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What to Practice?

September 18, 2008 1 comment

This is a post that I was supposed to write last month.  I finally got to it. Read more…

The Patch Factor

August 29, 2008 31 comments

Before I begin my article, let me take just a moment to commend Kirk Brandenburg for his article.  It was well-written and well thought out, and demonstrated his father’s diligent teaching at home.  Kirk, you are a credit to your dad’s ministry, and I trust that you will continue to be.

That being said, throughout this month’s topic, we have alluded several times to the fact that some consider the piano to be an effeminate instrument.  With apologies to Kirk and others, I am one of those who think that a large number of piano-playing males are effeminate.  In this post, I intend to flesh that thought out a bit, so I hope you will “endure to the end.”

First, I do not believe that there is any such thing as an effeminate instrument.  Piano included.  For crying out loud, the piano is way too heavy to be effeminate.  But I digress.  I would also include the flute, the pennywhistle, the clarinet, and the harp in my list of instruments that are not effeminate.  I will admit that I don’t have a verse on this… my opinion results from a simple observation that I have made.  Instruments are gender neutral.  They are neither male nor female.  Neither masculine nor feminine.

That being said, although I can in no way claim to be a musician (I can’t even play an i-pod), I do think that some instruments are more suitable to women than men, and vice-versa.  But since that is a topic for those more expert in musical instruments than myself (starting with Kermit the Frog), I’ll leave that one alone.  I believe that any instrument can be played by a man (and no, I don’t believe that ‘like a man’ means either poorly or boorishly), and in a manly fashion, and I believe that the sooner we get that idea in our head, the better off we will be. Read more…

Random Thoughts from the Receiving End

I talked to my son about writing something from his perspective.  Here is what he wrote.

Random Thoughts from the Receiving End

Kirk Brandenburg, 17 year old senior at Bethel Christian Academy, El Sobrante, CA

Instrument: Let Them Choose?

Everybody should start with piano. You don’t get to choose piano. It’s an instrument that you can start early (six or seven years old), and it plants your musical life for whatever it may grow to be. Yankee Doodle and I’m a Little Tea Pot are a lot easier to grasp than, “Ok, make your mouth into a tight but not too tight circle then blow with steady air through your lips while they’re buzzing . . . and don’t forget to count.” Piano takes care of counting, reading music (both clefs), and note values; so, when a child has matured enough (nine years and up) to handle another instrument, all the basics are second nature. Having a basic knowledge of the piano is critical for any musician anyway. I am not saying everybody should shoot for concert pianist- just get the basics (two or three years).

Once the basics have been covered, you may want to choose another instrument. It helps a lot when the person playing the instrument chooses the instrument. That way he can look back or be forced to look back at who made the decision. The original plan in my family was for me to play trumpet–we had a trumpet, but I liked the sound (a sound that I was able to strive for) of the trombone better. The original love for the instrument helped me enjoy the instrument; it wasn’t a forced, laborious thing.

Teachers

It is my opinion that you will never be able to reach your pinnacle in music unless you get professional instruction. Of course you must work with what is available to you, but since everyone should be shooting for the pinnacle, if you have the means, get the lessons. Fortunately, my parents have made the means possible for all of their children and have put music in great importance in our home. I can not begin to tell the benefit I have received from about 17 combined years of professional instruction. Professional instruction gets you to that next level.

In the beginning years, you can save a lot of money by choosing a capable teacher that does not have a big price tag. In my first four years of trombone, I was able to get excellent teaching for my level for a lot cheaper than what the price is now.

Three areas come to mind when choosing a teacher: (1) credentials, (2) capability, and (3) character. When the time comes to choose a teacher, do not be afraid to try around. If you don’t think the teacher can do the job, say no. In my early piano years, I had a teacher I was deathly afraid of. I dreaded going to lessons each week, but I never told my parents. One day after the teacher had slapped my hand for playing a wrong note, my dad and mom knew I was dreading it, so we immediately moved to a new teacher. It was such a relief to want to go to lessons; make sure your child is comfortable with the teacher’s personality. You learn so much more.

Practice Time

One thing that I hate to see is wasted practice time. If you took the average student musician’s real practice time compared to his overall “practicing,” you would probably find that at least half of the time is wasted. I was talking to a world renowned brass instrument repairman here in the Bay Area, and he said he would rather hear 15 minutes of solid practice than an hour of goof-off practice. That always stuck with me, and, although I am guilty of wasting practice time, I always strive to get high octane practicing. High octane practicing includes practicing the hard parts (not “practicing” the easy ones over and over), reading/following the teacher’s notes, not moving on until I have it absolutely perfect, and never brainlessly practicing (always striving for something better). I always have to limit myself in practice sessions because I find that I can spend a full hour on my technique exercises (in trombone) alone!

Suffering Through

From a family where every child (4 of them) takes piano and an instrument (trombone for the boy, violin for the three girls), it sounds really, really, really bad at first. Count on it. In fact, if your student is always working on the hard, non polished parts, it almost always sounds bad. In my family, there is an underlying disdain for my trombone practice sessions. My sisters always ask if I am done yet. “Do you think you can practice that when we’re gone?” I tend to repeat (and hopefully perfect) the same technique exercises day after day. Not only can I do a full hours worth of technique exercises, my whole family has the routine memorized, and they often sing it back to me. My trombone playing often must be loud and sounds obnoxious. The same disdain goes for some of the family’s violinists’ practice sessions, but . . . we must suffer through, look like we’re enjoying it, and offer our support. If you decide to have music in your home, be ready to endure very unpleasant sounds.

