Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Learning in One-Room Schools

Today's Wall Street Journal features an excellent review of the book "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory " by Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at New York University. Based on Bill Kauffman's review, I'm sure to pick up a copy of this book.

Kauffman quotes from the book this fact:

In 1913, "one-half of the nation's schoolchildren attended one of its 212,000 single-teacher schools."

Kauffman points out that, "by 1960, progressive educationists, growing cities and the centralizing pressures of two world wars and a Cold War had reduced the total to just 1%."

Lest we think that Zimmerman is waxing nostaligic in a bucolic neverland, Kauffman emphasizes the objectivity of the book, showing both the pros and cons of one-room schools. But the thing is, the pros out weigh the cons. The fact that charter and home schooling is growing points to many others coming to the same conclusion.

Kauffman writes in his review:

"Decades after consolidation had obliterated one-room schools, researchers discovered their advantages. The child in the small school is not just a statistic on a government chart. She receives 'individual attention and recognition.' She works at her own pace. She has, most important, a place. As Mr. Zimmerman remarks, recent alternatives to 'the large, alienating modern school,' from charter schools to homeschooling, have sought to foster 'the snug, communal aspects of the one-room school.' But the one-room-school model entails community control, which liberals and conservatives alike resist if the 'community' sings from the wrong hymnal."

To read the entire review, go to


One-room schools have always fascinated people. In 2004, I interviewed Nina Miller of Sheboygan, a 79-year old woman who taught at the Clinton Center Grade School in Cashton, Wisconsin, in 1946. Nina did everything from stoke the fire in the morning, to tracking down young boys hiding in the cornfield, to carrying one first-grader home a mile and a half because he injured his foot at school. Many children attended barefoot in the warmer months. Miller's second oldest son is named after one of her students who was killed when a lumber truck hit him as he crossed the road to his home. Miller said she and her students were like a big family.

I've also had the pleasure of reading a local neighbor's account of life in a Sheboygan County one-room schoolhouse written by Cedar Grove resident Richard Dykstra. It's titled "Life and Learning in a One-Room Country School." It is professionally and entertainingly written and can be purchased at

I like the closing remarks in Kauffman's WSJ review where he writes:

"Even after Mr. Zimmerman's unsentimental accounting of its defects, the one-room school shines in comparison with the over-large and remotely controlled warehouses in which too many children are educated today. Reading "Small Wonder," one wonders if Americans will ever tire of chasing after the gods of Progress and Bigness and rediscover the little things, red schoolhouses among them, that once gave us our soul."

Amen to that.

"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" Matthew 16:26

Saturday, June 27, 2009

God's Grace for Social Situations

My Oswald Chambers devotion today said:

“One of the greatest proofs that you are drawing on the grace of God is that you can be totally humiliated before others without displaying even the slightest trace of anything but His grace.”

I love this because it reminds us that with God we can be free from all that scares us: embarrassment, being judged, having people talk about us behind our back, being smirked at, and being patronized. As the youngest of six, an introvert, and a social misfit, I’ve experienced, as I’m sure many of you have, all of the above.

Some of you who followed my old blog on WisMoms know about my past alcohol addiction. One of the reasons I took to alcohol so readily—as many others have--is because of shyness and the discomfort of being in my own skin. Alcohol took me out of that skin and into a world where I could be confidently social. When I was under the influence, people and social situations didn’t scare me; sober, they terrified me.

In the early days of my sobriety that fear of social situations made it almost impossible to be with people. While at a social function, I counted the minutes before I could leave and return to the safety and anonymity of my car. If my husband left my side, I went into an internal panic. But as I accepted Christ and began to live a life under His authority and grace, I began to be healed of my social phobia and become comfortable—not in my skin, but in the skin I now wore with God.

God blessed me with a reporting job where I learned how to go into groups and walk up to people and ask them questions. I met complete strangers in their homes or over coffee and asked them personal questions about their lives and experiences. And I did it all sober, and through the grace of God. Today, I can easily talk to strangers and, through a reliance on God, hold my own at a social gathering. That doesn’t mean I’ve become a social butterfly! Hardly! I still prefer one-on-one time with people and love an empty answering machine!

