Assignment for Schools: TEACH

Fandango’s Provocative question #104:
What do you think is the one subject (or thing) that should be taught in school that isn’t?

Since this touches on one of my big concerns, I’ll post a response. The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning, ASSIGNMENT, should fit into this topic quite nicely.

One day I was checking out at the local supermarket and the clerk asked if I’d like to donate some money toward the literacy program in local schools. “To help students learn to read.”

I was puzzled. “Isn’t that what they do in school?” I asked. She looked at me blankly; maybe she thought I was, like, totally out of it – which I am when it comes to today’s education.

Another time a friend told me that her niece was in Grade Three and couldn’t even spell the word “ARE.” She only knew the text-speak “R.” Fifteen years ago I listened to a group of about twenty grown-in-Canada adults under thirty puzzle over what country Ottawa is in.

For the past century or so, our schools have been places to try out social experiments in education. One of these was to eliminate phonics. Ontario, thirty-some years back, went even further and abolished the teaching of grammar, because having to obey rules hinders the free flow of the student’s thoughts. “We want them to be creative, not slowed down by following all the rules.”

A few years ago a teen told me students aren’t “on the same page” when it comes to studying literature. That is, there’s no novel to study and assess together. Students pick a book they want to read and then discuss it in class. Since no one else has read the same book, do you hear any other opinion than your own?

Back in 1987 the Southam News Agency shocked us all with the results of their nation-wide study on literacy in Canada: 24% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. To determine “literacy” the subjects were given reading and writing assignments as well as having to read bank statements, time schedules, and calculate the change you’d get at a store.

Immigrant or native-born didn’t make much difference. One of every three Grade 8 graduates and one of every twelve Grade 12 grads were functionally illiterate in day-to-day affairs. The study found that many students entering universities had to take remedial reading classes.

A study done in 1989 shows that 20% of Canadians have strong literacy skills. This is a diverse group of people who exhibit a broad range of reading skills and various strategies for dealing with complex material. These people can meet most reading demands and handle new reading challenges.

A report in 2020 laments that, although public interest in literacy was strong between 1980 and 2000… “Against this background, it is surprising that the Canadian literacy infrastructure was subsequently largely dismantled.”
From a report by the European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, Vol.11, No.1, 2020, pp. 109-125.

Apart from the need to teach better Reading, Writing, Grammar, Literature, and Math skills in Canadian schools, I think our children need to learn some HISTORY. Not the dates part so much, but basic concepts of social history: something about the Colonial days, Victorian Times, the Wars, the Roaring Twenties, the Dirty Thirties, the Cold War.

I wish our children could learn enough history to help them understand how other people have lived on this earth and gone through tough times, too. That people once entertained different ideas, upheld various ideals that were valid. That peer pressure is nothing new. That Covid-19 isn’t the worst plague ever. I’d like to see them get a good general history of the world that would bring them through time to where we are now. It would bring them down to earth and ground them – and hopefully generate more appreciation for our privileged era.

Is This Our Year?

I’ve been thinking for awhile about a story from the Bible and the warning Jesus gave to the people of his day. It was on my mind again this morning, then when I saw the Word of the Day ChallengeWARNING – well, this is the perfect prompt for sharing my thought!

In Luke Chapter 12 + 13 Jesus gives various signs of “the end,” and tells the disciples they need to be ready, watching, and doing the will of their heavenly Father when the Master of the house returns. Then he tells them this parable of the fig tree:

He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”

Luke 13: 6-9

The owner of the vineyard took note of this tree that wasn’t bearing fruit in its season. In fact, it hadn’t given any fruit at all for three years. So he said, in effect, “This tree is taking moisture and minerals from the soil, plus the time we’ve already spent on it, and giving us nothing in return. Chop the thing down and let’s use the space for a tree that will be more profitable.”

However, the caretaker was loathe to do something that drastic. Perhaps he felt some pity for the tree, having tended it and fussed over it from its days as a promising sapling. “Let me try what I can with aeration and fertilizer for one more year. Then if it doesn’t bear fruit, okay, we’ll cut it down.”

When I read these verses recently, it occurred to me that “this year” Jesus talked about represented the time of his ministry on earth. The few years he spent teaching and preaching to the people, calling them to repent and come back to God. This was Israel’s “year.” This was the time for the Jewish nation to bear fruit. Would they received his message? Would they repent and turn back to God –the One who had delivered them so many times before. God was giving them this one last chance to bear the fruit He wanted to see.

The Apostle John writes that Jesus came to his own, the Jewish people, and “his own received him not.” History records that the Jewish leaders and the mob they stirred up finally had him put to death because they hated his message. And God rejected them; not very many years later He allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed and the Jews carried away as captives, ultimately scattered to the four winds.

Another fig tree scene happened not long before Jesus was crucified. Mark 11:13-21 tells of how Jesus passed by a fig tree, stopped to look for fruit, and there was no fruit on it. So he said to the tree, “Let no man get any figs off this tree ever again.”
The next day, as they passed this tree again, it was in sad shape. Peter, recalling what Jesus had said the day before, pointed out the shriveling tree. “Master, there’s the fig tree you cursed. It’s withered away.”
I doubt his disciples caught the symbolism of the fig tree to the nation of Israel until after the events of the crucifixion and the day of Pentecost. Then they would have understood.

Another comparison came to my mind. I’ll write it and hope that it speaks to you. I’ve been thinking about this last year when COVID has stalked the earth and menaced people all over the globe. A lot of us have had to leave our pursuits – jobs, schooling, arts and entertainment, sports events, even going to the polls – and return to our homes. We’ve written about 2020 as “A year we’re glad to see the end of.” We’re looking forward to a time when Covid-19 has been conquered. When most everyone’s been vaccinated, this giant has been laid low, and we can go back to our normal lives.

