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Are We Losing the Ability to Think?

Last week I took four teenagers (two were my own) down to New York for a Bible quizzing tournament. That means twelve hours, in total, in a car with these girls over the course of the weekend. And we got into some really interesting conversations.

One of the girls is a senior in high school who is very bright and very motivated. She finds it really difficult to process the fact that so many of her fellow students just can't write. She reads their papers, and thinks, "But you've been speaking English your entire life. You can speak a sentence. Why can't you write one?" She once got into a conversation with her English teacher about this, and her teacher said that there is a school of thought that in 100 years, tenses will disappear from our language. We're getting so lazy in the way we talk and write that difficult grammatical usages will slowly disappear.

We have more technology than ever, but people don't seem to know as much.

Around the same time as this conversation, I received an email from a university friend with a link to a Grade 8 final exam from 1931. It's got Geography, Civics, History, Literature, even Penmanship. Check it out. It's HARD! Way harder than we teach kids today.

I often get rather depressed at the lack of education kids get nowadays. I know that makes me sound like a fuddy duddy, but I think, with all of the problems we have to solve in the world, how can we do it when people can't handle more than a soundbite? When they don't know history to put things in perspective (ie. they don't know that Jerusalem actually has always had Jews living in it, for instance, and was the capital of the Jewish homeland basically forever). Or how can we attempt to even think about how to handle dictators today when most people do not know about Chamberlain's "peace in our time" speech?

But it's easy to attack the school system. My bigger issue, though, is that the church is doing very little to combat this. You would think that church would be a place which would emphasize learning; traditionally we have. Indeed, many denominations were born to be more "intellectual" compared with the "common people". Higher learning was originally all theology; everything flowed from that. It was assumed that to be a Christian meant that you were slightly more educated because you read the Bible and thought about it. And since Christianity encompassed all that you could know about God's creation, then higher learning all flowed from that theology.

But today in church we don't really require thought. We focus more on emotion. I find it difficult as a speaker to get past this; I do a much better job at weekend retreats when I can get more in depth into a subject than I do at the one-time events. But it is a challenge because people don't always WANT to think. And yet at the same time, our generation thinks that we are smarter than previous generations (despite that Grade 8 Geography Test).

One of my daughters' main complaints about Christian education, whether it be at church or at camp or at retreats, is that it always focuses on the same stories: David & Goliath, Noah's ark, Joshua, Joseph, Jonah. Rarely do you require kids to actually think. And the Bible stories are NEVER put in context. I read a study done recently of the incoming class at Moody Theological Seminary, I believe it was, and less than half could put these four events in chronological order: Moses, the exile of Judah, David, John the Baptist.

People just don't know the basics--even people who have been Christians their whole life.

And if we don't teach context, whether it be with the Bible or with history, then we aren't raising children to be really educated or to really be able to think. You'd think the church would be spearheading this, focusing on Bible memory and real Bible understanding, but instead we focus, too, on shallow things and entertainment. And then we wonder why twenty-somethings lose their faith.

I wish I knew the solution, but I don't. I think we were far smarter before there was TV and when families read together at night.

My only solution is for my own family: we don't have a TV, we homeschool, and we make our kids memorize. But that won't help the society at large. So what do we do? I really don't know. I'm at a loss. Anyone have any ideas?

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At 8:30 AM , Blogger Emily said…

What a great post! It's so true! It makes me convicted about some of the things we are doing with homeschooling. We can do better as homeschoolers, at least on my end.

As a nation, I'm not sure how we approach that except start really praying and do what we can in our little corner of the country.

As far as church and retreat goes, I am so with you there! I love to get into a study and really study something. An hour at church just doesn't do a lot for me either - though I do try getting what I can!

God has much work to do in my heart and life. I pray that I'm more open to what He wants me to do. God Bless!


At 9:04 AM , Blogger Wendy said…

I wrote a very long response - and then it didn't post! Probably a good thing! This is a topic that has been a passion of mine for many years. We are so prone, particularly as believers, but as a society as well, to let others set the agenda for us, to take the easy road and in so doing, abdicate our responsibility and our own God-given abilities to interact thoughtfully, intelligently and hopefully. I could talk about this for a very long time, but (thankfully) I won't do it here! For me it all revolves around John 15, Romans 12 and I Corinthians 8 (The Message).


