Prairie View

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Conversation

Last week I gave my Language Arts students an assignment:  Record a conversation that you've participated in or overheard personally.

If someone had given me this assignment, I would be especially glad for the conversation that happened here yesterday when our four oldest grandsons were here:

Tristan (age 5):  Carson, do you want to be the audient while Wyatt and I throw the ball to each other?  (Carson goes over and sits on the recliner to watch.)

Me:  What is an audient?

Tristan:  It's when a person watches a game.

Me:  Oh, An audience!

Tristan:  No.  "Audients" is a bunch of people.  An audient is one person.

Me:  Oh.  I see.  Well actually, it doesn't make much sense, but you can say "audients" even if it's just one person. And an audience can be listening to a sermon or listening to people sing--doing lots of things besides watching a game.

Later . . .

Tristan:  Wyatt, do you want to take a turn to be the audient?  (Wyatt goes to the recliner, but unlike Carson, he does not sit demurely on the seat.  He reaches down for the lever, flings himself against the back and raises the footrest with aplomb.  His feet do not reach the footrest, but rest happily on the recliner seat while he does what any self-respecting 3-year-old audient would do--watch the game.)


Learning about exceptions to rules about singular and plural nouns will wait for another day.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Spring Break Post

Today Tristan read to me and his younger brother a book from the library that was over 50 pages long.  Each page had only four or so lines of text, and lots of fun pictures on the pages, but still . . . 50+ pages!  This coming school year he would not be old enough to be allowed to start school at Pilgrim unless an exception were made.  I don't think his parents will challenge the status quo, but probably just keep on putting things in front of him to learn at home.  He's a fortunate child, in my completely unbiased opinion.

This "grandchildren pleasure" during spring break is mixed with a bit of wistfulness about the absent grandchildren.  I'm told that the oldest BD granddaughter is reading books too, but I can't sit down with her to listen to her read.

I make it sound as though reading is the most notable thing a grandchild could do.  Not really.  Each one is delightful in exactly the stage they're in right now.  Today I marveled at the new words the 18?-month-old is saying, and marveled even more at his pleasant interactions with me, and his great muscle coordination and balance as he ran back and forth across the hard floor in his socks.


Grant is in Texas today, and will be working there for several weeks.  I'm listening with interest to weather reports from there.  Tornadoes are being reported.  Three storm chasers died--not in a tornado, but in a 2-vehicle accident.


The rains we're getting are pure pleasure.  The weather violence is happening elsewhere, and we've had at least .8 inch of rain today, with a lot more apparently on the way tonight and tomorrow.   I can't guarantee that there will be no runoff, but the ground is thirsty enough that I think it will absorb a lot of moisture before it can't hold any more.


The most recent issue of Mennonite World Review carried an article reporting on the recent Anabaptist Identity Conference.  Much of the article referenced speeches by David Martin on Mennonites and the Industrial Revolution.  I referred in an earlier post to a piece by Martin on the same topic.  I noted in the MWR article that Martin elaborated on some of the content in the original article.  I think Martin is saying things we really need to hear and learn from.  Here's the MWR article.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Wrap Up--3/29/2017

I suppose I should get the big local news out of the way first:  Hutchinson Community College--also known as Hutch JUCO--is the National Junior College Basketball Tournament champion.  The last such win was in 1994, and the only other win was in 1988.  Last year they lost the final game and took second place.  It's not that big a deal to me, but the story took up the whole front page of today's newspaper.

Oh, and KU lost the game that would have given them entrance into the Final Four set of teams vying for the National College basketball championship.


What is bigger news in my world is that it's raining!!!!!!  On Friday we felt a little cheated when we had just a bit of a dust dampener, but Hutchinson got an inch or two.  More rain is possible over the next few days.  Destructive grassland fires over the past few weeks have accentuated the dry conditions and our need for moisture.


Spring Break is happening this week.  I'm looking forward to time with grandchildren and time for doing gardening and yard work.

At the teachers' lunch table on Friday, when Tim S. asked Gideon Y. about his plans for spring break, he had an answer none of us could top:  "Having a baby--we hope!"  Two years ago during spring break it was Charlotte who joined the family of Gideon, Esther, and Olivia.

They plan to move to Ireland this summer.  When they arrived here about four years ago, they had an infant just a little older than their expected baby will be when they leave with three young children.  Right now Esther's parents, Dan and Barbara, are here.


