Prairie View

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Quote for the Day 2/18/2010

At the lunch table today--

Jacob: I remember that the last time we had people each choose their own literature book, some people carried their book up front when they gave their oral report, and sort of waved it around and showed everyone what it looked like. I wonder if that's how I should do it.

Marvin: Well, you could say, "Here's my book Here's how this one looks. I know not every book looks like this one, but this is how this one looks. You might find one that looks different, because they're not all alike. . . . "

(The longer this nonsensical commentary went on, the funnier it got, and Jacob and I cracked up pretty royally, and Emily chimed right in.) When we sort of got control of ourselves, Emily said in a slightly injured tone:

"I was going to take my book up front and show it to everyone, but now I don't know any more if I want to do that."

I think Jacob was feeling the same way--a little annoyed that Marvin had so effortlessly made it all look like a very bad idea, when it had seemed like a pretty good idea just a few minutes earlier. All the same, he had done it with such a lot of good cheer and humor that feelings of annoyance were hard to hang on to.

For me, it was the best laugh of the week.


Our principal, Wesley, was on a trip to Ohio for the first three days of this week where he went to his friend Mark's funeral. Norma and I each taught some of his usual classes, and covered for him in other ways as needed. Several students made a few abortive efforts to take advantage of the situation with stolen liberties. (I was tipped off when I saw the last half of a jean-clad pant leg kicked high and disappearing into the lab with a desperate lunge at a time when everyone was supposed to be studying at their desks. I was teaching a class and keeping an eye on the learning center at the same time. I followed the pant leg into the lab and found the guilty guy and a female accomplice--gone to visit another student who was already working in the lab. I dispensed a few choice words and a promise to report this behavior, and they crept back to their desks and behaved better from then on--I think.) All in all, Norma and I were mighty glad to have our principal back today.


We're having our annual parent-teacher's meeting tomorrow evening. I'm not sure that this is a good time of year to do this, especially with a cold dark winter such as this one has been. We're all a bit tired of the situation and not in the best frame of mind to put on a reassuringly cheerful face for the parents. About four of us will be giving short recaps of portions of the Mid-Winter Teacher's Gathering. I'm supposed to talk on mentoring. As usual, at this stage I'm wondering what possessed me to agree to do this.


I have a "singing" menu to finish planning, a shopping list to finish, a house to get ready--and snow in the forecast this weekend to lend an air of uncertainty to the whole plan. Thank God for Marian, who is recovered from her cancer and able to help me again. She's a jewel who cleans without condemning, and knows better what to do without my telling her than I know what to tell her to do. It's a wonderful arrangement. She needs work and an income, and I need help and have an income to share with her.


Hiromi knows exactly how I'm feeling if I hear the alarm go off and suggest to him that we just cancel the day and ignore the alarm. I haven't said that for a long time, but I did it again this morning. I got up, of course, and the day was not canceled, and it was a good day after all.


Grant is pretty sure that inheriting his dad's compact frame is not a blessing when one is doing a job like he's been doing for the past two days. He's working on the recycling line at Stutzmans. The job consists of plucking certain kinds of recyclables from a wide conveyor belt moving across in front of several workers. The belt is wide, and being tall, or at least having long arms, is a definite advantage. That does not describe Grant, thanks to his Asian heritage. So he has to lean far over, and then heave what he picks up into a container on the other side of the belt. When it's paper he's picked up, the heaving does not go well, and having to place it precisely IN the container is enough to make a guy mad, according to Grant.

He sums it up by saying, "I'm pretty sure I won't be applying for a job on the recycling line." It was to be a three-day job.

So far I've resisted the temptation to . . . Oh well, that thing about finishing high school or not, and the kinds of jobs open to people who don't . . . . I guess we won't go there.


Hiromi is blazing a trail through the study and the tool corner of the sewing room and is drawing a bead on the utility room as well. Tomorrow he's heading for Mennos (local private thrift store to benefit our schools) with a load of stuff, among them a Children's Britannica set. He reports that our recycling dumpster is nearly half full since his cleaning marathon began the first of the week.

I am so proud of Hiromi and his cleaning/organizing prowess.


