Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Farmer, the French, & Other Fables

A tale is told of a farmer who began storing hay in his barn to feed his livestock during the coming winter. As he stacked the hay, he began to wonder just how cold the winter might be. The farmer knew of an old Indian who lived a ways down the road and who must have experienced a great many winters. So the farmer summoned his son and told him to go visit the Indian to ask what he thought the winter might be like.

The son saddled his horse and traveled far down the road to the Indian’s house where he found the old man sitting on his porch.

“My father asked me to visit you and find out how cold you think the winter will be this year,” inquired the son.

The Indian had a far-away look in his eyes as he pondered the question. Finally he said, “Winter be cold.”

When the son reported this to his father, the father became alarmed and loaded even more hay into his barn.

“I wonder just how cold it will be?” thought the farmer. He summoned his son again and told him to visit the Indian and inquire if he thought the winter would be colder than normal. The son rode to the Indian’s house and asked.

Again, with a far-away look in his eyes, all the Indian would say was, “Winter be much cold.”

Upon hearing this, the farmer became so worried he packed his barn with as much hay as the barn would hold. But, the farmer began to wonder how the Indian knew it was going to be such a cold winter. So, one last time, he bade his son go and ask the Indian.

“My father wants me to ask how you know this winter is going to be so cold,” asked the boy of the Indian.

The Indian looked far off into the distance and replied, “Look way up road. Do you see barn? Farmer fills barn with hay to very top. He must know winter going to be colder than normal. So, when you ask Indian how cold winter going to be, I tell you, ‘Winter be much cold.’”

* * * * *

Teenagers are known for justifying what they want to do by saying to their parents, “But everyone is doing it….” Whenever I said that to my mother, her response was always, “Of course, and fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong, either.”

I hated it when she said this, partly because I didn’t know what she was talking about and partly because I knew she was making fun of me, and I didn’t get the joke. Many years later I understood that she had been quoting the title of a song that was popular when she was a girl. The song’s lyrics spoke about the uncensored lifestyle of the French people, a lifestyle that must have been far better than the way we, uptight Americans, lived simply because it was the way fifty million Frenchmen lived.

* * * * *

Another tale tells of an Emperor who prized new clothes above all else and he loved walking about town showing off his fine clothing. One day two imposters arrived in town and presented themselves as weavers who could produce cloth so exquisite that the clothing made from it was invisible to the ignorant or to anyone unfit to hold an office in the Empire. The Emperor immediately hired these men to make him a new wardrobe. He thought, “When I am dressed in such exquisite clothes I will know who in my empire is ignorant or unfit to hold office.” Finally, the men said they were done and they showed their creation to the Emperor. Of course, they were showing nothing at all because they were only pretending to be making the Emperor some new clothes. The Emperor, however, was too afraid to admit that he couldn’t see the clothing and he acknowledged how beautiful it was. The next day the Emperor paraded through town. Although everyone in the empire knew better, they all agreed that the Empire was fortunate to be ruled by someone so wise and fit to be emperor. That is, until one little boy, who was not afraid of what others might think of him, said to his father, “But he has nothing on!”

* * * * *

The stories above are parables of the public school systems of the world and how each evaluates its own reality against what the other systems are doing. The stories are also parables of how 150+ years of universal public education have led families to believe that the way children are being educated today must be the right way because everybody accepts it as right.

For those 150 years we have been climbing an academic ladder; and, as we climb higher and higher up the ladder, an ever greater number of individuals are beginning to realize that 19th century educators chose the wrong wall against which to put the ladder. And, even though students are still being made to climb the ladder, some well-known educators, because they are no longer afraid of what others might think of them, are going so far as to admit, “The Emperor has nothing on”.

Consider this: Every child has a brain containing a number of compartments. There is one compartment for each academic subject: one for math, one for science, one for history, and so forth. Each compartment has a different capacity (is a different size) because some compartments are required to hold more academic material than are the others. The bigger compartments are more important since what they contain is what will eventually help the child get a job. Every student who is deemed capable of learning must have all his or her compartments full by the time the student graduates. This is the model of today’s education. And, it is the model not just for public education, but for all education, whether it is public schools, Christian or secular private schools, or even homeschools.

If you Google international comparisons of academic achievement, you can read an alarming report of how American students are falling behind students of other countries in each of the subject areas.

I suggest we no longer be afraid of what others might think of us, and we boldly respond, “So what!

Historically, we are in a time when technology overshadows everything. In my opinion, this is the only reason math and science currently reign over the other academic subjects. I have asked dozens of students to list every school subject in order of how important they believe each subject is for their futures. They always place math and science first and second. Every now and then, someone will put dance or art or music at the top of their list. But, we know that is foolishness. After all, fifty million educators can’t be wrong.

Or, can they?

Today’s academic model will not produce the kind of creative people we once produced and still desperately need. More importantly, this model ignores the most fundamental reality of all: That individuals have specific giftings which are not being allowed to mature because they are being required to have all their “containers” filled. And, almost everyone in the empire agrees.

That is, everyone except one little boy in sixth grade who doesn’t care what others might think of him and who disrupts the class by asking, “Why do we have to learn all this stuff?”

Response to Joyce’s question: “What do we do about it?”

Joyce. I have considered this question for years and here are some initial thoughts:

As we know, public school (as well as some governmental systems) was spawned from a 19th century philosophy of the nature of humanity which is now largely (though not completely) discredited. But, since mankind no longer has a cultural memory of things having once been done differently, we continue along a familiar path until enough people are willing to say “something is wrong here”.

I believe we are now in a time, historically, when men & women who are recognized in the field of education are beginning to say “we have a problem”.  Some, like Sir Ken Robinson, are actually willing to say “public education IS the problem”.

Unfortunately, we have to go through this process before we are willing to enter into an honest dialog to figure out what to DO about the problem. I wish the educational systems would simply ask old-time homeschoolers, because we are years ahead of them regarding these issues.

If we can agree that, for most families, public schooling is not going away, then we have to ask “if public education is the problem, can public education change to become the answer?” Personally, I don’t think so for the following reasons: 1) unwillingness/unawareness of parents to take responsibility for raising their own children which demands that governments do it for them; 2) financial constraints facing governments which demands ever greater efficiency; 3) the constant need to evaluate which demands conformity; and 4) national pride.

Ken Robinson speaks eloquently about individual creativity; yet, we cannot have it both ways: we want creativity (which requires that children be treated as the individuals they are) and we demand efficiency & conformity (which requires that children be treated generically). These seem to be mutually exclusive goals.

One discussion that must be entered into is “what is really NECESSARY for children to know/do by the time they are adults?” Almost daily I watch children being required to learn volumes of information that 1) everyone knows is irrelevant; 2) is considered of equal value with everything else being taught; 3) does not leave time for children to learn many of the skills that really ARE necessary; and 4) robs children of time they could be spending becoming skilled in the specific (read “individual”) gifting(s) God has already put within each person.

If anyone would like to add to this discussion, I welcome your thoughts.