Anyone can fake independence, as long as the infrastructure holds up and the checks keep coming.  –Janie B. Cheaney

It’s easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing- that’s the Lord’s test.  -Mahalia Jackson

Anyone can tell you about the detrimental effect of poverty on families. Some may even be able to articulate the downward spiral generational poverty creates for the children being raised in environments lacking in nutrition and proper nurturing, and living under the threat of constant danger. It is easy for those of us on the outside to make quick, dismissal judgments on the parents and their lack of motivation and seemingly lack of care for their children. Despite our sympathy for these poor kids, we often fail to genuinely realize that without significant intervention, they will likely grow up to become just like the parents who are judged today. Studies indicate that children of low social economic status are more likely to underperform in school and become involved in delinquent behaviors such as drug use and sexual promiscuity. It is also well known that children raised in safe, caring, and stable environments have the greatest chance of success. So how do you bridge the gap and break the negative cycle of poverty? It is a daunting task that requires man power that just doesn’t realistically exist, even with volunteers of the biggest hearts and the best intentions. However, one program has found a way to gather workers right from the communities and neighborhoods that need the most help. The program is based on the simple but, in this case, profound idea of mentoring.

Julie O’Donnell, Elizabeth Michalak, and Ellen Ames present a study on inner-city mentoring in an article entitled: “Inner-City Youths Helping Children: After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” The study identifies all the typical risk factors involved with inner-city neighborhoods in poverty, but they focus on the problems of peer bonding among friends who are involved in anti-social behaviors and therefore become negative influences. Rather than simply educating children about the risk of negative behaviors, the program involves collaboration between the youth, their families, schools and agencies within the community. It is based on the Social Development Model which “emphasizes bonding as a key protective factor in children’s resistance to problem behaviors.” This model theorizes that “Bonding is a sense of belonging…once children feel bonded to a social unit; they want to live according to its standards and norms.” Recognizing the strong influence of peer bonding, proponents of the Social Development Model screened older youth, who exhibited pro-social behavior, from the community and trained them to be mentors in after-school programs to younger children from the same community. Because mentors shared the same risk factors of the children they were helping, they received extensive training and support networks. They were also paid and they received consistent rewards and praise for their involvement in the program, which is called The Collaborative After-school Prevention Program. Mentors were assigned a group of no more than seven children, and while they focused primarily on social skills development, they also provided practical help with homework. Even though it was not required of them, most mentors became involved in other community activities like assisting in coaching sports teams, street clean up, and rebuilding community homes. In addition, more than 50 percent of mentors went on to college after graduating high school. And what about the younger children who were the focus of the program? They improved their study habits, stayed more focused on their homework, and improved their social skills. Equally important, it provided a safe place to be and kept them off the streets. As one mentor put it, “It gives them another place to be children. Out in the streets they can’t be children; they have to be part of the hood. They know how to load a gun before they know how to tie their shoes.” Perhaps the most successful result of the program was that the children also became bonded to the mentors and ultimately to the “pro-social units and began to internalize their standards for pro-social behavior. These protective factors should reduce problem behaviors,” which was the main goal of the Social Development Model.

In addition to the successful results of the program, research supports their findings. Studies show that children from low social economic status are at greater risk for many developmental problems. Often parents simply can’t be there for their children because they are forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, or they simply don’t have the emotional or mental abilities to care for their children. Kids who could otherwise be spending hours in front of the television or, worse, be out on the streets getting exposed to dangerous situations of drug use and possible violence, are in a safe environment learning both social and study skills. Another factor to consider, according to Kelvin Seifert and Robert Hoffnung in their book Child and Adolescent Development, families of low social economic status run a greater risk of child abuse (329). The emphasis on the bonding between mentors and the children in their groups would provide a safe place for a child to express his/her concerns to a trusted role-model; who could identify the problem and report it to the program directors. They also state that children from neighborhoods prone to violence tend to adopt highly aggressive behavior modeled by their peers (422); this program shows children, through their mentors, that they can make choices that result in positive consequences. Aside from family influences, children learn most of their social behavior from peers of their own age as well as a few years older (415).  This program offers children the ability to learn positive behaviors from older kids in their communities. The mentors have a higher chance of relating to their group members because they have shared common experiences and are working to overcome the same issues. Thus, the Social Development Model not only has proven results from its program, but the research also supports its effectiveness.

