Monday, October 27, 2008

Teaching Children Critical Thinking

In both my teaching sessions yesterday, conversation was hot and heavy about the Presidential elections. One fifth grade boy was evangelistic in his support of Obama. “McCain’s going to bomb America,” he said, “Vote for Obama.” His other reasons for supporting Obama? Everyone but one child in his fifth grade class supports Obama. McCain is old and going to die. McCain is going to prosecute doctors. “What does that mean anyway?” he asked. When I tried to explain what prosecution meant, that it means bringing to justice people who have committed crimes, the boy was unphased. McCain was still a heel.

It’s not my place in this blog to give my personal opinion about a candidate. That’s not the focus of this column. What I am concerned about is that our children are not being taught to think. I have to wonder, what is going on inside the classroom of this young man? What are his teachers saying? Where is he getting his information? Does anyone have the guts to correct his wrong information?

It’s easy to base our choices and reactions on one piece of information. I was guilty of it just this morning. I heard the statistic that “90% of babies found to have Down’s Syndrome are aborted." How frightening, I thought. I was ready to write a column about the evils and tragedy of abortion. First I checked my facts and found that I didn’t have the whole story. Okay, stop and think with me. 90% of inutero babies tested to have Down’s Syndrome are aborted. How many babies are born with Down’s Syndrome whose mothers have never received the testing? The percentage probably goes way down. As my friend, creationist John Clayon says, “Think, think, think!”

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I believe fully in the sanctity of life. I am a champion of the disabled. Weakness of any form does not calibrate the value of a human being. In my humble opinion, no baby should be aborted no matter what prenatal testing reveals about its health and well being. Aborting shows a lack of trust in God to provide for His creation. Yet, I, like any one else, need to be sure I substantiate my position with accuracy.

I love the quote from Ronald Regan, “Trust but verify.” We need to teach our children to be critical thinkers, to question what we hear, to decide with our brains as well as our hearts. We need to hold up the twisted truth we hear on the streets to the ramrod straight measuring stick of God’s word to see how it compares.

How will I think through my decision on November 4th? I’ll hold the issues up against God’s word. What does God’s word say about the sanctity of life, the sacredness of marriage, the importance of personal responsibility, the respect due those who differ from us, the defense of justice and the imperative to stand firm against evil? I’ll choose the candidate whose platform is the least crooked compared to the Bible. Then, as the Bible commands, I will pray fervently for that man that he might bring peace, justice and safety to our country.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Building Relationships With Your Students

At a recent conference, I became convicted of my need to build relationships with my students. Teaching Inside the Classroom is more than lecturing and pouring information into students’ heads. As teachers, we need to connect with our students, earn their trust, show we are interested in their lives and in them as people. How can they know that Jesus loves them if we aren’t willing to demonstrate that love to them?

I’m a great one for preparing my lessons. I study a lot beforehand. I spend hours on my unorthodox teaching activities and my interesting lesson presentations. My weak point has been the relational aspect. Usually, by Sunday, I’m so hurried and frazzled to get everything together, that who has time to stop and ask kids about their week? As I said, I became convicted that I have put the cart before the horse and this was an area I need to work on. So I started to work on my student/teacher relationships.

“Hi Blanton, how are you?”
“How was school this week?”
“What’s your favorite subject?”
“None of them.”

Okay, this was going nowhere fast. But I wasn’t going to give up. After all, I’m a firm believer in the adage, “God calls us to be faithful, not successful.” I was going to reach out to Blanton regardless of how monosyllabic his responses were. It took a couple months, but I noticed a gradual change in his responses.

“Hi Blanton, how are you?”
“Did you go swimming this week?”
“How was that?”

My heart soared the week he initiated conversation with me to tell me about somewhere he had gone. But last week was the clincher. I had had to correct him about taking bottled water from the church kitchen without asking and for assuming that it was his to take. While he needed the discipline, I felt badly. I so wanted to earn this boy’s trust. As he slunk out the door with his aunt, I called, “Hey Blanton, have a good week.”

He stopped and looked at me. Without the typical Eeyore inflection in his voice, he said, “Thank you! You have a good week too.”

