Learn apologetics

If you are interested in Christian apologetics–that is, the defense of the Christian faith–I urge you to attend the summer program of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights, which will be held in Strasbourg, France, July 5-16.

You will study under the great John Warwick Montgomery, a giant in the field.

Also teaching this summer will be Craig Parton (author of The Defense Never Rests), my friend and co-director of the Cranach Institute Angus Menuge, Concordia Theological Seminary professor Adam Francisco, and Australian theologian Ross Clifford.

Here are the topics for this summer:

The Apologetic Task Today
Philosophical Apologetics
Scientific Apologetics and Medical Issues
Historical Apologetics
Legal Apologetics & Human Rights
Literary and Cultural Apologetics
The Apologetics of C.S. Lewis
Cults, Sects, and the World’s Religions
Biblical Authority Today

The cost is $2,995, which includes lodging at the University of Strasbourg, most meals, and extras, such as a tour led by Dr. Montgomery of the Alsace region in northeastern France, close to the German border.   This includes visits to the local vineyards and wine-making operations, a viewing of the Grunewald Crucifixion and Resurrection, and sampling of some amazing French cuisine.

I taught there last summer, lecturing on Literary and Cultural Apologetics, and I can say that a good time was had by all.  I love Strasbourg, the historic center of French Protestantism.  The university goes back to Johann Sturm’s original Reformation academy. Calvin taught there; the Huguenot Cross is still worn; and lots of Lutheran churches can still be found.

The teaching is high-level, but accessible to a wide range of backgrounds.  Last summer there were college students, laymen, and lots of pastors.  There was a high school student, married couples, folks of all ages.

And if you can’t go, this would make a great gift from a congregation to its pastor.

Go here for more information.

Memory as a human superpower

Plato worried that reading would diminish the memory, and he was right.  Now in our information age, our memories have shriveled even more.  A third of British citizens under 30 don’t know their home phone numbers.  Two-thirds of American teenagers don’t know when the Civil War took place.  One-fifth don’t know who we fought against in World War II.  And yet, the normal human mind, when trained right, is capable of great feats of memory.

Joshua Foer has written a book about memory, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, in the course of which he studied memory-improving techniques to the point that he became the 2006 Memory Champion–yes, there is such a competition–by memorizing a sequence of 52 cards in one minute, 40 seconds.

From a review of the book in the Washington Post by Marie Arana:

Devalued though human memory has become, it is what makes us who we are. Our memories, Foer tells us, are the seat of civilization, the bedrock of wisdom, the wellspring of creativity. His passionate and deeply engrossing book, “Moonwalking With Einstein,” means to persuade us that we shouldn’t surrender them to integrated circuits so easily. It is a resounding tribute to the muscularity of the mind.

In the course of “Moonwalking,” we learn that our brains are no larger nor more sophisticated than our ancestors’ were 30,000 years ago. If a Stone Age baby were adopted by 21st-century parents, “the child would likely grow up indistinguishable from his or her peers.” The blank slate of memory hasn’t changed one bit, except that we’ve lost the incentive to use it to store large amounts of information. As one of Foer’s fellow mental athletes puts it, in the course of ordinary modern life, “we actually do anti-Olympic training . . . the equivalent of sitting someone down to train for the Olympics and making sure he drinks ten cans of beer a day, smokes fifty cigarettes . . . and spends the rest of the time watching television.”

Foer introduces us to memory prodigies such as the young journalist S, who irked his employer because he took no notes but could memorize 70 digits at a time, reciting them forward and backward after one hearing. He could replicate complex formulas, although he didn’t know math; was able to repeat Italian poetry, though he spoke no Italian; and, most remarkable of all, his memories never seemed to degrade.

There are, too, master chess players who can remember every move of a match weeks or even years after the event. They become so skilled at recalling positions that they can take on several opponents at once, moving the pieces in their heads, with no physical board before them. There are London cabbies with such intricate maps committed to memory that their brains have enlarged right posterior hippocampuses. There is the child relegated to “the dunces’ class” because he cannot perform school tasks well, although he can identify distant birds by how they fly, having memorized dozens of flight patterns.

Foer sets out to meet the legendary “Brainman,” who learned Spanish in a single weekend, could instantly tell if any number up to 10,000 was prime, and saw digits in colors and shapes, enabling him to hold long lists of them in memory. The author also tracks down “Rain Man” Kim Peek, the famous savant whose astonishing ability to recite all of Shakespeare’s works, reproduce scores from a vast canon of classical music and retain the contents of 9,000 books was immortalized in the Hollywood movie starring Dustin Hoffman.