I have had several unexpected gifts this spring in the form of winning prizes at meetings for gardeners.  The first was a ten dollar gift certificate to Arnold's greenhouse in Leroy, Kansas.  Rita Arnold from that business was in town to give a presentation on new plants for 2017, and I went to hear her.  Only once have I gone to Arnolds--with Grant, on a spring day before I started teaching again.  The place is amazing for their variety of offerings.  At the recent meeting I met Sheila Wedel who I first learned to know when we were both at a flower-grower's meeting in Wichita, also before I started teaching again.  She has a greenhouse in the country at a location with a Galva address.  Sheila is Holderman Mennonite.  Last year I took my father along for the ride when I went to her greenhouse for the first time.  Sheila's Garden Market is closer than Arnolds, and her selection includes many flowers that are useful as cutflowers.  Her selection is all-around wonderful.

My second stroke of good fortune happened on the Saturday of the Gathering for Gardeners, an annual spring event sponsored by the Hutchinson Horticulture Club.  I won a $20 gift certificate to Stutzman Greenhouse there.  I learned when Ben Miller spoke that he and Marlene moved to Wichita more than a year ago.  How did I not know that?

Yesterday was the Spring celebration at Pleasantview.  We didn't go.  One year I won the $150.00 grand prize in the drawing at the event.  I suppose it says something for how much I love being at home that I was not tempted by the wonderful snacks and the  many small gifts that are usually part of Spring Celebration.


Vince and Mari Caudillo's house in Partridge has been purchased by Choice Books and will soon become the home of John and Mandy Coblentz from Hicksville, OH who are working right now as volunteers for CB.  I think this is the first time that a retirement-age couple has served in this way--unless you count Perry and Judith who were local and not quite retirement age.  I hope it's the beginning of a trend, although certainly the young people who arrive from far-flung places to work for CB have been a blessing too.  Some of them have married here and stayed.  Others have snatched away one of ours and have taken them along home as a spouse.


The redbuds are in full bloom.  I suppose I shouldn't be spoiling the pleasure of the moment by remembering that this is the phenological signal that conditions are right for the germination of crabgrass seeds.  Henbit and dandelion are in full glory right now as well.

The wheat is tall enough to roll in waves when stirred by the spring winds that regularly roil this verdant sea.


Last week the current federal administration's effort to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA--also known as Obamacare) failed.  When it became obvious that it wouldn't pass if brought to a vote, the legislation was withdrawn just before a scheduled vote took place.  I have no great fondness for the current version of the ACA, but I believe that the proposal being offered in its place was deeply flawed as well.  On Facebook, when a friend stated that he believes that a better version will be offered later, I made this comment:  I have very low expectations for a new and improved health care plan at a later date. My sense of optimism might get a boost if I knew that reform was happening in the current medical paradigm (treatment of illness rather than promotion of health), in the insurance industry (with its potential for obscene profits for the companies), in the courts (where lawyers profit from malpractice lawsuits), and in the regulatory agencies (where lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry wield out-sized influence). If the current flaws are not addressed, any future legislation is likely to be as flawed as what we have now. If the flaws are addressed in proposed legislation, it's not likely to pass, given the loyalties of a majority of those in the lawmaking body.


Today's newspaper carried an article about cancer drugs being developed in Sterling, KS by Gene Zaid.  He is Palestinian by birth, and has lived in the Sterling area during most of his adulthood.  His chemical research and the products from his facility have mostly been useful in the petroleum industry.

The work he is doing now focuses on isolating substances in plants that have been used in folk medicine for years in his native land to shrink tumors. Dr. Rodgers, who is leaving his medical practice in Hutchinson to work on the project calls Zaid a brilliant chemist.  

I learned to know a younger member of the Zaid family during college.  His name was Nassar. He had attended Central Christian High School earlier, and I believe Gene graduated from Sterling.  Grant has done landscaping work on Gene Zaid's property.


The cottage on the Hands of Christ property is being used now for the regular Sunday afternoon Bible study.  My Home Environment class from school had a small part in the remodeling and redecorating of the building, and I'm eager to see it in its finished form.


The deacon ordination planned for Center church is scheduled for late April.  Several of the Cedar Crest ministers have preached at Center in recent weeks with preparation for this event as the subject of their sermon.  They were asked to do so.


I am always sorry when the final song is skipped at the end of a worship service.  As I see it, people will benefit far more from leaving the gathering with the words of an inspirational song ringing in their ears than they will from having been dismissed a few minutes earlier.  I "recycle" every song in my private devotions during the next week, so I regret having a skimpy collection to draw from in the second half of the week--if Wed. eve. singing has been cut short.

