“Hoe Your Own Row” so “The Proof is in the Pudding”

An idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.” The idiom “hoe your own row” is laden with various connotations depending on the situation where it is used, but I do believe that it can be a good reminder to all of us (especially our children) that there are some things for which only they can be responsible. Galatians 6 speaks directly to this concept. Often when we think of Galatians 6, we think of the teachings to “restore the one overtaken in a fault,” and “bear one another’s burdens,” and “do good to all men- especially those in the household of faith.” Clearly these teachings assure us that there are appropriate times to help others “with their own row.” However, couched between these teachings are also a few relentless statements about personal responsibility and personal reputation for what is growing “in your own row.” Galatians 6:3-5,7 says: “3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. 4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For every man shall bear his own burden. 7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Verse 3 says that the inherent deception of self perception is that when one thinks about himself, he tends to over rate himself because he likes himself to have a good rating. Verse 4 brings us back to solid thinking by telling us that it is not our evaluation of self that is important, but the reality that our own actions, deeds, and work produce a reputation that is understood because of its clear evidence. Verse 4 in Idiom form says if “the proof is in my pudding” and the pudding tastes good, there is reason for joy and satisfaction, and no reason to snitch someone else’s pudding. Verse 5 is one hundred percent clear that we each have our own distinct row with various burdens falling to each one in different ways. Verse 7 seems to hearken back to the concept in verse 3, concerning who is deceived. Stated in idiom form verse 7 says “The trick’s on you,” but God won’t be fooled or ridiculed about the harvest in your row. Verse 7 literally has the idea that we cannot “turn up our snout” at God and “bellow or roar against him” concerning the reaping done in our row. In other words God perfectly connects the dots from the time of sowing to the time of reaping. He is never confused by the harvest in my row, seemingly insinuating that people like us often act confused about our harvest because of inherent self-deception.

From little on up, we try to help our children “connect the dots” by realizing that certain actions (sowing) leads to certain consequences (reaping). Parenting can become wearying as we continually preach this simple logic from the time they toddle toward the hot burner, to the time that they refuse traffic laws. At times we might even be pleased that they “got what they deserved,” as long as it doesn’t hurt too much! On the other hand “mature” people like us are all too often masters of denying our own harvest. When we look at our row, we gasp and act as though it’s not the one we hoe. In vain we explain to God and others that the multitude of weeds and lack of fruit in my row is quite explainable because of windborne weed seeds and native plants that lived here before I sowed my row. What fools we are to stand in our own row giving production disclaimers!

In conclusion, Galatians 6 clearly teaches that we are responsible to assist each other by doing good, bearing burdens, and restoring the erring one. However, Galatians 6 is also clear that we must reckon with the harvest as it is. We can’t wait until harvest time to name the “crops;” because even if we call the fox tails soybeans, they won’t taste the same or be enjoyed by anyone. Might I suggest that “hoeing your own row” has an independent, self made, and arrogant tone to it while “the proof is in the pudding” simply says that we have to reckon with what is. If we want our children to be successful, we must be there to assist them by hoeing with them in their own row, because it’s the time of hoeing that changes the harvest.  However, when harvest day comes and the “proof is in the pudding,” we can’t deny the taste of the pudding. We can only explain why it tastes the way it does and plan for a better harvest next time.

-Lyle Musser, Administrator

God’s Perspective on Man’s Pursuits

In I Kings 3, Solomon received what was probably the greatest offer ever made. God himself asked Solomon, “What shall I give thee?” Now first of all, we must note that an offer may or may not be valuable depending on the one offering. In other words, if the one offering does not have much, then the offer will be limited and weak and disappointing. In this case, however, the one offering was God himself. Because HE was offering, this offer to Solomon was wide open, giving him access to anything within the resources of God- which happens to be everything.