I admit that some situations still scare me, like gatherings with extended family or parties where alcohol is a factor (not because I’m tempted to drink, but because I’m tempted to judge those who are drinking and loathe the general drinking atmosphere). I often moderate my blood pressure and calm my nerves on the way to these gatherings by reading my Bible in the front seat of the car as we travel to the event (If I’m driving, I listen to Christian radio).

For those of us who have fluctuating comfort levels with social situations, and as we enter the 4th of July weekend where there will be many family gatherings, graduation parties, company and church picnics, etc., I pray that the above quote from Chambers, along with God’s grace, will alleviate any fear and apprehension we may have. It’s always a comfort to remember that if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). There is no greater joy than knowing that God understands our weaknesses and is always right there by our side.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:2-5

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What People Bring with Them

Me and Val, the wise B & B proprietor and also wonderful gardener!

I just returned from our summer family vacation. One of the nights we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast, and as we chatted with the lovely motherly-type woman who runs the lodging, I commented that she must encounter all types of people. Her response is something I doubt I will ever forget, and something I pondered for the rest of the vacation. She said, “You don’t know what people are carrying around with them. When they go on vacation, they don’t leave it behind, they bring it with them.”

Her words were full of compassion as well as a matter-of-factness that I found clarifying. None of us knows what people “bring with them” to the grocery store, the restaurant, the workplace, or the classroom. We sum up our opinions of folks based on so little, never getting to what Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.” Many times, since our encounters are with strangers or with more formal acquaintances such as teachers or bosses, we are never able to find out the full story.

Yet regardless of who it is or how they are behaving, we can ask God to meet that person right where they’re at. Instead of making a snide comment about the person, or thinking the worst of someone, I’m trying instead to pray on-the-spot for them, asking God to intervene in their life and put them on the Damascus Road.

God in His Grace is allowing me more and more to see difficult people as lost instead of seeing them the way I am used to seeing them; as people who deserve to be derided. Praying for them doesn’t mean I condone their behavior or excuse it. It simply means I want them called out of their lostness the same way God called me out of my lostness. I want them to be free, finally, of the stuff they bring with them.

“But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:12-13

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's Blooming this Week

Photos by Barb Harwood. Taken in my garden week of June 1, 2009. From top to bottom: Prairie Smoke (native Wisconsin prairie plant); Emerald Carousel Barberry; Iris; Common Snowball Viburnum; Prairie Smoke; Columbine

"There's not a plant or flower below but makes your glories known..." from the hymn, "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" by Isaac Watts, 1715

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Civil Liberty that is Not

Two Brookfield Wisconsin high schools can now proceed as planned and hold their graduation ceremonies in a church. If you aren’t aware of the story, you can read it here: http://www.620wtmj.com/news/local/46731562.html. Americans United for Separation of Church and State took the two public high schools to court to prevent them from holding graduation in a religious place of worship. They took issue with a Cross hanging in the church, citing the viewing of it as a violation of separation of church and state. What’s most amazing is that all nine of the plaintiffs refused to be named:

“The judge revealed that at least one of the anonymous nine who filed this complaint is a current graduating senior.”

The fact that they don’t want anyone to know who they are makes you wonder about their commitment to the cause. And about that current graduating senior, the article goes on to state:

“That student’s attorney does not know if the student will still participate in graduation.”

Is this a great country or what? We have the ability to choose what we can in all conscience participate in and what we can’t. If we feel we are unable to cope with being in a church for two hours out of our life for a secular ceremony, then we have the right to opt-out. Freedom is a wonderful thing.

The simple question from this story for me is, where are the diversity hounds when you need them? You know, the people who preach diversity diversity diversity? If people are so bent on diversity, then doesn’t it figure that an atheist can respectfully take part in a secular graduation ceremony that just happens to take place in a building with pews and a wooden Cross? Is that really beyond the ability of any American 18-year-old who has, for 12 years, attended school with students of varying ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds and lifestyle choices? Is it really beyond the ability of an adult who is about to graduate into the real world of life, work and college to deal with the situation of graduation held in a church? An atheist might be offended? Well, join the club. It’s called the “we don’t have a right to never be offended” club.

