the world−you may be successful? …If you can spare me only that little part of Thursday evening which you formerly bestowed upon me in another manner, I doubt not it would be as useful now for correcting my heart, as it was then for forming my judgment.’”[10] The older children were also urged to have these types of conversations with the younger children, thus teaching them how to disciple another.

Susannah shared her wisdom in teaching her children obedience: “In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer the will. To inform the understanding is a work of time, and must, with children, proceed by slow degrees as they are able to bear it. But the subjecting the will is a thing which must be done at once, and the sooner the better… Then a child is capable of being governed by the reason and piety of its parents, till its own understanding comes to maturity.”[11]

In order to curb the habit of lying in her children, they would not be spanked if they came to her of their own accord and confessed their fault and promised to amend their ways. She was continually watchful for ways she could encourage them. “When the thing crossed the child’s own inclinations, and when any of them performed an act of obedience, or did any thing with an intention to please, though the performance was not well, yet the obedience and intention were kindly accepted, and the child with sweetness directed how to do better for the future.”[12]

Susannah understood well the necessity of moral training. “…The child must grasp early in life that indulgent selfism never spells happiness but rather misery.”[13] She knew that this kind of training takes time and patience, and a willingness to repeat oneself over and over. She explained to her husband, who questioned how she could repeat the same point twenty times over to their child, “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times I should have lost all my labour. It was the twentieth time that crowned it.”[14]

The education provided to the Wesley children was rigorous, to be sure. Along with the three Rs, the children learned the Bible and church history. Her Puritan roots translated into a Puritan household, with accompanying order and discipline. She eschewed worldliness and the love of money and the praise of men, in favour of pleasing God.

In a letter to her son, Samuel, she encourages him in humility and warns him against pride, “…lest the comparing yourself with others may be an occasion of your falling into too much vanity… If still upon comparison you seem better than others are, then ask yourself who it is that makes you differ: and let God have all the praise….”[15]

To some, Susannah might seem to be a strict authoritarian with no sense of childlike fun. This was not so. “Her educational program always had time for recreation and fun, including a game of cards.”[16] Recreation was characterised by “high glee and frolic” and “outdoor physical amusements” were encouraged.[17] In a letter to John, she wrote this about Thomas à Kempis: “I take à Kempis to have been an honest weak man, with more zeal than knowledge, by his condemning all mirth or pleasure as sinful or useless, in opposition to so many plain and direct texts of Scripture.”[18]

She offered this caution about amusements: “Take this rule − whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things − in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind − that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”[19]

Wise words from a wise woman.

 

[1] Shepherd, Victor A. “Susannah Annesley.” Mercy Immense and Free. Toronto: Clements Academic, 2010.

[2] Moore, Henry, The life of the Rev. John Wesley, Vol. 1., London: Kershaw, 1824.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jackson, Samuel M. “Wesley, Susannah.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. XII. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1950.

[6] Moore, Henry, The life of the Rev. John Wesley, Vol. 1., London: Kershaw, 1824.

[7] Shepherd, Victor A. “Susannah Annesley.” Mercy Immense and Free. Toronto: Clements Academic, 2010.

[8] Moore, Henry, The life of the Rev. John Wesley, Vol. 1., London: Kershaw, 1824.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cunningham, James, et. al. “Susannah Wesley.” Excellent Women. E-book: Project Gutenburg, 2003. Accessed at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10129/pg10129.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Shepherd, Victor A. “Susannah Annesley.” Mercy Immense and Free. Toronto: Clements Academic, 2010.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Cunningham, James, et. al. “Susannah Wesley.” Excellent Women. E-book: Project Gutenburg, 2003. Accessed at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10129/pg10129.html

[16] Shepherd, Victor A. “Susannah Annesley.” Mercy Immense and Free. Toronto: Clements Academic, 2010.