After the offer was given, Solomon begins to reflect on what he should ask for, which offers to us great insight into the values of Solomon.  In I Kings 3:6-8, we see that Solomon valued mercy, truth, righteousness, and uprightness of heart as displayed in his father David. Solomon humbly recognized his position among God’s people as their leader, realizing that the task of leading was beyond his ability. After processing God’s question, Solomon submits his request, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (I Kings 3:9).

In verse 10 we are told that this request pleased the Lord. Verse 11 is key because it is God’s response to Solomon. In his response, the Lord reveals what he would expect to be “typical responses” to this offer. It seems from God’s perspective that if this request were given frequently that people would ask for these three things: “long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies” (I Kings 3:11). I believe this insight into the thinking of God should reveal to us a very important truth. This truth shows how God values wisdom, discernment, and an understanding heart (for which Solomon wisely asked); when, in all reality, God would expect most people to ask for things along the lines of health, wealth, and revenge.

The request for “long life” would be logical to any person, Christian or not, because it prolongs the curse of death to which no one desires to succumb. The request for “riches” is natural, because riches supposedly entitles us to more things, more power, and more security. The request for “the life of thine enemies” would again be a natural and logical attraction, because if all of one’s enemies were annihilated, a person could feel vindicated, justified, and have relative peace.

Because these three items are listed in contrast to Solomon’s wise choice, we could deduce that God sees these three as foolish choices. For one, all of these choices would only be temporary. These requests would be short-sighted and, in the end, leave a person who pursues them no better off with or without them. A second thing to note is that wisdom is contrasted with these three things because wisdom has only one source- God himself. The other three things could be attained from sources outside of an explicit offer from God. Solomon certainly made a good choice by asking for the commodity that was not available from any other source. It was prudent to ask for wisdom from the only vendor who had it! In conclusion, Solomon made a good choice when given the best offer. We glean God’s insight into the typical, common, everyday, earthly kinds of requests that he would expect from common men. If we want to be uncommon in God’s sight, we would be wise to abandon their pursuit and go for the things that only God can give.

-Lyle Musser, Administrator

Blessed Be God!

It is August 27, the first day of school for this year. This first day is like no other first day because of a number of new staff and quite a few new students as well. This day is also like no other first day, because school began today in a building that is paid completely! No debt, no loans– The SMS building is completely paid, because the year end matching fund of $60,000 was met thanks to your contribution and the contribution of many others from the SMS community. We are delighted to have reached this ambitious goal. The total contributions received toward the operating goal was $70,142.11 which allowed the capital side of the matching fund to take its place and make the final payment on the interest-free loans. The SMS board wants to express great appreciation to all who gave, making a very large goal achievable, one donation at a time!

Today, students repeated the same celebration as on September 7, 2007, which was the  first day that our building was used for classes. Chapel groups gathered in prayer thanking God for His provision of a wonderful school building as well as asking God to bless the upcoming school year. After prayer, each student received a helium balloon and attached a note of celebration. This note asked any who might find it to write back to the school and tell us where they found it. It is interesting that when this was done in 2007, we did receive two letters from Quakertown and one letter from Perkiomenville from some kind folks who found the notes and wrote to us. This morning when the balloons took off from school, they headed in a south easterly direction towards the Morgantown area. It will be interesting to see if anyone finds any notes and writes back.

Building repayment represents a pivotal point in SMS history as today we began our 10th year of school. Moving forward into our 10th year and beyond, there are more opportunities and challenges ahead of us as we seek to serve our patron body and the Church Community to the best of our ability.

-Mr. Lyle Musser

Administrator

Three Dimensions of Judgment

We live in a world that is three dimensional in every way. We learn about the three dimensions in math class as length, width, and height. With these three dimensions we study objects of all kinds of shapes and sizes as we figure out their volume– the amount of “space” that they occupy. In science we study “outer space” which is simply a description of the vast expanse of universe which is too lengthy and wide and high to really comprehend. Also, in science class we try to describe “matter,” or the stuff that makes up our universe. It’s interesting that matter is fundamentally described as having three parts– protons, neutrons, and electrons.  In History class we study the three dimensions of time– what happened in the past (history), what is happening now (current events), and how these events might shape tomorrow (the future). In English class we have to study the past, present, and future tense of a word in order to accurately express ourselves in the English language. Last, but not least, we wrestle in Bible class to describe and understand the Trinity (three-ness, but yet oneness) of the Godhead as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Truly, we do live in a world of three dimensions made up of three dimensional matter, three dimensional space, and three dimensional time.