Once again, the children Inside my Classroom are teaching me. Relationship building takes time. And persistence. Inside the Classroom is no place for personal insecurity. We keep loving our students no matter what their outward response might be. Someday, the love of Jesus we share just might shine through their cracking fa├žade.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Economic Crisis: What It Can Teach Our Children: Part Two

Last week, I discussed lessons we can teach our children on how not to repeat the mistakes that have caused the conomic crisis our country has experienced in the last month. Here are some more ideas:

4. Overcome greed with gratitude. I am saddened to see so many Americans always wanting more, never being satisfied with what they have. Lead your children to be thankful for what God has given us. Even the simple practice of thanking God for a meal teaches your children to be thankful for everything, even if it’s not quite up to the standards we would prefer. Just because something is quite to our taste doesn’t mean that it does not come from God’s hand or that we can thankful for it. When we are grateful for what we have, we will be more disciplined in what we buy. Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have because God has said, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” We need to teach our children to be more content. How do we do that? The first step is to show contentment ourselves.

5. Remember the tithe. Tithing teaches our children that God is more important than we are. Teaching children to start tithing when they are still young instills the habit of learning now to live on 9/10’s of their income. Malachi 3 is very clear that God will bless us richly if we remember to give him His portion. Give your child an allowance that can easily be divided by ten so they can tithe. Let them see you writing out your tithe check and placing it in the offering plate. Children learn from example as much as by instruction!

6. Trust God. It’s so easy to put our trust in a mortgage, the banking system, the stock market. It’s easy to turn our money over to the mutual funds and turn our minds to other matters, with the feeling that Wall Street is invincible. The events of the past few weeks showed us that our economy, the investment industry, even the government has serious cracks. The only One we can trust is God. He has promised to provide for us and He has never ever broken a promise. His securities are secure, you can bank on His banking system and you can trust that He will take care of you and never forsake you. You will always have what you need plus plenty to share if you keep trusting in Him. Seek first His kingdom, says Matthew 6:33, and all the things you need will be yours. Instead of focusing on how everyone has failed us, we need to turn our focus on God. Cry out to Him. Ask Him to provide. Teach your children to praise Him for what He can do.

Can I suggest several verses you can teach the children in your life this week? These verses will be a reminder that God alone can provide our every need.

Proverbs 3:5,6
Philippians 4:19
2 Corinthians 9:6,7
2 Corinthians 9:11
Matthew 6:33
Psalm 121:1,2

In this time of financial struggle, plaster these verses around your home and inside your classroom to remind your children – and you – that God is in control and He blesses those who trust Him enough to keep on being generous to those who have less.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Economic Crisis: What It Can Teach Our Children

My daughter has a paper due in her Philosophy class this week. The teacher won’t grade the first paper, yet my daughter was still nervous about her first college assignment. “I hope I don’t blow it,” she told me. “

This is a good one to fail on,” I told her. “If you go amiss, the teacher will most likely make comments and you’ll learn from your failure.”

In the past two weeks, America failed. We received a failing grade in our ability to handle our economy. Before we join the politicians in pointing fingers, let’s admit it. All of us have been guilty of spending more than we need to, of overreaching our ability to pay. All of us have been guilty at one time or another of the sin of coveting, of wanting more than what we have. So, like my daughter learning from her mistakes, what can we learn from our failure? More specifically, in light of the theme of this column, what can we learn to teach our children about financial security? I’ll cover a few ideas this week and save the rest for next week.

1. Grow in self-control. Teach your kids now how to control their impulses. The best thing you can do for your kids is to not let them have everything they want. If you do give into every childish whim, it will be all too easy for them as adults, to whip out that credit card so they can purchase whatever meets their fancy, whether they need it or not.

2. Replace self-indulgence with self-sacrifice. Teach your kids to think of others and their needs. Teach your kids to do without. Teach them to be flexible. Try doing without catsup on a hot dog one evening or eat toast with either jelly or margarine but not both. Teach them to share by having two children time split a soda instead of each having an entire 12 ounce can. Like Jo and her sisters in the classic, Little Women, have them share an important meal with someone who has none. Challenge them to say “no” once in awhile to offers of candy at school just so they can learn the power of saying “No.” Learning to say “no” will make your child stronger and enable them to endure when they do have to do without.

3. Avoid debt. Debt is a kind of bondage. Someone once said that debt enslaves your future income to your creditors. Debt allows us to have things before we have the money. Teach your child now to save their money for the big items instead of spending it on little things. Don’t bail them out if they don’t have enough. Repeat often: don’t buy something unless you have the money to pay for it. Help them set up a savings account and make it possible for them to get to the bank to put money in the bank so they can save up for the big item they want.

Come back next week for more ideas on teaching the next generation how to avoid economic crisis.