For 25 years, including my first two years of college and three years in the navy during World War II, I was associated with a rather conservative environment. I was reared in a small farming community in central Texas by parents devoted to their Christian faith and who brought up their four children to abide by biblical standards.
The first crack in this relatively solid foundation occurred during my latter undergraduate college years at Southern Methodist University, where I encountered many liberal professors. The crack almost became a break in the early 1950s, and I completed a master’s degree in the domain of John Dewey at Teachers College, Columbia University. It was there that I was fully indoctrinated into the permissive philosophy of education and life.
I was introduced to the idea that there are no absolute standards: judgments depend only on circumstances. At the time, I was fascinated by situation ethics. Academically, that meant the teacher emphasized social development as much as intellectual progress, and that he expected less from students than formerly. Also, I began to believe that the group was more important than the individual. Many of my grades were determined by such nebulous criteria as group progress, social interaction, and future potentialities. I found myself enjoying the ease of achieving high marks (what we know today as grade inflation was just beginning).
Soon after receiving the M.A. degree, I put many of these permissive ideas into practice as a classroom teacher and principal in one of the state’s better school systems, in Austin, Texas. I led in shaking up the basic curriculum. For example, I advocated the “progressive” idea that writing, reading, and arithmetic should all be integrated into the social studies program, letting these basic skills more or less “emerge.”
Some years later, after receiving a doctorate at the University of Texas in Austin, I moved on to advocate further permissive programs in two additional colleges before arriving at Austin College in February 1965. As I prepared students to become teachers, I strongly advocated social studies as the hub of elementary school curriculum. I instructed prospective teachers that to teach reading per se was secondary. Of first importance was the child’s social development, occurring most prominently in teaching of such topics as, “My Community Helpers,” “Cold Lands,” and “Hot Lands.”
Another “progressive” idea I practiced was that all teaching and learning should be fun, exciting, and made easy. If a lesson or skill was difficult, it should be carefully scrutinized because pupils should not be expected to cope with hard problems. They might be hurt psychologically; they might even come to dislike learning, the teacher, the school. I was gradually succumbing to the notion that society was more important than the family, and the state more worthy than the individual. I was agreeing that change, almost any kind of change, was necessary and good for everyone, while traditional values were, outmoded and in need of replacement.
By 1973, after I had spent 25 years becoming continually more entrenched in the permissive doctrines fostered by Dewey and others, relativism was dominating my life. Whatever was workable and sound yesterday was probably not so useful today. On the religious side, I was greatly influenced by liberal theologians who preached that it did not matter whether I believed in the story of Creation, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, or miracles—as long as I believed in God. I was becoming “emancipated” from the whole of the Bible. I could accept or reject any portion I desired and still be “Christian” in my philosophy. In fact, had I held to the inerrancy of Scripture, I would have been considered narrow-minded, highly suspect as a religious fanatic, and certainly not academically respectable. As a college professor. I wanted my colleagues’ approval.
Relativism also influenced my moral philosophy, because I had accepted the idea that, regardless of my personal beliefs, what other people did was all right. I could keep my own position, if I desired, but I should not hinder “progress” for others. So I kept silent as society became more and more permissive while it abandoned traditional moral values.
However, I began to wake up as my two older children, then a high school junior and a college freshman, alerted me to the world of evangelicalism. As they became involved in evangelical campus groups, I realized they had a commitment and personal faith that I lacked. Soon afterward, in the fall of 1973, my college assigned me to work with a group of 14 freshmen for seven weeks on a topic of my own choosing. Because of my interest in my children’s activities, I selected the topic: the evangelical revolution.
A central aspect of our investigation concerned Francis Schaeffer’s books and his program at L’Abri in Switzerland. His writings showed me the need to stabilize the foundation of my faith. In the fall of 1974, when I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical, I chose therefore to do postdoctoral work for three months as a Farel House student at L’Abri. As part of my studies there, I read Death in the City, by Schaeffer, and Dust of Death, by Os Guinness; I also listened to their tapes on the influence of humanism in our culture. I could understand the truth of what they proclaimed, because everything they said I had experienced directly or vicariously.
I could see that I had been submitting to the kind of humanistic forces that give man credit for the creation of the universe. I had seen the degeneration that occurs when humanists take God’s truth out of human life. At L’Abri I found intellectual reasons for believing in the biblical absolutes I had once been taught, but had later taken lightly or dismissed entirely.
Reexamining Our Culture
After L’Abri. I tried to look at our culture more realistically. As I read newspaper and magazine reports, I saw that once highly regarded positions of leadership in our society were being eroded by immoral and illegal practices. Judges, ministers, police officers, mail carriers, bankers, senators, representatives, and even presidents were all found guilty. Yet, more and more the public was accepting these practices as permissible.
To be specific, I came to see seven deadly perils in permissiveness:
Self-centeredness. We are becoming dedicated to self. The feeling of “damn the other person” is rampant. Because of this egocentricity, we are often able to justify any “self-fulfilling” act.
Laxity. We are coming to reject standards, authority, and adherence to laws, commandments, beliefs.
Dishonesty. We are becoming oblivious to lying, deceit, and shady deals. We are approaching a day when we no longer trust anyone.
Greed. We are becoming dedicated to self-gratification, dissatisfied regardless of our affluence.
Apathy. We are becoming indifferent to the needs of others, believing that it is best not to get involved—what is going on is none of our business.