Recently I was thinking about our actions as people in this three dimensional world, wondering how God can ever come to an accurate judgment of all the things that happen in his world in a days time. As I was thinking these thoughts, the concept of three dimensions jumped into my mind. Since most everything about God’s world is three dimensional, I had to wonder if he also uses a “three dimensional” standard of judgment as he weighs out the actions of mankind to determine if they are good or evil. Of all the actions, events, and happenings that take place in our world, I think the standards of judgment come from three angles or three viewpoints.

First, we have the eyes that look in at the motive of the heart. These eyes view the action from the perspective of intention. Jesus is very clear that the heart is the treasury from which our actions spring. The action is a window into the motive and intention of the heart. This concept is understood by all people, not just Christians, because even government law has “degrees of crime” written into it to assess the intention and motive of the wrong doer so that a proper sentence for the crime can be pronounced.

Second, are the eyes that look down. Proverbs 15:3 tell us that “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” When God observes our actions I believe he judges them based on the great commandment– whether or not it was done out of love for God. Jesus was certainly the best keeper of the great commandment, so really the question is simple- “Would Jesus do what I just did?” Proverbs continually reminds us that God has two categories for our actions– wise and foolish. If our actions are done in the fear of God which causes a departure from evil, we have acted wisely. Proverbs 14:16 says, “A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil, but a fool rageth, and is confident.”

Third, are the eyes that look across. The main thrust here is how our actions impact others. Jesus himself extended the great commandment to be two parts. The first part is love for God, and the second part is love for neighbor. The eyes that look across are looking for actions that bless, encourage, and do good to our neighbor. Many New Testament principles spring from this concept. The Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12 says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ephesians 4:32 calls for kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness of each other. Ephesians 4:29 tells us that our communication should not be judged by how we think we said it, but by the result (or lack) of edification and grace in the lives of the hearer. The apostle John ultimately caps off the importance of this “other focused” mentality when he describes how it is impossible for a person to love God if they don’t love and prefer their brother (I John 4).

In our three dimensional world, could it be that God assesses our actions from three dimensions of judgment? Certainly he is the only one who knows all three perspectives perfectly, therefore making him the perfect judge of all our actions.

Lyle Musser (Administrator)

Helpful Helping!

If you are like me, there are many times you are conflicted in how much help to give your children in their school work.  Obviously, there are numerous factors that have a bearing on how you approach this question.  In the next few paragraphs I would like to consider two areas:  projects and assignments.

One of the most difficult areas of marking that a teacher faces is in areas of creativity.  How does one judge creativity?  We develop rubrics to assist us in developing a fair and accurate grade; but unfortunately, there are so many things we do not see.  I don’t see how much effort a child puts into the project.  I personally have not been blessed with an abundance of naturally acquired artistic skills; so when it comes to things of this nature, I have sympathy for the artistically challenged student. So as teachers, we always have to decide, is this authentic student work, or am I actually grading mom or dad! When assigning a project to a class, especially with younger students, I try to address the question of how much help they can get from their parents.  I usually say something like –“I’m marking your work not your parents.”  Speaking as a parent, it’s tough at times to know when to stand back and when to assist and offer suggestions.  I see nothing wrong in a supper-table dialogue on how to do a project.  I think it crosses the line, though, when I am doing work for my child that they should be doing.  As parents, we want our children to do well.  No doubt we feel that the work that they bring to school-especially in something “big” like a project- is somehow a reflection on us.  Finding the balance between calling your children to excel and yet accepting their best has always been a challenge.  My personal feeling has been that if the work that they are presenting is more of my doing than their own, then I have overstepped the line.