For those who take the time to implement it, a program like this could produce positive results for all members of the community. While students of both peer groups obviously benefit the most from this program with their new social and academic skills, and with the new friendships which will undoubtedly last for many years, teachers have a significant reason to invest their time in the program in any ways available. Students who go through the mentoring program will become more compliant and not only cause fewer disruptions, but with the training they receive, they will likely become positive peer role-models within their classes. These students, who may otherwise neglect homework, would receive regular help with it which would increase their ability and confidence in the classroom, and also result in better test scores for the teacher and school in general. Students and teachers are not the only ones who benefit; parents would have the confidence of knowing their children are in a safe place for at least a few hours a week. As their children increase in social skills, they will bring their new understandings of relationship to the home, and perhaps bring positive changes to the whole environment. The program could also identify areas of specific needs in the families, and point them in a direction to receive resources and help they otherwise might have been ignorant of. This program, if it is given the proper resources and funding, benefits the entire community.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing a program like this is getting the whole community involved: “The Collaborative After-school Program was a partnership among the YMCA, three elementary schools and one middle school, the department of social work at an urban university, a church, a child guidance center, an art museum, and the county probation department” (O’Donnell). That is a lot of support and a lot of collaboration. The task of gaining the support needed among local community centers is daunting in of itself, let alone coordinating and working together to make the program affective. I think it is possible to make it work; however, and very much worth the effort. This program brings together a vision I’ve been developing within myself for a few years now. I find myself disappointed and disillusioned by public school’s lack of ability to truly help out these neglected and abused children. We simply allow them to disrupt the educational process until they either shape up, or we ship them out, but there is no real help and evident care for them. On the other hand, I volunteer for an inner-city youth ministry at my church where we mostly just go and play with kids. While there is significant bonding going on, and I’ve seen very positive changes in many kids, we tend lose them in adolescence, especially the boys. A program like this would offer purpose for the older kids and give them a reason stay involved. I don’t know the best steps to take from here, but this article offers the direction I’ve been looking for in my desire to help out poor families in practical and lasting ways. I definitely plan to research this topic further.

Peter L Richardson
11/25/2006

O’Donnell, Julie, Michalak, Elizabeth A., and Ellen B. Ames. “Inner-City Youths  Helping Children After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” Social Work in Education 19.4 (1997): 231-241. Academic Search Premier. 21 November 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.

Seifert, Kevin L., and Robert J. Hoffnung. Child and Adolescent Development 5th Ed. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, 2000.

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Philosophy of Education

December 29, 2011

The principle art of the teacher is to awaken the joy in creation and knowledge. -Albert Einstein

“Think of why you decided to teach English; wasn’t it because of your love of literature?”  I have heard this question posed by professors, advisors and even the authors of textbooks. I assume they were implying that the genre and its craft is what is most exciting about teaching English. Yet I have to confess, the subject is only a small part of my career choice. I began my journey into the world of literature and writing through comic books, Stephen King and song lyrics. Poetry wasn’t allowed to be cool until I found Jim Morrison. I was a confused, misunderstood teenager trying to make sense of life and searching for some kind of truth. An English teacher showed me I could find some direction in reading; she also showed me an outlet through writing. These days I am as interested in history, philosophy and religion as I am in literature, yet literature was the gateway that helped me define my current beliefs in life.

Literature has inspired me to be a better person and has challenged my perceptions of life. It has provided an escape from the real world and taught me new ways to express myself. It has been a tool to shape and develop my character. I chose to teach because I want to offer this tool to young people. In addition to helping my students become independent, critical readers, writers and thinkers, I also want to reach out and help them find their own way in life. I am not naïve enough to think that all my students will embrace a love for reading and writing as I have done, but I hope to show them its value even if it is not their greatest interest. I tend to be a hands-on, experiential learner, so I plan for a substantial amount of my teaching to involve activity among my students. I believe that students will better understand and retain what they are learning if I am able to turn it into an experience for them. I also realize that genuine learning takes hard work and discipline and cannot (and should not) always be delivered in 90 second sound bites of entertainment. Therefore, I will not neglect my responsibility to offer a well rounded education; however, whenever it is possible, I will try to make my class interesting for students and bring their world into the lesson.

I tend to be discussion oriented, and I plan for group work as often as the subject matter allows. I believe that when students are able to learn from each other and collaborate to find an answer the lesson is more valuable for them. When space allows, I like to set up the desks in a u-shape; when it is time for groups, students can just swing their desks around to face each other. I try to have areas set up in the room with various resources my students may need to do in-class projects. When I do lecture, I use erasable markers and a white board to show students how to work through the process of taking notes. I want my room to be interesting; so in addition to educational and literature based posters, I also have historic, music and art based posters that are thought provoking and inspirational. I hope to create an atmosphere where students feel free to be themselves and feel safe to experiment and push their boundaries in learning.