Today our Food Production class trundled over to Melvin Harold's and took some pictures for the yearbook outside their corral near the dairy barn. Nevin and Joanne passed by on the road, very slowly, with bemused expressions. They're both teachers, and, I'm sure they figured out pretty quickly what was happening, despite the oddness of the situation. I don't think Brandon had adopted his "turtle" pose yet, or they might have been mystified. It was his uncooperative response to a request to "kneel in front of the girls." He preferred squatting on his haunches and leaning forward instead of putting his knees on the dirt and "sitting"up straight. He complied in time to get several good shots.


I suggested that no more than three people work on planting vegetables in the lab today at the same time. Yesterday we had an unfortunate level of confusion that resulted in the leftovers of one kind of lettuce seed being dumped into the wrong seed packet, mixing there with another variety of identical-looking seed. This mixed seed was then mistakenly planted into a seedling pack that was labeled with yet a third variety of lettuce.

I didn't have any trouble convincing the students of the wisdom of limiting the number of people working in the lab at the same time.

Then we ran out of potting soil, and not everyone got to plant today as planned.

I didn't say it, but I thought about the fact that what looks on the one hand like making them do my work can, on the other hand, be cast in terms of letting them make mistakes on my dime.

Most of the time things go well, and I appreciate their help and am glad that they're gaining experience for their own endeavors.


One of the baby lambs died yesterday. Hiromi had reported from the beginning that the brown one seemed a lot weaker than the white one. On a cold morning he found it outside the hutch, dead--the first time he had seen it outside the hutch at all. We wondered if it got outside and couldn't get back inside, maybe getting too cold in its weak state. It was a good bit smaller than its twin, but seemed to be nursing normally, and we thought it would probably be fine. Both lambs were males, so there's no ewe lamb to save to replace Mara some day. Here's hoping she produces a female next year.

The white lamb cheers my winter-jaded heart. I saw him cavorting today as I got home from school, and then he ran over to his mother for a snack. The last I saw him he was very busy nursing, his tail flicking back and forth at a high rate of speed. I can't think of a prettier sight. The name is Isaac.


This post started with giggling again at Marvin's lunchtime comments and ends now with remembering my frisky white lamb. I don't think I'll suggest canceling the day tomorrow, but I'd better get to bed if I want to start it as early as necessary.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Calling My Children Home

I think it's all Shane's fault, for singing the bass part beautifully. Or maybe John shares the blame, for singing the lead tenor so compellingly. Or it might be that Nafziger guy, if he chose the songs on that Laudate [lah(oo) – dah – teh] CD. Or maybe it's Emmy Lou Harris' fault for writing that sentimental country song: "Calling My Children Home." In any case, hearing that song gets to me every time, and makes me miss my boys like crazy.

Not that they are so very far away. Grant is two rooms away. Joel is in his own home in Abbyville--just up the road from our house on Trail West Road, and Shane is one state away in Colorado. They all have my blessing in being where they are. Joel and Shane each have a wonderful wife and they both are making good contributions in various ways. No regrets there. But for them, home is not here anymore, and I'm here and they're not. Sigh.

If John's mom is listening to the CD, she's probably thinking about her three boys who are scattered from Pennsylvania and Virginia to Thailand. I don't envy her, although she certainly has many reasons to feel good about the choices each of them has made.

I'm determined not to be a clingy mom. My mother was a good example to me in that regard, and I admire her for it. When the boys got married, I stayed composed and enjoyed their special day. Since then, I've tried not to dwell on their absence. But somehow the words and the music of that plaintive Laudate song let those kept-in-check emotions bubble to the surface.

I've noticed that singing often does that for me. I'm not musically gifted, or particularly sensitive to its nuances. When others might seek music to fill silence, I often prefer silence. Yet I recognize the power of music to call forth what is already inside me, or to remind me of what is true, but not yet internalized. I know what it is to pray and worship through music. Listening to any reasonably competent singing group blesses me, and I like helping sing in church.

I really don't want to hear music on the dark side--expressing other people's rage or confusion. The world has quite enough of that in realms outside of music.