No doubt if your home is like our home, children are called on to answer questions that you might know the answer to.  Having taught science for many years, it is not uncommon for one of my children to ask me what a certain term is or means.  I don’t always catch myself, but I feel I am doing my children a disservice if they find their mom or dad is a vending machine of definition and answers.  As “Google” continues to evolve into our source for all information, I believe all we can do to keep our children physically searching for answers in books or the like will only help them learn to work independently.  Certainly we can assist in helping our children in knowing where to look.  I believe it is an excellent sign when a student pulls out a dictionary on their own accord for a definition!

In conclusion, we as parents should ask ourselves- am I helping (with good long term habit formation), or am I hindering (applying a patch for the temporary appearance of success)? The endurance of time usually indicates the value of the learning.

-Thanks goes to Howard Lichty from Countryside Christian School (Ontario) for these helpful words.

Foundations of Fear and Authority

Many places in scripture we are told that “fear is.” Looking around at our world today, our experience shows us evidence that fear is a driving force, a motivating factor, and a commodity that humans wish were annihilated. The “no fear” slogan can be associated with the bold, brazen, hardened types who drive certain types of vehicles that apparently help them overcome their fears by transporting them to any place they want to go, to do whatever they desire to do because their life has no limits, “no fears.” This natural human response to fear hardens the heart, causing calluses to develop and thus minimizing the affects of fear on these cold-hearted and unfeeling types who blaze ahead in life, supposedly ignoring their fears. Is this what God desires of his people? Is there a better way?

For the Christian, fear is a command. The fear of the Lord is foundational to the Christian life. The fear of the Lord is the foundation of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; thereby making it the foundation of Christian education. The fear of the Lord is a detriment to sin and a promoter of holiness as Psalm 4:4 indicates when it says, “Stand in awe (trembling, quivering fear) and sin not.” Scripture tells us numerous places what the fear of the Lord is. The fear of the Lord is: clean, the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of knowledge, to hate evil, pride and arrogancy, strong confidence, a fountain of life, the instruction of wisdom, his treasure. These descriptions show us that the fear of the Lord is a precious and valuable commodity, producing wisdom, life, purity, and confidence.

An appropriate reverential fear of God is an absolutely necessary foundation upon which Christian education can then build. This fear of God instills itself in our lives as we observe the power and authority which God wields. This foundational fear of God causes parents to recognize their place of authority- under God’s ultimate authority. As parents we act only out of representative authority given to us by God. If our authoritative parental role fails to mirror and reflect the authority of God carried out in the fear of God for the best benefit of the child whom God has given us, then we are failing.

For a little illustration, the role of parents could be described as “subcontractors under God’s authority,” making the role of the teacher a “second string subcontractor” under God’s authority. If all lines are clear it is not difficult to work as a “sub of a sub”. However, if the first string “subcontractor” (parent) has botched and marred the image of true authority, it may be difficult for the second string “subcontractor” (teacher) to maintain a proper authoritative role in the life of the child. On the other hand, it is also possible that if the first sub has botched the image of authority, that the second string sub can partially rescue, revive, and reveal an appropriate image of authority in the life of the student. The reverse could also be true in that the “second string sub” could botch and mar the image of ultimate authority in the life of a child, even if the “first string sub” has represented it well. This little illustration represents the need for all those in authority over children to act representatively of God’s authority, and not individually out of one’s own “authority.” A proper representation of God’s authority should lead the child to a healthy fear of God.

