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Right-Brained Thinking


I am left-brained; there’s no two ways about it.  I think with words.  I think linearly.  I can only concentrate on one activity at a time if I am to do it justice.  I’m mathematically challenged.  I can’t hold a map in my head, and judging distances and sizes is an impossible task for me.  But I’m incredibly fortunate, because most Americans are also left-brained, and therefore our educational system is geared towards those who think like I do.  I had no trouble in school, because American schools were designed exactly for people like me.

My husband is right-brained.  He thinks in symbols, and must translate his thoughts into words before he can communicate them to others; but since he is not limited to thinking in words, he can think of things for which there are no words. He is not limited to thinking chronologically; he has no sense of the passage of time.  He can do twenty things at once and do them all well.  He’s not great at math, but he’s a lot better at it than I am.  He has an uncanny sense of direction and can measure objects and spaces at a glance.  He has a genius IQ.  But he struggled in school.  American schools are not equipped to teach right-brained kids.  Because they are unconventional thinkers and learn in ways other than rote memorization and reading, right-brained kids, no matter their superior mental abilities, are very likely to be labeled “learning-disabled”.   Although he never had trouble reading, my husband would be called “dyslexic” if he were in the school-system today.  He was fortunate–he grew up before the country’s educators invented this “disability”, and so never had to deal with this label.

I home-schooled my children.  The first three were left-brainers, like me.  It was easy to teach them, because they learned best the same ways I learn best.  We had loads of fun together.  By the time my fourth child was ready for school, I was a veteran home-school mom.  I had it down!  I could teach standing on my head with one hand tied behind my back.  My fourth child did not know this.  She is right-brained, like my husband.  She struggled with reading, and all the teaching techniques that I had learned in the past, all the things that had worked so well with my other children, did her no good.  Was this because there was something “wrong” with her?  Of course not!  I just had to let go of my entrenched teaching methods and re-learn how to teach in ways that would benefit her.

I spent months researching, and then I was ready to try again.  I’m not saying it was not difficult.  I was very often teaching in ways that seemed foreign to me, and it was hard to make myself think in such a different way.  My kid was unhappy, also.  She hated reading. She hated spelling. But we muddled through, learning together, and today as she finishes her second year of high school, I doubt anyone would ever guess that she is dyslexic.  She reads better than most kids her age, she has an intuitive grasp of math, and absorbs science like a pro.

Here’s the secret:  I never told her she had a learning disability.  Because honestly, she really doesn’t.  She thinks differently than the majority of Americans, but it is a strength and a gift, not a disability.  The fact is, most “dyslexics” are highly intelligent–most of the world’s true geniuses were right-brained and would have been called dyslexic if they had been subject to today’s educational system.  The disability is in the schools and the teachers, not in the children.  Just as I had to re-learn how to teach, schools should re-learn how to present material to students in a way that will benefit all of them, not just the left-brainers.

I guess what I would like to see is an acknowledgement of the facts by our educational system.  Right-brained thinkers are not problems–they are assets to our society.  Most of the creative and inventive  advances in our modern world are due to right-brainers, who can think outside of the box more quickly and creatively than we plodding left-brained folks can.  Rather than ostracizing these kids by negatively labeling them and separating them from the rest of the school body, we should be encouraging them and helping them learn to use their gifts, for their own sakes and for ours.  We should be teaching all of our kids to respect and understand differences in thought processes; not only to accept these differences, but to value them and embrace them.  Think what the world would be like today if the likes of Leonardo DaVinci, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, or Thomas Edison had been told that they had an “incurable neurological disability” as one website puts it?  This site describes these famous people, among others, as “sufferers of dyslexia”.  Did they truly “suffer”?  I’m pretty sure they would take issue with such terms.  I do know for certain that my husband suffered from the lack of understanding of his teachers in the 1960’s; and if my daughter suffered from anything, it was from her mother’s lack of knowledge, not from her own mind’s make-up.

How about if we just stop labeling people altogether?  Maybe we could just all be individuals.  My linear, word-oriented left brain thinks this would work for the best.  So does my kid’s creative, symbol-oriented right one.

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These are our stories. . . .


I should hope that my readers are aware by now that I am a hopeless geek.  So it should come as no surprise that I should begin this blog entry with a Star Trek reference, especially in light of the newest Trek movie coming out.

In one of my favorite “Next Generation” episodes, Worf, the Klingon officer, discovers a prisoner-of-war planet where dozens of young Klingons have been held since they were small children.  None of these young people had any memory of their home and they knew nothing of their own people.  Worf, of course, must rescue them physically; but even more importantly, he must rescue them emotionally.  These lost young people, with no sense of belonging or of who they are as a culture, ask Worf to teach them what it means to be Klingon.  I suppose they expect him to begin by describing what their home planet looks like;  or their history; or their political system; or their religious customs or rituals. Worf could easily have started with any of these areas:  anyone familiar with the  Trek universe knows that the Klingon people have a rich and complex history and culture.  But Worf began teaching his new students about what it means to be Klingon by telling them the ancient myth of Kahless the Great and his evil brother.

An impertinent boy dares to interrupt Worf’s narrative. He doesn’t want bedtime stories–he wants facts.  Worf is indignant. “These are our stories,” he rumbles in his impressive bass voice; “they tell us who we are.”

Indeed.  That sentence has stuck with me for years, and I use it constantly in my literature classes.  Our stories both shape us and explain us.  Any story that has survived for decades or for centuries has stayed with us for a reason.  Good or bad, our stories, our myths, our legends, our novels, and our poetry tell us something about ourselves that we want to pass down to our progeny.