Country music, in general, doesn't do much for me either, since I don't have a lost love to mourn for. Why go there--just to wallow in someone else's misery? Except when a country music writer says "I'm Lonesome for my Precious Children"--then it's not someone else's misery I'm reminded of. It's my own.

I'm giving myself a talking to. Be glad for the good memories of times with the children. At least they're not memories of regret and remorse. That would be a whole lot sadder. Having them forever remain adolescents wouldn't have been much fun either. Having them grow up was the plan all along. Thank God for the glad times and many mercies along the way, and rejoice in what is good about now. With enough time, I think I'll get there someday--when thoughts like these will be my first thoughts, and not dredged-up afterthoughts to help me deal with melancholy feelings.

More important than how I feel now is the reality of an afterlife, and the hope of spending it with my family forever. Harris says it this way (and Shane and John and the other Laudate men): I hope and pray we'll live together,
In that great glad hereafter life. Amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine Gifts

My nine-year old ewe, Mara, delivered beautiful twin lambs today. We haven't determined their sex yet, but I'm hoping for at least one female. I'll call them Cupid and Sweetheart if they're both females--in honor of their arrival in time for Valentine's Day. If there is one male, I'll call him Isaac to give tribute to his being born to an old mother. If there are two males, I'll have to dream up one more name. I'd like to keep a ewe lamb this year in case Mara doesn't continue to produce offspring next year.

Mara is a Katahdin (hair) sheep. So is Major, her mate. My sheep have been wonderfully trouble-free. I'm sure that anyone who raises sheep "right" would consider me negligent. I have never vaccinated any of my sheep, but I do sometimes give their grain a topping of diatomaceous earth as a wormer. Since they shed their winter coat naturally, I don't have the expense of shearing them. Their tails are not docked since they are not long and woolly and therefore do not accumulate waste like a wool-producing sheep's tail will. They are naturally polled, so I don't have to contend with horned animals. Can you tell why I like Katahdins?

Mara is a good mother and has never needed assistance at lambing. Her lambs have grown fat on her milk. She has had twins most of time, although the last two were single births. I thought she must be getting too old to be as productive as she was earlier. So her twins this time surprised me.

Our sheep are very gentle. I have been able to lead them right up into a trailer or into a new pen many times. The adults happily eat out of my hands. Hiromi is their big hero though, of late, because he's mostly taken on the feeding duties. He sometimes delays going after the paper in the morning till he's ready to feed them first because he can't stand to ignore their begging. He knows very well that they'll talk to him the minute he steps outside the house.

Strictly for convenience, we feed them alfalfa pellets rather than alfalfa hay. This makes their winter feed a bit more expensive, but we can haul their feed without a pickup or tractor this way. They also get a very small amount of grain every day. This is mostly a matter of convenience for us too. It helps us train them to come whenever we call. Year round, they have access to pasture, which is actually mostly weedy areas around the edges of fields.

My sheep are part of a research project I embarked on a number of years ago. At different times I methodically acquired rabbits, chickens, calves, goats, and sheep and learned the basics of caring for each of them. The boys had pigs. I also tried keeping catfish and carp in a tank during the summer. All of the carp launched themselves out of the tank eventually, but the catfish survived well into the winter. I didn't know it was still there till I saw it frozen in the ice during a very cold spell.

I did all this because I wanted to see how self-sufficient it was possible to be on a small acreage. Also, I had the firm conviction that we owed it to our boys to teach them the life skills that can be acquired by caring for animals. We never had the perfectly integrated farm I used to dream of--where one food production component can comfortably occupy a niche that no other animal maxes out, or better yet, one animal thrives on the production of another (pigs on whey or skim milk, for example). But life has been a lot more interesting for having made the effort. I'm drawing on this experience for the food production class I'm teaching right now.

Today was a sunny day, with temperatures in the 40's, but another cold front is scheduled to roar in tonight. I'm so glad that the babies are safe and dry inside their well-strawed fiberglass hutch. Mara is there with them, and Major is respectfully keeping his distance.