One might ask, “How can I evaluate my use of authority?” The answer can be found by observing which tools you most commonly use. Since God is Creator, Lawgiver, and ultimate Judge, his presence rightfully produces fear. Where we fail in our authority is in the times where we step into God’s role using threat, manipulation, and guilt to let a child know that they have crossed my design, disobeyed my law, and therefore stand under condemnation of my judgment. Usually these conversations require raised voices and angry faces to produce fear and hopefully submission in the child who has transgressed my law. If this describes your use of authority, you are using human tools and human responses to reach a human goal- not God’s goal. God’s tools look like truth spoken in love, demonstrating to the child that he has transgressed God’s law and God’s design; and therefore, stands under God’s condemnation and in need of God’s forgiveness, redemption, and grace. This approach points the child to the one who was ultimately offended, the one who holds ultimate authority, and determines ultimate consequences; and therefore should ultimately be feared.

As teacher, parents, and grandparents who have great influence in the lives of children, are we promoting an appropriate, reverent fear of God, and are we representing his authority accurately by the use of ours?

-Lyle Musser (Administrator)

Discretion Shall Preserve Thee

In the last newsletter article we discussed the fact that our conservative community has taken a “non typical” response to the electronic technology available in our day. Whereas in the past, our communities have often used the rejection safeguard against electronic technology, now we have accepted it under the “use with discretion” safeguard. Discretion calls for watchfulness, wisdom, self-control, self-discipline, and sound individual judgment. This means that our parenting, our preaching, and our teaching should all be harnessed as available methods by which to teach discretion, because we must raise the next generation to be even more discreet, more watchful, and employ more self-control and self-discipline than even our own generation has exhibited. Is this possible? I hope so; because if it is not, we will be assimilated into the popular culture and conform to the world. If it is possible, it will not happen by chance, but by intention.

Proverbs 2:10- 12 gives us a description of the “preserving effect” of discretion. It says, “When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things.” These verses tell us that wisdom and knowledge are ingredients in the recipe of discretion. Wisdom is knowledge and understanding put to practice in real life. Wisdom is not just a demonstration of good brains, but of good habits and practices in lifestyle. Knowledge represents a set of data that a person knows or is aware of because they have paid attention to it or have been instructed in it. This proverb tells us that an attitude of pleasant acceptance toward knowledge is necessary in the recipe for discretion. As parents and teachers, we set before our children/students many things to which we expect them to pay attention and to know. Are we setting before them the most important things to know- the kind of knowledge that leads to discretion? Are we presenting knowledge to our children/students in a way that is easy for them to receive as “pleasant to the soul”? When we are instructing our children/students are we concerned about their attitude towards knowledge, knowing that pleasant acceptance is the only attitude that will lead to discretion?

These verses point to the fact that it is the internal commodity of discretion created from a recipe of wisdom and pleasant acceptance of knowledge that will have a preserving effect on the life of the recipient. It is the internal commodity of discretion that delivers from the “way of the evil man.” It is the internal commodity of discretion that delivers a person from “the man that speaketh frorward things.”  Therefore we could conclude that the reverse could also be said: a person who gets caught up “in the way of the evil man” and “the man that speaketh forward things” is simply demonstrating his lack of internal discretion.

Applying these verses directly to our community’s response to technology, we could say these things:

-The rejection safeguard of yesteryears which said “no TV, no movies, and no theatre attendance” was a wise, discreet, and viable choice which had a preserving effect from the “way of the evil man.”

-It is possible that some followed the external regulations of  “no TV, no movies, and no theatre attendance” without the internal discretion to explain why they chose not to do these things.

-With the external safeguards of yesteryear not applying to the current situation with technology, internal discretion is the foremost, and in many cases, the only commodity that stands between our children and “the way of the evil man.”

-The “use with discretion safeguard” to which we have now reverted will be a grueling but very accurate test of our ability as parents, teachers, and churches to actually teach discretion.

-If/when failure comes and our youth succumb to “the way of the evil man,” we must recognize that in most cases the failure was a lack of preserving discretion, rather than a lack of external controls.

-A lack of preserving discretion in the younger generation will demonstrate a failure in the “parenting” generation to successfully teach this skill.

-Preserving discretion readily practiced and demonstrated and employed by the younger generation will show the success of the “parenting” generation to teach this skill.