As a teacher, I want to challenge my students to grow in personhood as much as learn new information. I see myself as a guide in the process of learning rather than a boss handing out assignments to be completed. When problems arise, I want to be able to defuse all situations quickly and calmly before they can escalate; however, I am not afraid to respectfully express my authority when it is needed. I hope to be a man whose authority rests in my students’ respect, not in their fear of punishment. Being a teacher is not about satisfying my ego; rather, it is about what I can give to my students to help make their world better.  

Peter L Richardson

 

Stack of Books Still Life, PLR '98

Stack of Books Still Life, PLR '98

“The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.”  -Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I work nights until 1:00AM. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I have to read is my digital alarm clock. I say read because about as much effort goes into understanding whether I should get up now and how much more time can I really spare in bed, as goes into reading any college text book. What day is this? What class? Do I need to pack anything? Can I afford to skip breakfast? If I push the “snooze” button I may get up earlier, but if I reset the alarm I’ll get more restful sleep…. These are only some of the problem solving skills I use to interpret the meaning behind the symbol “8:00AM.” 

Once awake my mind is able to operate on a higher level. I check my e-mail first thing in the morning. Although by now it is a simple routine, I am required to know computer lingo in order to even get to my mail. This is not just a matter of knowing how to write and read letters; this simple communication requires learning a new literacy code. This important tool allows me to efficiently communicate with my friends and take care of simple business with professors and peers.

Eventually I make my way to class. Though varied, college courses usually have some form of taking notes. Professors usually write key terms on overheads or the chalkboard. It is important to learn to understand how these terms guide a lecture in order to write good notes. This aspect of learning requires more than just reading and writing; it is a developed skill. You need to learn the balance; you can’t write everything said, nor do you want to overburden yourself when it comes to studying, but if you want to do well in the class, you must write down the essential information. This literacy activity is not just copying a literal list of facts; it requires interpretive and critical thinking,

At some point during the day I have to eat, and often I’m forced to buy food at a restaurant. On this particular day, I was invited out to dinner with my family, including my Spanish speaking sister-in-law who is still learning our language; I was impressed with how difficult ordering her meal was. She was dependent upon the rest of the family to get what she really wanted. Although ordering a meal doesn’t require much thought (unless the food is great!), not knowing how to read the language brings a dimension of difficulty to it that we often take for granted. I imagine how difficult life must be for those who missed the opportunity to learn how to read. It is not just a world of books and ideas nonreaders are missing, but simple tasks we take for granted, like ordering food, become difficult burdens that can often be dangerous, like understanding the instructions for medications.

Before I begin my studying for the evening, I try to put God first and read a chapter from the Bible. These are words I am familiar with by now, and more often this exercise is less a study and more of a reminder of God’s truth and the comfort he brings to my life. Having this time of reflection and self-evaluation in God gives me strength to handle the struggles of the day. Though many do not choose this path, I don’t know where I would be with the ability to study God’s Word. It is the bread for my soul, the living water for my spirit. It is the Word who was made flesh; the Truth in parable, poetry and law giving me inspiration to persevere and live as righteously as I can.

Later I give myself over to my homework. Being an English Education major, I read a little bit of everything on any given night. Poetry is something to be felt as well as read. It is often a mystery to be solved by close reading and looking between the lines. There is definitely creative thinking needed when reading any type of verse, but often poetry is best when it is just absorbed. Likewise, when I’m reading a story, I find I am better able to understand and evaluate it if I simply let myself indulge in it as the characters carry me through the plot with their speech and actions. Typically, I don’t do much conscious analysis of fiction until the experience is over, but that is my style. Reading text books and scholarly journals, however, requires a lot of effort on my part. This is when sight words and contextual analysis become important for me. I find in order to understand the text fully, I need to look ahead in each chapter and read subtitles and glance at bold faced words and think about any quotes emphasized to get a sense of the topic and main idea I’m reading about before I dive in. Also, if there are pictures or graphs, I usually read them before I begin the swim through the letters and ideas of the text. It is easy for me to drift when I’m reading texts, so getting the preview and knowing the direction the author is going in helps me stay focused and increases my comprehension. 