Guys and Piano

I am a guy and I play piano. I have heard that some people think piano is a feminine instrument, but I strongly disagree. Have you never heard some of the great piano concertos? Beethoven, Tchaikovsky especially? I believe that men have a unique sound on the piano. A sound and style that only they can obtain (I haven’t heard the same unique sound with the flute). I have not only heard this unique sound in my playing compared to the women piano players in our church, but I have heard it in the playing of people like Dr. Thomas Corkish (Pastor, Anchor Baptist Church) and David Ledgerwood (well known hymn arranger). I believe that one of the reasons men sound so girly on the piano is because almost every hymn is arranged girly; men are not even given a chance to make it sound manly. I am so thankful for arrangers like David Ledgerwood and Peter Wright because of the manly arrangements they put out.

Something I also dislike is a women accompanying an all male group. It irks me. I love accompanying our church men’s groups because I can sing (through my playing) in a manly way with the manly song. We recently did an all men’s number in church, and our whole church agreed that it had a special quality.

Extracurricular Music

I have gotten the opportunity to participate in outside-of-church music groups. It is a truly amazing experience. The musical training (especially ensemble training) is unparalleled. I find that when I come back to church everything I play is so much easier, and I know I am able to get a better sound for God. Besides it being good for my training, it is super fun. It gives me another outlet to use my instrument. I cannot describe to you the experience, the emotional lift, that occurs when you come upon an amazing part of music. As you may know, I recently toured Australia and New Zealand with the orchestra I participate in. Our last concert ever as a group was at Avondale Girl’s School in New Zealand. It was a very emotional performance. We knew the music the best we ever had, we knew this was our last performance together as that very group, and our conductor had us in the palm of his hand. We were playing the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, The Pathetique. There is one trombone solo in that symphony (probably the loudest in trombone orchestral literature) that gives me the heebee-jeebees when I play it. The orchestra builds to the climax of the movement, and the trombone solo soars in over the rest of the orchestra; it gives me the goose bumps just thinking about how emotional it is. Some of the orchestra members told me that they cried at these emotional passages, and I admit … my eyes did water. This may all sound weird to you, but emotion is an element that I often see is missing in our church music today. People play their church specials, orchestra parts, etc. like robots. No zeal for the message of the song. Instead of playing with passion just to make beautiful music like I do in the orchestra, I play with passion to communicate a message in church. I learned in the orchestral setting to play with the passion I believe should also be felt in our church music. A heartfelt song is greater praise to God, just like anything we do that is heartfelt is greater praise.

The ensemble experience (especially orchestra) is well worth it. My advice for getting involved in orchestra is to (1) look for the youth symphony of your local professional orchestra or look on the Internet–I know kids who participate in youth orchestras in North Dakota, (2) start early (7th grade)- you work up the chain of advancement. I have now played in a total of four orchestras, and I am trying out for a fifth.

Always Bring It Back to What It Is Really About

The most important thing to do with your instrument is to praise god. Get involved in church music. Our church has a six month schedule for every instrument of every musician in our church. This always keeps me working on something musically for God. Participate in church ministries with your music: nursing home, church orchestra, etc. Always keep in mind why you are playing your instrument. Parents, remind your children why they play. Praising God when you are playing in church should be a given, but if you are playing somewhere else, maybe a secular place, remember who is and should be getting the glory. I make a habit to pray to God before a secular concert or practice that he would receive the praise for what I am about to play. Music is something that we should always have fun with and enjoy, but that must take 2nd place to praising God.

Got Skeels?

August 24, 2008 2 comments

Joey hasn’t been the same, ever since the band leader said it. His little feelies, all mangled and crushed, lie forlorn on the ground. His self-esteem, already needing a stool to mount the flat side of a piece of regular, college-ruled notepaper, now strains to straddle a spaghetti noodle of the angel hair variety. His brow, beaten and bruised, creased with care and worn with worry, resembles a swimming pool on a very windy day. Or perhaps, resembles his bed sheets. That is, before his mother gets around to making it for him.

What, might you ask, has caused Joey such trauma, such trepidation, such total cerebral torture? Well, that is a long story, as you might have guessed, and will take some time to unravel. Feelies are just that way.

In the meantime, Joey continues his daily self-therapy sessions, in his bedroom, alone, with his pillow behind his now nearly twelve-year-old back and his Wii within arm’s reach. His mother rarely disturbs her patient, other than with the ocassional glass of warm milk and plate of chocolate chip cookies. Father has yet to be made aware of his son’s (a.k.a. “my pride and joy”) condition. Joey’s mangled feelies have only been festering for a week so far. Hardly enough time for a man of Joey’s father’s experience to sit up and take note. Besides, he hardly ever visits that end of the house. The TV is clear down in the basement. Read more…

Instrumental in Practicing (part one)

August 21, 2008 3 comments

At about the age of six, I couldn’t wait until I could do dishes. Once old enough to wash them, in very little time, I lost that passion. However, my parents never lost their conviction about my participation, even though Sunday dinner dishes stacked like a bad comb over.

