The Teacher

In an Independent Learner School it is quite possible that the student could have the same teacher for several years.  This creates a great opportunity to have consistency in the children’s life and in the families’ life.  Neither the children nor the parents have to figure out the new teacher each fall and conversely the teacher doesn’t have to figure out the student.  The cumulative impact of a teacher on a child over the course of several years can be tremendous, but it makes it all the more imperative that the parents know their child’s teacher well.  I have tried to summarize very frankly information about myself to help parents in their search for a teacher that fits the values and desires of the family.

Profile

Personal

* Family: I have been married to Cindy for twenty-two years and we have two daughters aged 18 and 16.

* Hobbies: Camping, Reading, Restoring Old Homes, and Cooking

* Education: Studied Business Administration and Computer Science at Point Loma Nazarene College for almost four years.  Graduated from California State University with a BA in Business Administration.  Earned a California Teaching Credential from Chapman University and have for all practical purposes earned an MA in education from that same institution.

* Career:  Towards the end of my education at Point Loma I accidentally discovered that I had a knack for teaching.  What began as just assisting friends who were taking Intro to Computers turned into a successful business teaching computer programming to small groups of struggling College students.  After graduating I accomplished two things of personal interest in the business world before going back for my teaching credential.  I have taught school, mostly fourth grade, for five years and have been a principal/headmaster for ten years.

Religion:

Labels make things simple, but I am afraid most liberals would label me a fundamentalist, and most fundamentalists would say I was definitely not.  I was born into the Nazarene church and grew up with in an Armenian, somewhat fundamentalist, conservative church.    Like most Christians, I didn’t study theology much at all, but always felt certain about my beliefs.  Why we feel certain about our beliefs when we haven’t bothered to understand them I don’t know.  In my early thirties I was challenged by a friend to study the basics of Calvinism and intending to refute Calvin’s Five Points I wound up subscribing to his theology instead.  God seems a lot greater, and his grace much more amazing from this vantage point.   Since that time our family has always seemed to wind up serving in a Southern Baptist Churches which had maintained the SBCs historically Calvinist leaning theology.

I love collecting quotes and a favorite quote pertaining to education and Christianity is from J. Gresham Machen, Presbyterian Apologist at Princeton,

“The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity.  The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It must be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom must be advanced not merely extensively, but also intensively. The Church must seek to conquer not merely every man for Christ but also the whole of man.

To quote Paul Washer, Christianity is not a yuppie accessory.  We should be radically different from the world around us.  I am afraid that the state of the church in America is grim, even for those churches bearing the label Evangelical and Conservative.  Please be warned: these views will come out in my discussions with the older students.  I will challenge them not to compare themselves with their peers or the adults in their church, but rather with the word of God and with Christians from different eras and different countries.  My prayer is that your children would be prepared with an intellect and a work ethic that could earn them the American Dream, the nice cars, big houses, safe retirements, but that those things would have little attraction in light of the what God has done for us.

Politics

I am a recovering political junkie for whom no label exactly fits.  I am not sure which major party is more disappointing.  I lean-to strongly to the libertarian strain in many ways, but I am a social conservative.  As of late I have decided that our country’s problems are not so much who are political leaders are, nor who are church leaders are, but rather who we are.  We the people are not the same sort of people who founded this country.  Since all my ranting and raving at our politicians is probably not going to effect much real change, maybe I should focus on energy toward that portion of we the people where I can be most effective: myself and my family.

Child-Rearing

Dobson says that by the time a child finishes the toddler years he should know two things: Mom and Dad absolutely love them and he absolutely must obey his parents (to which I would add respect). It seems that a lot of the students I work with are quite convinced of their parents’ love, but not so much the need to be obedient.  I do see lots of excellent parenting by the way, but many of today’s parents feel obliged to give their kids everything they want; moms who cook to order and cater to every whim of their child.  At a time when kids should be nearly totally controlled by their parents, it often looks the other way around.  Parents who establish firm control of their children when they are young, often are able to grant them a great deal of freedom in later childhood, but we seem to do things backwards.

Obedience is hardly the end goal of parenting of course, but it is a perquisite to teaching the more important things: the reasons behind the rules.  We must train the heart, mind and soul.