All ancient cultures told stories, but the ones which first shaped and spoke to Western Civilization are the Greek myths.  The Romans, whose own mythology was violent and fairly stark, were delighted to conquer Greece and assimilate the beautiful stories of their enemies.  That’s what we have inherited–beauty and violence; soaring ideals wed to pragmatism.  The gods of the Greeks and Romans were gods of nature, and therefore capricious, unpredictable, and self-absorbed.  It’s hard sometimes to tell the gods from the monsters; in fact, most of the monsters were children of gods and therefore under their protection. The heroes in these stories were men who could overcome, or at least survive, the intervention of the gods.  You can easily see the influence of such stories in our culture even today–our admiration of the solitary hero overcoming the odds to survive or of the impudent mortal flouting fate.  Our worship of individualism grew from these roots.  I’m not saying that individualism is a bad thing; but it can lead to bad things, including a resentment of authority and an unhealthy desire for independence from both God and each other.

What would Western culture be like if it were the myths of other people-groups that had been set down and studied, passed down as the wisdom of the ages?  The Norsemen, for example, for all their love of a good fight and their dubious regard for personal property, had gods who felt responsible for the good of mankind.  With the exception of Loki, they worked together for the common good and never exploited the weak.  They fought constantly, but with giants and monsters which threatened both themselves and mankind.  In the end, they are all doomed to die; but their moral compass points more truly north than the Greeks’.

But we are what we are; history has so arranged that we as Westerners be essentially Greco/Roman in our cultural outlook.  You can see it in our laws, in our belief systems, in our behavioral patterns, and in all of our stories.  It is impossible to read a book in the English language, for example, without finding numerous references to Greek and Roman mythology.  Our language is rife with it.  You need not have read any Homer whatsoever to know what I mean when I say I have an “Achilles’ heel” or that I am stuck “between a rock and a hard place.”  You may not know who Achilles is, or that the “rock”and the “hard place” are the monsters Scylla and Charybdis; but you certainly know how it feels to experience these things for yourself.

Down through the years, more and more stories have been added to those original myths; a people talking to themselves about themselves in order to explain themselves to themselves–if you follow me!  There are hundreds of individual stories, rich in meaning, that have entered our cultural consciousness and cut themselves a groove there.  Now our thoughts automatically run along those grooves–for better or worse.  The wisdom of Aesop; the chivalry of Malory and Tennyson; the eloquence of Shakespeare and Milton; the social conscience of Dickens and Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe; the elegance of Austen and the Brontes; the humor of Wilde and Wodehouse–you need not have actually read these works to have benefited from them or to recognize quotations from them.  For example, many of the social reforms that we enjoy in our modern civilization, policies that separate us as “first world” rather than “third world”, can trace their beginnings to stories that helped steer the minds of the people into those directions.  Our attitudes towards slavery, our work ethics, our treatment of laborers, children, and women, were all shaped by the stories men and women told and that the readers responded to and passed down to their children and to their children’s children in order to better their society.

This is why the study of literature is so important.  To know and understand our stories is to know and understand ourselves.  To learn the stories of our past is to benefit from the wisdom of the ages; or to realize where our erroneous beliefs have come from and why.  We can pick through our cultural mainstays and keep the good and discard the bad, if we realize that they ARE cultural, not Gospel.

In the end, since the only story that was truly inspired is Scripture, we must always compare our cultural stories to the Bible.  And then, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy. . . .” as Paul says in Philippians 4–read it!

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American Attitudes


One day last year, I gave all of my tutorial students a grade of 100% for having marvelous attitudes. I had never graded for attitude before, but in this case I was pleased to do so. Here’s how it came about: I began the class by telling my students that I was giving them a pop-essay quiz to help prepare them for the essay section of the ACT. I explained why I felt this time of practice was important and proceeded to inform them as to the subject and form the essays were to take and how much time they had to complete them. I had fully expected frowns, sighs, even a groan or two. Instead, they were every one of them smiling at me with anticipation. “This is exciting!” one girl exclaimed. “Yeah, this’ll be fun!” another one agreed.

No, I promise, this really happened. I was not dreaming and I am not making this up.

Since that time, I’ve had the privilege of taking on several more tutorial classes, and I’ve run into the same positive attitudes time and time again. Last week I asked my Middle School Language Arts Class if they would like to diagram sentences on the board and had to jump back to avoid the stampede towards the front of the classroom. When I give them their reading assignments, they cry, “yay!” and can’t wait to get started. I can hardly get through all the material I prepare for my Literature classes because the kids don’t want to stop discussing their latest reading assignments. One of my College Prep Writing students greets me almost every week with an enthusiastic: “I love this class!”

When I was in school, it was considered the height of “uncool” to be enthusiastic about anything, least of all schoolwork. From what my kids tell me, this attitude has not changed much over the years. Learning is a chore, a drudgery, something to avoid if at all possible. Kids complain about their assignments, get them done late, try to get away with doing as little work as they can.

So have I somehow found the only kids in America who enjoy learning? I must be the luckiest teacher in the country! Actually, all of my students are talented, intelligent, and special. But any student can be a good student if he or she wants to be. It’s all in the attitude.

I don’t know where this American disdain for education started. Perhaps it’s the fault of the media, portraying kids as perpetually lazy, whiny, and ill-mannered and labelling this behavior as “cool”. Are the movie and television industries simply reflecting American reality, or are the kids of America watching the media and buying into the message?

Perhaps it started with the kids themselves, bullying those who excel in the classroom to cover for their own inadequacies. I do know that I was persecuted by my peers in school because I enjoyed my classes, made good grades and always completed my assignments on time. I was not a particularly brilliant student, but I did well because I worked hard; as a consequence, I was disliked by almost everyone. It is my understanding that this situation has not changed at all over the years in both public and private schools; if anything, it may have become much worse.