Earlier this evening Grant did a "Major" impersonation. My impression is that he is ogle-eyed and sharply observant, but a little mystified by the day's developments. I think Mara can be trusted to keep him from intruding where he's not wanted--inside the calf hutch, for example.

I'll give the weather a few days to moderate, and the babies a few days to gather strength and steadiness, then I'll watch them frisking in their pen just beyond the garden fence. Prospects for spring are brighter already.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Seedling Diseases

On Tuesday I told the food production class that a serious disease of indoor-grown seedlings is Damping Off. I told them the signs to watch for, among them, toppled stems and a brown, pinched appearance in the stem at the soil line.

Today in the quiz I asked for the name of the seedling disease. Two creative answers were "Damping ON," and "Pinch Off."


I had also talked about the process of gradually acclimating seedlings to the outdoor environment. This is called "hardening off." When I asked for that term, one enterprising student suggested "dancing with the stars" as the name for the acclimation process.


Today each student in the food production class planted some lettuce seeds, according to my directions on labeling, seed spacing, and lightly covering the seeds. I provided a stick-on label, but showed them some small stake-type markers I sometimes use after the seedlings have been transplanted into individual cells. Showing them the stake markers proved to be a mistake.

I pointed out that the stakes sometimes interfere with the plastic cover I use to keep the moisture high till the seeds have germinated, and they poke up too high to fit comfortably under the lights. All that explantion seems to have been lost on some of the students. When I checked on their progress late in the day, I saw about five jaunty stakes protruding out of the seedling packs, and, contrary to my warning, they fit neatly under the clear plastic dome cover. Some of them were appropriately labeled with the lettuce variety name. But JoJo? That one was not among the lettuce varieties planted today. And there is no student by that name.

I might have to assess charges for unauthorized use of plastic stakes. At the very least, I'll have to keep them hidden away.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Decision Announced

After the votes were tallied, our ministers announced that the general discussion would be largely replaced by a regular sharing time. However, in what I think is a fairly brilliant piece of compromise, room was left for the person in charge to devote a portion of the early part of that period to Sunday school lesson wrap up--which is what the general discussion used to be.

My sister Linda observed that people view this issue differently, depending on whether their typical way of approaching life leans more to the global or concrete end of the continuum on how one functions. I'm not very familiar with all the ins and outs of these categorizations. She was exposed to them at Faith Mission Home, and found the insights helpful in understanding her own and others' way of operating. In general, some people feel most at rest when they can fit details into a big picture, and others don't concern themselves as much with the big picture and are content when the details of their private world are orderly.

I can think of spiritual gifts making a difference. Most of us like to experience from others what we are most tuned in to giving to others. Thus, the prophet likes to hear proclamation of truth, the exhorter likes hearing exhortation, the teacher likes to be taught, the server likes to be served or at least hear of serving that's being done, etc. Everyone likes their own gift being on display--in others, usually, but there, for all the world to appreciate.

Temperments--another way of categorizing people--offers some understandings too. The sanguines love to hear how what is happening right now in other people's lives. Melancholies, too, will get caught up in the deep emotion of what takes place in people's personal journey. People who have some of the other temperments will probably find some of these matters less compelling, and wish to focus more on being philosophically reflective, or being purposeful in getting things done, instead of "wasting" time talking about feelings and impressions.

Perhaps another thing that makes a difference is that some people have a lot of opportunities to interact with others and share with them, while others have comparatively few chances to do this. Thus, they have different levels of desire to have this opportunity during regular Sunday morning worship services.

All in all, having worked through this question of how we have church is exactly what ought to happen in a Christian brotherhood. People ought to hear each other and then be able to work out a plan that is workable and amicable to most people. Creative compromises like the ones our ministers came up with are special blessings of being in a well-functioning, open-to-the-Lord's direction body of believers.

Resurrection of Bill Paying Tape

My boys will understand this title, even though no one else will.

For many years, Hiromi always played a certain tape of Japanese shamisen (shah-mee-sen) music while he paid the bills. It was one way to make bearable the odious task of trying to make too little money stretch for too many payments. The rest of the family would hear the music and try to stay out of his way.