I work the night shift as a security guard. At my site, we joke that the only skills you need to do the job is to have a warm body and a pulse, but literacy is a requirement. We receive written orders, the dayshift supervisor communicates with us by writing notes, and we are required to write out a Daily Activity Report. Because of college, I am required to study texts in depth, so it is easy for me to take for granted the simple things in life that require literacy and to lose touch with how necessary the basic skills of reading comprehension really are. Literacy is essential for success in our modern society. Children who are read to at a young age and encouraged to read throughout their lives will gain opportunities that their peers who are neglected will have to work twice as hard to achieve. Teaching kids how to approach a text book or a novel or a poem, teaching them how to evaluate and receive knowledge, meaning and experience from words, will ultimately give them the skills they need to approach life with better understanding and therefore receive a greater knowledge and deeper meaning from their own experiences, and that is wisdom. Education is not required to gain wisdom, but the ability to read gives one access to the wisdom and experience of all the ancients who have gone before.

Peter L Richardson
(updated 7/14/11)

 
 “Wordplay”  
 
What’s in a word? What’s in a rhyme?
Is it the silent tick-tick of time?
Are they definition, description or meaning?
Are they truth, fact or seeming?
A word is empty without sight.
The sun is darkness without light.

Peter L Richardson
spring 1997

“I touch the future; I teach.”  -Christa McAuliffe 

When I was in high school, I felt that I was mistreated as a student. I was one of the kids on drugs, one of the ones who liked to cause trouble. I also adhered to what the media taught me about school being boring and my teachers being stuffy fools who needed to get a life. I saw school as a prison that held me back from experiencing life. As I matured, I found out the hard way that I was wrong. I had issues in my life that kept me from being mature enough to see the benefits of having an institution whose sole purpose was to offer me a foundation of knowledge that would help me succeed in life. Though school offered me many good opportunities, I couldn’t see past my negative experiences to reap the benefits. It wasn’t until later in life I learned to value a good, free education. This is at the essence of my heart as an educator. I hope to reach the students who are like I used to be, I hope to put some concrete meaning and purpose into their lives. I want to make my class a life experience rather than something students just have to wait through to get on with life. Unfortunately, that’s easier said then done.

School should be a life experience in itself, not just a training ground. There are many aspects of an effective classroom. Teachers should seek to know their subjects as thoroughly as possible. In order to motivate their students they should try to make their subjects relative to what students are interested in on their own time, and they should use every opportunity to show students how important the skills being taught are in life. Without taking away from learning, they should try to make it fun. How this will become manifested depends on the subject and the teacher’s own personality, but school does not have to be boring all the time. However, even if a teacher has come up with the most creatively fun and productive activities, it doesn’t mean anything if he can’t maintain a positive learning environment in which the students are willing to put in their own work and do the activities that aren’t always entertaining.

In my opinion, the most important step in creating an effective learning environment is to establish trust. There are many ways to do this, but first you have to become a person of integrity, to be consistent in your actions. A teacher who will make clear boundaries and stick to them will give their students a sense of security in knowing what consequences to expect from their actions whether positive or negative. However, there must be an awareness of the individual as well. A teacher must take into account the circumstances of every situation and try to be aware of when they need to be flexible. Each person is different, what works for one student might not work for another, it is important to find out what works best for the individual, especially in matters of discipline.

In most cases, if a teacher truly seeks to respect his/her students and see them as people, they will sense this. Just like everyone else, a teacher’s actions reveal his/her heart. However it is difficult for some kids to receive even a positive response from someone in authority, so it is important to become skillful in language that shows the students teachers are for them and want to see them succeed. The language that teachers use should always be in a loving and self-controlled manner that provides respect. Of course, once a teacher develops a rapport with students and gets to know them individually, he/she can often use humor or sarcasm to push them in the right direction. But this is only after a measure of trust has been established, and the teacher truly knows the student.

Teachers should also seek to show students that even the negative consequences of their actions are intended to push the student to learn to make positive choices which will result in an overall higher quality of life. I like the “Love and Logic” theory of discipline. “Love and Logic” doesn’t take away the students power of choice. In a time when adolescents are testing their boundaries and learning to become more autonomous, it is important to give them this sort of control over their lives. When students are given a choice in their actions and an understanding of the consequence students will learn they are responsible for their actions, and will pay the consequence, whether positive or negative, of the choice they make. It helps them to own their decisions and their consequences, both positive and negative. With guidance and direction from positive adults, students can learn to see the good results of their positive choices and eventually begin to develop higher self-esteem. A higher self-esteem will give students the confidence of an “I can” attitude. Once the child believes in him/herself, the hardest battle has been won. Again, easier said then done, but I have seen this principle work in real life from time to time.