At 9:06 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

I'm with you, Sheila. The reality is so depressing!!

Our kids go to public school, and one of the values I'm trying to instill in them is to work to their potential, not just meet expectations.

I add to their spelling words each week, and they memorize them, not because they *have* to, but because they *can.*

The TV stays off during the week, so we can read and do household chores and draw and play games and study and TALK. And while they complain that they're "so bored," in the next breath, they disappear for two hours and come back with a "book" that they've written and illustrated. Too many parents are afraid of their child's boredom. We need to accept that every minute is not full of FUN and EXCITEMENT. In the boredom, often, comes creativity.

I'm trying to teach my kids that when God gives us a gift, whether it be music, art, being good at math, whatever, He wants us to hone that gift and use it. (The parable of the talents.)

I want my boys to dream big, God-sized dreams, and have the discipline and motivation to make it so.

When we look around us at the world's standards, the situation is bleak. But I know enough young adults (like the teens in your car!) who are so bright and motivated, and not settling for "status quo," that I have hope for the future!!


At 9:08 AM , Anonymous Bridgette Dempsey said…

I think you have hit on yet another great thing about homeschooling; we can pick up where other "institutions" have dropped off. We have the time, the ability, and the determination.

But, you're so right; we need to do better. "Follow-through" takes discipline and organized thought. But these two can only come through taking dedicated time seeking the heart of God and His will for our particular homeschool in any particular year. We can't just stumble through our weeks and hope that somewhere along the way particular truths get taught.

Planning can come through a variety of ways; a personal retreat (hey, even a bathroom or a bedroom can be a retreat for an hour or two!), a small or large conference where you can get ideas and motivation, or even through other moms your local homeschool community --Titus 2:4, baby, all the way :D

Thanks for the motivating thoughts., where did I put that planner... :)


At 10:27 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Great comments! Thanks, all, for stopping by! And great to see regulars like Llama Mama.

Brigitte, I think you're right that we actually have to PLAN for teaching basic truths, because I think we assume our children will automatically pick them up, when they won't. Like Llama Mama says, she does extra spelling words and things with her kids. Whether we homeschool or not, we have to plan when we're going to teach them important things--and then we have to do it!

Love this sentence, too: "too many parents are scared of their children's boredom." Let's let our kids be bored more, and then they'll learn more!


At 11:03 AM , Anonymous Diane Yuhas said…

Frankly, I don't think that significant change in our culture is on the horizon. This world has all but tossed out God and can no longer build upon a foundation of truth and righteousness. Things will naturally go from bad to worse. Society is all about ease and entertainment because, without God, that is all it has. The world doesn't need a reformer, it needs a Savior.


At 11:20 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Very sad, but true, Diane. Well said.


At 1:04 PM , Blogger Gretchen said…

I would venture a guess that this is more an issue of pandering than anything else. I went to a private school through 7th grade in Belgium, because of my dad's work. The expectations were MUCH MUCH higher than they were in the public school because they weren't so concerned about "hurting kids' feelings" or "making kids feel bad," and other such nonsense. I realize that this is a novel idea, but if your child is failing, he SHOULD feel bad!!! Odds are, it's because he's just NOT TRYING, as unpopular as that is to actually say.

And so, to make kids feel better and to help them "like school," we lower expectations. We don't want to them struggle (because after all, they're just kids, right? They shouldn't have to TRY, of all things!), so we make everything easy. Videos are used in classes instead of textbooks, tests are made easier so fewer kids fail because they didn't study, athletes aren't put on academic probation for not trying- instead we rake the teacher over the coals because the kid can't handle sports AND their homework.

Our priorities are WAY out of whack and it's pathetic. It's making us a country of slackers and underachievers. No wonder we struggle to keep up with foreign countries who actually expect their future generations to excel!


At 2:21 PM , Blogger Cherish said…

I don't know the answer, but this was a wonderfully thought-provoking post.


At 3:29 PM , Anonymous Eve said…

As usual, a very interesting post.

It's much the same thing as not being able to say "no" to the Little Darlings. We can't upset the Little Dears, mustn't expect too much, shouldn't teach values, don't mention responsibility or worse... consequences!

Thank you for making me think - I need to do more.


At 6:35 AM , Blogger Tracey... said…

GREAT POST....I linked to you!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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