DISCRETION SHALL PRESERVE THEE- DO YOU HAVE IT? CAN YOU PASS IT ON TO YOUR CHILDREN?

-Lyle Musser, Administrator

Culture, Technology, and Our Community

There is no doubt that the Devil is a master con artist when it comes to using culture around us to “press us into his mold.” Romans 12:2 tells us we must continually resist this conforming pressure. It tells us that the way to resist conformation to the world is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This transformation by the renewing of our minds brings out its evidence and proof as we perform the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” There is also no doubt in my mind that the cultural pressure to conform to this world is at a high point in our land at this moment. With God consciousness moving off the scene and relativism moving onto the scene, we must be stronger than ever to instill and maintain  “transformation by the renewing of the mind.”
One of the main tools that the Devil uses in our culture (and conservative sub culture) to promote his agenda is technology. Never before has so much information been available so readily. Generally people (and churches) have two responses to the “new things” in culture. One is a rejection/ isolation response with the theme verse being “touch not the unclean thing”(II Corinthians 6:17). The second is an assimilation response which says nothing is really bad in and of itself, so therefore, we should participate in all things using discretion to protect ourselves from the components of evil and temptation that exist in the thing. The theme verse for this approach could be summed up with Romans 14:14 where Paul says, “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself.” In broad generalizations, our Anabaptist circles have generally taken a rejection/ isolation response to the things of culture. The Evangelical/ Protestant circles have taken the assimilation approach to culture, attempting to participate in all levels of culture; and thus, have a “sanctifying effect” on the culture at large.
Much could be said about the pro’s and con’s of each approach to culture, but my concern in this short space is to point out the fact that our Anabaptist circles are shifting approaches. In the past, our conservative circles have approached each “new thing” and either rejected it outright or accepted it with regulation. The automobile was rejected by some and accepted by others with regulation on color. The radio was rejected by some and accepted by others who provided teaching on the dangers and errors that one may encounter when listening. Therefore, listening was to be done intently with good discretion. When the radio became available in the car for the teenager driving off by himself, a new world of possibility opened up as the radio could no longer be monitored by a whole family setting as it was in the house. When the TV came on the scene, it proved in time to have little value and increasing offense for a people who intended to not be conformed to the world and to keep unspotted from the world. It was rejected outright by our people along with most of its counterpart movies which could be played without actually having TV. Now today, we have all these things combined in little packages which are generically called “devices” because they are too numerous to name individually. Now, if we would take our churches in 1970 or even 1980 and put them in “freeze frame” (so that they missed the small steps between then and now) and then bring them back to action today, my guess is that they would have a royal fit about what we have allowed. Part of this royal fit would be warranted because of the increased threat to nonconformity and the increased potential for moral failure, but part of it would be misunderstanding. The misunderstanding would be about the incredible benefits that this technology has brought, all mixed together with the smut and slime and junk that is also available. The misunderstanding would also not account for the fact that many use these devices in victory because of increased openness and accountability among families and church brotherhoods.
This brings us to the point of these ponderings given as a statement and as a question: Since our conservative community has allowed a “use with discretion” response to the technology of the popular culture (where in the past we would have typically rejected it), then what changes must take place in our thought processes, habits, and attitude to safeguard against full assimilation into our popular culture? In other words our community has taken a “non typical” or “out of character” response to the technology that has arisen in the last 15 years. This shift in response calls for a shift in regulation. A rejection response called for external controls like, “Thou shalt not have TV, and if you do you are in violation and need to decide if you are going to comply or leave.” This was simple, straight forward, and very easy to understand. Now, we have shifted to a “use with discretion” model which is neither simple, straightforward, nor easy to understand. No external controls will ever sufficiently regulate this approach, because discretion is not an external thing. This shift in response calls for a shift to internal controls. The new model says for itself what the safeguard has become- discretion. Discretion calls for watchfulness, wisdom, self control, self discipline, and sound individual judgment. This means that our parenting, our preaching, and our teaching should all be harnessed as available methods by which to teach discretion, because we must raise the next generation to be even more discreet, more watchful, and employ more self control and self discipline than even our own generation has exhibited. Is this possible? I hope so; because if it is not, we will be assimilated into the popular culture, conform to the world, and ultimately loose our transformed mind. If it is possible, it will not happen by chance, but by intention. Our communities must recognize that a shift in response requires a shift in regulation, and then must teach toward the skills of openness, honesty, transparency, confession, discretion, wisdom, and personal accountability which are the only commodities that will stand against full assimilation of our communities into popular culture.
-Lyle Musser, administrator

