Blog

  • Parents, actually, we do need you.

    In one way or another, many education reformers today proclaim, “We do not need students fit for schools, but schools fit for children.” Those who follow this rallying cry have forgotten that education is, by definition, changing children who are not fit into responsible, thinking, and caring adults. There must necessarily be a disconnect between the school and the child—change would be impossible without it. This disconnect is painful. The holy grail of making the transfer of knowledge as easy as possible has derailed education. (The quest is driven by The State Testing Panic.) Learning a la Plato’s cave is difficult because it requires change and work. It changes the way one sees the world and so also one’s place in it. Learning as fun (See Sesame Street and some “educational apps.”), while easier to pull off in elementary than in middle or high school, just does not do what we need it to do. I suspect this is one reason scores drop as students approach the end of elementary school and more difficult material. Middle school teachers regret the “helpfulness” of their elementary compatriots, and high school teachers curse the elementary school teachers who did a great job making learning fun and never taught their students how to do homework before it became an academic necessity. Incentivized learning and behavior management—testing pep rallies, prize jars, earned free time, and whatever a teacher can think of to get the students to sit in the seat—have reached the saturation point at which we are destroying our students’ adult learning ability wherein learning must ultimately be done for its own sake or, sacrificially, for the sake of others. Learning as fun and incentivized learning in general “work” because we have redefined education as the transfer of knowledge and lost sight of our real purpose as educators. High stakes testing does not help either.

    Education is not the acquisition of knowledge with the goal of College and Career Readiness as measured by some assessment. Education is a more noble endeavor than the production of economic cogs—though it does produce citizens who preserve and improve the eunomia of their societies. Education is the acquisition of grit, determination, and moral character, and these are not acquired without work. School is work. Young children have a natural inclination and joy for learning which can be harnessed into a love for hard work and a job well done. Elementary schools shortcut this by making learning “fun” from the get-go. Regardless, education as we know it in the West is not natural. If it were, everyone would be doing it. But not everyone does, and societies which do not are not producing doctors, scientists, and constitutions. In a school, the unnatural, hard work of academics forms the crucible in which grit, moral character, and determination are acquired. Unfortunately, we have given up on this, especially in our urban schools where it is needed most. Our poor teachers are under so much pressure to make learning happen that they will accommodate down to any child to keep his grade up and avoid trouble with parents and principals.

    Instead of teaching grit, we are enabling inability and teaching students that learning and maturity is about being accommodated. Teachers are forced to teach outside of their giftedness to deliver a lesson which includes all of the learning styles. Are there four, seven? Who knows? Teachers, keep up. Never mind that an educator’s job is to teach a child to learn in spite of their learning style. We do only our yearend test scores a favor (if that) when we send into the world students whose learning experience has always been tailored to their learning style. This who-knows-how-many-million-dollar-learning-style-industry might not have the research to back it up anyway. Unfortunately, bureaucrats have turned the teaching profession into a business which discourages critical thinking on the part of teachers—so they can continue to follow the latest “research based” craze that does not actually work. All this in an effort to make learning possible without the uncomfortable disconnect which teaches a good work ethic—probably the single most important thing we can give our graduates before we send them into the world.

    If we are going to preserve the necessary disconnect between the child and the school and truly transform our children, we need parents. Education is made far more difficult or even impossible without parents. Now, I agree, if we are not going to save the parents, if they are a lost cause, then we should make schools that are ready for students instead of students ready for schools. But maybe we should preserve space in all of our schools for parents and families who do the hard, sacrificial work of parenting and send to school children who know their job is to listen to the person in the front of the room. The fact that many bad teachers blame parents does not mean that parents are not important. They are and they should always be a part of the equation—they need to send to school children who are ready to learn.

