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The Challenge of Avoiding Censorship

I’m writing about censorship mainly because it is an issue that all Christian teachers need to face–especially literature, art and music teachers, and especially those who teach in a faith-based school. Although I may differ in opinion from some Christian teachers and schools from time to time, I hope that this article will not offend my loyal readers, but instead challenge you to continue the attempt to meet both academic and spiritual needs of your students.

When I traveled abroad in college, one of the seminars I was required to take was entitled “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” I suppose due to the fact that it was supposed to be a cross-cultural experience and also because we were all growing as Christian intellectuals, they considered it a relevant topic. Athens symbolized the world of intellectualism since Greece was the native land of famous philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. Jerusalem, in turn, symbolized the world of faith since it was the birthplace of Judaism and also Christianity. The seminar was entitled as a question because it is the age-old question of our times. How do we reconcile our Christian faith with our ability to reason with the intellect? Must we choose either/or?  Is our intellect truly a completely separate entity that should be divorced from our faith?

For the teacher of literature, art and music (and–let’s face it–history and science as well), sensitivity to the needs and maturity levels of the students is necessary at all times. As parents, we observe our children and try to ascertain when our children are ready to tackle topics that require critical thinking and wisdom. Proverbs says that only fools despise wisdom and understanding. In turn, when we realize that our children are unable to make mature critical judgments in certain areas, we are smart enough not to put them in tempting situations. As teachers, we need to respect the rights of parents and the rights of the children in our classroom.

Of course, the easy solution to any and all book challenges is to do whatever it takes to avoid controversy. If a book is not right for one child, it is not right for them all. Let’s just choose a different book next time and make it clear that the controversial book is not to be used in the future. Certainly that would solve the problem at the time. It certainly would please the person who objected to the book’s content. However, can we really generalize the maturity level of one student to be true for all students, past, present and future? Does one parent have the right to choose for all members of a classroom or all members of a school?

I would like to urge Christian teachers and administrators to consider the messages that book censorship send to students. In order to take the easiest road, we are neglecting the intellectual rights of our students to make some critical decisions for themselves. We are telling them that they are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong and that books are responsible for making us immoral creatures. We are failing to take responsibility ourselves for giving them the tools to make those critical judgments. In robbing them of these opportunities, we are also giving them a false idea of the world around them. We are carefully molding a world for them that, instead, depicts the Christian life as something free and easy. Ignorance is bliss, right?

We are also telling them that they have to choose between faith or their intellect. We are telling them that they cannot exist on the same plane. That one’s intellect cannot be satisfied while being a Christian, and that one cannot be a Christian without leaving the intellect behind. That the solution to dealing with the world is simply to hide away, avoid and ignore it. Again, I mean no offense to those who, as I do, espouse the idea that we are “in the world, but not of it.” I am not saying that a Christian should just roll willy nilly into sinful practices, view pornography as an intellectual exercise or insist that romance novels are works of art. Graphic content without purpose is just graphic content, and I agree that there are plenty of contemporary examples of this trend that should be avoided.

So how do I suggest that we tackle the problem of “difficult content”? At all times, avoiding censorship will be a challenge.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves the following questions when selecting materials to use:

Do these materials promote a lifestyle that is sinful, or do they show the consequences of immoral behavior?

Do these materials serve as an example of a strong literary/intellectual work, or is a lesser work that is worthless in a literary sense?

Do these materials contain graphic, long mentions and descriptions, or are they delicately written so as to avoid salacious content just for content’s sake?

What is the context of the content to the overall work–does it serve a purpose, or is it meant to simply serve as “shock factor”?

Do these materials serve an educational purpose and meet the reading and maturity needs of the students? (For example, you would never expect a middle school student to understand The Scarlet Letter on a reading level, and you also would not expect them to be mature enough to tackle the content and themes of Crime and Punishment.)

Will you be addressing these content issues with the students? (It is usually worse to pretend that they’re not there and assume that the students already understand a Christian world view on these topics without guidance toward making these critical judgments.)

Again, this is the opinion of one woman, and not necessarily the view of any single institution or any other individual. I do not claim to hold the key to the mysteries of the universe or to claim that my opinion on this issue is the only correct approach. I am also not advocating that we should not take our moral responsibilities seriously as to the materials we use to teach. I am instead attempting to think through censorship as an issue, simply because it affects us all and can potentially cause harm and hurt to many people who work in Christian school ministries. I welcome honest, respectful feedback on this topic, as long as it does not demean others or cause more division within the Church. We are called to work together in unity, so let’s not allow this issue to divide us! Instead, let’s reinforce each other and edify each other within the ministry.