I bring dish washing to your attention because it compares with instrument practice as an example. Kids start out wanting to play, so they practice. In less than a year, the newness wears off and they stop practicing. How can you keep them practicing?

The Philosophy behind the Means for Continuing Practice

Before you ever start choosing instruments or playing them, both parents should have their mind made up about why their children will play. This needs to be a dad and mom thing because it is often too tough for one parent. Both parents have to know why.

I’ve talked to a lot of secularists on this and most who I talk to say that you can’t force a child to play an instrument. They imply that it is wrong to do that. They say that the child must want to play. They tell me that your child must have fun with it, that you don’t want to pressure them. If children don’t want to play, these experts say, they shouldn’t have to. I nod my head to that and smile. Read more…

What Instrument?

August 19, 2008 1 comment

As a band director, a question I’m often asked is, “What instrument should my child play?” There are a few things to consider along with this question — age, physiology, gender, and character. While not “set in stone,” many agree that children should not start playing a wind instrument (woodwind or brass) until they are a little more developed physically. We don’t begin teaching those instruments until the fourth grade. On the other hand, string instruments and piano do not have any potential “dangers” for a young player.

Physiologically, parents and teachers should consider the size of a child’s features that would be involved in playing the instrument. Everyone can overcome difficulties, but most of the time, we do not want unnecessary difficulties for a beginning instrumentalist–there are enough things to overcome without creating more. Read more…

Toward Your Children Growing Up to Be Excellent Musicians

August 13, 2008 5 comments

I’ve often got a chuckle out of the titles of Kaiser’s “Toward” books—Toward an Old Testament Theology, Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament, Toward Old Testament Ethics, Toward an Exegetical Theology. You get the picture. Who can go wrong with a title that starts with “Toward.” If someone ever criticizes the content, you have a built-in defense. “I never said I would cover the subject, just toward the subject.” “Well, I stand corrected.” After reading this essay, your children may not grow up to be excellent musicians, but this will help them toward that goal. I think the “toward” title will also excuse the random nature of this post. I’m not going to try to give you any kind of chronological sequence with this. I’m going to move into a kind of stream of consciousness and you will have to organize my outline into a preferred order on your own.

Have Them in a New Testament Church

If your children grow up in the right kind of church, they will be singing three or four times a week in church services. Early on they will be hearing good tunes and reading notes.

Sing During Family Devotions

Music will become more important if you sing at home. If you want worship to be important to your children, then it will be something you’ll do at home. Moses commanded the parents to sing his song in Deuteronomy 34. God expects families to sing. People will who are filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19). Your family will become fully informed that praising God is for everywhere. If you don’t sing at home, you’ll leave the worship for the antiseptic confines of church and easily cause your children to disrespect this important activity.

Listen At Home to the Kind of Music You Want Your Children to Play

Be serious about the music you play at home. It should be thoughtful, skilled, and great. You will find some of this among hymn work that is done for Mp3 or CD. You can find plenty of classical music like this. A good way for them to develop the right taste is to give them that taste. One of the best ways to keep from bad music is to fill your life up with good music.

Start Them on Piano

I’m not dogmatic on this, but the piano is your base instrument. I have four children and they’ll each be a different kind of piano player with varied abilities and work intensity and efficiency. Piano has no wind requirements. On the piano, each child can learn the basics of notation, musical language, and theory. Playing notes will no longer be foreign.

Some are against teaching boys piano, because it is too feminine. I respect this as a possibility. Actually, I think that harp is more effeminate than the piano and we all know who played the harp. Piano is a rather indoor type of activity and you will want your sons out getting their hands dirty and straining their muscles with some hard labor. This will not clash with playing the piano. If our men are to be the worship leaders, that is, the leaders of church worship, they need to know music and knowing piano is a great start.

Talk About What Instrument Each Will Play

Early on start talking about the instruments each could play. You tell each of them what the possibilities are. If you have the right kind of music playing around the house and in church, you won’t have them thinking about the trap set or the electric guitar.

I think that certain instruments are more feminine. With all due respect to James Galway, the fife and drums of the War for Independence, and the Army Band, you better be very sure if you let your son play the flute. That should be a consideration, that is, make sure that the instrument fits the child to some degree.

We evaluated each of our children and made the choice for them. When you do this, they will be expecting to get started. You can start talking about how great a player that you think they’ll be.

Get the Best Teachers

I think that the teaching makes the biggest difference as to the quality of your children’s playing. You are going to pay for the best teachers, but you really do get what you pay for. Why even start out on your journey if you aren’t expecting a great ending? It took us awhile to land the string teacher we needed for our oldest daughter, but we finally found a Russian who was once concertmaster for a Soviet Opera. Our daughters go each Monday and Thursday for a half hour each. They progress rapidly.

My son started with a wonderful woman trombonist at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. She graduated from Northwestern and gave him a great beginning. For the last two years he has taken from a master teacher, who has helped him go even further, but for much more money.

