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Missionary to the Savages

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Who:  Kara Bertke, 6th grade teacher

When:  Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where:  Regents Academy, Nacogdoches, Texas

Why:  Attempt to tame the savages (a.k.a. 6th grade students)

How:  After reading Sandra Boswell’s Prototcol Matters and finding that I have more gray hair than I care to own up to, I have realized that it doesn’t take a lot to raise children with high self-esteem.  It does, however, take much of the right thing!  The most important concept that our children must understand to have confidence in themselves is that Christ did it all for them on the cross.  Their sins were forgiven and they can’t work hard enough to make our Father pleased with them.  Their value, worth and salvation is found in Christ alone.  Christ has fought the fight for them and their sins are washed clean by His precious blood.

The next skill that children need in order to grow strong and grounded is manners.  A child who knows and has applied manners in a variety of situations and with people of mixed  age and gender has such an advantage in life.  When a young man knows that he shouldn’t sit before all the ladies at the table have been seated first, he is at a great advantage in life.  A young lady who knows how to graciously accept a door being held open for her is light years ahead of what our generation today breeds.  It is because of these convictions that I remind my students daily of Christ’s love for each one of them, and it is because of these convictions that I arrange to have an etiquette meal brought in to 6th grade once a quarter.

Using Protocol Matters as a diving board, I try to plunge as deeply as possible into all the do’s and don’ts that make up our world of manners.  It is tricky to present these rules as being something that will benefit my students in the coming years without it sounding like Mrs. Bertke is just trying to add more no-no’s to our life!  After a brief and joyful discussion about the importance of manners, we get down to the nitty-gritty!  I teach my students the details of how to approach a table, when to be seated, which hand is used to place their napkin in their lap as well as appropriate table talk.  I always tell my students that they will receive a grade for their attention to their own manners, and we proceed to partake of a delicious meal that a parent brings in.

The happiness and warmth that is shared during our etiquette meals is indescribable.  The students are actively thinking of their neighbor and how to include all those around them in the table’s discussion.  The gentlemen are actually acting like gentlemen!  The ladies are considerate of the food that is being placed in their mouth.  It is a time for their teacher to sit back (not literally) and enjoy watching my active, rambunctious, and occasionally gross students interact in a civilized and courteous way that is reflective of the wedding feast that we will partake of in glory.

Praise God for our school.  Praise God for our country.  Praise God for our headmaster that allows me to slightly disturb the regular rhythm of our school day so that we might send out straight and strong arrows into the world of darkness which, upon hitting their mark, may do so with graceful manners!

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Good Men Speaking Well

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OMG, IM totes rite 4 ths j0b!!1!!

How would you respond if you saw this on the resume of a prospect you were considering hiring? I suspect not favorably. Yet USA Today reported in 2006 that New Zealand’s high school students would be able to use the language of texting in national exams.

Are students today being prepared to speak and write well? What does it mean to speak and write “well” anyway? Having a strong lexicon of OMG’s and LOL’s?

Most young people today are bilingual: they know English, but they also know Textese, the chopped and re-assembled language of texting. Debates rage about the impact Textese and Twitter are having on the English language and on the English skills of young people as well. That technology affects us all is without question. That technology such as cell phones and computers are here to stay is also without question. But how will we prepare our children to navigate a world in which ubiquitous technology threatens to shape their minds and souls far more deeply than our own training of them?

Don’t interpret these words as an anti-technology or anti-texting rant. I am pro-technology, and I am known to text on occasion. But I do want us to consider how our children are being shaped and trained. Childhood is a hothouse of intellectual and spiritual development. Children are developing habits of mind and life that will affect them for a lifetime. Their theology, like ours, is, as Douglas Wilson often says, coming out of their fingertips. We, as parents and educators, must be intentional in shaping our children’s minds and hearts.

Technology, like everything else, is not neutral. We are commanded in the Scriptures to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:4) and to bring up our children in the training of the Lord (Eph 6:4). Our task as parents is to train and shape our children to think, love, and act a certain way, to embody a certain culture. We are called by Scripture to model obedience to God ourselves and then to inculcate that obedience into their lives (see Deut 6:1-8). This training certainly encompasses how our children speak and write, for Christians are called to be discerning, winsome, effective communicators of truth, beauty, and goodness. This training also encompasses our children’s use of technology and their relationship to the world.