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Online Education Degrees–How do you choose?

So you’re ready for the next step–the Master’s degree. However, you are either teaching overseas or are so busy working that an online course seems like the most efficient way of earning your degree. However, you could waste hours and hours looking for the perfect online Master’s degree in Education. This post is designed to save you some time and help you consider your best options. Before choosing a program, you should carefully consider your personal career goals and choose the degree that will best drive you to reach your ultimate “dream job” in education. Use the following questions as a guide to help you choose the right school.

1. Are you already certified in a particular content area? Perhaps you hold an active certificate in math, science, elementary, history or English. If this is not the case, you can gain your Master’s degree and gain certification at the same time. Most universities specify which programs are for initial certification and which are for professionals who already hold a certificate. Be aware–some Master’s degrees may give you more training in an area such as TESOL, but may not culminate in the awarding of certification to teach in that area. If you are hoping to gain certification through your program, make sure you read the full descriptions and course content of your Master’s degree course.

2. M.A.T., M.Ed., or M.S.Ed?  This was, for me, one of the most confusing areas of Master’s programs at universities; there is so much variation in the significance of each title. However, I will try to break it down for you. Most degrees that are for advanced practice in instructional methods such as classroom management, inclusion strategies, instructional technology and reading in the content areas are given the title of M.A.T. (Master of Arts in Teaching) The M.A.T. degree is very useful for those applying for initial certification, and for those who wish to brush up on theory and practices that they may have learned in their 4-year degree. The M.S.Ed. (Master of Science in Education), in contrast, is usually based on research and theory in a specific specialization area such as Educational Leadership, Teacher Leadership, Instructional Technology, and Special Education. Educational Leadership places you on an administrative track, should you be considering that future career. Those hoping for future leadership on the university level may want to pursue and M.S.Ed. An M.Ed. (Master of Education) degree may prepare you for a specific content area such as Secondary Education in English, History, Science or Math, Curriculum and Instruction, Teaching and Learning or Elementary Education. Again, some of these content areas cross over between an M.Ed. and an M.S.Ed., depending on the focus of the program, whether it is research-based or practice-based.

3. What should I look for in a University?

a. Accreditation. If you are looking for an online course, you should consider the accreditation of the university and the specific online degree. Is it accredited regionally and national for the advancement of teacher education? If you are hoping to simply teach in non-accredited schools, then this may not matter so much to you. However, the quality of the course will depend on how much you get out of your studies, and considering the cost of getting a degree, you will most likely want to look for the best education for your money.

b. Course descriptions. When you read the descriptions of the classes, do they seem as though they would align with your educational philosophy and values? For example, some English Education courses that I have seen may contain a class for the purpose of encouraging diversity, not just on racial and cultural boundaries, but also in areas of homosexuality in the classroom. Some schools are more liberal than others, and it really is up to you to research the types of classes you will be taking to make sure that they fit your values and goals. 

c. Age of program and age of university. While I was researching, I found an online Master’s degree at a great price. But, after researching, I discovered that the University was a fairly young one. I also noted that the 2008-2009 year was their first time offering the online degree. For some of you, you may be comfortable being the “guinea pig” for the lower cost. However, considering the vast differences between the quality of online courses, length of time offering the program and number of students taking the program does matter. It also helps if the online class follows the same format of an actual physical class that takes place on the campus at the same time.

d. University specialization. Most universities are known for specialization in a certain area. Since I am an English teacher, I most likely will want to choose a university that has fully developed courses in English and the humanities instead of a school whose offerings mostly cover the science, engineering, health and math-based fields. If I am a science teacher, it is better to choose a school that excels in the science professions. Check the other undergraduate and graduate degrees offered. Is there a variety of degrees or limited offerings? What other content areas are offered besides Education?

e. Cost. I don’t know about you, but I definitely end up scraping together funding for my Master’s degree. Credits run from $400-$1,000 a credit for non-residents and from $150-800 for residents. In general, you pay for the name. Private universities are more expensive than public universities as a general rule, especially if they have a prestigious reputation. Christian private schools are certainly no exception to this rule. If you can find a degree for around $400 a credit, you are certainly blessed. I have seen that Georgia residents pay significant less than non-residents. The University of Missouri charges the same online course fee for residents as it does for non-residents, which I consider a nice little bonus.

Where can I find information about all the programs available? You can go to U.S. News & World Report, click on “ratings,” and then “Education.” Type in the search box for “Online Degrees” and then a list will come up for you to narrow your search to Education. You can type on the names of the universities that filled out the reports and find out the tuition, the degrees offered, the accreditation, the year the program was initiated, and everything you need to know! Good luck!