When Foer is told that the Rain Man had an IQ of merely 87 – that he was actually missing a part of his brain; that memory champions have no more intelligence than you or I; that building a memory is a matter of dedication and training – he decides to try for the U.S. memory championship himself. Here is where the book veers sharply from science journalism to a memoir of a singular adventure.

via Joshua Foer’s ‘Moonwalking With Einstein,’ on the nature of memory.

You can buy the book here,

Patrick Henry College is #1 in test scores

Please forgive me for bragging about the academic prowess of my students.  This is something I wrote about the findings of our assessment efforts at Patrick Henry College, where I am the Provost and a Literature Professor:

A new book and a spate of news reports are presenting evidence that America’s college students, on the whole, are not learning very much. They score poorly in critical thinking, writing, and other academic skills. Most college students score abysmally low in “civic literacy,” the basic knowledge of America’s heritage of freedom and self-government. Though they might pick up some very narrow specialized knowledge in their majors, they find it difficult to think outside of their professional boxes and make real-world connections.

These things cannot be said, however, of Patrick Henry College students. Assessment data keeps pouring in that shows PHC students outperforming their peers in every category tested.

On the ETS Proficiency Profile, a recognized and widely-used standardized test of academic proficiency in higher education, Patrick Henry College students posted the highest average scores of all institutions that took the test. Those 261 schools taking the test included liberal arts colleges and large research, doctoral-granting universities. Among those taking that test, PHC’s academic performance is #1.

In their much-discussed new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, educational scholars Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa express special concern for the low scores college students at large register in critical thinking and writing, asmeasured by similar tests.

PHC students, however, posted the highest average scores (a number drawn from all students, not just a few high performers) of all institutions that took the ETS test in critical thinking.  Also in writing.  Also in reading.  And in humanities.  And in Social Sciences.  And in Mathematics.  And in Natural Sciences.  PHC students were number one not only in the total score, but in every category tested.

But some might say all of this book learning is obsolete.  We are in the information age.  What students most need today is to adapt to technology.

Well, one does not have to agree with that to appreciate that PHC students have also ranked #1 in informational literacy also!   PHC students took the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills test developed by Kent State, and, again, their average score was higher than that of students from all other institutions that took the test.

Does this mean that PHC is the best college academically in the nation?  We can’t say that.  Not all colleges and universities take part in these standardized tests.  The elite Ivy League colleges, having nothing to prove, do not subject their students to all of this testing.  Some colleges might be afraid of what the tests might show about their academic quality.  PHC, though, does have something to prove — that a solidly Christian college with conservative principles can be an academic powerhouse — and the data that has been collected is proving it.

What is the secret to PHC’s academic success?

One answer is suggested by another problem in higher education that is receiving attention.  In an op-ed piece for the Washington Post entitled “Our Stunted Scholars,” Heather Wilson, who interviews applicants for the Rhodes Scholarship, sees something lacking in even our best students.  “I have,” she writes,” become increasingly concerned in recent years — not about the talent of the applicants but about the education American universities are providing.”

Even from America’s great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago. As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why. . . . Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism.

Part of the problem is that most colleges and universities have given up on a liberal arts education.  Instead of giving students a solid foundation in a wide range of interconnected academic disciplines, which build up knowledge and mental skills that they can then draw on in their majors, most colleges send their students right into a narrow specialty.  The classic, integrated, core curriculum has been reduced to a handful of “general education” requirements that can be satisfied by students picking and choosing from a list of specialized and unconnected courses.

Patrick Henry College students, on the other hand, benefit from a broad and rich core curriculum of 63 credits, plus foreign language proficiency.  This “common core” means that every single student takes all of the courses, so that they all receive the same carefully-constructed educational foundation.  All PHC students study the great books of our civilization.  They take courses in logic and rhetoric, and they practice deep thinking and effective writing in all of their classes.  They take not one, but four, history courses.  They all study Constitutional Law.  They take two “Freedom’s Foundation” courses, in which they study the ideas that formed this country, from Plato’s Republic to The Federalist Papers.

PHC students see how all knowledge is interconnected.  What they are reading in their literature classes is illuminated by what they are reading in their theology classes.  The beautiful sounds they are enjoying in their music class are understood on another level when they study waves and harmonics in physics.

The core builds up students’ mental muscles for when they do specialize.  PHC offers majors in journalism, history, literature, the classical liberal arts, and government. Students may specialize within the majors in tracks like American Politics & Policy, International Politics & Policy, Political Theory, and Strategic Intelligence.

Another feature of PHC’s unique educational program is our apprenticeship requirement.  Students put what they have learned into practice in congressional offices, think tanks, businesses, local schools, the media, and other “real world” settings.  Internship directors love to have PHC students.  We keep hearing, “Your students can really write well!”  “They can really think and analyze!”  “They are so articulate, and they present themselves so well!”  Implicitly, these internship directors are comparing our students’ work against that of typical college students!