For other reasons I think skipping the final song may be a mistake.  Congregational singing is the one worship activity where everyone present is participating audibly.  Joining together to sing a well-chosen song after the sermon is a beautiful way to respond corporately to what everyone has heard and witnessed corporately.  Some of what we have heard recently about worship suggests that some of the beauty of God's truth is best conveyed through music.  If we see it in that light, lopping off the last song begins to  look like a loss of truth and beauty--a much bigger loss than four minutes more of visiting or time at home afterward would be.


Mae Yoder (Mrs. Crist) seems to have suffered a light stroke.  She was hospitalized briefly.  Her daughter Betty is a teacher, and spring break is well-timed for her being able to spend more time at home now.


The Beachy minister's meeting is in Illinois this week.


Timo Miller's release last week is cause for great rejoicing.  He must serve a one-year probation sentence, but he's back with his family.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Another Piece of the Big Job

This post begins with a suggestion that you do a little homework before reading further.  I suggest that you go here to read some background on what follows.  It's a blog post that I wrote in May 2016, and it contains links to two other blog posts by Kelly that I recommend as well.  Kelly is a blogger who taught school in Finland for a time.  In an unrelated blog post I learned that she is a Christian.  No wonder her writing seemed full of truths I could relate to. If you're still up for more information, a Google search can provide a plethora of further material.

This post will continue in the vein I drilled down to in a previous post on how Christian schools in our time might consider reshaping themselves in a truly Christian model instead of throwing off some of the conventions that we inherited from those in use in the public school system, and adding new conventions.

I've been rereading For the Children's Sake, the book that probably has more profoundly shaped my ideals for Christian education than any other book.  The truth that I will focus on here is one I was reminded of in the rereading of the above book by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.  Charlotte Mason believed it to be a foundational truth of successful teaching as God intended, and Macaulay embraced it, as do I.  "Children are born persons" is one way this foundational truth might be expressed.  Further explanation follows here via words from Macaulay:

"Charlotte Mason rejects the utilitarian view of education and the conventional educational standards of her day.  She challenges us instead to identify the child's actual needs and capacities; to serve him as he is, on the basis of what is right and good for him as a person. . . . And so Charlotte Mason rejected the idea that what this young person needed was molding.  'Their notion is that by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere a person is at last turned out according to the pattern the educator has in his mind.'" (p. 14)

Kelly came home from teaching in Finland ready to try to implement some of the educational insights she had gleaned while she was gone.  In a very short time, however, she realized that because of a fundamental characteristic of education in America, the Finland model would not work here until a philosophical change occurred.  That underlying characteristic is competition.  In my opinion, that characteristic is alive and well in Christian schools also, often couched in very spiritual-sounding terms.  I believe furthermore that sometimes competitiveness directly sabotages what we are called by God to do as teachers--which begins with recognizing that "children are born persons."

Jesus modeled this.  Picture him seated on a Galileean hillside with a crowd before him.  Perhaps some of the parents in the crowd did as my father used to do when he introduced us to "famous" people he had learned to know.  When the children appeared before him, he took them in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them, and prayed for them.  Can you imagine a more "personhood-affirming" action?  On other occasions, Jesus specifically instructed others to receive children as He received them. (Mark 9:36, 37; Luke 9:47,48)  Those who did so were receiving Jesus Himself.  How's that for a compelling directive?

I believe that the Christian teachers I know also desire to bring students to Jesus, and desire to receive Him themselves.  Certainly some of this can happen regardless of the framework to which the process is confined.  I believe, however, that the framework we function in is geared primarily toward productivity.  In this model, we try to do these things:

1.  Quantify productivity.
2.  Document and track accomplishments.
3.  Strive to increase productivity.
4.  Compare accomplishments between students.
5.  Use productivity as a measure of success.
6.  Label children based on their productivity.

Each of these could be clarified by expansion.  Try it.  All of them tell part of the story of how we can lose sight of the personhood of each child in our current system.  All of them are tied to measures of what a child can do rather than who a child is.

I can already hear the protests--because many of them have been uttered inside my own head.  Aren't we responsible to shape students in a way that equips them for Christian service?  Don't we do students a disservice when we fail to develop their fullest potential?  How can we possibly know whether we're succeeding if we're not setting goals and constantly evaluating our progress?