 

 

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Graduation for the Christian Teacher?

One by one, I watched my seniors stand up in front of their fellow students and family members during our Monday chapel session. It was a special chapel created just for them, featuring songs sung by seniors who have participated in worship band. I watched one of my students sing in front of us all, and then it finally hit me: This will be one of the last times I will see this girl sing in the worship band. It will be the last time that I will hear this boy’s voice before he moves on to the next stage in life.

I often wonder how it feels as a parent to watch your child grow up. Considering the bittersweet heartache I experience each year as I watch my own “children” set off for their own life experiences in college, I imagine that the pain and joy involved is a complicated mixture of emotions.

I cry every year at graduation.

This year, I will watch some of my students who have been with me since 8th grade and followed me through my entire teaching career. I know them both academically and personally, and see them not just as students, but as my own children. In fact, I have even had some students call me “mom” on purpose because I have taken up the role as a second mom in their lives. I will miss them very much. And yet it is time to let them go and learn how to fly on their own.

As a Christian teacher, the graduation process is never without the wondering. Did I really contribute to this student’s life? Did I do everything I could? Will this student remember my name as the years pass by and remember some of the lessons I taught them? I make a deal with my students whenever they withdraw or graduate: at least once in the next year they have to email me and let me know how they are doing. You cannot imagine how much happiness it brings to my heart to see an email telling me, “Miss Drake, I am getting fantastic grades in my English classes here at college! You were right–they do make you read and write a lot!” Heaven knows whether I will see some of them again. But I hope that they are continuing to seek God for their lives and learning what it means to define their own identities in this changing world.

Watching our students graduate is a difficult process emotionally. But perhaps we should also use these moments to think about our own graduation as teachers. Each year I ask myself, “What is one thing that I should change next year in order to be a better teacher to my students?” As a first year teacher, the list was very long, and I had to limit myself to changing one piece at a time. But the list continues even as the years of experience accumulate. We may have 20 years of teaching experience, master’s degrees and even doctoral degrees, and yet we can still commit ourselves to positive change in our teaching. Being the best teacher possible is an evolving process that never ends. If we were to “graduate” today, we would probably see ourselves at a new beginning instead of at the end, just as our students are now viewing their futures. Next year, let’s commit ourselves to learning and growing. Let’s give our students the best that we can and keep their needs a priority in our own commitment to training and professionalism. Self-discipline is sometimes difficult to maintain, but modeling it will show our students how much we care for them, and demonstrate to them a commitment to our field.

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Digital Portfolios

Currently, student-created digital portfolios are the latest trend, and it just makes sense. In today’s age of technology, digital literacy is fundamental for many of us pursuing careers. We place our resumes online, email attachments to employers, create our own websites, and read online journals. Tracking student progress throughout high school has been for me a challenge as long as the paper-and-pencil method has been in force. Keeping massive quantities of binders and files, sorting them out, and allowing reflection through the years has been an exercise in organization and frustration. Our students next year will be creating their own blogs and beginning their first digital portfolios, but some of you may be wondering how they will accomplish that feat. I have attached a link to this post that may be helpful to you. If you are reading this now, chances are that you already know how easy blogging can be and how easily it can be adapted for use as a portfolio. However, you may want to explore something bigger, better or be able to explain to your employer why a whole-school initiative should be adopted. Feel free to use the information found at the link to help you accomplish this task.

http://4rxt.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/resources-for-electronic-portfolios/

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On Gender Roles and Inclusion.

I ran into a very interesting blog today that especially brought up some interesting questions concerning the “award” system of schools, the disparity between the treatment of boys and girls in schooling situations and also information concerning inclusion. I highly recommend reading this blog, which was very thoughtful about bringing up some key issues. If you get a chance to read it, I would like to hear your comments on my site about the Christian teacher’s perspective on this issue and whether or not you see this happening in your schools.

http://paulinege.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/on-academic-awards/

This blog is posted with permission from the original blogger.

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“But I Don’t Have Enough Time!”: Some Thoughts on Inclusion

International schools and Christian schools in general tend to have a high turn-over rate. At our school, people sign a standard 2-year contract that is renewable, but so far I am the veteran, having 5 consecutive years teaching at our school. Due to this high turn-over rate, we have realized the need to have an extensive curriculum documentation process in place and to purchase textbooks that guide teachers in meeting the needs of ESL and Special Needs students. This year, I was very excited and happy to note that our school brought in a Resource specialist to work with our kids and guide us in instructional practices.