A key factor in PHC’s academic quality, in addition to its traditional, yet innovative curriculum, is its faculty.  Every professor is at once a devoted Christian, a world-class scholar, and an engaging classroom teacher.

Above all is PHC’s commitment to Christian truth.  In Christ “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).  In the postmodernist academic scene, truth is relative, morality is subjective, and nothing has objective meaning.  No wonder the academy is having trouble teaching anything of value.  But PHC has laid a full foundation for education.  And while the typical college culture is one of frat-house partying and promiscuous hook-ups, PHC students comprise a counterculture that grows out of a love of learning, moral integrity, and authentic Christian community.

The testing reveals something else about PHC’s success.  PHC’s students, over 80% of whom are home-schooled, are exceptionally well-prepared.  The college has been administering the ETS Proficiency Profile for three years to both graduating seniors and to incoming freshmen.  In a tribute to their parents, who in one way or the other supervised their education, PHC incoming freshmen, when compared to first-year students at other institutions that took the test, also were #1 in all categories!

via 20110223 – Veith – PHC Students Outperform.

Battle of the eighth graders

Webmonk alerted me to a post on Freakonomics about a test for eighth graders from 1895.

The urban legend site Snopes labeled this as “False.” But the only false part of it seems to be the claim that it shows a decline in educational levels from then to now. The Snopes writer says that any test will look hard if you haven’t studied for it.

But he doesn’t dispute that this is an actual test from 1895. In fact, here it is from the library that holds the original document.

What this does show is what eighth graders studied and were expected to learn in 1895.

Take a look at the math section and compare it to this eighth grade math test from today. What can you conclude from the comparison about what was taught in the respective classes?

Finally, speaking of eighth graders, consider this.

HT: Webmonk

Who trained the teachers?

In the monumental quest to improve D.C. schools, officials are collecting tons of data.  Here is a use of that information that might actually lead to genuine reforms:  evaluating not just teachers but the college departments of education that trained those teachers:

A lesser-known result of such new systems is that they are generating mountains of data that school officials are starting to use to guide key decisions, aside from which teachers to fire or reward. For instance, by matching teachers’ ratings to the universities they attended, officials are deciding which pipelines deliver the best, or worst, talent.

“Now I know the average score of each teacher from each university. Over the coming years, we will be having conversations with these institutions, saying, ‘Here’s how your people are performing,’ ” said Kamras, who declined to say which colleges were doing well or poorly. “We’ll just stop taking graduates from institutions that aren’t producing effective teachers.”

via D.C. schools to use data from teacher evaluation system in new ways.

Very often, it seems to me, teacher training programs at colleges and universities push experimental methods that don’t work, focus on theories that are not valid,  do little to actually help new teachers to manage their classrooms, and are the source of many of the problems in education today.   Am I wrong?  Are some better than others?   I’d like to hear from graduates of those programs.

A new definition of religious discrimination

The University of California-Davis has a new religious discrimination policy, according to which ONLY Christians can be accused of discriminating against other religions, and discrimination AGAINST Christians does not count:

The UC-Davis policy defines “Religious/Spiritual Discrimination” as “the loss of power and privilege to those who do not practice the dominant culture’s religion. In the United States, this is institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian.”

“Christians deserve the same protections against religious discrimination as any other students on a public university campus,” says Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) Senior Counsel David French. “It’s ridiculously absurd to single out Christians as oppressors and non-Christians as the only oppressed people on campus when the facts show that public universities are more hostile to Christians than anyone else.”

A from ADF-allied attorney Tim Swickard to UC-Davis explains, “It is patently clear that UC Davis’s definition of religious discrimination is blatantly unconstitutional under both the Federal and California State Constitutions. The policy singles out some faiths for official school protection while denying the same protection to others solely on the basis of their particular religious views…Moreover, the UC-Davis policy is simply nonsensical given the environment on most University campuses where Christian students, if anything, are among the most likely to be subjected to discrimination because of their faith.”

The letter cites a recent study of more than 1,200 faculty at public universities that showed that professors admitted to having a significant bias against Christian students, particularly evangelicals. Fifty-three percent admitted to having negative feelings about evangelical students solely because of their religious beliefs.

via UC-Davis Students Object to Religious Discrimination Policy.

This is a good example of what postmodernism–note the jargon: “privilege, power, dominant culture, institutionalized oppression”–can do to civil and legal rights.   Opposing religious discrimination as a way to discriminate against religion.

UPDATE: The university has now rescinded the definition and taken it off its website. HT: Steve Billingsley

HT:  Jackie


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