I believe the single most important change that would address the above production-focused tendencies would be to more closely model the only child training model that Scripture spells out--that of the family.  This too could be expanded far beyond what will happen here.  I will mention only a few factors.  All of them would help to maximize the personhood aspects of instruction and shrink the productivity emphasis to an appropriately subordinate role.

1.  Preserve family-sized learning groups.  My arbitrary definition pegs this at 12 students--partly because that's the size of my parental family, and partly because I know how much better I like teaching this class size than a larger one.

2.  Preserve age diversity in every classroom.  I can already hear the howls of protest about the inefficiency of this approach, but I believe it's important both for how it helps students stay interested and involved and for how it helps avoid teacher burnout.

3.  Keep one teacher with the same students for a long time rather than passing them along to other teachers after a year or two.

4.  Do fewer "big" subjects in a day.

5.  Minimize homework.

6.  Inter-mingle physical labor and play with paper work and listening and speaking.

This is all I have time for now.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Funerals, Fires, and Family Events

Today was the funeral of my aunt Susie.  She was married to my father's brother, Willis Miller.  Susie died at the age of 93, following four years of having needed total care after a stroke.  Her only daughter, Clara, provided that care, with the help of Willis.  Willis and Susie had been married for 72 years.

The funeral also brought a flood of memories of my father's funeral.  The first two songs sung today were also sung at Dad's funeral.  His siblings had gathered, just as they have done on a number of occasions in recent years when one has left the circle, and Dad's absence was very conspicuous.  His and my mother's grave marker are close to the spot where Susie was buried today, and Dad's grave is still mounded with dirt.


Some of the readers here have followed on social  media news of the wildfires in our area  beginning this past Saturday.  We had a number of days of very low humidity and high winds.  Apparently from a carelessly-disposed-of cigarette, about 6,000 acres of the NE corner of Reno County went up in smoke.  The fire started near Hutchinson, on the northwest side, in The Highlands.  Since the strong winds at first were out of the south, the fires spread to the north, away from town.

Here, SW of Hutchinson, we were getting a shower of ashes and a haze of smoke from fires in the county SW of us, near Pratt.  Fires in that direction burned over 200,000 acres.  Much of it was in sparsely populated areas.

In our county things got very serious very quickly on Monday evening when the wind shifted and blew just as strongly from the northwest, and the fires raced back toward Hutchinson.  Some residents saw the fires bearing down on their homes and escaped in their vehicles, with no time to take anything along, and only a minute to spare.  Everyone living in the area (north of 30th street in Hutchinson) was ordered to evacuate immediately.  This included 10,000 residents.

Brian and Cynthia, from our church, welcomed their first child into the world on Monday morning.  By evening they were home from the birth center, but then they got the evacuation order, and they had to move elsewhere

Fire crews from over 100 non-local agencies responded to the need for help here.  The military (National Guard) supplied several helicopters which dumped pond water on the fires steadily for several days.  Regional experts from a federal fire-disaster network came to the area to provide expertise.  Red Cross opened several shelters for those who were displaced.

Today, for the first time since the fires began, all evacuated areas were reopened.  Sadly, at least 10 families lost their homes.  and about the same number of houses suffered fire damage, but remained habitable.

We had a beautiful day today--sunny and 70 with light winds.  I really thought we were all "home free."  Since I've been typing this post, however, I've heard the wind pick up again, and I really hope that not a single hot spot reignites.


This weekend, four of my siblings will be together in the Holmes County, Ohio area, and none of them lives there.  Dorcas and Clara planned to be there together for a women's conference, at which Clara's sister-in-law is speaking.  My brother Ronald is preaching in a series of meetings at Messiah Fellowship.  My brother Myron is attending a board meeting (for New Horizons?).

I also heard via Rachel, who heard it from Steven Brubaker, that my brother Caleb spoke at Faith Builders on gay marriage, etc.  He was headed soon also to Eastern Mennonite University, and to Bluffton College to do the same.  I presume he had already presented this at the school where he teaches, Messiah College. He was examining especially whether gay marriage makes sense according to typical standards of philosophical inquiry.  He found that it doesn't.  Caleb has a Ph.D. in philosophy.

Monday, March 06, 2017

A Lot of Work: A Little Piece of It?

Most of the post below was written on Saturday--two days ago.


I was present this morning in a small group where Steven Brubaker from Faith Builders Educational Programs spoke about the integration of faith with education.  The session was thought-provoking and inspirational.  Something he said gave me the courage to write about something I've been thinking about for several months--and several decades.  I don't know that Mr. Brubaker would agree with how I'm developing his basic idea, so I'll try to be clear about what he said and what is coming from me.