For several reasons, in more recent times the bill paying routine changed a little bit. For one, when the boys started earning money, the financial noose loosened up a bit, and the soothing music was less necessary. Also, Hiromi did more of his bill paying online, and it was easier to play other music on the computer than to get the tape player with his special tape relocated to the study where his computer is. Besides, after years of use, Hiromi was afraid the tape would wear out, and he could not find that same music offered anywhere online anymore. So he saved it.

He had checked around a bit and found one company that would convert the tape to a CD for $40.00. Too expensive. He also located equipment that would allow him to do the job himself. $400.00. Way too expensive. But yesterday he hit pay dirt. An online source offers to do it for $10.00. Just right. Now all he has to do is work up the courage to offer his precious tape to the postal service for shipping.

To celebrate the new development, Hiromi played the bill paying tape yesterday. Not only that, he got out his book of shamisen music and dreamed again of really getting good at playing his very own shamisen, which is at home right now in a cupboard in our bedroom--occupying space over the stairway landing in the hall. He observed that he really needs a good carrying case for the shamisen, and that he really needs a playing partner because most of the music is written for two instruments.

"That might not be your style," he said, eyeing me, and then went on to explain what he was dreaming of--doing as they do in Japan--playing at festivals and fairs, behind a money collection container. Definitely not my style. He checked with Grant. He's happy to stick with his guitar. Maybe Shane will learn to play the shamisen. "I just need someone to play the chords in between the runs," Hiromi said. "That shouldn't be too hard."

"What does a shamisen cost--$3,000.00?" I asked.

"No. Not that much," he answered, but he did not specify an exact amount--which leads me to believe it could be quite expensive.

Hiromi's shamisen got a new lease on life the year he and Joel traveled to Japan together after Joel got old enough and rich enough to pay his own way. The shamisen went along to Japan.

A shamisen is roughly shaped like a guitar, but smaller. The "head" end has richly decorated silk fabric covering the wood sides, and leather made from cat skin is stretched tightly across the top from side to side. In the dry Kansas air, the cat skin had cracked, and made the instrument unusable. When Hiromi got to Kyoto, he looked up an instrument repair shop, and, with the extraordinary effort of the shopkeeper, got it repaired in time to take the shamisen along home.

He's practiced playing it occasionally since then. Nothing in the "music" looks recognizable at all--to me, that is.

I'm happy to have the shamisen and the shamisen music as part of life in this household--as long as looking and listening is all that is required of me. And I'm happy for Hiromi that the bill paying tape is about to have a conversion experience. Hiromi might learn to like bill paying yet. So far, I'm not betting on the chances for future shamisen concerts at festivals. I'm willing to vouch for the fact, though, that every one of our boys right now could "see" their dad seated at his desk, paying his bills, if they heard the music of the bill paying tape.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Quote for the Day 2/6/2010

Joel, Windex bottle in one hand and rag in the other, in the ladies' bathroom at Center, to me--toilet bowl brush in one hand and toilet cleaner in the other: I'm doing the stealth version of sink scrubbing here. (Whereupon he proceeded to spray and wipe the sink.)

I think this is the very first time we have carried on a conversation in this location.

Bless his heart, Joel came and helped us clean the church building today. Any kind of help, stealthy or not, is most welcome when it's our turn to do this job.

Curriculum Choices

Below, you will find a guest post which I requested from Harry Shenk, who was assigned the topic at our Mid-Winter Teachers' gathering. Harry was the principal for the first three years I taught at Pilgrim High, and our staff had a lot of curriculum discussions during that time. Not a lot has changed since then--not because the questions were all answered and the issues all settled--maybe because no one kept the discussion alive. I am not alone in believing that this is a significant matter. My uncle, who is a retired bishop and high school principal, popped in at our staff meeting on Wednesday morning long enough to register his wish that the subject not get lost without further examination. (Uncle Paul still teaches a Bible class at the high school.) My father also has voiced concern.

From Harry:

This is a revision of notes prepared for a workshop session at the Mid-Winter Teachers’ Gathering, held at the Pilgrim Christian Grade School in Hutchinson, KS on Jan. 30, 2010. Bullets with nothing behind them were to be places for workshop participants’ input. They may be appropriate places for the reader to pause and reflect, a selah, if you will.


