Every Time Every Human Speaks

The times I’ve been charged with “teaching Christianity in a public school” make me laugh a little bit.

It’s as though administrators, principals, parents, and students think that Christians have some sort of other belief system, apart from their own, that is worthy of alienation. Of course, we know this is simply the world loving the darkness more than the light, because their deeds are evil (John 1). And we were once in the darkness, too.

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But the whole “stop talking about religion in public” is nonsense for another reason: every time every human being speaks, we are speaking our own belief system. For one person to tell another, “Don’t talk about your beliefs,” is to act like the speaker has no beliefs. But the truth is that we all speak our beliefs, every moment of every day.

To tell a Christian to drop the Bible is like telling a postmodern to stop speaking about scientism, neo-Marxism, or relativism. The postmodern literally cannot stop. It’s what she believes in.

We can talk about “separation of church and state” nonsense all day long, but it will never happen because it is a false dichotomy. Every time every human speaks, he speaks his worldview. Just be honest with each other, and lay those beliefs on the table.

Each of us has a belief system. None of them, on the basis of our own faith, is more or less true than another. In other words, nothing is absolutely true just because I believe it. Instead, all beliefs, and their systems, stand or fall based on their historical, internal, and supernatural veracity. And the Bible is the only one that passes any of the three (and all three at that!).

Thus, biblical faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only worldview that has full historical, internal, and supernatural truth. It stands beneath no other worldview, but it supreme above them all – because Jesus is supreme.

When we talk to those in the kingdom of the darkness, we must love them enough to care for their very souls. The first step is laying our beliefs on the table, explaining them, and asking the unbeliever to do the same. Only then can we have honest conversation that is out of the darkness and into the light.

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You Can’t Teach Critical Thinking if You Don’t Believe Anything

Or, “The Great Lie of American Secularism”

“Critical thinking,” everyone says, is a buzzword in education these days. Conference speakers, school administrators, parents, and political leaders all kick the dust around it. Yet true critical thinking remains an enigma. Why?

Because you can’t teach critical thinking if you don’t believe anything.

The logic is simple:

  • Premise 1: Critical thinking is the set of thinking skills involving synthesis, analysis, creation, and evaluation.
  • Premise 2: Each of these skills require a set of definite criteria, i.e. stated beliefs.
  • Premise 3: American secularism devalues any defined criteria, and, in fact, provides none of its own.
  • Conclusion: Secularists can’t teach critical thinking.

If you find these statements controversial, or have never thought of the implications of your own beliefs, take a moment to break these thoughts down.

Critical Thinking Defined (Premise #1)
The first premise isn’t controversial – it’s a simple definition of critical thinking, or “higher-order” thinking skills. Philosophers and educators have agreed on these for thousands of years. The pyramid of thinking skills goes up from knowledge to comprehension to application to synthesis/analysis to creation to evaluation.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills, in other words, are the development and deepening of acquired knowledge with direction in its development. By definition, the skills have to go somewhere. Understanding this, premise 1 stands.

Higher-Order Thinking Skills Require Beliefs (Premise #2)
Premise 2 is where I may lose some people, and where the crux of my argument lies. Beliefs not only help critical thinking, they essentially enable it. There is no true “critical thinking” that cannot take apart knowledge and put it back together within an external control, a worldview.

Remember, the meaning of “integrity” is soundness, wholeness, honesty of life. The key question is, “What is the principle with which we will synthesize and analyze?” Secularists have no principle but themselves, who are ever changing as the weather (remind anyone of Jude 1:12-13?). Thus, true synthesis and analysis are impossible without coherent worldview principles.

In mathematics, breaking down numbers into parts, equations, or proofs requires a controlling principle, i.e. the soundness of our number system. Without this, analysis and synthesis fail in numbers, as in the rest of life.

When it comes to the skills of creativity, we live in a strange culture. To American secularists, “creativity” is its own value, apart from beliefs and morality. Historically, beauty has been valued for its conformity to truth. In a truth-less culture like ours, however, a painting or motion picture or song is called “good” without any baseline meaning for the word “good” itself. As Al Mohler has observed, however, character terms like morality and integrity “lack all content if they aren’t specifically tied to worldview convictions.” Thus, teachers who teach creativity without conviction are like well-wishers who send sailors off in on a voyage to nowhere, saying, “Have a great journey!”

Now we can see where the highest critical thinking skill, evaluation, will go. Without worldview, evaluation also fails. If all the steps before it have flown apart at the seams, we should not expect evaluation to succeed. Evaluation is the culmination of study and thought. Without beliefs, both those preceding skills and the end result are impossible. To put it another way, how are we to evaluate if we have nothing to evaluate against?