Personal Reading

As a principal of a classical and Christian school, I think one of the most revealing questions you can ask a prospective teacher is “what have you been reading.  Therefore, here is a list of many of the books I have read over the past several years:

  • The Bible
  • Restoring the Lost Tools of Learning – Doug Wilson
  • Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning – Doug Wilson
  • A Hunger for God – John Piper
  • The Call – Oz Guinness
  • The Christian Mind – Harry Blamires
  • The Schools We Need – E.D. Hirsch
  • The Underground History of American Education – John Taylor Gatto
  • Core Knowledge Preschool – E.D. Hirsch
  • Lottie Moon – Jeff and Janet Benge
  • Reading Reflex – From Read America
  • All The Troubles in The World – PJ O’Rourke
  • Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
  • A Thomas Jefferson Education – Oliver Van DeMille
  • Preparing for Power, America’s Elite Boarding Schools – Cookson and Persell
  • The Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
  • Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  • Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
  • Freakonomics – Steven Levitt
  • 1776 – David McCullough
  • Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
  • Don’t Waste Your Life – John Piper
  • The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience – Ronald Sider
  • We Make The Path By Walking – Freire and Horton
  • Democracy and Education – John Dewey
  • The Language Police – Dianne Ravitch
  • Team of Rivals (Lincoln Bio) – Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Animal Farm ╨ George Orwell
  • A Christian Manifesto – Francis Schaeffer
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman
  • The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis
  • Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin
  • Eternity in Their Hearts – Don Richardson
  • The Life God Blesses – Jim Cymbala
  • A New England Girlhood – Nancy Hale
  • The Passion of the Christ – John Piper
  • Reminisces – General Douglas MacArthur
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich ╨ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis
  • Addicted to Mediocrity – Frank Schaeffer
  • Poor Richard’s Almanac – Benjamin Franklin
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
  • Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Hoosier School Master – Edward Eggleston
  • Spiritual Warfare – Timothy M. Warner
  • Bondage Breaker – Neil Anderson
  • This Present Darkness – Frank Peretti
  • Seeing and Savoring Jesus – John Piper
  • Atheism Remix – Albert Mohler
  • Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters – Meg Meeker
  • What’s So Great About Christianity – Dinesh D’Souza
  • Yesterday’s People – Jack Weller
  • Wisdom and Eloquence – Robert Littlejohn and Charles Evans
  • Good to Great – Jim Collins
  • Caveman Chemistry – Kevin Dunn
  • The Transit of History – Edward Eggleston
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill
  • On Secular Education – R.L. Dabney
  • Beowulf
  • Getting Things Done – David Allen
  • The First Salute – Barbara Tuchman
  • Anthem – Ayn Rand
  • 5000 Year Leap – Skousen
  • Of Plymouth Plantation – Bradford
  • Brave New World – Huxley
  • What’s So Great About America – D’Sousa
  • The Last Days Of Socrates – Plato
  • Institutes of the Christian Religion – Calvin

Peculiar Beliefs/Ideas

Delayed Adulthood: Throughout most of history and still throughout most of the world, children leave childhood around fourteen years of age.  This of course is not the case, nor the trend in America.  Adolescence, a creation of the 20th century is being extended later and later into the most potentially productive years of a person’s life.  While lacking experience, people in their teens and twenties are never going to have more energy and exuberance in their lives.  This is a time to grow up and accomplish something, not sit around playing video games and hanging out at the mall.  It may be normal to allow our children to squander the best years of their lives, but it is not right.  The cause of delayed adulthood can be divided into four major issues; 1) way too much disposable income or at least the stuff it buys, 2) way too much disposable time, especially time not spent with adults, 3) children are born thinking they are the center of the universe and we failed to correct their thinking and 4) we have very low expectations for responsibility, behavior, academics and accomplishment.   If you are going to prepare your child to become a productive member of society and of your family at a young age you will be going against the culture.  Expect a lot of resistance from family and friends.   A book could be written about how to do this, but I’ll mention a few items in bullet points:

  • Read Reb Bradley’s book Child Training Tips and then live it out.
  • Download a catechism from the internet and teach it to your children.
  • Read the Bible every day.
  • When they are older study theology books together.
  • Remove any easy entertainment from your home like TV, video games and they need to be weaned off toys.  Easy entertainment is destroying creativity and initiative.
  • Provide hobbies for your children that teach them to stay on task.  Building model planes, trains, dollhouses, knitting, anything so long as it requires growing degrees of perfection, complexity, and time.
  • Create an imagination box for your kids where they can dress up, act out, and develop their imagination.  This idea comes from C.S. Lewis by the way.  Boys will probably need cowboy hats, solider clothing and lots of toy guns.  Girls are going to want lots of clothes, jewelry, and costumes.
  • Children need substantial chores (at least one hour of hard work a day).  Chores should be of a nature that the family is dependent on the child to get them done, like making dinner.
  • Start at least one side business you can do with your children when they are very young and that they can take over as soon as possible.  A lawn-mowing route comes to mind.  A mobile car-detailing business.  Be creative about transportation issues.  Even when the child takes over the business (presuming it is profitable) he doesn’t get to claim the profit.  It is a family business he is running for his father.  But he should be well compensated in the form of a very healthy allowance and probably something like a nice old Mustang to restore well before he actually gets a license.
  • Expect a lot out of your children.

It is not at all necessary that parents who want to enroll a child in my class subscribe to this notion, but they should be aware of it because effects how I would run a classroom.  I have high expectations for students.  I want to work with parents to push kids to do hard things, big things to be more like the young men and women we see in America’s past [click here].  If eleven year old kids from the 1880s can read great literature, so can our kids.  If children through most of history can handle big responsibilities for their parents, so can our children.  The Independent Learner School creates an environment for kids to learn responsibility, to mature at a much faster rate and to accomplish big things ultimately for the Kingdom of God.  Again, delayed adulthood may be the norm, but it is not right.

Most Education Does Not Take Place At A Desk

As important as great books are to developing the heart, mind and soul of the individual, there is a lot to be learned away from books and worksheets and lectures.

Building a tree house or soapbox car, or a model airplane that really flies is a great way to learn about physics and mechanics, reasoning skills.  We also learn to work with our hands, we learn to stay on task, how to go back to the drawing board and try again, delayed gratification and gratification from something we did rather than something we watched or played.  Unfortunately, most of us wouldn’t dare let our children mess us the landscaping by building a tree house, it’s easier to buy a go-cart, and sadly ninety percent of model airplanes at hobby shops are ARF, almost ready to fly.  Moreover most of our children given the choice between starting to work on one of these projects or pushing the power button on a television or video game, will choose the latter; it’s easier, it’s instantly rewarding, and it’s very stimulating.

Children need to be making and handling things a lot.  A child will have a much better understanding of a science book for having built a model plane, or grown a garden or raised rabbits or explored a creek.

Children can also learn a great deal about life and society by being with adults.  Sitting through dinner listening to what the adults are speaking of is very educational.  Benjamin Franklin said that most of what he knew, he learned listening to the conversations his Father had with customers at family business.  But in these modern days we keep children (and old people) isolated away from the rest of society where they can neither bless, not be blessed by interactions with the rest of society.  Children are isolated into age groups all day at school, evenings and weekends at league games and even Sunday at church.  It is not natural and it is not good.

True Education

The purpose of a true education is not to get a job. Yet if a student asks why they should go to school the answer they will almost certainly get is, ?so you can get a good job.?  Again, this is one of those things that seems normal now, but was unheard of in the past.  (It is true that society has been structured so that you can’t get a job in some fields without the right certificates)  Education is about changing who you are heart, mind and soul.  It is about being connected with the great minds of the past and it is about being part of what God has been doing throughout history and through creation.  A true education is about freedom; “Non schola sed vita decimos” (Only the educated are free)– Epictetus (AD 50-125).  Thomas Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”  The uneducated are easily led and the educated will lead the uneducated around by the nose without them even knowing it.   Frederick Douglass on being taught to read by his slave master’s wife: “Learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing.   It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy.”   Douglas didn’t realize what slavery and freedom meant until he read the great books.   Harriet Tubman, who helped so many slaves escape via the underground railroad said should could have helped twice as many escape if only she could have convinced them that freedom was better than slavery.  Let me be frank, we who live in the 21st century are not as free as we think, because we are not really as educated as we think.  We need to return to the classical, liberal education of our Founding Fathers, the men who set this nation on its great course if we expect to free.

