Monday, February 25, 2008

Unschooling and Christianity

For the past few months, I was largely reading about classical education and classical homeschooling. I am really inspired by it, and I believe that a traditional classical education is of great value. However, I was still struggling with my tendency toward unschooling, and working to find a good mix between the two.

Then I spend an hour on a radical unschooling site, and I'm ready to embrace unschooling wholeheartedly. Sigh.

Obviously, unschooling resonates with me. It is the natural extension of my parenting philosophy (AP/GBD: Grace-based-discipline), and it fits in well with my political leanings (libertarian). Just like GBD, the principles behind unschooling are universal and applicable to far more than just learning. I am really drawn to it, but I am uncertain if it is philosophically compatible with Christianity (of the Lutheran variety).

Certainly the majority of unschooling advocates profess many beliefs that are incompatible with Lutheran Christianity (or Christianity in general, or a belief in absolute truth, for that matter), but that doesn't mean that unschooling itself is necessarily likewise incompatible.

I see the main philosophy underlying unschooling as the principle that I don't have the right to force anyone to do something against their will. It doesn't matter if I think it is important or necessary, or I don't want to do it, or I feel I shouldn't have to do it, or I feel that the other person should have to, or anything - there is no reason sufficient for me to impose my will on another. I can encourage, persuade, set a good example, invite them to join me, etc., but they have to be free to say no.

This goes hand-in-hand with the unschooling tenet that forcing someone to do something against their will is a bad way to win hearts and minds anyway, and is thus generally counterproductive. If the end goal is that they freely choose to do 'x', because that is the right thing, or the best thing, or the most rational thing, then you should start how you plan to end up - allowing them to freely choose to do 'x', even if at first they don't choose 'x' nearly as often as you'd like.

Forcing them to do 'x' just teaches them that a) 'x' must be no fun, because otherwise you wouldn't have to force it, and thus, b) there is no reason to do 'x' unless you are forced to. The end result is, of course, that they never learn the value of 'x', nor do they learn the habit of freely choosing to do 'x', but instead learn the habit of doing 'x' only when forced to. If doing 'x' has worth - and you, yourself, are demonstrating that by example, so they are exposed to the idea of doing 'x' and its benefits - then its inherent value should win converts without having to resort to force.

By and large, I agree with that position. God has ultimate authority over all humans, and outside of the spheres where He has specifically delegated His authority (to parents over their children, and to governments over their citizens, both of which are subject to the constraint that they not use their power to compel actions that are against God's Word), no human has the right to force another human to do anything against their will, no matter how virtuous the compelled action. As well, God's designation of some things as right and others as wrong is more than just an arbitrary list, it is a description of reality: ignore it to your peril.

However, many unschoolers argue that, in addition to respect for persons, we have no right to forcibly compel others' actions because there is no reason our view of the "best"/"right" thing to do is any better than someone else' view of the "best"/"right" thing to do. In other words, they believe there is no absolute truth and no objective standards. Obviously, if there is no objective or higher reason to do 'x' over 'y', there can be no legitimate reason to force someone to do 'x' over 'y' - only selfishness.

Of course I strongly disagree here. I believe in absolute right and wrong, and also I believe that some things have more worth than others. I also believe, unlike many (but certainly not all unschoolers), that there is a qualitative difference between the parent-child relationship and every other human relationship.

As parents, we have been given a sacred and awesome responsibility: the right to override another human being's autonomy. God instructs parents to not abuse this right - "parents, do not exasperate your children", but neither are we to abdicate it - we are to "train up a child in the way he should go". I believe that proper use of our authority means that we are obligated to use the minimal force required (infringe upon our child's autonomy as minimally as possible) in our efforts to discipline - i.e. teach - them where needed. As well, we are obligated to never use our authority in a selfish manner, but only in our child's genuine best interests. We should use much prayerful discernment to ensure we are doing the best job we are capable of doing.

(As an aside, I believe the same principles apply when it comes to government's exercise of its authority - thus my libertarian leanings - as well as to humanity's authority over Creation. Thus why, amongst other things, I need to ensure that my treatment of my dog reflects his best interests, not my convenience; I am really struggling with this right now.)

So where I philosophically differ from "mainstream" unschoolers (and how weird is to see 'unschoolers' and 'mainstream' in a sentence without the connector 'are not', lol) is that:
  • I believe in absolute truth, and thus some things are right and some things are wrong.
  • I believe in objective standards, and thus some things are objectively better than other things.
  • I believe that the parent-child relationship is qualitatively different, and thus the parent does have the right to override their child's autonomy in circumstances where the child's best interest requires it.
As a result, I believe that not all activities, skills, and media are created equal, and that, in theory, a small subset may be so important that they must be done/learned/experienced by my children before they are adults, even if it requires force to accomplish. However, I would still be obligated to choose the least restrictive way of carrying it out. And in practice that could easily be straight-up unschooling; after all, I think it so valuable that it should be mandatory, and therefore I should be proficient and knowledgeable in it myself - they could easily learn it incidentally, or decide for themselves it is worth learning.