There are many things that you need to do right if you’re going to run a high-quality, genuinely Christian school. There can be legitimate differences of perspective and opinions on any of these things. But certainly one of the “hot button” issues, with the potential to arouse parents’ passions and drive the administration to self-doubt and second-guessing, is the curriculum you choose.

It is not my aim to describe all the ins and outs, all the pros and cons of all the different curricula available to us today. For one thing, I doubt if we could critique them as fast as new ones are being produced! Furthermore, we would not be able to agree on which features are pros and which are cons. Rather, I want to talk about the function of curriculum in the school, and some of the basic principles that govern curriculum choice. And I want your input so that we can learn from each other’s experience.

While I will be sharing several specific examples, I won’t be getting very specific on many of the curricula, partly out of concern for fairness, and partly because I don’t have a lot of personal experience with many of them. When we went through the process of weighing our options for curriculum at our high school here, we were looking for something to use in an individualized learning center, so our scope was quite limited. Most of what I know–or think I know–about other curricula is second-handed.

One additional note: If you type ‘Christian curriculum choice’ into an internet search, the vast majority of what you will find is geared toward homeschoolers. So a few of the quotes that I’ll be sharing mention homeschooling specifically, but I think apply to both settings.

The Role of Curriculum in the School

Could we conceivably operate a school without curriculum? You obviously can’t have a reading class without books to read, but you can do it without a reader. You could teach math without a math book, or science without a science book, etc. So it is technically possible, but not very feasible, and certainly not very much fun! Why then do we have curriculum? What do we expect the curriculum to do for us?
• Helps us know what should be taught
• Treasury of factual knowledge, illustrations, exercises, etc.
• Ideally conveys love for and excitement about the subject area

Is the curriculum primarily for the student or for the teacher? The answer will depend on your educational approach. In an individualized setting, it is obviously for the student, as the student receives their teaching directly from the material, often with little direct involvement from the teacher. In a classroom instruction (conventional) setting, I believe it is primarily for the teacher, giving them guidance both on what to teach, and on how to teach it. We have heard, and I believe it is true, that simply “covering the material” falls short of the mark of truly teaching. The middle ground is using curriculum designed for the classroom with study guides to make it work individualized. There, the study guide largely fills the role of the teacher.

So there is a continuum from ‘curriculum as teacher’s aid’ to ‘curriculum as primary student input,’ and where you fall on that continuum determines how wary you need to be about false ideas cropping up in the curriculum. In our conventional classes at the high school, we used largely secular curricula, which we would have far more reservations about in a strictly individualized setting. We did, however, use Saxon Math and English 2600/3200 individualized, with no ill effects that I am aware of.

Don’t expect curriculum to do what it cannot.

What are things we desire to see happening in our schools that we know curriculum cannot do?
• Children who are mighty in spirit
• Respect for authority and appreciation for community
• Love of learning and love of work

On his blog, Muna wa Wanjiru makes this outlandish claim: “There is one sure way that you can guide your children to a standard of living that will provide them with a strong moral background. This is achieved via a Christian home school curriculum program.”

I cannot be too hard on Mr. Wanjiru. For too many years, I bought into this error. In our homeschool we used CLE almost exclusively, and I was sure that that would ensure that we would have a good homeschool, and achieve the desired results in our children. Now, CLE is a good curriculum. It has its problems, but it is a good curriculum. But curriculum cannot produce life change, which is the end goal of education.

John Swartz, part of the CLE organization, has this to say: “Our goal is not first of all knowledge, but the fear of God. And that, of course, is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom.” I observe that there is no curriculum that will accomplish that purpose, although there are clearly some that will foster that purpose better than others.

“I teach some by what I say, more by what I do, but most by who I am.”

But while acknowledging the limitations of curriculum in achieving our most important objectives, we also acknowledge the important role that curriculum does play in the Christian school, and we want to choose it wisely.

The Process of Curriculum Choice

What are the various factors that bear on this decision, and how should they be weighted?