People of faith have to live in a secular world every day. Within our faith we have our peer groups and leaders, but that is within the greater context of a devoutly secular humanist world. We shop in grocery stores that play raunchy music and display equally raunchy magazines. We keep our TV remotes handy to flip from inane commercials and television shows. We're forced to sit amongst drunks at ball games and concerts. Our kids attend public government run schools (that we pay taxes for) and are exposed daily to morally relative, liberal teachings and attitudes that go directly against many faiths. In the workplace, we take orders from bosses not led or directed by faith in anything but themselves, and we are forced to overhear crude and obnoxious jokes over the water cooler. I think you get the drift. We live in a world in which many of the places we congregate the Cross is not present, physically or spiritually. If people of faith tried to sue every place we ever walked inside of or laid eyes on because it is “offensive,” hurts our feelings or threatens to crush our thin veneer of self-esteem, we’d be so busy suing we wouldn’t be able to carry out the normal duties of life.

"Civil liberties” groups like AUSCS, along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, must carry a low regard, or no regard at all, for people’s ability to function and live in a diverse world. Is it their intent that not even churches are allowable, since an atheist might be walking down the public sidewalk and be offended, hurt and crushed that their eyes actually have to view a Cross or a statue of Mary?

FFRF and the AUSCS apparently think that society is so weak that it needs a nanny to protect its tender hearts and minds from the world. A world that includes mosques, temples, churches, store-front Christian Science Monitor reading rooms, Christmas decorations, Christian schools, seminaries, Salvation Army food centers, ambulances with Crosses on them, religious retail outlets, and on and on. What kind of impact does Freedom from Religion hope to have by enabling and coddling people’s inability to get along with one another and live in a multi-cultural and religiously diverse world? These “civil liberty” groups are not about liberty at all: they’re about crippling people within a victimhood that prevents them from true fellowship with a diverse world.

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Let’s stop right there. The news article quotes Elmbrook Schools Superintendent Matt Gibson as saying,

“We’ve held to a secular ceremony all the way through.”

Congress is not “establishing a religion” by allowing the schools to hold a secular graduation ceremony in a church. And the democracy of the situation is such that the majority of the people who are directly involved actually want the graduation to take place in the church! Isn’t majority rule pretty much the foundation of things in this country? Do we see a show of hands? Most people are in favor, as is revealed in this quote from the article:

Most parents are pleased with the ruling” (to hold graduation in the church).

“You've got a very large school that has a lot of students, a lot of parents, a lot of relatives that want to participate,” said parent Lynn Kilb.
Yet nine anonymous people can spinelessly stir up dust and no doubt cost the school district a lot of money in an attempt to prevent the majority from carrying out a graduation ceremony in the most comfortable, efficient manner possible.

When you look at the FFRF and AUSCS, you realize they are fighting a losing battle because the amendment they fight for says "freedom OF religion." The Bill of Rights never says that we have a freedom FROM religion, just as it never says that church and state cannot co-exist. Ever see that bumper sticker that says “co-exist” with various religious and lifestyle symbols, including Christianity? It’s an advertisement to co-exist; ChristianityThe Cross -- included. The Bill of Rights allows us to co-exist when it says Congress cannot establish religion but also cannot prevent the free exercise thereof, and it cannot abridge the freedom of speech.

So when AUSCS makes the claim that Congress DOES prevent us from co-existing, and DOES prevent us from ever being hurt by being exposed to a religious symbol that may not be our own, AUSCS is wrong. And that’s why their lawsuits continue to lose in the American court of law.

All of us, regardless of our beliefs or our lifestyle, will do well to remember the Biblical mandate to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. ..Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position (might I say that the nine anonymous plaintiffs be willing to associate with a religious venue for two hours?) Do not be conceited…Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:12-13, 16, 17-18

copyright Barb Harwood