Under no circumstances should a teacher ever put down a child or make them feel less intelligent, yet I also am against giving students praise for something they don’t deserve. This can be even more damaging in the long wrong. A child with a false sense of accomplishment can become discouraged and even devastated later in life to find out he/she doesn’t have the skills necessary to move ahead. It is important to keep it real with your students. Honesty with tactfulness and respect goes a long way. We need to meet our students where they are. If we give them positive encouragement and confidence in their abilities to gain the skills needed for success, then they can move up and progress at their own pace, seeing their growth and accomplishments in a substantial way.

Another way that can help teachers gain the trust of their students is to be available for them outside of the scheduled class time. I don’t mean teachers should hand out their phone number to students, and I don’t think teachers should be “friends” to their students in the sense of “buddies.” It is important to be a professional first and to draw the line if you sense a student getting too comfortable in their relationship with you, for reasons concerning the respect of authority, as well as possible legal ramifications. But a teacher should never be this unapproachable person that students are afraid of. Teachers should take an interest in their students’ personal lives; they should ask them how they are doing on a regular basis. It doesn’t take much for a teacher to show they care. Teachers should also let students see who they are as individuals. They should talk about themselves, their personal interests and how the weekend went. If students can see that teachers are real people too, they will be able to relate to them better. If teachers took the time to show students they really do care, students will tend to care back and work harder in class.

These have been just a few ways to show integrity to students. No person is perfect, even teachers, but trying to teach with integrity will go a long way in gaining the students’ respect. Being real, being someone who cares, and being someone who can be trusted is being a person who is respected. When teachers gain the respect of their students, behavior problems will be greatly minimized and students may get interested in learning just because they like the teacher. Of course there are many other factors that go into learning, but once there is a manageable classroom, there is more time and opportunity to present the material and teach the skills that students will need to move up and be successful in their lives, and there is greater opportunity to offer them a life experience to grow and become more than what they were before they entered the classroom.

Peter L Richardson
3/17/2003

http://www.loveandlogic.com/educators.html

Language is Power.

January 11, 2011

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. -Mark Twain

You have heard it said, “Knowledge is power,” but this is only true if you have the ability to unpack your knowledge and put it to action. Knowledge is power, but we need language to effectively communicate what we know and how we know it. Language is power because language is communication. Not having a good control of the language will often discredit a person who is otherwise very intelligent. An effective communicator is able to get what he/she wants through the control of the language. Language is how we express our ideas. Language is how we are able to reconcile a disagreement through discussion. We can use language to manipulate others, or use it to bring enlightenment. We use language to sell ourselves, our products, and our ideas. The greater command we have of language, the greater we will be at self-expression. Additionally, with a greater command of language we will be able to understand others and help others to understand ourselves.

Imagine yourself dropped into a country with a completely unfamiliar culture and a completely unknown language to you. Imagine the helpless state you would be in. You might be able to use hand signals or charades, but think of how limited that would be. Not only would the population seem strange to you, but you would be strange to them as well. Would they trust you? How could you communicate to them you were friendly? What if you did something that was offensive in their culture? You’d have no way of knowing unless you could understand their language. This is an extreme example, but it reveals how vital the ability to express yourself clearly is in regards to becoming successful in all areas: politics, careers, and relationships. In order to have trust with anyone, we must learn to “speak their language.” Before I finished college, I spent many years working at a university as a custodian. The facilities department constantly changed its policies, and our boss, who was college educated, would come and tell us about the new expectations, the reasons for the changes, etc. After her speech I would often have half the crew come to me and ask me what she meant, because she often spoke at a level that was over their education. With my background, I was able to understand my boss, and communicate what she said to my coworkers at their level of understanding.

 A larger vocabulary gives us more creative ways to express ourselves. It also enables us to be more clear and precise in what we mean. However, a good command of the language is also knowing when to use the vocabulary we have. When I finally made it to college,  I was exposed to a lot of new words, a lot of big words that I had to use in my papers if I wanted to make the grade, and those words eventually seeped into my everyday speech. That was good when I was in class or when I was in a discussion about some deep issue or world issue with a professor or college peer, but I found that when I talked to some friends who had not the desire or financial means for college, I came across as arrogant. If the purpose of communication is to get our neighbors to understand our point of view or to come to a new understanding about something we feel is important then we need to be careful not to win an argument with big words, but to speak in a way which they can understand what is said so they will be able to make their own judgment about the facts or truth you believe you are presenting. The power of language is not just in knowing words and knowing how to use words effectively, but also being able to speak and communicate at various levels, and knowing when it is needed to do so.