You will be better off hiring someone who has played well himself, a professional. He also should be able to teach. Those names will surface in your area once you start researching. We like “old-school.” Old school doesn’t pamper children in the lessons. He has expectations from them and will apply pressure. I like to know that my teacher wants something great from me.

My wife started all of our children off on piano, because she is excellent with the fundamentals and enforcing them. When each of them reaches a certain level, he will go to a teacher we pay for lessons. There are many piano teachers out there. You want to be careful just settling on one. Monitor their progress closely and have improvement that you expect. Communicate that to the teacher. If you are not satisfied, you should look into others. The better teacher may be more expensive.

Have a System for Enforcing Practice

I’m going to spend a whole post on this one, but this will make the greatest difference in your children’s musical excellence. Most kids don’t want to practice. You have a great purpose that you believe in, so you must enforce their practice. There is a new philosophy that travels around in secular circles first and now in Christian ones, that is, “it’s got to be fun for the child.” That philosophy is resulting in less music and less skilled music. It hasn’t seemed to affect every culture. The Asians don’t seem to have adopted that “fun strategy” as a whole.

In that separate post, I will tell you how we have enforced practice. I start hearing music practiced every morning at 6:00am. That goes until we leave for school. Then I hear it after school until late in the evening. There is almost always an instrument being played at our house. One hint here. Own a few timers.

Get the Children in Groups

As soon as your children are able, it is good to get them playing in an orchestra or chamber group. They will like playing more, which will help them practice better. Most kids love being in an orchestra. It is fun collaborating with others to make something very nice. We also have this in our church services. Our kids open their instrument cases, get tuned up, and go to the platform every week to play for the Lord in church. This brings more participation and more excellence in music.

Our kids have also benefited from further evaluation of their talents with an orchestra. In each case, the child must audition. Then each plays for his seating. He will be judged each time and given comments. You’ll get a second opinion on how far your child is going. In addition you’ll get the conductor/music director, an assistant conductor, and then coaches. A chamber quartet sits as artists-in-residence at one of our orchestras. The coaches are often some of the best instrument teachers around.

Recitals and Contests

Recitals will put them under pressure when they play. They should be regularly doing solo work in recitals. The contests are even better. We have a contest every year at our own school. We bring in professional players as judges to make comments. Then we have organized a regional contest with another Christian school (the school of Dave Mallinak). They perform more times with further scrutiny and with the encouragement of other young people around them. They can better understand where they stand if they do some comparison with other people.

Our orchestras have concerto contests every year. Dozens enter the contest and they are judged by other professionals. Whoever wins the competition will play his solo with the full orchestra in the last concert of the year.

Make Sure They Have an Instrument

We rented the violins to begin. We bought an inexpensive trombone on Ebay to begin. We got a very old piano for free and we had it repaired for 300 dollars. Now we own a very nice, professional trombone. We own one very, very nice violin and another very nice violin. Only one is now renting, the youngest. Once your children start getting good, you will see the need to buying and maintaining very good instruments. You will hear the difference in the quality.

The Interest and Support of You as a Parent

I love listening to my children play and compete. I love driving them to their lessons. I love shelling out the cash. I love hearing their progress. I love what it has done for our worship of the Lord. I love hearing them practice.

By being at everything and loving it, you will help your children. This isn’t hard for me, because I do love it. Your love must translate also into recognizing when poor practice is being done for various reasons and doing your best to correct it. I’ll tell you more about how to show interest and support in other posts.

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I’ll be in North Carolina in a couple of weeks speaking at this conference. Take a look at it over at my blog. If you are around and have the time, come over or down or up to be with us.

Who’s Advising?

August 8, 2008 4 comments

I’m not trying to compete with Kent’s credentials. But I do want you to know who’s giving this advice. Jack Hammer says that Kent and I have “gobs of experience.” So, here’s my musical autobiography:

In the fourth grade, my father started me out playing a $25 trumpet in the beginning band at school. I practiced as I was told and in the eighth grade, the band director asked me to move to the baritone. It was while playing the baritone that I began to love instrumental music. As I progressed, I figured out that the tuba wasn’t much different from the baritone, and in my senior year of high school, I learned how to get around on the trombone. We went to Mexico on our senior trip, and the trombone took up less space than a baritone, so I figured out how to play hymns and songs on that.

Through this time, I rarely had professional lessons. As I recall, there were a few summers when the music director at our church (he was good enough to have been a professional) gave me a few lessons. I don’t remember any practice sessions in particular, but I do remember practicing. Read more…

The Foundation for Teaching Music to Children: Why Music?

August 6, 2008 16 comments

Let me start with credentials. I’m sure there are others with loftier ones, but I have some. I have four children, first, male, 17, then three females, 14, 11, and 7. All of them play two instruments and sing. We don’t sing as well as we play and I’m hoping to work more on that with the last three. Each plays piano, then my son plays trombone and the three daughters play violin. The middle girl plays violin and viola. The oldest three are in symphony orchestras. The oldest two last year played in Young People’s Symphony Orchestra. The third child played in Berkeley Youth Orchestra. The two oldest played this summer at the Sydney Opera House in Australia, featured orchestra in the Australian International Music Festival. My son has been principal trombone of three different orchestras and presently is at YPSO. He has a call-back audition at the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra for later this month. The oldest three play in our church services every Sunday morning and evening. I’m on the board of the two before-mentioned orchestras. My wife teaches piano lessons and each of the four children started with her before moving to another teacher.