[17] Cunningham, James, et. al. “Susannah Wesley.” Excellent Women. E-book: Project Gutenburg, 2003. Accessed at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10129/pg10129.html

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

For Sale: Curricular Control

cc Flickr user dana rocks

by Tina Olesen

Imagine for a moment that your church became a “public” church, where everyone’s beliefs had to be accommodated. Imagine that your church agreed to compromise the teaching of the Bible in exchange for a steady stream of financial support from the government. Now imagine that you had no option but to support this public church with your tax dollars. You would never let this happen to your church, you say? Then why have we let it happen to our schools?

To understand where we are now, let’s look back at some North American history. Puritans fleeing religious persecution in England established schools in America, with the main purpose being to teach their children how to read the Bible so they wouldn’t be deluded by Satan (see The Old Deluder Satan Act, Massachusetts, 1647). With the growth of immigration and industrialism in the 1700s, commercial subjects began to be emphasized over religious instruction in the schools. At the same time, Catholics and Protestants were fighting it out for the right to have their children trained in their own religion. Many Protestants advocated for non-sectarian schools, as they mistakenly assumed that the religious default position would be Protestantism. Wanting to access the government coffers, schools agreed to secularize their curriculum further, in exchange for government funding. They effectively sold control over their schools to the state.

There were similar battles for control fought here in Canada. English Protestants who were concerned about French Catholic domination sought government protection for the right to educate their children according to their beliefs, and fought against a nondenominational common school system.  Parallel school systems emerged, with the Anglican Protestants forming what we now know as the “public” school system, and the Catholics retaining their own separate schools. In some provinces, heated battles were fought by parents to retain government funding for Catholic schools.  Sometimes this was also tied to French language and culture rights (e.g. The Manitoba Schools Question).  Protestant public schools gradually came under scrutiny for having a denominational bias, so biblical teaching was watered down to the lowest common denominator, and eventually done away with in most schools altogether. In order to receive state aid, schools would have to demonstrate that they were serving the aims of the state, at the cost of curricular independence. State funding could only be had with state control.

One of the main differences between the American and Canadian school systems is in how they are governed. In America, a U. S. Department of Education exists, but in Canada, we have no such federal governing body; education comes under the responsibility of provincial governments. American President Andrew Johnson established the first national Department of Education in the USA in 1867, with the stated purpose of collecting information and statistics. By 1868 the “Department” was demoted to an “Office of Education” over concerns that it would exercise too much control. But in the 1970s, the Department of Education was re-established to oversee federal education funding, collect data and do research, and ensure that laws which prohibit discrimination would be followed. What started in the 1800s with four employees and a budget of $15,000 grew to nearly 4,300 employees and a budget of about $60 billion by 2010, according to the department’s website.

One of the things the U. S. Department of Education does not do, according to its website, is exercise control over the curriculum or standards. So, what are the Common Core State Standards?  These are a set of educational standards said to be developed in a state-led initiative, without federal involvement; but the Obama administration has apparently provided certain federal financial incentives to those states willing to adopt the Common Core. Nearly all the states have now signed on. Critics of the Common Core are concerned about an overemphasis on standardized testing and the collection of private student data. Others warn of the potential danger that the Common Core might allow the United Nations to influence the curriculum (see links below).

North American parents currently enjoy the freedom of having the option to educate their children in privately funded schools or at home. This is not the case in some other nations. In Germany, the state controls the education system to the degree that homeschooling is outlawed. Hitler introduced compulsory school attendance during the Nazi era. One German family who recently attempted to homeschool had their children removed by state authorities, and were not reunited with them until they agreed to send the children to a state school.

As history teaches us, the more we have allowed the state to take over the responsibility of educating our children in exchange for securing government funding, the less control we have retained over the curriculum. It was the word of God which was sacrificed on the altar of compromise.

The Lord Jesus has given us the privilege and responsibility of teaching our children to follow Him. We are to teach them to fear Him (Deut. 4:10, Ps. 34:11) and to know His law (Ps. 78:5). We are to love Him with all our hearts, and lay up His words in our heart and soul, teaching them to our children in our homes and all throughout our days (Deut. 6:5-9, 11:18-19). We ought not to sell that privilege for anything.

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More on this topic:

Article: Common Core: UN Takeover of Education in America, by Lynn Teger, May 23rd, 2013.