Peter L Richardson
(adapted from a 10/22/03 linguistics exam)

Wordplay

What’s in a word? What’s in a rhyme?
Is it the silent tick-tick of time?
Are they definition, description or meaning?
Are they truth, fact or seeming?
A word is empty without sight.
The sun is darkness without light.

Peter L Richardson
spring 1997

Lessons From Job: Introduction

September 15, 2009

Naked I came from the womb, so I shall return… 

Naked Came I...

Naked Came I...

Preface:  

I teach The Book of Job as literature in my high school Honors English class. Once the students realize that, yes, you can read the Bible in a public school, as long as no one is proselytizing their religion (I am convinced, however, that some never really believe me, and secretly think they are breaking the law with me; hey, whatever holds their interest!), the complaining stops, and many report at the end of the year that Job turned out to be their favorite unit. And why not? The story is an interesting concept (if you choose to believe it is only a story), and it raises philosophical questions that humans are still grappling with to this day. It is mostly written in poetry, and the imagery and metaphorical symbolism in the book are stunning. When I first began to search out Christianity, people who knew I wrote poetry told me to read the Psalms, and they are good, but in my opinion, Job holds the title for the best poetry in the Bible. Once I read it, it quickly became my favorite book of the Bible, not just because of  the poetry, but all the questions that led me to Jesus, and all the questions of life that were (and many are still) burning in my heart are asked in The Book of Job. In class, I try to create activities that really bring The Book of Job to life. We have acting projects, and I make students draw something from the imagery, but my favorite lessons are the group discussions and debates that Job inspires. I only mediate these discussions, not wanting to cross any legal boundaries, but mostly so the students can find their own questions and then ponder the answers on their own. There is nothing more exciting for me, in my teacher role, to see students, who are drowning in the over-stimulation of the media and the drama of their own insecurities, apply a deep philosophical question from an ancient text to their own lives, making it current and relevant to the issues we have today. My students discover that we humans have not really changed all that much in the 4,000 years of recorded history.

In my class, I try to just let these ancient writings raise the questions, so I teach the students how to inquire on their own as we study the literature, dissecting lines of poetry, connecting common themes throughout the book; however, there is much insight from The Book of Job that I have discovered for my own life while teaching Job in this capacity. I don‘t think I would have discovered these personal lessons if I only viewed Job as scripture. Not to mention, many of my students have had profound insights that I never would have discovered looking only through religious glasses. A few months ago, I was asked to give a teaching on these lessons at a small group meeting in the church I worship at. The teaching was well received, so I have decided to undertake writing these lessons down in hope that someone else might be able to learn from them, or at least begin to ask their own questions. I thought I might just write a quick post, but as I began to review my notes, I realized that this task is much bigger than I thought. In the coming weeks and months I will be adding more posts specific to “Lessons from Job.” Since I can’t make you act or draw pictures, and since we can’t really debate, I hope you find the words interesting and engaging!

Peter L Richardson

 

Introduction:

This is the background information that I make students takes notes on. I admit it’s kind of dry (unless you are a geek like me). It is not essential for understanding the kind of lessons I’ve learned, but I’ve decided to add it here because I think if you are going to take an in depth look at The Book of Job, this is worth taking the time to know.

If you are not familiar with the story, Job is considered to be the most righteous man “in all the East.” One day God is bragging about his servant Job in heaven, and Satan challenges God, through two wagers, that if God removed his protection and allowed Satan to take everything away from Job; including his riches, family and health, he would curse God to his face. God took him up on the bet. When Job loses everything, he remains faithful to God, but ends up pretty depressed. Three of Job’s friends hear about his state and travel many miles to comfort him, but after mourning in silence for a week, they begin to advise Job to repent of whatever horrible sin he committed so God will let up. Job claims to be innocent of any gross sin deserving that kind of punishment, and thus begins the debate. In the end, God breaks in and tells all of them that they don’t really know what they are talking about; he honors Job for staying faithful, and he restores everything back to Job and then some. Common themes from The Book of Job are:

  • Why do the righteous suffer?
  • The virtue of patience.
  • Keeping integrity in the face of disaster.
  • To reveal God as creator.
  • The lack of human ability to fathom God.
  • Wisdom begins with fearing God.
  • The need for repentance and humility.
  • Knowing and trusting God is more important than righteousness.