American Secularism Believes Nothing (Premise #3)
Of course, it is impossible to believe nothing. Everyone has a worldview. But here we mean, “nothing positively defined outside ourselves.” We truly believe we are the measure of all things. The universe’s buck stops with us. We ought  to command the waves, the wind, the seas, and the stock markets – and we’re mystified when we can’t.

Because of our radical individualism, we believe that no truth exists outside of ourselves. If enough of us agree on something, that can become a cultural “truth,” but that “truth” fails when it face a “truth” from another culture. Again, the war of little “truths” proves that we believe in no Truth at all, only what works for us until culture or personal discernment proves otherwise.

Every secularist has a worldview, but the sine qua non of the secular worldview is that truth doesn’t exist.

Secularists Can’t Teach Critical Thinking
If premises 1, 2, and 3 are true, the conclusion is that belief-less secularists can’t teach belief-dependent critical thinking. Critical thinking is a bundle of skills that depends not only on raw knowledge, but on a coherent worldview – an integrity of thought – that enables and propels honestly critical thinking.

Further, thinking that only aims to support self (the primary secular principle) can never be truly critical, because critical thinking requires the critical evaluation of ourselves. We are the ones who must finally be evaluated, not merely do the evaluating. Without self-evaluation, all of our learning becomes an exercise in narcissism, hypocrisy, and vanity.

Even more, for critical thinking to reach its true end, we must evaluate ourselves now – because we will one day be evaluated by God, according to His perfectly coherent, perfectly true worldview.

How to Kill Your Teachers While They Teach

[Disclaimer: This post is not meant to describe any particular school, past  or present, for whom I have worked. This is a compilation of various experiences at various schools, through my time as a student, teacher, administrator, coach, and observer. However, if the shoe fits, don’t blame the shoemaker.]

A handy checklist for administrators:

  1. Say that academics come first, but really place extracurriculars and appearances at #1 and #2, then put academics where it really belongs.
  2. Make dress code and cell phone infractions bigger deals than cheating and plagiarism.
  3. Prefer distant, “professional” teachers on video and internet to live, caring, but “boring” teachers you already have on staff. Encourage students to do the same.
  4. Talk a lot about academic rigor, but give in to parent, student, and extracurricular demands when the rubber of schoolwork meets the road of more important things.
  5. Have athletic, extracurricular, and non-education leaders oversee your academics, because that wouldn’t be a conflict of interest.
  6. When students are failing for lack of effort, ask your teachers to “dumb down” their material.
  7. When it comes to academics, only ask about student grades. Never be concerned with student learning.
  8. Do whatever is possible to stifle teacher creativity in the classroom. Stiffarm supplemental materials and creative projects. Stick to the publisher’s teacher guide.
  9. Pump up student scores for standardized tests, but for the rest of the school year make sure to emphasize everything but learning. Field trips, school pictures, plays, and basketball games will do the trick.
  10. Make curricular decisions for budgetary and appearance reasons. Don’t consider teacher strengths or student learning.

Do all of these things, academic administrators, and you’ll be sure to crush and eventually lose all of your best teachers and hire only the ones who will take your money for doing zero teaching.

Feelings, Free Speech, and the Gospel

Another strange set of events has emerged recently in the Chicago, IL, suburb of Naperville, where Nequa Valley High School administrators tried to force all of their high school students to participate in the school’s upcoming “Day of Silence” for gay rights.

They were shot down, however. In accordance with the 2006 U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th District decision that the school could not force students to change their “Be Happy, Not Gay” T-shirt message, last week’s ruling forbade school officials from forcing students to remain silent.

Shannon Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Safe School Alliance, said she sees the ruling as narrow.

“It is based on the same principle that allows students to wear ‘Day of Silence’ t-shirts in school,” she said. “We would certainly not limit the students’ rights to wear those.”

But Sullivan, whose organization leads the “Day of Silence” effort in Illinois, called such opposing slogans on t-shirts intolerant.

“It tells people not to be gay, and people are gay,” she said. “I do think a consequence of wearing a shirt like that is hurting other people’s feelings.”

Far we have fallen from the days when sodomy was a crime. Next, the Safe School Alliance will tell us that we can’t condemn drunk drivers and pedophiles because, “People are drunk drivers and pedophiles.”

Our country suffers from a severe confusion between sinner and sin. A sin is a sin, no matter how many times or how loudly we try to call it “good” or “different.” But as believers in Christ, we are empowered and called to love the lost, calling them to repentance (Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31f), and that includes rebuking and correcting their sin (Leviticus 19:17, Proverbs 24:25).

We must name sins and hate them in order to love the sinner in any true way. Sinners need Jesus, perfect, crucified, risen, and reigning. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 5:31). We need Him precisely because we are sinners.

