The Roman Road and the Romance of Words

The Roman Road and the Romance of Words

reblogged from: Posted by Ravi Zacharias on August 11, 2015

In our time, the story goes on as means change and the battle rages for the ends. Our calling matters. An imagination that runs away from reality too often and too far will run out of the means of generating awe within the soul. That yearning cries out from within, and who our teachers will be will shape our longings and our fulfillment.

Romans-road-and-romance-of-words-webYears ago I remember an event that was a landmark moment in human accomplishment: watching and hearing the American astronauts’ voice after they went round the dark side of the moon. The best description was made by one who captured the moment from earth. I can’t remember who said it, but I was young enough to immediately memorize it: He spoke of watching earth rise “garlanded by the glistening light of the sun, against the black void of space.” ‎What an awe inspiring description. That was real, and that is language befitting the sight. A few short years ago, two astronauts visited us at our office and presented me with a framed picture of their flight into space and a CD of one my messages that the pilot had taken with him to listen to during his time in space. I so treasure that gift, just to think it floated in a spaceship for days. It is overwhelming to think of the incredible strides science and technology have made. The world spins with new thought patterns and capacities.

I thought of all this just a few hours before writing this. Why? I did a first in my life. I watched two movies on the same day. As one who may go to just one movie a year, this was a landmark for me. While in Jakarta, on an off day from writing, a friend took me to see them. The first was a Chinese film based on a true story called “Little Big Master,” about a small elementary school in a village of Hong Kong. The school had been built in 1950 but was dying four decades later, reduced to five students, and if one more student was lost the city council was going to shut it down. A young woman with a burden for children’s education applied for the headmaster’s position and was determined to save the school. The family life from which these children came brings emotions to the surface. The stirrings are deep, the story riveting, the production very simple, at times almost amateurish. But people in the theater were not hiding their tears. I was also profoundly moved. Without giving it all away, the school still stands today. The teacher’s simple testimony was that it was her calling. She had to do it at all costs. And the cost was huge for her. The postscript told us that she is still the headmaster there today.

It brought back memories for me because when I attended school growing up in Delhi it was all in tents. I was a terrible student but my teachers saved the day for me. I am so indebted to so many, principally my mother, and then, more educated and intelligent friends, my culture, and in the years to come, my professors and books: Norman Geisler, Carl Henry, John Warwick Montgomery, John Stott, J.I. Packer, Gleason Archer, and Kenneth Kantzer among many others. What memories, what power in their dedication and teaching. Once I started traveling, books became my instructors: Muggeridge, Chesterton, Lewis, James Stewart, Os Guinness (now a colleague), G. Campbell Morgan, F.B. Meyer, F.W. Boreham, etc. I learned, I memorized, I repeated, I transmitted. Today my soul has been shaped by my teachers. Nostalgically, I wish I could return to school. But the high-noon of youth is gone. My only regret is that I wish I had not just memorized what I learned but put it down in written form so that I could recover it with precision when needed … although with the recent flood in my study when we were away, I would have lost it all anyway. Thirty years of notes were washed away. A huge loss. How we learn and from whom we learn shapes our thinking. How we store and how we preserve are equally important.

The second movie I saw was “Mission Impossible.” Thankfully, the title confessed the strained credulity required to enjoy it. Here there were no tears, just brilliant drama and the impossible made scintillating. The genius of cinematography is the winner here, not the reality. (This also took me back to my youth. Indian movies specialized in the impossible made spectacular, such as one storyline where the Taj Mahal was stolen every night and returned to Agra the next day.) When we left the theater, the thirteen-year-old with us captured the story better than I did. I would have to see it two or three times to get it all. But for the young man it was another day at the movies. To him, this is the astronaut’s voice. Technology and science have reshaped the mode of instruction. The young can look beyond the story to the medium, and the method becomes the genius.

In the first movie it was the person. In the second movie it was the means. The world has changed. The “garlanding of the earth” is not romantic enough; rather, the bright lights of technological genius hold us entranced. What I lost by losing my notes may never be lost with the movies. The one lifted us above the clouds; the other brings what’s in the clouds to us. But one wonders whether a few years from now we may not even need to go to the movies. Will there be implants in the brain to rewind or fast forward? Who knows!