I’ll stick out my neck and propose that the first requirement, the sine qua non, of good curriculum for a Christian school is educational soundness. Values are taught at many times and in many places. This is the one place where our children learn to read, write, and count, learn American History, Algebra, the simple machines, Physics, German, reading music, writing research papers, etc., etc., etc. Curriculum that does not provide sound instruction is not worthy of our interest.

I hasten to affirm that the lowliest follower of Jesus, though they be ignorant and incompetent, is in an infinitely better position than the most knowledgeable, capable, highly-trained infidel. Fortunately, we do not have to choose between the two. Indeed, we dare not. The Kingdom of God demands that we settle for nothing less than highly devout and thoroughly equipped disciples, who love and serve God with their whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. (Luke 10:27)

The web site Home School Curriculum Advisor asks the question, “How much–if at all–do you want your faith to be part of your child’s home schooling?” At first blush, it seems like blasphemy even to raise the question. It could be a helpful question, though, to get started with the thinking process of choosing curriculum, which was its intent. For myself, I would answer the question thus: It is important to me that my faith be an integral part of my children’s education, but it is not needful that my faith be an integral part of every piece of curriculum used in my children’s education.

Saxon Math is in use in some of our schools for one reason only: it does a good job of teaching math. Is that a problem? I don’t think so. No subject area, however, including math, is value neutral. One Saxon story problem reports that there were this many rollickers and that many roisterers at the Mardi Gras, and asks the student to find the ratio of rollickers to roisterers. While I could wish the example had been different, I have a hard time imagining that our students’ view of unbridled, licentious revelry has been altered thereby.

Ed Gish: “The essence of learning is not in the curriculum, BUT the deception of learning may be in the curriculum.”

The potential deception for us in the conservative Anabaptist community may not be so much with purely secular curricula as with other Christian publishers who do not share our spiritual heritage and understandings of Scripture. When our grade school was starting, I told the fledgling board, “I don’t think we owe it to our Mennonite publishers to buy their curriculum, but we owe it to ourselves to give it very careful consideration.”

Potential content trouble areas:
• God & Country
• Child evangelism
• Fashion and immodesty
• Unconditional eternal security
• Just plain wrong:
• Washington divinely protected from Indian arrows and British bullets
• Salvador Allende (Chile) committed suicide–by shooting himself in the back with a machine gun 144 times.

Following the 9-11 attacks, patriotic fervor was rampant in our country. Flag display was being encouraged, and there were those in our high school who were eager to be part of it. I could not go along with it, encouraging them to think through all they were really saying by that act. Would it have been different if we’d have been using only Anabaptist curriculum? I wish I could be more sure.

Is it a given that if some Baptists come to the Mennonite Church through using Mennonite curriculum, then some Mennonites will go to the Baptist Church if we use Baptist curriculum? If not, what’s the difference?

They’re coming because they’re saying, “Hey, this is Biblical, and it’s not being taught in our church.” Can our children say this? Can our homeschooling families say it? If so, we have some major teaching deficits in our churches, no matter what curricula are being used in our schools.

If it’s not a given, is it a likelihood? If so, how shall we guard against it?

Every mile of road has two miles of ditches. We must guard against the errors of 1 Cor. 12:21 and 15-16.

1 Cor. 12: 15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

I don’t think we want to say, “Because they advocate political involvement, they can’t be real Christians.” But then neither should we say, “Our Biblical understanding of political non-involvement can’t be valid.”

Students will typically find things to react to. What do we want them to be reacting to, what we perceive as weak points of other churches, or what they perceive as weak points of our church? Let me give one example of each.

In an ACE math PACE, a story problem is given about Soul-winning Saturday. One team had won thus-and-so many souls, and the other only this many. How many more souls had the one team won than the other? Now while I believe we could learn a lot from the Baptists’ evangelistic zeal, it is quite all right with me if my students react to that example.

In a CLE Social Studies LightUnit on career choice, there were a list of professions which we shouldn’t really consider too carefully, because they require college, which we can’t really endorse. Now maybe for some of you, that says it just right. It leaves me more than a little wistful. And what leaves me even more wistful is the possibility that our students will not stop with reacting to that specific teaching, but will react against conservative Anabaptism as a whole.