The Book of Job (Iyyobh in Hebrew) is considered to be the oldest book in the Bible by most scholars. Both Christians and Jews consider Job to be fully “inspired by God” and consider it to be Holy Scripture. Job is an important religious figure in Islam as well. If Job was a real person, he would have been alive around 2000 BC in Mesopotamia, which is now the Middle East. He would have been a contemporary of Abraham, who is considered to be the patriarch of both Jews and Arabs. This is around 600 to 800 years before Moses wrote down the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, what is considered to be “the Law” of God. Both the prophet Ezekiel (in the Old Testament) and the apostle James (in the New Testament) speak of Job as if he were a historical figure. Possible authors of The Book of Job are: Job, himself, writing about his personal experiences in about 2000 BC; Moses, acting as the scribe of a story handed down during his time as a shepherd in Midian in about 1250 BC; King Solomon while he was composing and compiling “the Wisdom Literature” of the Bible in about 950 BC; and finally an anonymous Jewish exile in Babylon to explain the suffering the Jews were experiencing in about 400 BC.

One thing that is peculiar about The Book of Job, when compared to most ancient literature, myth, and religious documents, is the scientific integrity the book holds. Most ancient cultures tried to explain the natural process of the world through strange myths and allegories. The author of The Book of Job seems to have a strong understanding of the scientific world, even about things only discovered relatively recently. For instance, Job 26:7 states: “God spreads the canopy of the sky over chaos and suspends earth over the void,” which suggests that the author has some understanding of the earth being suspended in space. Regardless of who the author was, The Book of Job was written a long time before Galileo. Other than some discrepancy with the identity of certain beasts, or discrepancy with the proposed timeline of evolutionists, with the correct interpretation of figurative language in The Book of Job, the scientific content of the book is entirely correct in its explanation of how the physical world works.

The Book of Job follows the model of  Babylonian “discussion literature” where different sides of an issue were debated in a poetic format. The Book of Job is part of the section of the Bible known as “Wisdom Literature” which also includes Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. All the books hold the common theme: “Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord,” and they teach men how best to live a moral and righteous life. Besides the Prologue and the Epilogue, The Book of Job is written entirely in poetry.

All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.   

Peter L Richardson

Five Steps to Help You Understand What the Heck You’re Reading!

“I don’t talk things, sir. I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I’m alive.”  -Professor Faber from Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

 

Introduction: We all have different backgrounds and cultures; we all have different experiences in our lives. To be frank, some are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and others are born with a spoon full of heroine raging through their bloodstream. We cannot control where we come from. Studies have made it clear that children whose parents read to them on a regular basis from infancy will be more successful than their peers whose parents were unable to give the same attention. While we cannot choose our beginnings, there is a time in our lives when we are able to take control of our destiny, and it is much earlier than many people realize. In our modern world, literacy is not only essential for success; it is a minimum skill needed to just get by in life. Just knowing how to read is not good enough anymore, there needs to be genuine comprehension of what you are reading. For those children who grew up with books, reading comprehension seems to come natural. Just like a child growing up by the sea. She will seem to have a natural inclination towards swimming, but another child who lives inland usually has the same ability, just not the same opportunities to get in the water. Would we ever tell the second child she has no hope for learning how to swim? Of course not; it may be harder for her to train her muscles and lungs to work in the water, but with enough effort and time, she can successfully learn how to swim, and do it well. So it is with reading comprehension. It is a skill that has become second nature to many, but it is just a skill that can be learned by almost anyone willing to put the time and effort to train the neurons in their brain to fire up the imagination and the inquiry that leads to better understanding of a text. No matter what level of education you have, reading can still be a daunting task at times. If you or someone you love has struggled with reading in the past, take heart! Following are some relatively easy skills you can learn which will help you comprehend and understand almost anything you are confronted with. After enough practice, these skills will become second nature, and you’ll use them without even thinking about them. For now, keep this checklist with you and take it out anytime you feel intimidated by what you are reading.