Could it be the fault of the educators? I’m not sure. I know that I had some terrific teachers in high school who were caring, innovative, and encouraging. They made learning exciting for me, but most of my fellow students would have disagreed with me. No matter what the teacher did to try to engage the class, only a few of us responded positively.

My opinion is that it’s the parents that make the difference. The parents of my own students are excited about learning. They not only teach their own children, they continue educating themselves. They discuss what they’ve been learning with their children and with other adults in the hearing of their children, modelling the kind of attitudes that I appreciate so much in the classroom. We should never stop the education process. Americans in particular have no excuse for not taking the time to learn something new everyday. We have access to the knowledge of the world from throughout all ages of history; but do take advantage of that? Or do we waste our time and resources on pointless games and videos of cats? Do we read the great literary offerings of the masters, or do we content ourselves with equivalent of literary junk-food? Do we go to museums and concerts with enthusiasm? What are we teaching our kids when we don’t take the time to improve our minds? Yes, it can be hard after a long days’ work to sit down and read a good book or watch an informative documentary. But our kids have had a long, hard day, too–and we still expect them to finish their homework, while we relax and watch mindless trivia.

Our attitudes as parents are contagious. If we value education for ourselves, our children will value it as well. If we get excited about learning new things, they will view learning as exciting. And enthusiastic students sure make my job a lot more exciting!

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The Lost Art of Spelling


I know that some people look forward to the Superbowl as a major event in their year. Others live for the World Series or the World Cup. Personally, I find team sports dull and have never been able to muster up an interest in any of them. The event I anticipate every year, my personal “Superbowl” so to speak, is the National Spelling Bee. I was very sad that I had to miss it this year, but most years, Spelling Bee Day finds me ensconced on the couch with my snacks, shouting encouragement to the spellers on the TV screen. It’s so refreshing to see that spelling is still important to some Americans. Unfortunately, we spelling enthusiasts are a dying breed.

Why does it matter? I’m told (by students) that as long as they make themselves understood, communication is achieved and the purpose of reading and writing is fulfilled. (Actually, they rarely word it that way: they generally say something like, “So what? You understood it, right?”) Well, I’ll tell you why it matters. Has anyone else noticed that as spelling abilities fall, so does reading proficiency? Kids find reading tedious and difficult, rather than enjoyable and informative. I think I know why this is.

You see, I would like to blame texting and the electronic age for the poor spelling and reading skills of this generation of students, but I’m afraid the problem started a long time ago. Now please don’t misunderstand me: I am a great proponent of teaching children to read phonetically. But the emphasis of phonics in reading instruction has done a lot of damage to potential readers. Listen to a student read aloud. Then listen to an older person, one educated before the 1980’s, read aloud. Can you tell what the difference is? Children who were taught to read phonetically are still trying to sound out nearly every word as they come to it, as if they’d never seen that word before. The mechanics of reading get in the way of the process and little understanding is accomplished. Relying entirely on phonics to read IS tedious and difficult! No wonder kids don’t want to do it. Learning to read should begin with phonics, but should quickly progress to whole-word recognition. Relying on the sound of the words for recognition slows the reader down; sight readers don’t need to hear the word pronounced to know what it is. The more words a person has memorized, the quicker he can read and with greater comprehension. Sounding out words phonetically can still be used when confronted with an unfamiliar word, but the best readers rarely need to sound out any words. They just know them at a glance, like recognizing an old friend. This is the advantage of having a reading vocabulary as well as a speaking vocabulary.

But there are over a quarter of a million words in the English language! How can one memorize so many? Well, obviously, most of those words are jargon; scientific, medical, or technological terms that the normal reader will rarely if ever come across. A great many of the rest are formed from the same root words, with prefixes and/or suffixes added. Here’s where spelling comes in. Recognizing a word means knowing what a certain combination of letters mean without having to sound it out to hear what it sounds like. Spelling is the art of putting letters together correctly to form meaningful words. The more common root words, prefixes and suffixes one knows, the more words one can recognize.

Once upon a time in the Middle Ages, people spelled words however they liked. (Even in the 1500’s, spelling was not completely standardized. Shakespeare spelled his own name at least 6 different ways.) Reader proficiency was poor in the Middle Ages. Can you imagine, trying to memorize all the potential spellings of any given word? How about “phonics”? Let’s see: fonics; phonix; fonnics; fonicks; pfonicks; ffonix. Ever tried to wade through a manuscript written before 1500? It’s tedious and difficult. There’s a reason spelling was standardized. Arguments can be made as to how efficient or sensible a job those spelling-standardizers did, but the fact is, it’s so much easier to memorize words that look the same all the time.

I am a great believer in spelling lists. I don’t understand modern educators who don’t require them in high school. I had spelling lists to memorize in college, and my reading vocabulary is very much above average as a result. Every word a student learns to spell correctly adds to his reading vocabulary, thereby improving his ability to read more quickly and with better comprehension. And, one hopes, with greater enjoyment as well.

However, the best way to learn to spell correctly and to read well is to practice. In this way, reading is like anything else–sports, music, any skill one wishes to acquire. Practicing to increase proficiency in reading has the extra perk of also providing the reader with information or with a good story in the process! I practice reading every day and hardly even know I’m exercising a skill–it feels more like having a good time.

As for those who still contend that it doesn’t matter how one spells a word as long as it is understood: to you, I say this. Picture in your mind, if you will, a familiar work of art. Let’s take the “Mona Lisa”, for example. Now picture her with bushy eyebrows. You still recognize the painting. You still understand that this is the “Mona Lisa”. But it is now more than a little disturbing, isn’t it? A little bit wrong is still wrong! And while the error is calling attention to itself, it draws attention away from what the artist or writer was intending to communicate.