The Core Processes of Learning

I have found the research of Kevin Washburn very helpful in thinking about how learning occurs; and therefore, how teaching should occur. Kevin explains four core processes of learning which I will attempt to share with you.

The first core process of learning is experience. Experience is the input of sensory data which happens continuously for every living person. Because of the volume of experiences a person has in any given time frame, it is impossible for the brain to process all experiences, and it almost immediately eliminates from memory any sensory data that does not grab the attention of the mind. In other words, the brain must do more with the sensory data received or within seconds it will eliminate the data from memory. By itself, experience is not learning, because the brain must mentally “pay attention” to what it is experiencing in order for learning to occur. Therefore, as parents and teachers, we face the challenge of raising the mental awareness of the child to attend to his school work rather than the car driving past, or the heat pump that just kicked on, or the big soccer game coming up tomorrow.

The second core process of learning is comprehension. Comprehension occurs when the brain attends to the incoming data and begins to label and sort the data. This process of “labeling and sorting” causes the brain to classify and organize, therefore, realizing patterns and similarities with other data. When the brain decides to attend to certain data, we would say that the information is in “working memory.” If data is repeatedly pulled into working memory, it can lead to a low level of learning in time. For example, someone might “learn” a phone number by repeatedly saying it as a means of keeping it in working memory as they walk across the room to get the phone. After they dial the number, it will likely be forgotten unless that same number is brought back into working memory a number of times in the near future.

The third core process of learning is elaboration where new data and past experience are brought together. When the brain takes comprehended information (i.e. labeled and sorted data) and begins to identify patterns that it recognizes, then the new data is over laid and blended with relevant information from long term memory, so that the new information is blended with what is already known. Elaboration can be described as the “conceptual blending” of the comprehended (organized) sensory data that is held in working memory and the already established and well known information from long term memory. This blending of the new and the known is what allows the brain to construct understanding. Elaboration is critical to learning.

The fourth core process of learning is application. Application could be called practice, because it allows a student to demonstrate their understanding. Application is essential to learning because it is the demonstration that the student “got it.” While application is essential, it is a common mistake to move too quickly to application. Since application is what solidifies the previous core processes and yields the highest result of long term memory, it is extremely important for the child to practice correctly. Practicing incorrectly is worse than no practice at all. Application (practice) only contributes to learning when accompanied by feedback.

It has been quite enlightening for me to “learn about learning” from Dr. Washburn and his brain based research. However, it has been more enlightening for me to come to realize that these core processes of learning run parallel to the scriptures description of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Just as Dr. Washburn’s brain based research gives us a tiered model of learning where experience can lead to comprehension which can lead to elaboration which can lead to application, in the same fashion Solomon in Proverbs describes knowledge, understanding, and wisdom as a tiered explanation of learning where applied wisdom is the proof of understanding and knowledge in the life of the Christian. Scripture sees knowledge as comprehension or “knowing the facts” in an organized fashion. Scripture describes understanding as the discerning and directing of knowledge, putting it one notch up from knowledge because it demonstrates skillful thinking which leads toward wisdom. At the pinnacle of scripture’s learning process is wisdom. Wisdom is the demonstration and proving of knowledge and understanding by how a person performs in life. Wisdom is knowledge and understanding applied.

Knowledge (comprehension) can be described as “what to think.” Understanding (elaboration) can be described as “how to think about what I know.” Wisdom (application) can be described as “how to live what I think and know.” May we engage ourselves and our children in this learning process, knowing that the Author will use it as the foundation for discernment and Godly living.