Now that you know my credentials, I also want you to know that none of them matter. Read more…

New Month, New Topic

August 6, 2008 2 comments

Dust is settling, and we don’t want to get dusty. So, we’ve picked ourselves a new topic that (we hope) you will find interesting. Though we doubt it will get too controversial. But then again, we can always find a way to snatch debate out of the jaws of serenity, now, can’t we…

Anyhow, this month we will discuss teaching music to children. Kent and Jeff have gobs of experience in this, and have much to tell us. So we better all listen. Dave, meanwhile, still plays the piano like a child. So he’ll be listening carefully you can bet.

Our hammers have been pounding for quite some time. Now we’ll settle back into a nice little fireside chat…

Pull up your chairs, get yourself a tall glass of iced tea, put on your chatty face, and prepare to be serenaded.

Places of Education

April 30, 2007 1 comment

There is a strong educational emphasis throughout the Bible. The Law addresses all of life and was to be taught to each generation. The history of the Israelite nation was to be remembered and rehearsed. The Psalms are written in one of the most useful pedagogical forms and the Proverbs are explicitly written for the purpose of instruction. The epistles are clearly doctrinal writings. The book of 2 Timothy teaches that all of Scripture is given so that man can be completely equipped for any work with which he is presented. The family is the basic and primary unit of society and therefore has economic, educational and welfare responsibilities. There are many references to education throughout the Bible that are generally mentioned in the context of the family. In Christ’s commission to the church he commanded believers to disciple the nations, baptize and teach. The Ephesian and Colossian epistles in particular address all ages of believers, and the church was gifted with teachers. These truths strongly imply that the church also has responsibility to educate. Christians recognize that education must be Christian in order to be true. They also realize that the institution of schools is hardly observable in Scripture. Therefore schools are only legitimate as they are extensions of legitimate biblical educating institutions—family and church. Schools operate in loco parentis—in the place of the parents.

Categories: Education, Voegtlin

Educational Practices

April 30, 2007 4 comments

To be successful in education – preparing students to fulfill their divine purposes – the operations or processes involved should be understood.  “Teaching is arousing and using the pupil’s mind to form in it a desired conception or thought.”  This is a skill and a study, an art and a science.  In order to present the concept, it must be known.  One cannot teach unless he has knowledge.  The teacher must know the subject he is teaching and methods to arouse the student’s mind to grasp the subject.  He should study his topics and his students.  He should also practice.  As he does, his skills of expression and explanation will be developed and he will be learning the art of teaching.  Because the teaching involves the student, the student must be a willing participant for effective teaching to occur.  Admittedly, many have been taught by experiences for which they did not volunteer.  Someone can be a “student” and learn something unwillingly.  But more is learned from the teaching when the student anticipates and desires to gain from it.

Learning occurs when someone grasps with his own understanding the concept that is taught.  This involves much more than regurgitation.  If the student can repeat the lesson but does not understand it, or know how to apply or creatively use it, he has not truly learned anything useful.  Useful knowledge or productive learning involves comprehension of the subject and purposeful applications of the knowledge.

There is a reciprocal arrangement between teaching and learning.  While different individuals do each action separately, neither is present without the other.  Teaching cannot be given without someone present to learn, and learning cannot be acquired without someone present to teach.  Teaching must be present for learning to be accomplished; learning must be accomplished to substantiate the claim of teaching.  If no one has learned, no one has taught.

In this arrangement of teaching and learning, there must always be a teacher and a student.  The teacher is someone who knows the lesson.  It is important to point out that teachers must be knowledgeable.  Teachers should attend to their own education seriously.  Not only do they need to know principles and skills of teaching, but they also must know the foundational and graduated concepts of the subject they are teaching.  The student is the one who attends to the lesson.  If the student has no desire to listen or learn, the teaching and learning interaction will be unsuccessful.  This means that the student must be serious about his own education.  This does not take all responsibility off of the teacher.  While the student must attend, the teacher must grab the student’s attention and instruct him in the importance of the subject so that the student wants to attend to the lesson and be serious about his education.

The language medium and the lesson content are also important aspects of teaching and learning.  In order for the teacher to communicate his knowledge and for the student to attend to the lesson, the language used must be common to both the teacher and the student.  This is an obvious statement if taken only to mean that if the teacher is speaking French, then the student must be able to understand French.  But the principle goes further than this.  Even if English is the only language spoken by the teacher and the student, and the words of the lesson are not foreign, communication will not take place unless the vocabulary is common to both.  The student must have the same definition of a word in his mind that the teacher has.  If the teacher uses a word, phrase, or concept in a sense that is “foreign” to the student, the teacher may as well speak in a totally different language.  One of the teacher’s responsibilities is to ensure that there is effective and efficient communication between him and the students.

Not only should the language and vocabulary be common, but also the lesson must begin with common knowledge.  The student will have no place to categorize the lesson if it does not begin with some known concept.  Because all knowledge originates in God, the lesson should always be able to be related to something that is already known.  If not, a disjointed body of knowledge and a disorderly perception of God are portrayed.