    Instead, we have taken “It takes a village.” to the extreme, absolutizing it and forgetting that it also takes parents. G.K. Chesterton was right when he wrote, “This cry of 'Save the children' has in it the hateful implication that it is impossible to save the fathers.” (What’s Wrong with the World) “It takes a village” has forgotten the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Many of our programs and interventions are a disincentive to responsible parenting. You do not feed your child, the school will. You do not bother to know your rights, the school will tell you. You do not bother to be involved, the school will have a definition of and plan for parental involvement for which only the school is responsible and by which only the school can fail. I know an erstwhile headmaster at an inner-city, private school. Every family pays something, (they incentivize commitment) even if it is $5 a month. This headmaster did not let teachers keep food in the classroom. If a child had not eaten breakfast, the headmaster would call the parent, “Come up to the school and nourish your child.” Sure, there were things in place for those who truly had nothing to eat, but think about it—the parents were eating. Much of this headmaster’s energy was spent un-teaching what the local, school had taught her parents about responsibility. If we give up on parents and place all our hope in teachers in classrooms, our businesses and our country will be scrambling as we produce graduates who are not ready for the working world or adulthood in a free society because we gave up on the people who make children ready for school.

    About 100 years ago, we decided that the salvation of our society would be through children and teachers in schools. John Dewey thought parents were problematic. He was right, but only insofar as everyone is problematic. He did not know what education would look like without them. Now, 100 years into his experiment, we know. Without parents, teachers bear an unfair burden, and it falls unevenly and heavily on the teachers who need our help the most—those in the inner cities. We need families and families need communities. Families and communities make schools that change children into adults. Teachers commuting into the inner city—and even those who do not—will not save our country. Everyone in a school’s enrollment zone plays a part. They are all needed to encourage and incentivize good parenting which creates the social capital whereby a school can maintain its role as a place that changes rather than conforms to the ignorance and foolishness of childhood. We really do need children who are ready for school and it is the parents’ job to make them so.

  • Memorial Day Reflection

    Friends on the Wall

    From our Nation’s birth there have been people, men and women, who have given their lives in service to their country. Some of them in their serving, like John Adams or Thomas Jefferson, have lived to a ripe old age.  Others have died at a very young age; some would say too soon, but these people have all been patriots, full of courage and faith, who heard a call to serve. From our Nation’s earliest days there have been differences of opinion and politics that forced us to compromise and sometimes forced us to agree to disagree.

    During the Viet-Nam era, the 1960’s through the 1970’s, the United States of America was deeply divided, more divided than any other time in our nation’s history, except for the time from the run-up to the civil war through reconstruction following the civil war. In the years after World War II, Viet-Nam had experienced civil war between communists and nationalists opposed to them. By the time the U.S. was involved, the country was divided into North Viet-Nam and South Viet-Nam, with the Communists ruling the north and their opponents the south.

    People in the U.S. who were opposed to the Viet-Nam war voiced their disapproval in very radical means, ranging from outright violence at anti-war demonstrations to humiliating and degrading treatment of the soldiers who fought in the war.

    People in favor of the war were somewhat more subdued in their support. President Richard Nixon called them “the silent majority” in a speech he gave in November of 1969. (For the full text of the speech, and to see our Nation from President Nixon’s view, see http://watergate.info/nixon/silent-majority-speech-1969.shtml.)  Some supporters did so at the ballot-box, others through letters to the editors of newspapers. Some were in favor of the war because they hated communism, and many of those volunteered to serve in our Nation’s armed forces.

    You’re going to meet three patriots and see them through a friend’s eyes. They volunteered to serve in Viet-Nam and lost their lives. You may have heard the phrase “Freedom isn’t free.” These men’s lives and deaths attest to the truth in that saying. Their names are HARRELL SAMUEL MEFFORD, STEPHEN ANDREW YOUNG, and GENE JOHN OLSON. The friend who wrote this is Steve Collinsworth, and he served with them in Viet-Nam. All four men were U.S. Army Warrant Officer Aviators who served in Troop A, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, part of the air cavalry reconnaissance unit of the First Air Cavalry Division.