So, is the core of unschooling respect for persons, in which case I believe it is thoroughly compatible with Christianity, or does unschooling necessitate a rejection of absolute standards?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Over Coming Assumptions

One of the things that I have noticed with the whole debate over creationism and ID vs. evolution is that it is really an argument of assumptions. There is a fair bit of archaeological evidence for us to look at and to an extent some geological evidence. These things exist and there is no denying them, however, how one goes about interpreting the evidence is largely based on assumptions predicated by a persons world view. Looking at the same evidence a person who believes in the Creation story can look at some of the fossilized skeletons and say that the person was a very old and possible infirm human being whereas a person who believes that evolution is the answer would see a less evolved ancestor to human beings. The answers come pretty much from their various world views. The creationist believes that God created the world so that things began in a complex fashion and things such as age and possibly disease can be the reason fossils look the way they do. On the other hand, the evolutionist believe things have gone from the simple to the complex and that earlier things are by nature less complex and so the differences are caused by being more simple. I realize I am speaking rather generally at this point but I think this gives you an idea of what is going on.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Taking Back The Web

Firefox was my gateway into the world of open source software. I love the fact that it does not come with a bunch of bloatware and that I can install extensions I find useful and convenient such as ad-block. Today, I found some cool pictures based on the Firefox logo, below is just a sample.

HT: ComputerWorld

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Stumble Upon

My fellow Lutheran Bloggers, lend me your ears! Jk, hey, if you are looking to increase traffic, there is a nifty web service called Stumble Upon (It's Free!). If you are unfamiliar with Stumble, it allows you to set up some preferred topics and then when you click on their tool bar icon it will 'randomly' send you too a page that fits into your category. The bonus is that you can put a Stumble It link on your blog and the more people who give you a thumbs up or stumble it recommendation the more frequently your blog appears when somebody clicks on Stumble.

Which OS?

I am admittedly a geek. One of those fairly obsessive fans of sci-fi who think of details most people wouldn't even consider. My most recent thought process which my wife and I discussed over tonight's meal is which OS did Dr. Rodney McKay of Stargate Atlantis base his Lantian/Terran interface on. Here is my thought process.

Not Windows - Windows doesn't play nicely with other operating systems. It refuses to read anything that isn't a windows standard file format.

Not Mac OS - The computers look like real computers, generally a heavy duty military style tablet. Not that the military uses tablets, they tend to favor laptops. The OS X also isn't nearly flexible enough to handle the changes necessary. They have a tendency to use fair bit of proprietary code and contrary to ID4 you need flexibility to talk to different computer architectures.

Linux - This is my bet. Why? Linux works on anything. The OS is completely customizable. Need it do something that didn't come with any distribution, write your own code. You can even write your own kernel (the heart and soul of any OS).

Anyhow, what are your thoughts?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Rational Inferiority Complex or Why It Is Hard To Talk To Atheists

Over the last week I have been engaging in my newest addiction called Stumble Upon, a nice little addon that allows you to randomly surf the web according to topics of your choice. If you haven't discovered it yet, trust me it is very addicting as you never know what is coming with that next click and you can't help but discover what's next. I have already come across one guy who wrote an applet for Linux to shut off his machine at a reasonable hour so he can get to work.

Recently, I came across an article about why it is so hard to talk to Hyper-religious. An interesting article even if it comes to the wrong conclusions, but interesting still. It is a subtly insulting article towards those who hold conservative religious beliefs such as I. Despite the claim to not be insinuating anything by bringing up the 2006 Baylor study which cites that the more conservative Christians tend to have less education. He double talks a fair bit but I have to wonder if you don't honestly believe it then why do you even bring it up. Eventually, his true colors come out as he concludes that the hyper-religious are guilty of willful ignorance. His point is that we have been shown the proof, but are ignoring it so that we can continue submitting to an authoritarian god.

Admittedly there are more than a few anti-intellectual Christians out there. Generally, they are rather paranoid about the educational system in general and science in specific. I am inferring from his arguments that he believes that all people who refuse to acknowledge such "proven" truths as global warming and evolution are anti-intellectuals refusing to believe the truth in the face of overwhelming evidence. But we aren't to be faulted we are the product of those who have a vested interest in keeping us ignorant.

Apparently, he believes that those of us who are leaders in the religious community are acting out of self interest by trying to keep the ignorant masses ignorant. When I read that I wanted to laugh. I am sure there are a few who do want to keep people ignorant, as they say it takes all kinds, but I want people to understand. I want people to understand the principles of evolution, genetics, physics, and biology, but then I am biased. I was working on a Master's degree in microbiology (a 3.0 at Texas A&M, a thing that goes against his assertions) before going to the seminary, I enjoy science and I enjoy teaching it. However, I noticed that atheists or so called rationalist never talk about a person such as I a very educated and intelligent person who also holds because it violates their world view.

They claim to be believers of evidence, open-minded, a rational when in reality they are just as black and white and irrational as those of us who hold conservative religious views. They have merely replaced an authoritarian god with authoritarian rationality or logic. Don't believe me, check out the number of times you see how many of them who came out of a religious background claim to be too rational or logical to believe in something as illogical as an involved God. Despite their claims at not having a black and white view of the world they have for all practical purposes relegated the world into rational and irrational. Categories that happen to correspond with their personal beliefs and views.

Sadly, I think too many of them have come across the educated religious people who are too willing to abandon all the tenants of their beliefs and/or uneducated anti-intellectuals and enough too few educated and intelligent conservative Christians such as myself. But, then I and others such as myself would upset a part or their world view that is very near and dear to their hearts, their rationality. It is my personal theory that all atheists suffer from an inferiority complex involving their ability to be rational so they are compensating by rabidly rejecting all that cannot be explained, labeled, and categorized. However, that is just my pet theory.