The subject matter, what most think of first when they think of school, is the ground of the interaction between teaching and learning.  While God is honored and glory is brought to Him through learning all about His creation, each subject is a means to accomplishing the primary purpose in education more than an end.  The subject matter is where the teacher and the student interact.  In a sense, it is a “tangible” that is taught and learned in the overall scheme of education.  It is the individual lesson the teacher communicates to the student, and it can be a barometer of how well the student attends and learns.  While it is only a means to an end, there must be subject matter to accomplish the ends.

Categories: Education, Voegtlin

Education: State, Church, or Home? (part three)

April 27, 2007 12 comments

We have ruled out the state school as a viable option for educating children.  That leaves us with the church school, sometimes called traditional education, and the home school.  We church school, so it might just look like we favor that.  You might be right.

THE CHURCH SCHOOL

The Weaknesses

For the weaknesses of the church school, I want to start with 5 basic concerns that home school advocate Greg Harris listed in his book, The Christian Home School.  He’s the father of Josh Harris, who has written the well-known books on courtship (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and is pastor of a large Charismatic/Calvinist church on the East coast.

  • Many Christian Schools Only Clean up the Public School’s Practices.  “Objectionable material is ferreted out, Bible verses are memorized, and God is mentioned without fear of lawsuit; but these [are] shallow, cosmetic tokens of what a thorough Christian education should be.”  It is true that a Christian school could just be taking a public school model and sort of Christianizing it.  All I can say is that our school is radically different in philosophy than a public school–we certainly do not want to do less than a public school in the basic subjects like math, reading, and English, so we think that it is not contradictory to Bible belief to do a good job in teaching those subjects.  We use a different curriculum, have different teachers, and certainly a different emphasis totally.
  • Double-mindedness. Perhaps enrolling non-believing children could betray the Godly moral environment necessary for Christian parents.   Our focus is discipleship, not evangelism; but one cannot focus on discipleship without focusing on evangelism.  It is a matter of what is enforced, and the strength of leadership.  It is not a matter of not getting in the presence of sin, but getting in the presence of undisciplined sin.  Those students who attempt to disrupt the godly and discplined atmosphere of the school are dealt with in a firm and gracious manner. Our first priority is our own children.
  • Age Segregated Peer Pressure is Part of the Christian School Experience.   In order to learn older behavior or more adult behavior, one needs to spend time learning from adults.   Home-schoolers will say that being around children of the same age feeds immaturity–or as I have heard used, “encourages pooled ignorance.”  It is a valid concern–the school must be sure to enforce adult behaviour as the standard, and be disciplined in the extent of associations between students.  The goal is to focus the students on the teacher model, not a peer model.  We have found that what happens at a recess time is the biggest concern, not in the classroom.  This is the reverse of the “socialization argument”–home schoolers lose out on socialization, and they say, “good, I don’t want peer socialization, because it only reinforces immature behaviour.”  On the other hand, adults will be supervising and teaching about how people are to get along, or behave with each other–children can have no secret agendas during the school time.
  • Too Many Christian Parents Put their Children in a Private Christian School and then Abdicate their Responsibilities as the Primary Educators. Very true, but we won’t allow it in our church.  Other parents and churches that send their kids to our school, yes, but not our people.  I have found that work and worldliness are far bigger enemies than the school.  We want parents involved based on a highest common denominator for all of our students–thus giving accountability to those parents.
  • Christian Schools that Use Classroom Organization Inevitably Face the Problem of Dividing the Teacher’s Time among a Class Full of Students, All of Whom Have Differeing Needs.  This can easily happen.  There must be work with the parents of the children–extra work can be given–students can be evaluated.  Certainly, the dumbing down process can take place by too much attention given to the slower students at the detriment of faster ones.  A school just must work to make sure that does not take place.  Parents must confer with their teacher to help in this matter, not say that the school must give the children the extra.

The Strengths

  • Accountability–A student in a church school gets evaluated regularly by others besides the parents for needed objectivity.  He has nowhere to hide.
  • Division of Labor–A church school can take advantage of certain strengths one person may have in art, another in music, another in physical education, another in organization and administration, and more.
  • Fitting into the Concept of Gifts–1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 can be practiced easily with a church school.
  • Local Church Authority–God gave the church authority for truth, not one family.
  • Helping everyone–People talk about “no-child-left behind.”  A church can work at that with its membership.  Everyone takes responsibility for each other with a church school.
  • Group Activities–Certain activities are more easily done in a church school environment, and the children become accustomed to working with a group, which is often how things get done later in adulthood.
  • Becoming Accustomed to Different Leaders–People will often have different bosses as they go through life and they must learn to adjust to different styles of authority.  A child moving through a church school education will have different styles of teaching and authority and will learn to respect and learn from each.Â