Hatred. We strive for acceptance, care, friendship, love; yet we often demonstrate hatred by failure to build up people through praise. It is peculiarly difficult for us to say, “I love you.”
Irresponsibility. We are losing our self-discipline. If things get tough, we move on because we live in a disposable society. If our work gets too hard, we quit; if our marriage gets difficult, we divorce; if our parents are “no good.” we run away; if our schools are dull, we drop out.
To fight against being engulfed by such a spirit, I tried to work out a Christian world view. For instance, here are three rudimentary ideas I became convinced about. They gave me a base from which to work:
1. Around the world there is a strong bond among Christians because of their belief in a personal God. As a result of their commitment, they have drawn together irrespective of linguistic, economic, social, cultural, or educational barriers.
2. Everything that happens in the world today relates in some way to biblical history and to God’s plan. We are not living in a world void of a Creator; his hand is still evident. Everything fits together in a grand scheme, though most people do not realize this.
3. Among all the religious and nonreligious philosophies of the world, none compares with the Christian philosophy, centered in the teachings of Christ, concerning the worth, potential, and responsibilities of each person. Without such a philosophy, parents, educators, and leaders in society often degrade in person.
I became specially aware of the results of permissiveness in the public schools. I came to see such problems as grade inflation, promotion for merely social reasons, laxity in discipline, lower academic standards, and general disrespect for people and property as reflections of our culture and its system of education.
I discovered that, while at one time students of high, ethical standards were entering the teaching profession, now an increasingly large number of students were preparing to be classroom leaders who held that everything must go. They tended to believe that there are no right and wrong codes in society: judgments depend merely on each person’s private value system.
In reaction, I began to study the dangers of abandoning Judeo-Christian standards, especially as they affected the field of education. I wanted students to know that although we might live and teach in a society and school system that ignored God, teachers must uphold Christian principles. For example, I stressed the need to:
• Adhere to the idea that the teacher is a model, an example, a leader, and stands for what we know to be right;
• Maintain order, respect, responsible behavior, and decency in the classroom;
• Keep each pupil in mind as a worthy person who possesses tremendous potential:
• Establish high expectations and standards in all aspects of teaching.
Are student teachers and others ready to consider these ideas? Response has been positive during the past three years as I have used them with my students in our program of training teachers at Austin College. As one person remarked. “Young people today need specific, concrete answers—not endless talk about relativism and freedom of choice. The only freedom comes within a structure of absolutes, and if our teachers deny that structure, then they are really locking their students in bondage—the bondage of meaninglessness.”
Where five years ago I received little encouragement in my personal “revival,” today many students and teachers are receptive when they hear absolute truths taught. Though students have long been told by parents, teachers, professors, and other leaders that there are no lasting standards, many are ready for change.
More and more students entering the teaching profession are aware that something is lacking in our educational endeavors. Last year my students were assigned as teacher aides to a month-long, all-day program. They worked in a high school classroom in average or above average socioeconomic communities. Their reactions suggest that they are ready for thoughtfully presented new ideas. Here are some of their written responses: “For the most part, these students could care less about learning and becoming something in the world instead of a nothing. I watched some try to cheat on tests; I listened to them talk in class; I have come to the opinion that very few have the drive needed to go out in the world and make something of themselves.”
Another said, “I found that teaching was a very tiring, frustrating experience. [The students’] apathy makes me wonder how this country could possibly be so advanced.”
A third student said. “I was amazed at how much attempted cheating there was. It is really sad that some high school seniors have not developed enough pride in themselves to make them feel very strange leeching answers off somebody else.”
So, although the perils are becoming more and more an acceptable part of our culture, a reaction to relativism is setting in. Here are some changed views and practices that I have seen teacher educators and classroom teachers using to counter the trend.
1. We are beginning to realize the necessity of exhibiting selflessness to counteract self-centeredness. As leaders in the world of education, we have to work hard to avoid being caught up in the web of modeling the very thing we want to overcome. Even with the odds against us, being selfless can still have tremendous positive results. For instance, we can take time to listen to what students have to say. Perhaps we can learn from one teacher’s failure:
A first grader went to school with a lot of excitement for the morning’s show and tell. She had found a frog in a pond near home and had brought it in a jar. Her teacher, however, did not have time to listen, and hardly bothered to see what she had brought. Yet, if he had taken the time to hear what she had to say about her discovery and then had used it in the classroom, he would have enhanced her desire to learn and her respect for her own ability. By not listening, he missed the chance to motivate her not only in science but in other fields as well.
2. My own institution has taken several steps during the past two years to improve standards for the preparation of future teachers. Teachers in the schools are likewise giving more attention to establishing academic and social codes of behavior to counteract the peril of laxity and upgrade the development of students. Academically, for instance, we are seeing teachers with a higher expectation that students can attain a wisely set level of achievement. Socially, teachers are maintaining a climate of respect, student-to-student and student-to-teacher: they are not permitting students to swear at other students or at teachers, for example.
3. There seems also to be more concern now for the student as a person. We are beginning to believe that to exercise authority in a classroom and to maintain high expectations do not mean less love for the student. In fact, when our standards and expectations are low, we may well be promoting hatred in the student toward learning, toward other students, and toward the teacher.
Students and teachers are beginning to see that something is lacking, and that this traces back to a spiritual void in our society. As they perceive the cracks, they are ready to listen to some explanations. Our job is to point out the nature of society’s dilemma, its causes, and the things we can do to correct it.
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