Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Amazing Grace

Christianity Today gives Amazing Grace a pretty good review. The film hasn't arrived at our little backwater yet, but we're looking forward to seeing it when eventually it does. William Wilberforce was an impressive man, motivated, as were so many abolitionists throughout history, by his sense that Christ wanted him to do what he could to fight the injustice and inhumanity of the slave trade.

Rodney Stark, in his excellent historical work titled For the Glory of God, points out that had it not been for Christians and the Church, slavery would not have been eradicated in Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, and when it rose again after the discovery of the New World, it was both the Church and the work of Christians like Wilberforce which eventually got it abolished in the Western Hemisphere.

There is nothing in any other religious tradition, and certainly nothing in the philosophies of naturalism or materialism, that affords grounds for condemning slavery. Indeed, Islam's founder, Mohammed, himself owned slaves.

To the extent that slavery, which has been practiced all through history and all throughout the world (and still is today), has been meliorated or abolished, it has been because of the efforts of people operating out of a Judeo-Christian worldview which teaches that men are made in the image of God and are loved by Him. As such they have individual dignity and are all equally precious in God's eyes. Each man is the property of the Creator, and it is therefore an affront to God to treat as one's own property a man or woman who is one of His children.

If, though, we abandon this worldview we must also abandon the notion that man has any special dignity or worth or rights. If there is no Creator then if one has the power to enslave another there can be nothing morally wrong with doing so. In a world without the Christian God might makes right, and owning people is no different, morally speaking, than owning horses.


Re: School is Boring

There's an interesting response to our post on students being bored in school on our Feedback page.

I'll share some thoughts on this on tomorrow's Viewpoint.


The Other Front

An intriguing series of events unfolds in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Vice-president Cheney visits Pakistan, a senior Taliban leader is arrested right after he leaves, and an attack on a "high value target" takes place on a terrorist compound in Afghanistan. Is this all a coincidence or are the Pakistanis throwing us a bone by arresting the Taliban guy and persuading him to give up some of his confreres? Allahpundit has the details and a few caveats.


Conservative <i>Agonistes</i>

Social conservatives in the Republican party find themselves in a real bind as they prep for 2008. They're pretty sure Senator Clinton will be their opponent, but there is a sense that only candidates whose social conservatism is suspect or absent altogether are in a position to beat her. The genuine social conservatives like Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, and Duncan Hunter are scarcely a blip on the voters' radar screen, at least at present.

There are Republicans who doubtless could defeat Hillary - John McCain, Rudy Guiliani, Mitt Romney - but none of these excite conservatives who see each of them as personally or ideologically problematic. One person who does get conservative juices flowing and who might be able to at least give Hillary a run is Newt Gingrich, but he's not a candidate at this point, and he's carrying an awful lot of personal baggage.

Peggy Noonan summed up the Republican plight when she quipped, that of the major Republican contenders - McCain, Guiliani, Gingrich, and Romney - it is ironic that the only one who has only one wife is the Mormon.

My friend Jason linked me to this article which delves into this matter in a little more detail.


News Flash: School is Boring

This story reports that a big study has found that most students are bored in school most of the time. I'm not sure that that they needed a study to find this out or that it's news, but apparently some people think it is.

No Left Turns has some interesting commentary that blames teachers (both in high school and college)for this state of affairs. Pete Schramm writes:

Students in high school are bored. We can argue all day why that may be so, but, in general it is my considered opinion that it has to do with the massive fact that students aren't asked to do enough, and are not exposed to interesting things well enough. They are given much busy work, and not enough poetry or beauty or something good or high or noble to consider and think about.

There was a very big international(UN funded?) study that came out of the Netherlands maybe ten years ago that compared students from dozens of countries. In general we didn't fare too badly in the early years of schooling, but the US fared worse the longer the students stayed in school. So, by the time our students were in high school, they were at the bottom of the pack.

This was also not surprising to me, but what was surprising is that for the first time in any study they gave a reason why: American students were more bored than students in other countries; the more they were in school (through high school), the more bored they became. That is an important fact. I regret that I am unable to find that study. My experience confirms this fact. Almost all students think their education in high school was boring.

And Peter Lawler responds:

Peter [Schramm] is right. High schools are very, very boring. What most students end up doing there could be done in a couple of years, at most. High school students are in class way too much, and high school teachers are too. The teachers have no time to prepare for class, and they're stuck with boring books that come with test banks that they don't have time not to use.

Most high-school teachers simply don't have the time to do much reading, and many of them aren't even allowed to let their students (outside of English class) read anything much but the dumb, boring textbook. (The fantastic lectures of our Tony described on the first boredom thread below our a mighty, mighty rare treat for high school students.) Most of them can't fall back on something like Tony's fine undergraduate or graduate liberal arts majors (thanks to schools of education). And various techno-innovations such as power point only make things worse; they insult the student's intelligence and induce yawn after yawn. There are many exceptions to these broad generalizations (many or most of them in serious science and math classes), but the exceptions prove the rule.

Whenever a new student comes to me full of enthusiasm for learning--or turns in 14 pages for a 500-word assignment, I pretty much assume that the student was homeschooled. I'm not one who thinks most homeschooling is all that good. But one of the most positive things about it is that the homeschooled spent a lot less time on school, a lot less time with textbooks, etc. than the kids in public schools. School doesn't rule their lives, and it's not a contemptible source of boredom for them. They haven't had the love of learning strangled out of them.

And, of course, most college classrooms aren't that different. The "teaching style" fading quickly is the faculty member coming to class with nothing but the serious book the students have been assigned and talking BOTH to and with them about it. College professors don't have the excuse of not having time to read and generally prepare for class. Even those with a "4-4" load are on a leisure cruise compared to 95% of high school teachers. They have to think up pedagogical theory and assessment mechanisms to avoid doing their real jobs. They convince themselves that they can "teach without talking," or by surrendering their privileged positon in the classroom and taking one place among many in an egalitarian community of learners, or by lazily boring themselves and the students to death with classes devoted to group presentations or "peer review" or (worst of all) breaking up into small groups to "dialogue" about some generic issue or another.

But I'm sure there are studies that show that boring schools prepare us for the boring jobs that we'll be stuck with. There really are studies that show that students are prepared for the business world through group projects. They don't learn to cooperate or work together like a well-oiled machine or anything like that. The fact that one student ends up doing all the work and the others get by by taking credit allegedly is a key insight into way the "real world" works.

There is much to say about all this, and I'll have some thoughts to offer on a future post.