The Roman road and the medium of a common language have both changed, to say nothing of the romance of words. Alexander the Great is not needed to conquer the world and bring unity in diversity. The visual world has done that. But there was another difference between the two movies that is timeless. In the first movie there was a real hero who lived and worked with health-sacrificing dedication to win the soul of a generation. In the second movie the nail-clinging strength of an actor holding on to a plane about to take off is a reshaping of the imagination. Both have their place. But there is a difference. In the first, there is the strength of values that works through the darkness to change the future. The second was changing the future without presenting any corrective to the darkness within. Granted, that was not the purpose. For technology, maybe that is the real Mission Impossible. But there is a world of power within those means. Chesterton reminded us that God is like the sun: you cannot look at it. But without it you cannot look at anything else. As our means improve, our ends had better stay noble.

Therein lies the deeper difference behind the two stories. In the second, the ends justified the means. In the first, the means had to justify themselves. In our time, the story goes on as means change and the battle rages for the ends. Our calling matters. An imagination that runs away from reality too often and too far will run out of the means of generating awe within the soul. That yearning cries out from within, and who our teachers will be will shape our longings and our fulfillment.

And oh yes, I must add a footnote. I wonder what the actors were paid for that performance? Frankly, I don’t begrudge them that. They entertain the masses. But I know the answer to this from the story itself. The teacher’s salary at that school was so meager that she was nicknamed by the amount of her salary. And her job included janitorial responsibilities because she was the sole employee. We pay handsomely to be entertained. As for our teachers? I shall not comment because it won’t make for a happy ending. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. For where our treasure is‎, there our heart will be also.

Connected Learning | How Can Teachers Prepare Kids for a Connected World?

How Can Teachers Prepare Kids for a Connected World?


Educators are always striving to find ways to make curriculum relevant in students’ everyday lives. More and more teachers are using social media around lessons, allowing students to use their cell phones to do research and participate in class, and developing their curriculum around projects to ground learning around an activity. These strategies are all part of a larger goal to help students connect to social and cultural spaces.

And it’s part of what defines “participatory learning,” coined by University of Southern California Annenberg Professor Henry Jenkins, who published his first article on the topic “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture,” in 2006. His work sprang out of the desire to understand the grassroots nature of creativity, how projects are being shared online and what an increasingly networked culture looks like. Since then, he and a team of researchers at USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab have been trying to understand the skills that young people need to creatively participate in a networked world.

In an effort to change how American schools think about teaching, Jenkins’ team developed a strategy called PLAY (Participatory Learning and You) to explain the exploratory and experimental approach to teaching they think students would benefit from. The team worked with teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and recently released a series of studies that describe what they found.

“PLAY describes a mode of experimentation, of testing materials, trying out new solutions, exploring new horizons,” Jenkins said. It’s how kids interact with games – throwing themselves in without reading the rules, testing the limits and feeling free to try and fail. But this learning style is hard to achieve in a system ruled by high-stakes testing where there is no room for students to fail. Everything they do goes on their academic record and they have become unaccustomed to experimenting.

“The teachers who let it get a little messy are finding something very powerful.”

Ed-tech has claimed a noisy role in the debate about how to engage kids with class work, but it isn’t the only way, he said. The ed-tech movement is one part of the participatory learning that Jenkins discusses, but there are other ways to help kids develop skills that will allow them to creatively connect with a culture that’s increasingly networked.

“It’s about a shift in how they think rather than thinking that tech is going to save them or that they need to learn all these tools in order to play, in order to experiment and tinker,” said Erin Reilly, the project’s research director who has led efforts to work with teachers on developing specific strategies for teaching kids ways to collaborate, problem-solve and think creatively.

[RELATED: How to Connect School Life to Real Life]

What defines the PLAY strategy are things like creativity, co-learning, engagement and motivation, making learning relevant, and thinking of education as an ecosystem, where the connections between school, home, community and the broader world are all equally important. Using those principles, the goal is to teach skills students will need in the outside world — things like exercising sound judgment.