What we are about at Regents Academy is constantly raising the standards of our childrens education, resisting the cultural inertia toward being dumbed down. Is texting a threat to excellence in education? Not if we are doing our jobs as parents and as educators. We will be training them to think and speak well, whether they text or not. Together we are training our children toward a different standard, a godly excellence, a commitment to clear thinking and wise living that will make a real difference in the world for Christ.

Until next time, CUL8R.

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What is “Education” Anyway?

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Here is Noah Webster’s definition from his landmark 1828 dictionary:

The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

Notice how all-embracing this definition is. Notice how it includes not just an intellectual, rational component, but also “temper” and “manners and morals.” True education, true Christian education, is all-encompassing — it teaches the whole child in obedience to the whole Word of God. If we think of education merely as what goes on when students are learning subjects or merely as a rational exercise or merely what goes on at a school building, we are thinking wrongly.

Education is all-encompassing. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reminds us of this reality:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

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Grounded in the Good Things

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“Our greatest inheritance, the very foundation of our civilization, is a marvel to behold and consider. If I tried to describe its rich legacy with utmost brevity, I should take the Latin word humanitas. It represents in the widest sense, the accumulated harvest of the ages, the fine flower of a long discipline of Christian thought. It is the Western mind of which we ought to turn our attentions to careful study.

“The now frivolously disregarded Trivium — emphasizing the basic classical scholastic categories of grammar, logic, and rhetoric — once equipped untold generations of young pupils with the essential tack and apparatus for a lifetime of learning. These are the very notions that once set acourse the great cultural flowering of Christendom over the past thousand years.

“Indeed, this sort of educational philosophy and methodology is that which steadfastly affirms that every student, every family, every community, and every nation needs to be grounded in the good things, the great things, the true things in order to do the right things.”

John Buchan (1875-1940)

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Private Soccer

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We are a soccer family.  My boys have been playing soccer with our city league for several seasons.  They have experienced several new team jerseys, first game-day of the season, awesome teammates, new coaches, numerous tournaments, new soccer cleats, bigger soccer balls and the list goes on.  Here at our school, you may join Regents Academy soccer team beginning in sixth grade.  This would include my oldest son.  The normal soccer season for schools is over, if you didn’t know, but we have some teams in the surrounding area that would like to get some Spring Soccer going.

Our coach just announced yesterday that we, Regents Academy, would be participating in a game this Monday and a small tournament at the beginning of May.  The first thing I heard out of my eldest’s mouth this morning, as his hair shot up in several different directions, “I can’t wait till Monday!”  Hearing words spoken with that much passion before 6 a.m. made my heart melt.  What others don’t understand about having your children in a Christian school is the sense of community and covenant that we share in this little school up on the hill.

Although our soccer team has come a long way, we are nothing compared to my son’s city league team.  His team from the city could whip our school kids even if we strapped all the city players together and blindfolded them!  The competition isn’t what it’s about!  (And my son is super competitive!)  The love, kindness, oneness in Christ and the encouragement is what my son thrives on while he plays soccer with his school.  My boys count down the days when Regents Academy soccer will start again, even the two that aren’t old enough to play with our school.  These are the rewards that far out pay the stresses of being here day in and day out.  My son’s words that anticipate his next game with the friends that really matter help me to shake the drowsiness that I am feeling at 5:45 a.m.  His words make what we are doing worth doing!   I love soccer!  I love to teach!

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Theodore Roosevelt said,

It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.

So could I also add or infer that the credit belongs to the teacher who is actually in the classroom, whose hands are marred by Expo marker and blouse messed by drying dirty tears and feet aching because sitting isn’t an option if you want children to actually learn; who strives valiantly to teach “how to solve for X,” and comes short again and again in turning in Teacher Notes on time, because there is no effort without lots of error and numerous shortcomings in their own character; but the credit belongs to the teacher that rises early every morning and thinks about his students on the way to school and who most certainly strives endlessly to make this arrow better?

Do you think T.R. would mind taking some liberties in his well stated exhortation?

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