Paper: The Core Problem: Preventing the United Nations Takeover of K-12 Education in America, by Jim Kelly, April 26, 2013.

Paper: Controlling Education From the Top – Why Common Core Is Bad for America, A Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project White Paper by Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, May 2012.

Speech: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),  November 4, 2010.

What happened to school prayer?

public domain national archives2

by Tina Olesen

“Now everyone close your eyes, relax, and concentrate on your breathing,” are the instructions that many children in state schools in BC will hear today. What happened to “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name”? Mindfulness meditation has been welcomed in, whereas prayer was deemed to be discriminatory against those without faith, and shown to the door about 25 years ago.

Our first schools on Vancouver Island were established at Fort Victoria, and many of these were run by the clergy while funded by both private and public sources. The state or “public” system was formed in 1872 in an attempt to solidify government rule, in response to fear of American domination. The schools were now to be non-sectarian, and clergymen were no longer allowed to act as teachers or administrators. Up until 1944, BC was the only province in Canada where Bible reading was not permitted in the public schools. Only one “nod to God” remained: the Lord’s Prayer was permitted in opening or closing school.

The World Wars stirred up the moral conscience of parents, and they protested against the exclusion of Bible reading in the schools. In 1944, the BC government responded to parental concerns and amended the Public Schools Act to include compulsory Bible reading and reciting of the Lord’s Prayer at the opening of the school day.

In 1969, the BC Civil Liberties Association argued that these religious exercises had no instructional or moral value, and were an invasion of civil liberties. It was not until after the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982 that the BC School Act was effectively challenged. Joan Russow and Kathryn Lambert, backed by the BC Civil Liberties Association, successfully petitioned the BC Supreme Court to remove both Bible Reading and the Lord’s Prayer from BC public schools in 1989.

Section 76 of the BC School Act now reads: “All schools… must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught…” What exactly does this mean? How is “the highest morality” defined? Who gets to decide what “the highest morality” is?

When God, the Giver of the moral law, is no longer our reference point for morality, then we have no ultimate reference point. As Francis Schaeffer stated, “If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute.” We have lost the biblical moral consensus; and now “the majority”, or the loudest most persuasive voices, assert control over the value system being imposed upon our children.

When we discipline children based on the biblical moral law, we have an authority which we can appeal to which is over and above ourselves. God, our law-giver, is the authority on what is right and what is wrong. Our God-given innate moral conscience bears witness to His law. How do we know that stealing is wrong? Both our conscience and God’s biblical moral law agree that this is so. Working with the child’s conscience and upholding God’s law as the standard, we have a solid basis for discipline and moral training.

Disciplining children is troublesome when the God-given moral law is not our basis for discipline. If we are not teaching that we are accountable to God and His moral law, then we are effectively teaching that everyone has the right to decide for themselves what is “right” for them. What happens, then, when Johnny does something objectionable? If you cannot appeal to God’s moral law, then you really cannot say to him, “What you did was wrong,” because, who are you to say what is right or wrong for him? All you can honestly say then is “I don’t want you to do that.” It then becomes a matter of convincing him to do things your way – often through bribery or threat of punishment. Eventually if Johnny keeps on doing things his way, perhaps he will be sent to the pediatrician to get some pills.

What happens, then, if half of your class keeps doing things you do not want them to do? If they are running wild and out of control and the bribes are not working any more? Punishment can only go so far; of course, you cannot spank them. They can’t all take pills… but the psychologists claim to have the cure. In eduspeak, the answer is self-regulation. Self-regulation is a fancy way of saying that we ought to teach kids to get control over themselves and calm themselves down. How do they recommend that you calm your class down? Get out the yoga mats and teach them some poses (never mind that these asanas are actually poses of worship to Hindu gods); or sit them on the floor cross-legged, palms up, eyes closed, and have them listen to the sound of your Buddhist chime while they concentrate on their breathing. Sounds religious, you say? Of course not, they say, it is neuroscience.

So, we are back to school prayer in BC public schools – only this time, it is “prayer” to pagan gods.

Canon in 2Dsm

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