“We’ve always wanted young people to critically engage with the information around them,” Jenkins said. “That takes on more urgency in an age of networked communication,” he said. Other skills have risen out of the technology’s influence, like the ability to visualize knowledge and understand visual information. Other skills, like multi-tasking and networking, have been around for a long time, but aren’t always emphasized in traditional classrooms.

The skills that PLAY fosters are based on values that lie beneath the social and cultural experience of this generation, Jenkins said. Educators in Los Angeles who have been incorporating PLAY methods learned how deeply these ideas run in society, no longer worried as much about the specific technology they used to teach. Instead, they felt the freedom to try low-tech ways of getting at the same ideas. The tools were far less important than the tactics that served the learning goals.

One of the biggest challenges for teachers attempting to implement PLAY’s pedagogy is letting go of some of the control that teachers are taught to maintain over their classrooms. A teacher-centered approach can stifle the creative, experimental, and sometimes accidental learning that can be transformative.

“What we hear a lot is teachers describing our approaches as messy, as getting out of control,” Jenkins said. “But the teachers who let it get a little messy are finding something very powerful.” Students might not be learning exactly the same thing, but they involve themselves and their passions in the learning, instilling a sense of ownership. But an apparently uncontrolled classroom can be hard to explain to an administrator who drops in, making it feel risky to teachers who are often alone in the fight to change public education.

[RELATED: Why Learning Should Be Messy]

One teacher in the study had every intention of letting her students experiment in content, but had a harder time letting go of the format. She had her students create public service announcements on whatever topic felt relevant to them. Students spoke to their families and friends before picking topics they found meaningful. One group worked on depression and shared personal experiences as part of the process.

When it came time to create a project, the teacher wanted students to use PowerPoint, a tool she was familiar with, but let go of the idea and allowed them to make their projects on technology with which she was unfamiliar. Teacher and students learned together, each bringing something unique to the table. That type of co-learning is exactly what PLAY mentors feel needs to happen more often in classrooms.

But it’s not easy to be the sole innovator in a school. “Teachers all over the country are fighting this fight alone,” Jenkins said. “By putting our weight behind those teachers we can be a support to that evolution.” The USC team knows that they are working with early adopters and that scalability will be difficult. Still the long term goal is to eliminate a common question heard from students, “when will I ever have to use this.”



To gauge the impact of the PLAY program, the group performed a variety of assessments, including surveys, interviews, peer reflected videos. “In the test-driven environment of the contemporary classroom, there is hardly ever any free time,” Reilly said. “Even in after-school programs, there is a strong push for evaluation, assessment, and continuation of the school day, leaving fewer opportunities for children to play, explore and use their imaginations.”

Despite decades of calls for inquiry-based learning, many teachers find they have less time to experiment with open-learning practices, she added, and as a result, the goal to help learners develop 21st century skills is in direct opposition to the expectation that they teach to the test.

[RELATED: Got a Problem? Let Students Find the Solution]

So the group approached assessments in this way, Reilly said: “We understand the Common Core Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, but not how teachers should teach. We introduced teachers to new practices and ways of thinking about teaching. This, in turn was not to detract from addressing the requirement teachers have of preparing their students for the tests, but instead to give new practices that could result in perhaps more engaged students with material relevant to them so that the knowledge was gained in a different way — thus resulting in we hope better results for the tests.”

For instance, one middle school science teacher, experimented with a new activity that required letting go: rather than leading his students to a solution, he allowed for unexpected outcomes as his students used their collective knowledge to understand and solve the problem. The teacher gave students an array of artifacts, such as plastic tubing, paper and tape, and asked them to create a physical representation of what they had learned about how the digestive system functions. He wanted to use this opportunity to explore assessment in collaborative learning settings, and to examine how peer-to-peer processes could foster deep learning.

In addition to the project, the teacher also implemented a traditional written test, asking them to sequentially identify how the digestive system works. More than 98 percent scored well, Reilly said.

“They used the time order transitional words correctly… and that is actually a California Standards Test question that they have to take at the end of this year,” the teacher said. From that point forward, students continued to suggest ways of applying the tools and resources around them to creatively and collaboratively engage in their assignments.