(Now I’m in great fear of posting this, as I’m sure I’ve misspelled something in this essay. . . .)

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Teaching Children the Truth of the Scriptures: Part Two


Here’s the second installment in my re-posting of my original blog entries. I would really appreciate feedback and comments. I would love to be able to learn from the ideas of other like-minded educators.

How then should we teach the Scriptures to children? We must remember why God gave them to us in the first place. Rather than consistently focusing on the child, we must return to focusing on God. Too many children’s Bible stories are obviously written with the end goal in mind: “how can this story help the child live a good, Christian life?” These stories perpetuate the mistake of Robert Raikes. I am not saying that applicability is not important, but it is of secondary importance. God gave us the Scriptures primarily so that we can know Who He is. In particular, the Old Testament reveals to us the heart of God the Father and Creator, and His Messiah Jesus Christ, most vividly and as completely as mere mortals are able to comprehend.

Here, then, are the guidelines I would propose in teaching Scripture to children, and in particular, teaching the Old Testament:
First, please don’t make the mistake of thinking of this precious time you have with the children as baby-sitting time. We are not just trying to keep the children occupied while the adults take part in the “real” ministry. Humans learn best before the age of six. After that, their learning patterns are fairly well set. I don’t want to say that it’s too late to teach people after they reach adulthood, but adults have a much more difficult time learning new things. Why wait? We have them in our classrooms NOW! Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to make a difference in these children’s lives. I suggest that the “real” ministry is going on in the children’s classrooms, and the adult teachers or ministers are just keeping the grown-ups occupied until the children are finished.

Second, begin by making certain they understand that the Bible is ONE book, ONE story; the story of God dealing with His people. It begins at creation and ends after the early church is established (actually, it ends at the end of time!). Yet the ONE STORY still goes on, and we as God’s people are a part of that vast, overreaching history. Make the child feel part of the story and events recorded in the Bible will seem that much more relevant to them.

Third, make certain the children understand that the WHOLE Bible, Old and New Testaments, is about Jesus. He is right there in the first chapter of Genesis, and He is there throughout, on every page. The Old Testament Scriptures are the story of God preparing the world for the coming of His Messiah. He spent thousands of years preparing for this all-important, culminating event. Do we dare deprive our children of this preparatory process? There are plenty of resources available to help you “find” Jesus in the Old Testament, but once you are accustomed to thinking this way you won’t be able to help seeing Him everywhere on your own. The Bible is HIS story, and that is the primary reason for studying it.

In this area, I imagine my proposition will receive the most objections. Christ appears in the Old Testament most often in types, or pictures as I prefer to call them when teaching children. It is conventional wisdom that children cannot understand abstract ideas until they reach their teens; that typology and symbology are beyond their comprehension. This is nonsense. The same experts who claim that children cannot grasp symbology will strongly advocate teaching infants the alphabet and telling them the names of objects in order to give them a good start on vocabulary. What are letters or words but symbols of sounds or objects or ideas? There is nothing intrinsically “A-like” about the three lines we put together and to which we ascribe the sounds we call “A”. People in other countries may put three lines together in the same way and ascribe different sounds to it. “A” means “A” because we say it does. That is symbology. It is the same with words. An English-speaking mother will tell her child “eye”; a Spanish-speaking mother will say to her child “ojo”. Both mothers will point to the same object as they say these two different words in the instinctive understanding that they are speaking a symbol and that the object of that symbol must be pointed out to the child for understanding to be accomplished. Mothers also know instinctively that this process is not immediate. For symbols and their objects to become part of the child’s thinking, it is necessary to repeat the alphabet and the words many times. Repetition and usage are the keys to any kind of learning. It is the same with Scripture. Repeatedly saying the symbol, or type, and pointing to the object of its meaning will make these concepts such a part of the child’s thinking that it will seem to him as if he’d always known them, just as it seems he has always know that “A is for Apple”. This aptitude for absorbing language and symbols is greatest when the child is an infant and grows less as he grows older. It becomes more and more difficult for them to learn these concepts as they approach their teens. Start them young or they will always be at a disadvantage! Take the words of linguist J.R.R. Tolkien to heart: “Therefore do not write down to the Children or to anybody. Not even in language. . . . an honest word is an honest word, and its acquaintance can only be made by meeting it in a right context. A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one’s age-group. It comes from reading books above one.” The same is true of Spiritual concepts: Don’t teach down to the children. Use the correct words for spiritual concepts, explaining as you go, and let their minds expand.

Fourth, make connections week by week, so the children understand that they are not learning a new story from the Bible each week but a small part of the continuing saga. This is, of course, much easier to do if you teach them the Scriptures in order, but not strictly necessary if you have a good time line to aid you. Here again, repetition will aid in the children’s process of learning. Don’t just review last week’s lesson, go back many weeks and connect each to each before beginning each new lesson. Ask the children what they can remember, for hearing the stories from each other is even more helpful than hearing them from you.

Fifth, do not try to force application where there is none. Remember, Scripture is not about the child but all about God. I have seen this done in ways which actually twist Scripture into meaning the opposite of what was intended! Which brings me to my last point:

Sixth, be completely honest with the children. I don’t mean that you have to go into detail: just admitting that David took something that didn’t belong to him is enough for a two-year-old. That David killed a man so he could marry his wife is graphic enough for a five-year-old. Include the facts that David was sorry for his sins, was forgiven, yet had to suffer the consequences of his actions. Emphasize that God brought His Messiah, Jesus, through David’s family as a way of honoring David’s faithfulness. Don’t try to clean up Bible characters. Kids need to know that they were real people with real problems, just like them. It is not helpful to give them super-heroes to emulate; they know they can’t be perfect and this will just discourage them.