     

     

     

    HARRELL SAMUEL MEFFORD

    WO - W1 - Army - Reserve

    Length of service 1 years

    His tour began on Apr 6, 1969

    Casualty was on Jun 29, 1969

    In TAY NINH, SOUTH VIETNAM

    Non-Hostile, died of illness/injury, HELICOPTER - PILOT

    AIR LOSS, CRASH ON LAND

    Body was recovered

    Panel 21W - Line 34

     

    There’s a phrase from Hegel that comes to mind when I think of Harrell Mefford, “the futility of war.”  His service in A Troop, 1st of the 9th Cav, was that of courage and commitment to our mission. It’s funny the things you remember about fellow soldiers.  Harrell’s nickname was “Worm,” if I remember correctly.  I have no idea where it came from, and my recollection may be wrong.  It may have had something to do with the thin, dark brown mustache he was growing when I last saw him.

    Though I’m unsure of the source of his nickname, I know it took guts to be a scout pilot in 1st of the 9th Cav. You had to fly an OH-6A “Loach” scout helicopter at treetop level over the jungle as part of a hunter-killer team, hunting for enemy soldiers moving through the jungle below. And every day Worm flew these missions, taking his hunter Loach and two crewmen, flying over the jungle, covered by a Cobra gunship, the killer, flying above them at about 3,500 feet.

    On the morning of June 29, 1969, Worm took off in a Loach with his crew, headed for the area of operations where we searched for the enemy. As he turned downwind after climbing to traffic pattern altitude he heard a loud bang from the tail section of the Loach, and he brought the helicopter back around to land at A Troop’s strip. As he slowed the Loach to near a hover it started spinning counter-clockwise – something had happened to the tail rotor, and it wasn’t working, wasn’t counteracting the torque.

    The Loach’s left rear skid hit the airstrip, and then it tilted more to the left, the rotor blades striking the ground. The Loach seemed to be beating itself to death, and then I saw Worm jump from his door, trying to get clear.  One of the rotor blades struck him from behind, just where his neck and head joined, just below his flight helmet, and he fell to the ground motionless. He was pronounced dead a short time later at our local MASH hospital. Back to Hegel’s phrase, “the futility of war.”  Worm’s death seemed so futile. Had he and his crew been “taking fire,” (getting shot at by enemy ground forces) then it seems his dying would have meant something. But you see, his door gunner and observer, both enlisted men, sat in the Loach until the blades stopped turning, unhooked their seat belts, got out, and walked away without a scratch.

    Shortly thereafter, our executive officer, Captain Paul Funk, talked to me and another new pilot about volunteering for scouts. I volunteered and learned scouting from the next guy.

    STEPHEN ANDREW  YOUNG

    WO - W1 - Army - Reserve

    1st Cav Division (AMBL)

    Length of service 0 years

    His tour began on May 10, 1969

    Casualty was on Aug 9, 1969

    In TAY NINH, SOUTH VIETNAM

    HOSTILE, HELICOPTER - PILOT

    AIR LOSS, CRASH ON LAND

    Body was recovered

    Panel 20W - Line 120

     

        He was my best friend in our scout platoon, and taught me all he knew about how to fly this very dangerous mission. Steve was a very good scout pilot, one of our best. He and his crewmen died on a mission over very hostile territory, too close to Cambodia. Our Division, The 1st Air Cav, had a job. We were assigned to an area where North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops came out of Cambodia, off the Ho Chi Minh trail, into South Viet-Nam, and they tried to get through our area of operations and go to the city of Saigon to attack it or support Viet-Cong guerillas operating in and around Saigon.

        There were large enemy base camps close to Cambodia, staging areas, the heart of where you didn’t want to take fire or pass from the view of the Cobra pilots watching your Loach. Both happened to Steve and his crew. There was some low cloud cover, early morning cumulus, and just as clouds hid Steve’s Loach from the Cobra crew’s sight, the Loach took fire and went down in the middle of an NVA staging area.