I was asked once, “How much bad do you put up with before you call it a rotten apple and throw it away?” My answer to that question is colored by the fact that I grew up on sort-out produce. Before every store had their reduced shelves, it was either Grade A or dumpster. We would go to one big produce market every Saturday evening, and they would give us, for a little bit of nothing, the produce that wasn’t going to be saleable come Monday. Throwing away the bad and keeping the good was a way of life for us.

Sometimes, though, the time came to just chuck the whole box. When did we throw it away?
• More trouble than it’s worth
• subtle and pervasive, therefore hard to get it all, or to have good stuff when you’re done
• of limited value, even if it were good (like the bushel of crab apples)

The very question implies that there is a perfect apple out there somewhere. Is there? Neither I nor anyone I’ve talked to has found it. I take that back. I do remember one person who had found a curriculum that was perfect in every way. And he had it for sale.

Potential presentation trouble areas:
• Dry presentation
• Unclear or inadequate presentation

John Swartz: “Admittedly, our material is not as colorful as some. Like our lives as plain people, it is simple and solid.” Fortunately, we do not compete with the TV/computer games mentality [although that may be changing], but still.... “School is boring,” is dreadfully difficult to overcome once it’s taken root. The curriculum should convey enthusiasm for the subject. And just as doctrinal error is more grave toward the “curriculum as primary student input” end of the continuum, presentation problems are a more serious weakness in individualized curricula as well.

When you browse through an issue of Nature Friend magazine, it is clear that the creators of this magazine love nature, love the Creator of nature, and love helping others to love nature. When you examine a CLE science LightUnit (and in fairness, other science texts could apply as well) does that same passion come through?

It can work the other way, too. I didn’t keep many of my college texts. The Teaching of High School English is one that I still have. One reason I kept it is that it is an excellent text, engaging in style and full of practical insights. The other reason is that the text is basically the only thing of value I got out of the course. The instructor was an abysmal failure. And it wasn’t just me; there was unanimous discontent among the students. Given excellent curriculum to work with, she still managed to turn that course, the one course that most nearly embodied what I went to college for, into very nearly a complete and total waste of my time and money

A teacher must exude enthusiasm, verve, color, interest, and a love of life, of God, of the students, and of the subject matter. This will overcome nearly any deficiencies of presentation in curriculum. And no amount of sparkle and pizzazz in the curriculum will make up for this lack in the teacher.

Quoting from The Teaching of High School English: “No single teaching approach or style, however traditional, different, or bizarre it may seem to visitors, leads inevitably to good results or poor results. The teacher who is well informed, thinks and plans ahead, cares about students, and truly tries to help them learn, will probably succeed.”

As with teaching approach, so with curriculum. There is no single answer that is a perfect fit for every situation. There are some that will save the teacher a lot of work, and some that will create work for the teacher. Some of that additional work may be combating false ideas. Some may be breathing life and enthusiasm into the subject when the curriculum has not done a very good job of that.

Administrators must provide their teachers with the best tools they can to do their job. And teachers must take the tools they have, and do the best job they can in what they are called to do.

What specific curriculum problems have you faced in your schools and how have you worked through them?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Grant's Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Grant's two jobs are both seasonal, and this winter he's been wishing for more work. So he was happy to hear that Stutzman's Refuse Disposal was hiring some temporary help to distribute special poly carts for collecting recyclables. Grant was hired, and appeared on the front page of the Hutchinson News today, doing his job. Check it out here.

I'm still hoping for a burst of inspiration on his part to finish those three paces he still needs to do to earn his high school diploma. This winter's downtime is precisely the kind of situation I've been visualizing as the perfect time to get that done. This visualization is not shared by everyone in the household, apparently. It's true, of course, that none of his jobs requires a high school diploma. But I worry about a time in the future when he may be desperate for a job that does require a diploma. I can't image that digging out those high school paces at that point would be any more appealing than it is now.

He's quite capable of handling difficult challenges and doing excellent school work. So what's the holdup?

I wish I knew. Then again, I wouldn't really need to know, if the work would just get done. Sigh.