-Lyle Musser, Administrator

“Let’s talk about it.”

One of the joys of this school year has been a change to “Bible teacher.” Though it brings a lot of preparation work, I have enjoyed the opportunity to interact with students as we study God’s Word together. Bible class is also an opportunity to discuss “what is on the mind” of students who are maturing and attempting to make sense of life and society around us. Questions like, “Is there such a thing as Christian Rock music?”, “Can a professional sports player be a Christian?”, “Can a Christian go to the movies?”, and many others come to the surface for discussion. Now, of course, sometimes the goal is to get Mr. Musser on a bunny trail. I don’t want to waste students’ time, but sometimes these questions are sincere as students attempt to solidify their beliefs.

In one particular discussion (in which students apparently did not agree), the question was brought to me to lay the “trump card” as the final evidence that one particular side was right. This was a wonderful opportunity to engage the students in proper thinking processes, rather than just “trumping” the conversation with a pat answer. Part of the thinking process that I promote (and always will promote) to students is that mom and dad know better than I do, because mom and dad are more responsible for your spiritual welfare than I am. The ground rules for our discussion went something like this: First, we must clarify the question and make sure that we are answering the right question, because there is little value in having all the right answers to all the wrong questions. Second, we must decide who would have wise advice in answering the question and then label the “tiers,” or advisors, from least authoritative to most authoritative. The students agreed with me that this list should be ordered peers, teachers, parents, church, and God’s Word. It is interesting to me that this list could probably also be described as being in order from “least stable” to “most stable.” The question had already risen among peers who were undecided, unsure, and unstable about the question at hand– that is why they came to me! The unfortunate thing about these cultural issues that are raised among peers is that the unstable peer group has a lot of influence but little wisdom. I assured the students that I am completely settled on the question at hand, but it is not my job to tell them my settled position. Rather, my job is to assist them in coming to theirs.

Obviously, my parents in time past, my church, and God’s Word is what settled this question in my mind; because they were completely stable, unwavering, and sure of how to answer the question at hand. This process of coming to conviction must be exactly that– a process. Students have different friends with different answers who discuss and debate and haggle over their unsettled questions. This is okay to a point, but the wise student (and parent) must raise these discussions, put the facts on the table, and make a wise determination based on a study of God’s Word and insight from the local church’s position. Unfortunately, what happens all too often is two sides of peers are drawn up who chant their position louder and louder against the other peer group’s chant. Neither group has the wisdom to consult wiser, more stable, and more settled sources and actually develop meaningful personal convictions on the matter. Students must understand that it is easy to chant along with their good Christian friends who mostly agree on a certain position, but that “chanting” does not prove a wise, settled, personal conviction. What proves their personal conviction is how they live, and what they do in solitude (when no one is looking), or in situations of negative peer pressure (when everyone is looking). Conviction that continually stands in these situations is real conviction and cannot be developed by one conversation or one little discourse in which dad “sets it straight” for the child. This type of conviction is the result of a wise thinking process that is built into a child little by little, conversation by conversation, by teachers, parents, and Biblical instruction.

As parents we must be committed to developing wise thinking processes in our children, so that they act on settled, personal conviction rather than just on “what dad told me one time,” or “what my church tells me to do.” Obviously, a parent’s personal conviction and the expectation of the church is an important boundary to a young person, but the wisdom in the placement of the boundary is as important as the boundary itself. The transfer of wise personal conviction from parents and churches to their young people cannot be done with ultimatums laid down with no explanation. This may be suitable as a temporary measure, but only the wisdom behind the conviction will cause it to stand in the next generation. May God give each parent wisdom as we field the questions brought by our children as they attempt to make sense of life in a corrupt culture. May God give us the love, grace, and patience to steadily build wise convictions in our children which will bear fruit throughout their lifetime.

-Lyle Musser

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