    The Loach was burning when it hit the ground. Whether the fire was caused by NVA tracer rounds or a white phosphorus grenade in the Loach exploding, the fire destroyed the Loach and took the lives of those three young men. It took our infantry platoon and other 1st Cav infantry companies a couple of days to fight their way into the crash sight and recover their remains.  Here’s how “The Virtual Wall” website describes it.

    “On 09 August 1969 three men from "A" Troop, 1/9th Cavalry, were conducting a recon mission in the area between Nui Ba Den Mountain and the Cambodian border. As they approached the border at a point about 18 kilometers northwest of Tonle Cham Airfield their helicopter, OH-6A tail number 67-16269, received heavy fire, began to burn, and crashed, killing all three men:

    • WO Stephen A. Young, Las Cruces, NM

    • SP5 James C. Dine, Granite City, IL

    • SP4 Michael R. Seibert, Parkersburg, IL

    According to comments recorded in the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots' Association database, there was a 48-hour dispute over access to the wreckage, with both the NVA/VC and US forces attempting to gain control of the area. One comment states the US Air Force lost an F-4 during the fight, but there's no record of an F-4 loss in South Vietnam between 09 and 14 August 1969. Alpha 1/9 did lose another soldier on 09 August - Corporal Virgil L. Castle of Athens, Ohio was killed by gunshot. It is possible that he was in A/1/9's aero-rifle platoon and was killed during the recovery effort.”

    The time from when that Loach was shot down to when we recovered their bodies was a time of anguish and grief. We were so frustrated at not being able to recover our friend’s bodies without losing more of our own troops. We felt rage and bitterness toward the NVA soldiers who caused their deaths, and wanted vengeance. But we had to learn to wait for the right time and the right plan until we could recover their bodies.

     

    GENE JOHN OLSON

    WO - W1 - Army - Reserve

    1st Cav Division (AMBL)

    Length of service 0 years

    His tour began on Jun 4, 1969

    Casualty was on Jan 3, 1970

    In TAY NINH, SOUTH VIETNAM

    HOSTILE, HELICOPTER - CREW

    AIR LOSS, CRASH ON LAND

    Body was recovered

    Panel 15W - Line 123

     

    Gene was a Cobra pilot, an aircraft commander on a hunter/killer team to cover a scout ship. The “hunter” Loach had taken fire from a .51 caliber machine gun, and Gene was diving on the .51 cal. position, engaging it with his rockets and guns. And the unthinkable happened.  You see, Cobra pilots usually did not get hurt! They normally flew above the range of small arms fire, just diving towards enemy machine guns, firing their guns and rockets when needed.  A .51 cal. round came through the side of the Cobra, took off the top of Gene’s cyclic control (the stick that lets the pilot control the aircraft’s directional movement), and tore open Gene’s femoral artery.

    His copilot in the Cobra’s front seat was somehow able to recover the aircraft from the dive just at treetop level and fly back the MASH hospital’s helipad. But in those few minutes Gene bled to death. He was so young, had just been married before coming to Vietnam, and his wife had recently given birth to their first child.

    This was the kind of guy you wanted covering you when you were the low bird in a hunter-killer team. He was conscientious, serious, young, full of life, and such a good, good pilot!  One of the top students in his flight school class, he went from flight school graduation to Cobra transition school, then to ‘Nam. He had it made, driving a gunship up there out of danger, keeping his eyes peeled for us in our Loaches, but an NVA gunner got, well, lucky.

    So what’s the point? We were all in South Viet-Nam because of something we believed. Our nation was trying to help the people of South Viet-Nam live free of a communist dictatorship.  We believed freedom was not free, that someone had to step up and bear arms against this enemy, so we volunteered.