If we become afraid to call out sins like homosexuality and abortion, how soon will we be unable to to condemn cheating, lying, and adultery? When will everyone just be “okay” without Jesus?

Maybe our theology is already there.

A “Less is More” Diagnostic for American Schools

Maybe you’ve already read how Less Is More for American Schools. Maybe you’re convinced that schools tend to focus on things that detract from learning rather than enhance learning. That’s not to say that athletics, fine arts, afterschool care, and carnivals can’t supplement academics – they’re just not meant to be the main thing.

Or are they? Here are a few questions to help you see where your school stands:

  1. Meetings: Whether it’s the school board, the PTA, staff meetings, or interviews, what feature of your school gets emphasized? Is it the music program, or math? Is it middle school band, or basic grammar? Is it athletics, or academics?
  2. Media and Literature: When your school produces a pamphlet or a handout for prospective families, do you focus on academics first, lightly mentioning extracurriculars, or do the extracurriculars become the curriculum of your literature?
  3. Evaluating Teachers: Do your administrators and parents tend to evaluate teachers based on extracurricular involvement (e.g., coaching, leading clubs, attendance at school events), 
  4. Parent Conversations: In talking to parents at your school, do they tend to focus on how their child enjoys class and its content, or how they like to play soccer afterschool?
  5. Planning: When administrators consider changes in your school, do they first consider how those changes will affect learning, or how they’ll affect lacrosse?
  6. Time and Family: Does your school encouarge, nay, demand, that teachers go home and spend time with their families, or that they stay at school every odd hour, participating in meetings, concerts, games, and activities?

When we answer these questions honestly, we find out whether our school is committed to “less is more” or “more is less.”

Dear American Schools, Less is More

A Critique of American Schools
With Special Focus on the Administrators and Parents Enabling the Problem

[a re-telling of two previous posts]

The Problem Stated: More for Less
American parents and administrators tend to think that a school is a catch-all place for the surrounding community. A school can:

  • Make a name for itself in athletics,
  • Host all kinds of fundraisers and community events,
  • Have a fine arts program to rival Broadway,
  • Be known around the community for its excellent child care,
  • Host carnivals and celebrations,

but none of those things – none – is academics.

A school is meant . . . to be a school. Learning, the endeavor and focus of academics, is the sine qua non of any and every school. Athletics, community, parties, and day-care are tertiary to that job.

The Problem Spreading: More for Less in More Places
American schools have largely bought this summas scola philosophy. Our schools want to be the place where everything happens, they want to provide it all, they want to be the center of students’ lives. Yet they fundamentally, historically fail in the most important area of all: learning.

The well-documented downfall of academics in the American classroom can likely be traced back to this: schools no longer view academics as their primary, all-encompassing function. They leave academics nominally at the top, while becoming more concerned with chorus recitals, basketball games, community involvement, and various other extracurriculars.

Spread the Remedy: Less is More
The remedy is the simple clarity of focus. One thing is your job, schools. One thing is your job, administrators. One thing is the school’s job, parents. It’s called learning. Demand that your schools focus on this and only this. Send your students, parents, and teachers home after 8.5 hours and let them be who God has called them to be: children, parents, husbands, wives, neighbors, church members, friends. Your school isn’t the center of their world, so it mustn’t be the hub of their lives.

Wake Up to the Gender-Bending, Parents

Some people think that we don’t need to teach middle school and high school students what the Bible says about manhood and womanhood. They find these topics unnecessary, divisive, and intrusive.

When we read articles like this one, however, we’re hard-pressed to argue that the world isn’t inundating our children with lies, deception, and outright gender-bending.  As the author says, “And in this endeavor, dear parents, the [public] schools are no longer your friend.”

HT: Hermonta Godwin

Good Theology is Good Teaching

When I open a class with a theological question, I can almost hear the haters from the secular sphere say it: “Oh, he’s just imposing his theology on this literature. He’s not really teaching.” And maybe some students think that, too.

But the truth is that good theology is good teaching. It doesn’t impose itself on otherwise good teaching; it is the basis for good teaching. There are no two ways about it. If from God, and through God, and to God are all things – indeed, to Him belongs all the glory – then every topic, lesson, activity, even game must (sooner or later) find its beginning, sustenance, and end in Him.

Over the years, students in my classes have proved this to be true. When we talk theology before a reading, their interest is aroused, their emotions driven to the surface, and their deepest thoughts propelled to the forefront. Students with the most stoic exteriors often become the most animated when God becomes the topic of discussion.

And this is as God would have it – He is what matters most. Being made in His image, we cannot help but jump headlong into discussions about God. As a teacher, I want my students to think deeply and critically, through the eyes of God’s Word, about everything. So when I set up a good theological discussion, I’m really just doing good teaching.

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