For more information, read Designing With Teachers: Participatory to Professional Development in Education, Shall We Play? and PLAY! Participatory Learning and You.

Reblogged from 's MindShift blog post

Back To School Letter to Teachers



This letter has been going around:


To my children’s teachers:

I apologize in advance for the condition my children might be in when you see them on Thursday morning. You will have your work cut out for you, I can assure you.

They will likely be very tired. They have been going to bed late and sleeping in because, frankly, that is what I call a great summer.

Their brains are not in learning mode. If they read a book this summer, I am not aware of it. I sure didn’t ask them to. I’m sure they read the back of the cereal box full of processed ingredients. That may be it.

Their handwriting will likely be chicken scratch for a few weeks, at least. Well, with Anderson…..the chances of improvement are slim to none. That ship has sailed. You will want him to type any written work so it will be legible. I’m pretty sure my son hasn’t held a pencil since May.

There has been no practicing of math facts or algebra review. My oldest counted money and tickets at the arcade by the beach. Pretty sure that was the extent of math practice this summer.

They aren’t looking forward to seeing you. In fact, my soon-to-be first grader cried tonight just thinking about having to sit in your classroom. Have fun with that.

My rising freshman told me he didn’t need to see you a day early on back-to-school day because, and I quote, “I’ll figure it out on the first day.” Preparedness is not his strong suit, so consider yourself warned.

No, they aren’t ready to see you. To be honest, I’m not ready for them to see you either. Please don’t curse me under your breath when you receive them into your classrooms on Thursday morning. Know that while they may be underprepared, it is because they have been busy being children. Because in the blink of an eye, they will be grown men holding down careers and supporting families of their own. And lazy summers will be a thing of the past.

I do promise to make sure homework is done and they are in bed on time during the school year. I promise they will be well-behaved and obedient because they have been trained, and they know how consequences follow them home. Please remember, however, that they are boys and will need a daily outlet for the energy they so carefully try to constrain while you are teaching. Recess isn’t negotiable for them.

Take care of my boys. You have them for as many waking hours as I do each week, and that is no small thing.

As always, thank you for overworking for pennies so that my kids can learn. I promise to be generous with the gifts and service in your classrooms.

A Summer-Loving Mom


100% College Admission — How Sad

Last Sunday on a leisure drive back from lunch we passed one of the most prestigious private high schools in our area. A sign was proudly posted at the front entrance stating: “100% College Admission for our Seniors — again.”

I’ll have to admit I cringed on seeing that. Now I know that any high school principal who doesn’t claim this as his/her goal is likely to be accused of not having the students best interests at heart and would also likely be run out of town by indignant parents. But personally, I think there is a major elitism at play here. And ultimately, a lot of those students suffer as a result. Is our goal really to prepare every student for life in a cubicle? In looking at my grandchildren I see those who would weep at such a prospect.

The elitism is in believing that every occupation pursued by a path outside of college is somehow “lower” and not a worthy pursuit for our students. We have become a culture that looks down on labor and craftsman positions. So, really, in this graduating class we will have no Ferrari mechanics, no sculptors, no HVAC specialists, no one I can contact to design another water feature, no skilled carpenters, no stone masons, no welders and no piano tuners?

Two days ago I had a young man come out to do the spring check-up on our air conditioning systems.  Just a check-up, no parts were required.  He was here less than two hours and my bill was $149.  Yesterday my John Deere tractor was returned with new bearings in the front wheels.  Total bill – $2690.78.  Most of that was labor – billed at $70/hour.  At the same time I have a young attorney friend who is working part time at Kinkos at $10 to supplement his income.  The HVAC guy and tractor mechanic – $70 an hour.

In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter wrote that the expansion of “higher education” beyond what our labor market demands creates for white-collar workers “employment in substandard work or at wages below those of the better-paid manual workers.”  And then he added, “it may create unemployability of a particularly disconcerting type.  The man who has gone to college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in professional work.”*  I’m sure you know people who are stuck in $12/hour jobs who would never lower themselves to work in something like being a tractor mechanic.

If we consider our children to be smart and really want the best for them, should we not consider a broad range of occupational possibilities?

via 100% College Admission – How Sad.