    Today our nation is facing an enemy that claims to represent a religion which they say teaches them to do vile, hateful acts of murder and destruction. You may have parents, uncles or aunts, older brothers or sisters, or friends serving in our armed forces. You may be thinking of enlisting in the military after high school or college.  From our nation’s beginnings, we have needed people with courage and faith to face our enemies, and to grow strong and robust as a country. These three young men, HARRELL SAMUEL MEFFORD, STEPHEN ANDREW YOUNG, and GENE JOHN OLSON, were such men of courage and faith. Learn from their example, their service, and their love of country.

  • When Teens Disappoint: A New Perspective

    The pace and demands of our world keep teachers and parents very busy. They do not often have time to think about what it means to be a human being raising children to be good, free adults. We need to think deeply about what is happening when our children disappoint us.

    We tend to think that every time a student or child does not do what we want, they are actively disobeying or trying to be difficult. In truth, there are at least four reasons a child may not comply with our expectations, rules, or wishes.

    Sometimes a student is just being bad. They might want to cause trouble. Encourage these students to do the right thing and provide consequences and counseling to help them.

    Unwritten expectations. We learn many things through experience, including accepted ways of interacting and communal responsibilities that we have to one another as adults. Children are unfamiliar with these things. A teacher of mine told me about a time when she was waiting for her parents to pick her up from an event. They were running extremely late. To help them out, she decided to hitch a ride home with friends. She had no ill will. When her parents eventually arrived, they panicked. She soon learned to think about others’ expectations for her in these situations.

    Foolishness. Children have an age-appropriate foolishness. While they still need consequences for foolish behavior, try to approach things differently than if a child is simply “being bad.” In my experience, boys especially seem to learn about the world by doing silly things. I have had boys turn a water cooler into a bar—serving up water to friends during break. Some of these same boys decided to crush the used water cups by holding them to their chest and running into the wall. From the adult perspective, this was purposeless and senseless behavior. They put a hole in the wall. Initially, this looks pretty bad, but they did not intend to break the wall. They were having a silly, good time. I appreciated their honesty! They paid to fix the hole, but that was it. When I discipline students, I always look for simple foolishness; it still needs a consequence, but sometimes it merits a different approach than if someone was “being bad.”

    Giftedness. Each of our children are uniquely gifted. We work, play, and solve problems out of our giftedness. This means that different people may solve the same problem in different ways. I can remember bringing firewood inside with my older brother. We disagreed over the best, fastest way to do it. I am sure he had the better way, but I wanted to experiment to know for myself. We got in a fight over it. In families and schools, we have to have a certain efficiency without which we would get very little done. This means that people must bend to make things work. Growing up with seven siblings and one bathroom, there was not a lot of time for creativity, primping, and prepping in the bathroom before school or church! We did not have the time for eight people to do things in eight different ways. Teachers face a similar challenge in the classroom. There has to be one way to turn paper in—not 25. It is helpful to remember that frustration is sometimes a function of someone trying to work within their giftedness. Study your children to learn their loves and gifts. Parents of larger families need to take the time to mediate both time and power so that each child has opportunities to do things their own way. No one can do it their way all the time, but some time for this is good and healthy. It is not good if everyone has to do it their older brother’s way, their coaches way, or their parents' way all the time.

    Take time out to remember that you are working with children. Children who are learning, growing, and making mistakes. Not every child who frustrates us is out to make things difficult. Sometimes, children are just trying to make their way in a big, adult world.

  • When Mom Gets Angry

    I can still hear her English accent in my head, "CHRISTOPHER!" It may have been for not putting something away, having a messy room, or making a foolish mistake and earning a bad grade. I think every man (at least every man with enough siblings) can conjure up the frustrated, angry voice of his mother. It never did me much good. It would boil over and then she would feel bad about it--I knew things were better when a favorite food showed up in the pantry or a good meal was on the table.

    The frustration of mothers with their teenage sons is universal--a rite of passage.

    It does not help.