Additionally, don’t make the mistake of teaching a Bible story only in order to teach other skills: my biggest pet peeve is the “story of Joseph and the coat of many colors”. Yes, it’s a great way of teaching pre-schoolers their colors. Yes, it makes a beautiful picture in a story book. By all means, tell them that Jacob gave Joseph this wonderful coat, but tell them the truth about it. Every child knows instinctively that there’s something wrong in this story. Every child knows that Jacob should not have shown preference to one of his children at the expense of the others. And what reason do we give them for this shocking display of favoritism by Jacob? I have seen too many of these stories end with the touching moral: “Jacob loved Joseph just like God loves you!” If God is like Jacob, how unfair He must be! What child has not had the fear that Mom or Dad will love one of his siblings more than they love him? No, be honest with the children–Jacob was deliberately disobeying God by conferring the birthright on Joseph instead of on Judah. Children deserve to have their discomfort with this story acknowledged rather than brushed under the rug.

Being honest with the children often means reconsidering what you might have thought about age-appropriate material. Teachers (and parents) often try to protect children from unpleasant or frightening truths by simply not teaching them these things. This is, in fact, the opposite of protecting them. Knowledge is power; ignorance is dangerous. We cannot protect our children from sexual predators, for example, by keeping them ignorant of such dangers. Yes, it’s not a fun topic and it’s a little scary; but it will be a whole lot scarier for a child to be confronted with a situation for which he has not been prepared. I bring this up because there are two topics which the Bible discusses a great deal but which tend to be ignored in order to protect children from being frightened. First, Scripture deals with sex and uses sexual imagery extensively. Just as there are ways to protect a child from potential molesters without being too graphic, there are ways to teach the Proverbs and other such scriptures without being too graphic. Small children can understand that it’s wrong for two people to pretend they are married when they are not, for example. They don’t have to know the specifics of the situation. Second, Scripture gives us a great deal of information concerning the devil and his angels. I have known teachers who feel that teaching about demons might overly frighten the children, but keeping children in ignorance of demonology actually makes them easy prey for the evil ones. I was confronted by a demon myself at age 7, and having had no teaching on such things, I didn’t know what to do. I have taught children for 25 years now, and have met many children, some as young as 5, who have had demonic experiences. I’m talking about children who are raised in loving, Christian homes. The devil wants our children, and we must teach them what to do to avoid his snares. The best weapon we can give them is knowledge. We can give them weapons they can wield themselves: prayer, and the assurance that they can come to an adult with such matters and be both believed and supported. The best way I have found for teaching children about demons is to compare them with germs. Both are out to get us, both can be dangerous; but there’s an easy way to avoid germs–wash your hands! And there’s an easy way to avoid demons, as well–pray!

One of the worst trends in teaching children Scripture in the past several decades has been teaching about God’s great love for them without the balance of teaching them of God’s judgment. Adults seem to be afraid to introduce this subject with children, but it’s exactly what children like to hear about. Kids love to hear about the bad guys getting what they deserve. Adults don’t like to hear about God’s judgment because it makes them feel condemned, but kids almost never identify themselves with those being judged. Tell them the truth about Noah’s flood: yes, eight people were saved, but hundreds of thousands died. This story is not about a lot of smiling animals on a big, cute boat. It’s about cataclysmic judgment over the entire earth–valleys were carved, mountains raised up, the weather was changed forever. The animals, and the people, on the ark were, no doubt, terrified by the ferocity of the storm and the waves. The kids will invariably identify with Noah’s family and the animals, feeling relieved at their rescue and gratified that the bad guys went down. Where do adults today get the idea that a loving God would never send anyone to hell? They got that idea in Sunday School! Teach children while they are young that God cannot let sin go unpunished. Otherwise, Christ’s death makes no sense.

Two examples on this last point: I was once teaching a group of five-year-olds about Jesus cleansing the temple. To illustrate this story, I had been provided with coloring pages depicting animals running out of the temple. My kids were horrified! “Jesus didn’t hit the animals, did He Mrs. MariLynn? He just hit the bad guys, right?” I painted them a picture of Jesus the Mighty Hero driving all the evil bad guys out of the house of God. They loved it! I understand that whoever prepared those coloring pages did not want to depict the loving Son of God whipping people, but that’s what happened and that’s exactly what children want to see! They need to see Jesus as He really is–the Conquering Hero! Better than Superman! They need to know that God can beat the bad guys. It makes them feel safe and secure in His hands.

One year later, I was teaching six-year-olds the Book of Acts. As we approached the story of Ananias and Sapphira, I grew nervous about how to present this story. Would the kids think that God was going to zap them the next time they told a lie? I was still fairly inexperienced or I would never have thought this. The children listened to the story and all nodded wisely. It was then that I realized that children are much closer to God in the area of judgment than adults are. Adults expect mercy and are surprised and dismayed by judgment–even resentful of it. Children, on the other hand, expect judgment and are surprised by mercy. They take the “wages of sin” being death very seriously. Why take this wonderful quality away from them? Yes, they can seem mercenary and even blood-thirsty in the joy they take in the bad guy “getting his”, but that is easily dealt with by gently steering this just impulse towards empathy rather than trying to mold them into adults who take mercy for granted and thus miss the whole meaning of the cross.