But what if this was our “year” to respond to the voice of God. What if this Covid “season” we’re in is that “one more year” God is giving our world, the time we should stop, think about him and his word, think about “the end” when the Master returns?

Think of the great issues of our day. Environmental, financial, political, justice, personal. How they fill our minds and cause us no end of worry. But what if this really was our last year? Not that we can just stop caring, drop every concern, let everything slide. But there’s a bigger picture here we need to consider: are we concerned about, and prepared to face, the most important event in the world?

“And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.”

Revelation 10:5-6

Jesus tells us to prepare, to watch and be ready. Just in case this is our Year.

Farm Diary

I’ve heard and read about the “dust bowl” years here on the prairie, about hoppers that could clean off a 160-acre field in a day, about horses and cows forced to eat the prickly Russian thistles because they were the only green thing growing anywhere, about the farmers who took jobs in the northern “parkland” part of the province to earn enough to get by for another year. So I made up this diary.

Prairie Farm Girl’s Diary — Summer 1934

A west wind blew the hoppers in
two days ago.
They cleaned the wheat crop
clear down to the ground
yesterday.
Dad went north to a lumber camp
after seeding
so we can afford our grub and heat
next winter
and feed for the horses and cow –
unless it rains.
A stream of clouds went over
last night
on their way to rain somewhere else,
maybe tomorrow.
Tom and I are minding the place
all summer
while Dad’s away and Mom’s in a dither
about all the dust.
She says we’re leaving this drought-deviled land
soon as Dad gets back.

.

Image: MonikaP — Pixabay

Marginal Ideas

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is GOODBYE/HELLO
And Sammi has published another Weekend Writing Prompt

.
 Carnivores, goodbye!
 No more inefficient beef.
 Hello, veggies and grain to feed the world!
 So they ploughed the pastures,
 even the marginal lands.
 And the winds came…
 and the land blew…
Image by Couleur — Pixabay

My response springs from a discussion I had with Mr Bump earlier in the week about using land for grain and vegetable production rather than pasture. This 31-word tale describes what happened here on the prairies when the settlers came. The “Dirty Thirties” taught us that some land just can’t be cultivated.

A Caravan to Bethlehem

Christmas season has come round again and again we’re hearing the story of Jesus’ birth. However, over the centuries since the Apostle Matthew and “Luke, the beloved physician” penned their accounts of the nativity, many bits and pieces have been added to the initial tale. A heartless innkeeper, sheep and cows, a cold winter’s night, a littlest angel, a drummer boy.

We hear about Joseph and Mary making their lonely trek into Jerusalem with Mary riding on their donkey. Picturesque, but unbelievable. There’s actually no donkey in the Christmas story, which doesn’t say Mary didn’t ride one, but basically the donkey is an add-on. But the story of the “Good Samaritan” illustrates the very real danger of people traveling alone, especially on a dark night. Thieves jumped the merchant, robbed him, beat him and left him to die. The Samaritan rescued him. Because of this danger, very likely Joseph and Mary were in a caravan together with many other travelers headed for Bethlehem that night, all obeying Caesar’s command.

At the Christmas season we often hear, in one form or another, the story of the three wise men who traveled from “the East” or the Orient, to see the Baby Jesus. Again, you get the idea of three men – and I’m not sure how the number three got into the story – starting out across the desert bearing precious gifts. Legend has even attached names to the three.

Again, picturesque, but… Assuming they left Babylon and took a familiar route across the desert, and assuming the locals knew something about their trek – and their treasures – how far would these three brave souls have gotten all alone before thieves attacked them? In all probability they were traveling in a large group for safety sake. In reality, any kind of nobility or ambassador, at any point in history, traveled with his retinue of servants, helpers, in this case camel drivers, and at least a few bodyguards.

Bible scholars have always felt that the wise men, maybe a dozen or two, plus their retinue, would have made up a significant caravan. One that would have discouraged robbers. And this caravan, arriving at Jerusalem and inquiring for “he that is born king of the Jews” would have made quite a splash. Not just three fellows showing up at the palace with a tale of following a star.

But wait! Here again, the Bible doesn’t say they followed the star. It says they saw his star in the East. They realized this star, according to old Jewish prophecy, indicated the birth of a ruler in Israel. So they headed for the capital city. Ambassadors do that. Nobility does that. They head for the capital and want to meet with the head of whatever state they’re visiting. Where would you look for an infant king but in the palace? But when King Herod found out from the Jewish wise men where the baby would be born, he told the foreign dignities and off they went in the direction of Bethlehem.

“When they had heard the king, they departed, and lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them till it came and stood over the place where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Matthew 2: 9-10

This brings me to a rather sad part of the Christmas story, something the Bible doesn’t say. When the wise men left Jerusalem they continued on alone. Even though they’d announced the fulfillment of an old prophecy, the birth of a king, and the Jewish scribes had told them where the child should be found, we see no caravan of Jewish leaders, scribes or priests on the road to Bethlehem. The ones who claimed to be eagerly awaiting the Messiah didn’t rush to Bethlehem to greet him. The caravan of wise men hadn’t impressed them enough; they were still going to wait and see.

Ragtag Daily Prompt: CARAVAN

(Image credit: No-Longer-Here at Pixabay)

The Good Old Days

Monday Was Wash Day

Towels right from the wringer
pegged in the fresh December air
flapped and snapped for a moment
before they froze stiff.

Washing wives of old carted them
back into the house as boards,
stood them in a corner to collapse
while she hung out the rest.

Limp and steaming the family wash
hung out and came back rigor mortis,
to be flung over the many cords
that crisscrossed the little house.

There they sagged while the wife thawed
her frozen arms and fingers
by the old wood stove,
then hauled out another load.

The Ragtag Daily Prompt: PEG