THE HOME SCHOOL

The Weaknesses

  • Wrong Motivation–I have found by experience that often home-schoolers are not motivated by a conviction to home-school.  This is not a broad brush, but it is a besetting temptation.
  • Money–Home schoolers won’t have to pay the church school and will also be able to “invest” the resources back into the home.
  • Pride–Everyone can be subject to pride, even in church schools, but the home-schoolers will often elevate what occurs in the home above everyone, comparing their children to everyone else in their superiority.
  • “Ours is better than everyone else’s.”
  • “My child is way ahead.”
  • Independent Spirit—Independence can be good, but in so many cases, dependence is superior.  We must learn to trust in God and in leadership.  The independence can foster rebellion when the authority is some other than the parent, or against someone who does something differently than their own way.
  • Loss of Team–Certainly teamwork is necessary in the family, but can the home-schooler work with others, or is he a loner that is often off on his own.  He prefers doing his own thing by himself without working with others.
  • Loss of Help–”The church is not for us; they stop meeting our needs, and we go elsewhere.”  “Our home and school are more important than our church” (not more important than work, I have found, but more important than church).
  • Lack of Protection–The home school movement often looks at everyone around them as a kind of buffet table to get what it wants.  This becomes an avenue of compromise and false doctrine and practice.  They often have a tendency to get with other homeschoolers that are not of like faith and practice and disobey on areas of separation.  The unity of purpose is often educational, separate from God’s church.
  • Lack of Accountability–We see an example of this with James and John and their mother.  She assumed her sons should be the greatest in the kingdom.  This lacked a perspective and accountability necessary.
  • Lack of Evaluation–Some home-schoolers are the home-foolers, not having the necessary evaluation that comes when opened up to outside evaluation.
  • A Largely New Evangelical Movement–The home-schooling movement is largely new-evangelical and the reason for this should be considered.  It relates to everything above, since the church is pillar and ground of the truth.  The church has built-in discipline, the Lord’s Table, the pastor, and more, which will affect schooling.
  • Strengths

    • Parental Responsibilty–Parents are obviously TAKING responsibility big time.  Parental involvement is crucial to educational success.
    • Students with Parents More–This could be addendum to the first strength.  Parents (adults) become the model, and adult behavior is definitely the standard.
    • Flexibility–School can be whenever the parents want it or need it.  This facilitates trips, good vacation times, dad teaching a class when he gets home from work, etc.
    • Able to Help the Special Student More–This might be the biggest plus here.  The child won’t necessarily be held back by the pace of the rest of a class.  He can go as fast or slow as he needs.
    Categories: Brandenburg, Education

    The Purpose of Education

    April 25, 2007 1 comment

    The primary purpose of education is to prepare man to fulfill his divine purposes. Since his created purpose is to bring glory to God and to have dominion over God’s creation, man needs to know all that he can about God and His creation. As a redeemed Christian, he also needs to be equipped to proclaim the gospel to the world. Webster’s (1828) definition of education includes four objectives of teaching–enlightening the understanding, correcting the temper, forming manners and habits, and equipping for useful service. These objectives clearly reflect the need to be prepared in order to fulfill man’s God-ordained purposes. To glorify God, man must have his knowledge and understanding of His creation enlightened. To accomplish this, his fallen nature needs to be corrected, and right manners and habits must be formed. To be God’s ambassadors to a fallen world, man must be equipped with the knowledge, desire, habits, and skills necessary to proclaim the gospel and defend his proclamation of it.

    Noticeably, these purposes say nothing about traditional school subjects, such as mathematics, science, language, or social studies. This is because the Christian educator’s priorities go beyond the mundane knowledge of these subjects. All specific objectives for these types of subjects must fall under the umbrella goals of enlightening, correcting, forming, and equipping. To be sure, each of these subjects and several others are tools that can be used to help reach the goals of enlightenment, corrected tempers, well-formed habits, and useful service. As mathematics, language, social studies, and science are learned, understanding is enlightened with the truth. As the student accomplishes the necessary exercise of learning, tempers can be corrected and students can learn productive habits. The knowledge and skills gained help fit the student for usefulness as a Christian. Education’s purpose is to prepare a man to accomplish his divine purposes.

    Categories: Education, Voegtlin

    Educational Premises

    April 24, 2007 1 comment

    Before educational objectives, teaching and learning, or educational institutions can be discussed, the foundational premises and assumptions related to education must be understood.  The nature of truth (knowledge), the nature of man, and the nature of educating man with the truth are presuppositions that should be addressed.

    Everyone is concerned with truth.  When the Lord Jesus Christ stood before the Roman governor, Pilate spoke for all men when he asked, “What is truth?” The book of Proverbs tells us that God is the source of all knowledge. All knowledge begins with God, and Hebrews relates that through faith in God, man understands the world around him. The only valid theory of knowledge is one based on the Word of God. From man’s viewpoint, all knowledge is relative to the unknown. The unknown could change the meaning of the known. Therefore, man can know nothing except it be shown him from God, Who is omniscient. Romans teaches that man can know nothing truly unless he interprets what he sees from the viewpoint of a created being. Christians are commanded in 2 Corinthians to bring all knowledge into subjection to Jesus Christ. This understanding brings unity to all knowledge and makes all subjects worthy of study—they all must be brought into subjection to Christ. There is nothing that God does not think about, and Christians must be taught to think as God does about all those things. Mankind is not interested in learning or teaching falsehoods or lies, so the truth must be known. Because of this, true knowledge must also be relevant and meaningful. For this to happen, truth must be external, fixed, and absolute. There are some who claim that this cannot be, but knowledge itself cannot come from within. It cannot change, and it cannot depend upon anything else. This gives truth an exclusive quality. Because truth is exclusive, those who would like to think of themselves as being open-minded are sometimes adverse to it. But claims of truth automatically claim that something else is “not true.” If someone claims a principle to be true, he is also asserting that anyone who disagrees does not believe the truth. Truth, by its nature, is exclusive.