One last point: I have a suspicion that God added in the gory details of battles and such just for the interest He knew little boys and girls would have in them. Don’t deprive them of this! I once tried to steer around the graphic, nasty details of Herod’s death by simply stating that “God said Herod must die for his pride, so he did.” My kids did not let me get away with that! They had read the text for themselves (and they were seven and eight years old!) “Tell us about the worms, Mrs. MariLynn! We want to hear about the worms!” Give ‘em the worms! Let them have the whole truth of the Bible, pretty or not. If God thought it was important enough to include in His Holy Word, who are we to say, “eeewww!”

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Teaching Children the Truth of the Scriptures


This is a re-posting of my first blog entry, with a few little changes. I began this crusade for better Bible instruction for children many years ago, and I am making little headway! Now that my blog is being read by more people, I wanted to re-emphasize the reasons I began it in the first place–to improve teaching methods for Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools. Our children are the future of the church! They need to be prepared to lead. They need to be taught truth!

Deuteronomy 11:18-19. “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul. . . . And you shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” When God commanded that His words be impressed on our hearts and on our children, the only words there were to impress were those in the Pentateuch. How far we have diverted ourselves from this simple command of teaching God’s word in its entirety, difficult parts, “boring” parts and all.
Up until about 240 years ago, the Bible was taught to children in the same way it was taught to adults: it was read to them. Most children in English-speaking nations, in general, learned to read by reading the Bible. Families were all together in church services–children heard the same sermons as the adults, and the parents would talk to them about the message afterward. I’m not advocating going back to that way of teaching, and we have many more resources available to us which we should take advantage of. But it served human-kind well enough for thousands of years, and I am not sure that adults of today who learned under modern methods of teaching are better educated than those who came before.
Along came the Industrial Revolution. In the 1780′s an upper-class gentleman in England, Robert Raikes, noticed that children of the poorer classes were no longer attending school or church, but were being forced to work in factories to help support their families. He became concerned about what kind of adults this generation of uneducated children would grow up to be, and so he conceived of a “Sunday School” to be held on the only day the children had off of work. This was the beginning of the concept of Sunday School that we have today. Unfortunately, it was Raikes’ primary goal to teach the underprivileged to read and to be good, moral citizens of Great Britain. Their spiritual enlightenment was secondary in his mind. Therefore, he chose to teach the children only those Bible stories which he could adapt to his agenda of moral values, leaving out any details that might detract from his goals. For example, he might teach them about the patriarch Jacob by expounding on his faithfulness and how he was blessed by God, leaving out the parts where Jacob lied, deceived people, and ran away like a coward. The Bible stories were presented as isolated tales rather than as part of a vast history, so that anyone attending his schools would come away with the impression that the Bible was like Aesop’s Fables: a book of unrelated moral tales with unreal, perfect characters.
As the years passed, printing in color became easier and cheaper, and colored story books for children became all the rage among the wealthier Victorians in the mid- to late-1800′s. Bible stories, with beautifully colored wood-cuts, were popular presents for Christmas and birthdays. Naturally, the stories in these books were chosen for their illustrative qualities, and the narratives themselves were often questionable. When the wealthy Victorians got wind of the Sunday School movement among the poor, they grabbed onto the concept with their own twist-–illustrated Sunday School cards and papers. Again, these stories were presented as isolated, moral tales and chosen for their illustrative qualities. The Bible was cleaned up and disinfected so that the children would never know that David committed murder and adultery; that every living thing on earth, except those in the ark, died in Noah’s flood; that when Ehud stabbed Eglon, Eglon’s fat stomach closed over the hilt of the knife. In other words, the Bible began to be unreal and unhistorical, and those whose only knowledge of the Bible came from Sunday School grew to have a warped and one-dimensional idea of what the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is all about. A warped view of the Bible means a warped view of God, and there was a great falling away from the faith as the children taught in this way grew to adulthood.
Darwinism took hold, and the Bible began to be seen by many, even by Christians, as unscientific, even mythological. By the 1950′s and 60′s, the Bible was being taught more and more as a lot of unrelated, moral fables rather than historical truth–-as a way of teaching children how to behave rather than teaching them to know their Creator and Savior. Even those churches which remained fundamental in doctrine often used inferior Sunday School material which failed to emphasize the historical accuracy of the Bible. Lessons were still chosen for the cute crafts and pretty coloring pages that could be created to enhance the stories, and so the less “pretty” stories were ignored. Think of the vast amount of material which is never presented in Sunday School, or in other venues of children’s education: most of the Judges, most of the Kings, most of the prophets. Fascinating, enlightening stories which children would love, which never-the-less would be difficult to illustrate tastefully or to create appropriate hand-work for. The adults raised in these Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools thought they knew what was in the Old Testament and so never bothered to read it for themselves. The Old Testament began to be seen as irrelevant to adults, to be set aside with books of fairy tales.
Many of us who now attempt to teach the Scriptures to children today received our earliest Bible instruction in the 1960′s style Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools. You might argue that they were better than nothing and that no other curriculum was available to be taught at that time, and that is certainly true. But the tragedy remains. Ask any adult of our generation a question about the Old Testament and see if they can answer it. Look it up and make sure YOU know the right answer yourself! How many adults today are fully literate in Old Testament theology? I have known many intelligent, well-educated Christians who are very knowledgeable in the New Testament Scriptures but have only the most rudimentary grasp of the Old. I have even heard arguments for abandoning the study of the Old Testament Scriptures since they have been “replaced” by the New! I sincerely believe that this attitude comes from a Sunday School mentality of Old Testament study. Since people are being taught the Old Testament as a collection of isolated morality tales, they can’t understand how these Scriptures can be relevant to adults. They don’t understand what they are missing, because they have never really been taught Scripture as a serious, historical document.
How then should we teach the Scriptures to children? I’ll share my ideas on this tomorrow.