    For many boys reaching for independence, their goal is to navigate the day with as little involvement from their teacher and mother as possible. They do not want a blow-up from mom, but they know that it will blow over when it does happen.

    When you respond with anger, you distract your son from his problem. He does not mind this distraction. Your anger also communicates that his problem is really yours. He does not mind this either--his life just got easier. "Mom's really mad about this, I guess I do not need to worry about it--she's got it!" If you take all the anger and frustration, there is none left for him. You can care too much for boys.

    chb
    Sign on the door at Little Rock's Catholic High School for Boys

    What should you do?

    Boys need consequences, and they need to feel them. Generally, they learn about the world by breaking things, banging into them, and generating causes before they think about effects. They understand that actions have consequences. That is why they hit hard in football or disrupt the classroom with their loud talk, laughter, antics, or subtle jokes. They go around thinking, "What happens if I...?" They need consequences that affect them when they mess up.

    If your child does not get his homework done, make him miss whatever he was going to do so he can finish it. You cannot trust him when he says his work is complete and done properly--make him write down all his assigned work at school and then show it to you when it is complete--every day. People who do not do as well have to work harder to succeed. (He is learning this from his coach.) If his grades are lower than his ability--require that he spend a certain amount of time every weekend on studies. If he has a habitual problem, hold a meeting with him when no one is angry and lay out the consequences of failure. Then, when he does mess up, be SILENT. You will be angry because that is your habit. If you need to yell, find his father, but do not yell at or in front of your son. If you have the consequence system set up, just put it into action. Enforce it. Use as few words as possible. A mother's silence is terrifying. Then go back to normal. It is just the consequence. He does not need anything else. You are going to love him, drive him to school, kiss him goodbye--he just won't get his cell phone back for another week.

    Anger is easier. You get to blow off steam and get back to life. A helpful response will take more of your time because you must enforce it, but it is what your son needs.

    Dads, your wife might be drowning. You need to check in with her to see how things are going. You are the one who needs to step in and break the anger-feel bad-peace offering cycle if it is happening. This all works better if you are involved. He is learning from you. If your son messes up, mom can just send him to you and you can enforce the consequences. If he wants to complain, mom should not have to hear complaints, they can go straight to dad. Dad, if you see mom blowing her top or caving to your son's emotional appeals--step in, give her the night off, and deal with your son. Be unemotional, love him, lay down the consequence, love him, and let it be done. You know what he needs, you have been there before with your own mother and probably with your wife too.

    As a general rule (I cannot think of an exception.) do not follow discipline up with some peace offering to make your son feel better. He does not apologize to an opponent for scoring a touchdown or for winning a chess match. You do not need to apologize for giving him consequences he deserved. He understands this. Despite your feelings, he will love and respect you more for a straightforward approach. A peace offering communicates that you did wrong by disciplining him. (If you did do wrong, apologize.) Even young children get this message. Discipline him, and, like a good football player, give him a hand up when he gets knocked down, but do not apologize or "make things better." He is the one who needs to make things better--do not do it for him.

    As a headmaster, moms are generally easier to deal with, but we intentionally involve dads in discipline issues--especially if they are habitual. Dads need to be checking in on things daily and we want to encourage that.

    Divorced families. You must be on the same page with this. Mom, you must ask dad to step up to the plate and help. Your son needs both of you to do this. Dad, don't ruin what mom is trying to do to obtain your son's loyalty or love. If you want your son's love and loyalty, be on the same page with mom for his sake.

    If your son has a habitual problem, you need to go deeper. Do not talk to him about behavior only. He needs the consequence, but his soul needs tending. Talk to him about God, sin, the Cross, and forgiveness. We all need saving from things that cause us habitual problems. When your son messes up, you have an opportunity to help him cry out for salvation--you are more interested in that than in any specific behavior. When you recognize that problems are invitations for deep discussions, you can be thankful instead of angry. You want him to get to the point where he seeks forgiveness and restoration and makes restitution without your intervention.