    Every religious and philosophical system in the world has a body of “truth” that is exclusive in some way. The Hindus find “truth” in the Vedas. The Muslims find the “truth” in the Koran. Even those whose “truth” teaches absolute tolerance are intolerant of those who admit that truth is exclusive. The problem that all other religions have with Christianity is that its body of truth is actually in a living person, Jesus Christ. Jesus said himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life:  no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” He claimed to be the truth, and then He excluded all others. Truth is exclusive. When we see Jesus Christ as the embodiment of truth, we recognize that truth has eternal, immutable, absolute and indivisible qualities.  Christ is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever,” and so is truth.  It is eternal and immutable.  Christ is not dependent upon other persons.  He is God, and He is one with God.  In the same way, truth is not dependent upon man or man’s interpretation, impression or experience.  Truth is true and indivisible.  Colossians teaches that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, and therefore, gives Him and truth a comprehensive quality.  All true knowledge is in Christ.  Nothing can be truly known outside of Christ.  Therefore, all truth is Christ’s.

    In contrast with worldly philosophies, Christianity recognizes that man stands in stark contrast with truth.  He is distinct from all other created beings, yet he is a fallen creature.  Despite this, every man has a divine purpose he should fulfill.  Because man is a created being, he is dependent upon his Creator for all things. Because man is created in the image of God, he is the crown of God’s creation.  In Genesis, man was given dominion over the rest of creation even though he was a creation of God himself.

    Because God is one and man is created in God’s image, he is also one, organically.  Because we are a creation with finite knowledge, we cannot completely comprehend God or his creation. We can better understand man by dividing him into “beings.” Luke shows that man is intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual. Organically, the essence of these cannot truly be separated, but we can organize our thoughts about man by putting him into these divisions.  As an intellectual being, man is rational, valuing and historical.  Adam named the rest of creation exhibiting his rational abilities – he could communicate and categorize.  We put a value on everything in our lives, and we think in terms of time – yesterday, today, tomorrow – making us historical beings.  Man also has a physical body, a social aspect, which allows us to interact with other human beings, and a spirit, which gives us an eternal quality.  This spiritual aspect is what sets mankind apart from the rest of creation.  In creation, God breathed into mankind spiritual life.

    As a creation of God made in His image, man must be taught how to grow into the image of God and how to take dominion over all the rest of creation. Man is God’s vice-regent on the earth. He has authority and responsibility to promote the welfare and advancement of God’s creation.

    While man was created perfectly in God’s image with the freedom to do right, he rebelled against his Creator and chose to disobey God.  The book of Romans teaches that because all mankind was in Adam when he sinned, everyone now has a sinful nature.  It further states that in this fallen condition, man still has the freedom to do what is right, but his sinful nature is bent toward rebellion against God.  Because man is no longer the perfect creation of God, he has limited intelligence.  The book of Romans says that this is particularly true in those who do not acknowledge God as their Creator.  When man does not recognize that he is a created being, his capacity for intelligence is severely limited.  Yet, as a creation of God in His image, mankind is still quite capable of brilliance.  All scientific and technological advancements made in history are a testimony of the abilities given to mankind in creation.  No other “species” has made any discoveries that advanced the conditions of the species.  Man is the creation made in God’s image and capable of intellectual brilliance.

    Revelation teaches that man was created in order to bring glory to his Creator.  The Bible teaches throughout its pages that man is to glorify God and that his purpose on earth is to do just that.  In fact, when man knows God and does not glorify Him as God, God works against him and gives him over to foolish, reprobate thinking.  When man recognizes God as his Creator and trusts in His Son for salvation and freedom from the bondage of his fallen nature, he is given another reason for existing.  When Christ saves a man, he gives him the ministry or duty of reconciliation.  Christian men have the responsibility to glorify God and to call the world to God.  The book of 2 Corinthians teaches that we are His ambassadors.

    Because education involves finite man and infinite truth, it is a process that is never complete and never neutral.  No one human being, truly no collection of human beings, could ever comprehend the riches and depths of knowledge and truth that are in Christ Jesus.  The more a man knows, the more he knows how much he does not know.  William Feather said, “An education isn’t how much you’ve committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t know.”  As man acquires more knowledge, he recognizes that there is even more to be learned.  Education is never complete.  Education also can never be neutral.  Because it involves truth, and Christ is the truth, only those who teach Christ and His truth are truly educating.  Anyone who attempts to teach otherwise, whether opposed to Christ or merely neutral about Christ, is teaching a lie.  Christ said that all who do not support Him oppose Him.  All truth is His, and those that do not acknowledge His lordship over all of life, lie about life.

    Categories: Education, Voegtlin
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