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Typology for Tykes


Teaching young children the concept of types, or symbols, of Christ in Scripture is not difficult.  Actually, it’s a lot of fun!  The tabernacle is a great place to start because there are so many beautiful visuals you can use to illustrate the lesson.  It is imperative to have some kind of visual for the children to see as you teach this lesson.  There are many types of models available, expensive or cardboard; there are also flannelgraph figures, posters, and charts.  Make sure you have a little priest figure to move through the tabernacle and point out the elements.  Also, have a Jesus figure with which to replace each element as you discuss it during the last part of the lesson.
I have taught this lesson to children as young as two years old, and they always get it.  It’s rather long, but with the visuals and the promise to be allowed to play with the visuals afterwards, they usually maintain their interest to the end.  The really young ones won’t get everything, but they will get the gist.  So, here goes:
Pretend you are Aaron, the first High Priest, and you are walking through the tabernacle soon after has been built.  The outer court is walled in by high curtains of fine linen.  When you enter the outer court, these walls hide the barren desert outside and you are in a cool sanctuary.  There is only one entrance to the tabernacle, only one way to the presence of God.  The first thing you see when you enter the court is the bronze altar.  You know you will spend a lot of time here!  The people will bring their sacrifices here and as high priest you will be responsible to kill the animals, drain the blood, and place them on the altar to be burned.  The altar is bronze, which is the symbol of judgement.  You know that a Holy God must judge sin, and as you look at the bronze altar you are thankful that God has given a way for sin to be atoned for so that each one who sins may live and not die.  It is so shiny and pretty now that it is newly made, but you know it will not be so for long.  When each sacrifice is made, the blood must be splashed against the altar and poured out on the ground around it.  It will be an ugly, messy, smelly place soon.  You know that you will be constantly reminded of how ugly, sin is, and what a cost there is to make sin right.  For atonement to be made, an innocent life must be taken.
Now you move on to look at the next piece of furniture, the bronze laver.  It is a bowl made of mirrors, and you know that each time you wash yourself in it, you must also examine yourself in the mirrors to make sure you are as clean on the inside as you are on the outside.
You look at the tabernacle itself–its meaning is a mystery to you.  You know it is made of wooden boards covered with gold, a symbol of man covered by God.  How could that be?  You know that the boards are held together with the silver your people paid as atonement money.  How does atonement bring God and man together as one?  This is something you may think about for a lifetime!
The tabernacle is really not much to look at from the outside.  It is covered by a gray, waterproof skin protecting it from the rain.  But you know that beneath the dull gray is a bright red ram’s skin, red as blood.  The ram’s skin reminds you of the ram God gave to Father Abraham to sacrifice in the place of his son Isaac.  Beneath that layer is a covering of goat’s skin, a symbol of the sin offerings to be made in this place.  Underneath it all is a beautiful curtain of red, purple and blue linen.  When you go inside the tabernacle, it is this lovely curtain you see, the colors of heaven, of earth, and of the two intermingled.
Inside, the tabernacle is full of light coming from the seven-branched lampstand which is made of solid gold, standing to your left.  On your right sits the table holding the twelve loaves of unleavened bread, one for each tribe of Israel.  Straight in front of you is the little altar of incense, which is constantly sending up its sweet odor, the symbol of the prayers of men going up to God.
Behind the altar of incense, a thick veil is stretched.  You know that it hides a smaller room, the Holy of Holies, behind it.  The veil is covered with pictures of Cherubim, the angels who guard God’s holiness.  You know that the very presence of God is in that little room, above the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  You know that you will have to go in there once a year to offer blood on the mercy seat for the sins of the people.  You cannot help but feel a sense of awesome fear as you think of standing in God’s holy presence, because you are so unholy.
Did you put yourself in Aaron’s place?  Did you feel the awe he must have felt? But this tabernacle was made by men.  In Hebrews 9:24, the Bible tells us that this earthly tabernacle was a copy, a picture, of the true tabernacle in heaven.  Imagine now that you are in heaven, and God is letting you tour the real tabernacle.  It is very much the same, but also different.  You go up to the white walls around the outer court, but as you look at them you see that they are not made of white linen but of the good, righteous things that Christians have done.  How happy you are to see that some of the things you did on earth to serve God are part of the walls of this wonderful structure!
You go in through the only door, and somehow, the door is Jesus! (John 10:9) The High Priest comes to meet you, but he is not Aaron or any other mere man, but Jesus! (Hebrews 4:14) He takes you by the hand and leads you to the great bronze altar.  It is still covered with innocent blood.  The High Priest shows the sacrifice which He Himself made.  He offered it only one time, but it was enough to cover the sins of the whole world for all time!  You see a perfect lamb on the altar–but as you look, you see that the Lamb is really Jesus!
You could spend eternity thinking about this wonderful truth, but there is more to see.  The High Priest leads you to the bronze laver to wash yourself.  You look into the mirrors, but instead of yourself, you see Jesus!  He has washed you clean, inside and out, and He Himself lives in you and through you.
You look at the outside of the tabernacle and you know that the entire structure is Jesus.  You know what Aaron could not have known: that the wood and gold boards are a picture of Jesus, Who is both God and man, and that because of His becoming a man, atonement was made for our sins.  The plain gray covering reminds you of Isaiah 53:2, which says that Jesus had no outward appearance that would attract us to Him.   You know the ram’s skin is a picture of Jesus taking our place just as the ram had taken the place of Isaac as a sacrifice.  The goat’s skin reminds you that Jesus gave His life to pay for your sins.  You go inside and admire the beautiful inner curtain of red, blue and purple.  Here is the way you think of Jesus–the beautiful savior, with the blue of heaven and God and the red of earth and man blending perfectly to create the royal purple.
The tabernacle is filled with light.  You look for the lampstand, but it isn’t there!  The light is coming from Jesus! (Rev. 22:5) You feel weak from excitement and desire food, so you look for the table of unleavened bread.  But it isn’t there either!  Jesus gives you His own strength, and that is all you need, because He is the bread of life. (John 6:48)
You feel so full of gratitude to God for all He has done that you want to pray.  But you just cannot find the words.  You go to the altar of incense to send up your prayers in the smoke (Rev. 5:8) But instead of the altar, Jesus stands there, praying for you.  You may not know what to pray, but He does! (Eph. 5:2) You fall to your knees and thank Him.
Now you look for the veil which separates you from the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwells.  But it is torn from top to bottom!  There is now nothing that stands between you and the holy God!  You look again and see that the veil is Jesus, torn in His death to make the way for us to go to God. (Heb. 10:20)  But it is a fearsome thing to go into the presence of the holy God!  You hesitate.  But Jesus takes you by the hand and leads you into God’s presence.  There are the cherubim, not cold golden statues but real, living things.  They are there to guard God’s holiness from sin.  But you are no longer afraid.  You have a right to be here because Jesus Himself, God’s own Son, is bringing you in.  There is the Ark of the Covenant, with the mercy seat covering up the Law.  And there is God Himself, smiling at you and calling you His own dear child.
There is so much more of Jesus in this marvelous tabernacle.  You could spend all eternity exploring it.  But you don’t have to wait until you get to heaven to learn about God’s tabernacle.  He graciously told us what it is like in His Word.