Entrepreneurial vs. Employment

Employment is slavery in degrees and materialism and debt are its chains.  The idea that a young man would look forward to life of employment seems normal now, but it was an idea that met with revulsion in early times.  Not that having a job was bad.  Work is always honorable, and a job can be very helpful for someone who has no other means of making money and it was seen as a good way to learn a trade, but our forefathers would see a lifetime of employment as a lifetime of near slavery.  The employee was considered not much better than an indentured servant.  In America’s past most persons were self-employed, free to do our work as we saw fit.  God created us to work, but being made in his image, we are also made to be creative.  Creativity does not happen within the context of most employment.  The manager of a McDonald’s is hardly interested in his cooks getting creative with the hamburgers.  Sure there are exceptions, but generally speaking the self-employed are much more free than the employed.  Therefore, as a teacher I want to guide our students into thinking entrepreneurially about their future work.  My students built a hydroponic system in our classroom many years ago and I regret that we didn’t sell vine-ripened tomatoes during the winter.  Rather than traditional school fundraising for a field trip, our students should be making some craft item to sale at a local craft faire.  I would like to work with interested parents and their children in creating a side-business for the family that the child can eventually run.

John Adams said, “There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living,  and the other how to live.”  A true liberal education is about how to live.  How to make a living is what C.S. Lewis called vocational training.  In ancient Jewish culture, the ideal was that all young men, no matter how wealthy and well-educated also received vocational training in some sort of trade.  We see this in Paul must have come from a wealthy, elite family, and received the equivalent of a Harvard education, but he was also a tent maker.  This is probably a very good idea in modern time too.  Like Paul, a vocational training gives us something to fall back on when times are tough, and probably keeps the very well-educated from living in ivory towers.

2 Responses to The Teacher

  1. Kelly Granzin says:

    Stephen,
    I am a teacher and coach in a small West Texas community. I have been teaching and coaching for twenty five years. I have my Master’s and am working towards my principal’s certification. I have been very intrigued by the concept of the one room schoolhouse. In my studies of educational theory I could not help but think back to the advantages of this type of education, especially with the way we are teaching children now and the failure of the present educational system. I have spent my entire career teaching in a small school (less than 400 students in high school) and am a firm believer in the advantages of this type of school over the large urban school. I have been thinking of a way to incorporate a one room schoolhouse philosophy into the small public school setting. I understand the “religious” aspect of your school and greatly appreciate that and believe that it is essential to successful education. The community I currently teach in has two cotton gins, two churches and two restaurants. I would be very interested in communicating with you about my ideas and would really be interested in hearing yours.

    • Kelly,
      Thanks for your interest in these ideas. The One Room Schoolhouse is not the goal, it is the context for the goal which is independent learning. Your not going to really achieve the context in a public high school classroom, but I think you could do some interesting things that might at least spur some of the students along. First, I would recommend strongly reading “The Underground History of American Education,” by John Gatto. Everyone who reads it finds it one of the most important books they have read. With a such a title you can imagine that you will receive a lot of history from Gatto’s book, but he also explains how he was a ‘Guerilla’ teacher in a k-12 setting. He said a lot of the things he did, he could probably go to prison for, but the impact of his actions was quite significant on the students.

      One thing I would do if I were in your situation is start an Entrepreneurs Club on campus. For one, its not an age-graded environment, but I think helping kids start small business is a great way to teach them to act independently and consequently learn independently. It gets them out of the bizarre culture that institutional schooling creates and into the real world of adults. They learn they can do things on their own. They learn that they don’t have to have a adult guide them in every thing they learn or play (organized youth sports). They learn confidence. They learn to learn. Entrepreneurial endeavors in a small town in west Texas might not be as easy as in a big city, but with the advent of the internet, there are a lot of opportunities available. As a side note, I love small towns, but they generally suffer from third-world type brain-drain as well as overall population drain. The citizens of these communities need to think entrepreneurially to save their towns.

      So you mentioned you had ideas that you wanted to share and I would love to hear them. The whole concept of the One Room Schoolhouse is not an experiment, we all ready know from our past that it will succeed, but we have forgotten some of the details about how it was done so some reinventing of the wheel will be necessary. I would like to see your ideas posted here for everyone to read, or on the Facebook page. I’m quite agreeable to a phone conversation too, but you’ll have to e-mail me on the side to get that information. See the Contact page. Keep up the good work.

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