Mr. Brubaker observed that the basic form that Christian education usually takes is largely copied from the form in use in public education.  I believe it would also be correct to say that it's the form that was in use at the time most Christian schools were founded.  Brubaker noted that, to be sure, Christian schools add some things (Bible class, for example), and take away some things.  I suppose the teaching of evolution is a typical take-away thing.  According to him, however, a lot of work needs to be done to create schools that serve the church and the family more effectively.  I could not agree more with this basic premise.  I've done my share of writing and raging and weeping and yes, even triangulating about this, and over the past decades, at times I've grown very weary of the burden of seeing this and seeing no significant changes.

I would tweak the reference to "schools" to say instead that a need exists to create educational systems that serve the church and the family more effectively.  I believe, in fact, that part of the work we should do is to lift our eyes beyond the roof lines of our brick and mortar structures to see the educational system in a larger context, one in which the church could still work together to see that effective education happens--without giving the school an out-sized role, creating an overwhelming workload for teachers, and a nearly unaffordable financial burden for everyone involved.

While meeting  the needs of the children is the reason for having an educational program in the first place,  what I have known for at least 30 years is that many of the means employed in traditional schools happen primarily for the convenience of adults rather than for the good of children.  A big chunk of what remains has to happen because of the constraints and limitations of the traditional system itself.  I could generate quite a list of such things, but will resist the temptation to digress.

As I see it, de-centralizing Christian education, or at least not becoming enamored with consolidation, may be an important key to making an educational system more effective and more balanced within the framework of church and family interests.  I did not always see this--only in the past few years.  Many,  many threads of learning, observation, and experience have combined to lead me to this conclusion.  Must not digress . . . 

This post will suggest only one significant change to the business-as-usual shape of our private Christian school program.

What if we simply sent our students away to school only four days a week instead of five?  This is already happening in America in more than 100 public school districts in more than 20 states.  An article on the National Education Association (NEA) website here tells about it.  A Google search reveals other articles and gives details of research done to determine whether the change affects test scores.

Most of the districts where four-day weeks are the norm are in sparsely populated western states. Fewer days is one way to minimize transportation costs.  Also, support personnel like custodians, bus drivers, cooks, etc.  are employed for one less day, so costs to the district are reduced.  Teachers, of course, still come to school as usual on the day students are absent.  Teachers still have five-day weeks, in other words.  They use the time to do lesson planning or grading.

Some research shows that initially standardized test scores improved significantly with the reduction in school days, but the effect did not necessarily persist.

Some disadvantages of the four-day week were cited in the article.  I noted that most of them would be less problematic in our school than in a typical American school.  Finding childcare for the fifth day was listed as a significant problem for some parents (most of our moms do not have outside employment).  Reduction of services for needy children was another.  Free or inexpensive meals at school insure that students eat decently on school days, but they may not get enough to eat on other days (our school doesn't provide meals--unless you count Friday's hot lunch meals, and most families can provide adequately for eating at home).  A longer school day might prove tiring for students (we had longer days when I was in grade school).  Support personnel at schools have a reduced pay check (we don't have such staff people on the payroll now).

In our setting, the advantage of lower transportation costs would be experienced on a family budget basis instead of a school budget basis. Families already bear this cost and would stand to benefit.

Teachers would absolutely be winners in a four-day school week scenario.  We had such a week last week.  It was at the end of the quarter, and the day was set aside to get the grade cards ready.  I can't believe how much I got done on that fifth day with few interruptions and no classes to teach.   True, I still spent five hours at school the next day, a Saturday, but the week wasn't completely overwhelming as it might have been, especially with special services at church some evenings.  I think it would alleviate what I believe to be the unsustainable teacher workload that seems to be the norm at most of our schools.

I doubt that I need to enumerate how families could benefit.  I'll let you figure it out, except for one less day of packing lunches--that compelling advantage must be noted by this uninspired lunch packer.  

In order for churches to benefit as much as they might, the "off" day could somehow be coordinated with the evening church service during the week.  I notice that many families with school-age children don't regularly attend evening meetings at church.  For example, if Friday were the usual day off, maybe church could take place on Thursday evening, and students could sleep in on the following day.  Fridays could also be days for church work projects.

In general, a four-day school week would seem to me to keep a better balance between time at home and time away from home--something that I believe to have implications far beyond those that most of us have begun to explore.

My other school-shape-changing ideas will have to wait for later posts.