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The State of Education in America


It seems that there was more going on this past Fourth of July than one nutty American Tory wearing a London T-shirt.  I’ve read the results of a poll taken that day of celebrants of all ages, races and genders: 26% of them did not know whom we were fighting in 1776.  Some guessed Mexico.  One guessed China! In addition, nearly 50% of those polled could not name the general who led the Continental Army in the Revolution.  One strange person thought it was Winston Churchill.  (Find this poll at http://www.mediaite.com)
Now, I don’t really put a whole lot of stock in polls.  The results can be skewed depending on the results desired.  But having had many frustrating conversations with appallingly ignorant people over the years, I’m afraid I believe this poll is near the truth.  I used to hope that the idiots interviewed for  “Jay Walk” on the Tonight Show were aberrations.  But I’m afraid they are more representative of America than one would like to believe.  Most Americans today are so poorly educated, I don’t know how we manage to function as a nation anymore.
It doesn’t seem to matter how much education a person has on paper.  My husband once had quite a time convincing a man who has a masters degree that Great Britain is part of the United Kingdom.  He had to use a map, a globe, and an on-line dictionary to get the guy to understand.  He once watched three FBI agents examine evidence taken from a suspected terrorist; they were studying a suspicious poster the girl had put in her luggage. Rich wondered what clues or codes they were looking for on it, so he stuck around to watch.  Pictured on the poster were Stalin, Lenin, Mao, and Che.  After spending a good ten minutes studying this important piece of evidence, one of the FBI agents said: “I think this one is Stalin.  I don’t know who the other guys are.”  I know a young man who is just about to graduate from college.  He not only could not name the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or even the year–he was not even certain of the correct century! He has a good job all lined up for when he graduates–with the government!  I once tried, and failed, to convince another young man that the classical pianist he was listening to on his computer was not, in fact, Beethoven himself playing his own work.
Even more frightening is the attitude people take concerning their own ignorance.  They act as if it is unreasonable of anyone to expect them to know such trivia.  After all, they could always look such information up on-line if they really needed to know it.  And it’s true, they could, and they do.  And then they promptly forget the facts they gleaned as soon as they’ve made use of them.  And why not?  They could always google the information again if they needed to.  And yet, I’ll be willing to bet that these same people, who cannot list their own sitting congressmen,  could rattle off the names of “American Idol” winners without straining a bit.
They cannot seem to understand that a basic, working knowledge of history, science, math, and literature are essential to understanding our world today.  They are content to let the elite few who actually enjoy knowing things run the country and leave them free to enjoy. . . . whatever it is that they enjoy.  I can’t really guess what that might be.
But, however much this lack of factual knowledge makes one want to dig one’s hands into one’s hair and pull hard, it is not the most worrisome aspect of our dismal educational deficit in America.  Americans today do not know how to THINK.  They cannot think out a problem logically.  They cannot pursue a line of reasoning to its probable outcome.  They cannot construct a valid syllogism, or even understand what a syllogism is.  They cannot write well enough to make themselves understood. Americans today think with their emotions almost exclusively.  Read the comments on any online news item, or listen to people on talk radio or TV interview shows.  They will tell you what they feel, or they will react emotionally.  But they cannot respond with intelligent thought.  And so, here is my point: Americans are not being taught logic in schools anymore, and haven’t been for at least half a century. This has led the downward spiral in all education generally.  After all, only reasonable people can understand the importance of knowledge.
But there is hope, and I have seen it.  I have seen groups of young adults engaging in intelligent conversation, pursuing real knowledge, and enjoying such intellectual pursuits as reading, visiting museums,  going to symphonies, and browsing through book stores.  These young people can write well, crafting sentences and paragraphs with both proper grammar and proper reasoning skills.   Most of these young people were homeschooled.  Those who were not had parents who were passionately involved in their educations.  The antidote to poor education in America is parents taking responsibility for their own children’s upbringing.  It means sacrifice and lots of hard work.  It sometimes means organizing tutorials and volunteering one’s time to help one another.  It sometimes means throwing out all available curricula and writing one’s own.  But the end results are worth it: well-educated young people able to function intelligently in today’s world.

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