For some of our teachers, however, it was mystifying. Our Resource specialist tried to explain how to modify tests. Some teachers said, “But I don’t have enough time!” However, the law requires us to make time. And modified tests do not really need to take you longer than 15 minutes to make. Most teachers had this concept about modifying tests and instruction that they had to write two brand new tests every time they wanted one! For those who were relying on A Beka tearouts (We are still phasing A Beka out of our curriculum, not that those who use it should be offended…), this was a nightmare. In reality, the idea is that you are testing on the same material, but you just have to check the wording and make it look different on the page so that those with processing disorders, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and reading disabilities do not get points wrong simply because they are not understanding the instructions. Your 15 minutes of time may make the difference between a happy, confident, motivated student and a failing, miserable, depressed student. I ask you now, is it worth it?

Graphic organizers comes in handy for meeting the needs of special students. Most of them work well when they can picture the information that goes in the box and map it out in their heads. The important thing to remember is that multiple choice does not really work well with most special needs students. Long matching columns also can be confusing as they lose track of their thoughts. Give them smaller matching columns, graphic organizer responses and do not take points off for spelling. A graphic organizers link is located in my right hand column.

I would like to gather together some samples of your modified tests so that we can share and make them available for other teachers who are confused about how to create modified tests in a time-saving way. I will post these tests here on the Forum for people to view. Unfortunately, I cannot pay you for sharing your tests with all of us, but I hope that you are willing to trust that if you share your materials with us, one day you will find materials that you can use as well. I ask that all those who use the Forum respect the materials shared and do not sell them, post them on their own personal websites, or take credit for the work of another. Please upload your own tests/quizzes to your blogs/sites and then send me the URL link for access. For right now, here in a link that I discovered in the process of seeking lesson plans for inclusion:

http://www.reacheverychild.com/

The above site is a secular one, but I believe that reaching all children is a mutual goal of all educators. Also, if you have tips for instructing Special Needs students that have been key to your success, share them with us in a comment! I would love to hear from you!

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Homeschooling in Today’s Modern World

Many Christians today still choose homeschooling as an educational option, but have no idea where to turn for resources. Although reasons for homeschooling vary, there are a number of key questions to consider:

1. Which curriculum are you going to use? Keep in mind that this question goes beyond a textbook. Parents can answer this question by looking to their state standards or even national standards of education. Some educational programs scoff at standards developed by secondary sources, but keep in mind that these standards have more to do with research and development and less to do with faith-based questions of morality. For example, a Christian school or homeschool can follow the National Council of Teachers of English standards or the AERO standards quite easily without finding something against their moral values. The Association for the Supervision of Curriculum and Development is an interesting research-based group that publishes key texts on curriculum development as it pertains to the neurological development of students. If we know how kids learn, then we can apply that knowledge to curriculum development. You may think you know best for your kid, but logically it is better to choose a guide that lessens the learning gaps rather than to try and “wing it” on your own.

2. What are your reasons for homeschooling? Do you want to provide your child with a classical education that includes literature, Latin, modern languages and rhetoric? Do you want your child to have a wide-ranging education focused on making them well-rounded individuals? Do you want your child to have the freedom to individually explore their own interests and meet their educational goals at the same time? Is your primary goal to preserve the doctrines of your faith? If so, what key points of doctrine do you see as most essential? Your choice of methodology and resources will depend on these objectives.

3. Who will be teaching your child? Will you be undertaking the responsibility of your child’s education? If so, what qualifications do you hold for the task? What types of professional development will you do to prepare yourself to be the best teacher possible for your child? If you are wanting your child to be more of an independent learner, what tools will help your child best reach that goal?

4. Where can you find additional resources and support? Perhaps you live in a small neighborhood where homeschooling is not the norm. Online forums such as Christian Teacher Forum can help you find fellowship, resources and help as you journey on this new and exciting path. The Internet has provided so many exciting homeschooling, technology-based tools! Just check out the links to “The Jubilee Academy” in the homeschooling category, for example. It is exciting what is taking place in our world today!

5. Where can you find extra-curricular activities that will provide your child with social interaction? One of the biggest complaints I heard from other students is that homeschooling children tended to be withdrawn in social situations. Teach your child how to capably interact with other children of the same age group by exploring outside lessons in art, music, martial arts, sports, and other community activities. Determine a school schedule that works for your child and allows him/her to explore outside interests. Send your child on missions trips offered through your church or participate in a foreign exchange program at a local school.

I hope that this article has given you some food for thought. Please feel free to share your lesson plan ideas, your stories and your reasons for choosing homeschooling. Help make Christian Teacher Forum an effective networking tool for homeschooling parents!

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