 

STEP 1: What are you reading? Sounds simple, but you need to determine what kind of literature you’re reading before you even crack open the text. Following are various genres of writing that authors use to express themselves. You should have a basic understanding of the following literary terms, and you should be able to identify what you are reading just by looking at the form. Is it fiction or nonfiction? Is it a narrative, drama, poetry, or an essay? If it is an essay, is it expository or persuasive? If you don’t know the definition of any of these terms, look them up! When good readers can’t guess the meaning of the content through context clues, they will take the time to find out something they don’t understand in the text from other sources. Is it time consuming? Yes. But once you have gained the knowledge, you won’t have to research it again. It is worth your time.

 

STEP 2: What is the background and history of the work and/or its author? You will need to know something about the culture and history of the setting or topic of the work you are reading. If you are reading a novel set in Japan during the 1940’s, the more you know about Japanese culture and about World War II, the better you will understand the story, and the more you will enjoy it. A good example of the confusion that a lack of understanding of a culture or time period can cause is in the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In an effort to get an A on a history presentation in a class they neglected all year, these guys stumble through time and wreck havoc while they try to collect important historical figures. They often end up in a lot of trouble and come close to death because they are clueless about the customs of the times and places they visit. You won’t risk death if you don’t read up on the background of a novel, but the lack of understanding can sometimes kill your enjoyment of what may be an excellent story. Often it is through fiction that we learn about different cultures and time periods; that is fine, but you must take the information with a grain of salt and realize that writers have prejudices and take liberties in their interpretations.

Likewise, knowing something about the author can really help you to understand what his/her main point is. For instance, if you learn an author is a dedicated communist before you read his work, you will be able to pick up anything antidemocratic more quickly. Writers are good with words; that is why they write, but they are not always the most intelligent source on the subject they write on. It is important to read everything with an open mind and a willingness to learn a new perspective, but at the same time, you should also always be “reading between the lines” and making thoughtful decisions to accept or reject what the writer is putting down on paper. Knowing the author’s angle beforehand will help you prevent being fooled by half truths and twisted thinking through elegant and passionate words. Think this step is not worth the time? Consider Hitler and the intelligent Germans who were swayed into the Nazi Party through his speeches and his interpretation of history.

 

STEP 3: Observation. You’ve heard it said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but it’s a good place to start. The problem is you can’t stop there; you need to dig deeper. Find out as much information as you can before you even start reading. With most texts you should be able to answer the 5 W’s and H just by taking in a good observation of the work. What are the 5 W’s and H? Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? First of all, skim all the titles, headings and bold print in the table of contents and throughout. This will give you a basic idea of what the book is going to be talking about. Next, look at all the pictures and charts in the book. Pictures, graphs and charts are carefully chosen for a reason; they are there to complement the content and enhance your understanding of it, yet many people just ignore them. Lastly, you should read the summaries that are printed on the back cover or inside the book jacket. We all like to get to the movies early to catch the new previews. Movie previews are meant to spark your interest and give you a good idea of the content of the film. Advertisers want to give you just enough information to draw you in and get you to spend your money on another show. Summaries on book covers are the same; without revealing the plot, they will introduce you to the major characters and give you a hint of the conflicts they may be facing. Will our heroes survive?!? 

 

STEP 4: Interpretation: Now you are finally ready to begin reading. Once you start the book you need to constantly be monitoring your understanding. The biggest question to ask is “WHY?” What is the author’s purpose for writing the text in the first place? What does the author want you to know or experience through his/her work? Following are three techniques you can use to find the answers:

  • Personal Connection. The best way to find the answer to these questions is to make personal connections with the work. What do you already know about the topic? What kind of experiences have you had that are similar to the characters in the story? What are your current beliefs? Find a way for your experiences in life to relate to the topic and main ideas. For instance, we’ve all been rejected by the opposite sex at one time or another, if the author is breaking the heart of one of his characters, allow yourself to experience the pain he/she is feeling. If the main character has obstacles to overcome, think of specific struggles you have been through and cheer him on.
  • Visualizing. Another skill you’ll want to practice is visualizing. This is simply forming word pictures in your mind. When an author is describing a tree, don’t just logically know what a tree is, but spend the time imagining what that tree actually looks like. Picture this: the branches gently swaying in the wind, as a few of the leaves, with faint hints of yellow and red, lazily float and find their way to the ground. The first sign that school would be upon us soon… Many people have told me that they just find reading to be boring. In my opinion, they are just not using their imagination. If all you can see when you read is black words on a white page, that is painfully boring! You have to look deeper into the meaning of the words and truly imagine what is being written. If it takes you longer to read that way, so what? Reading a good book is like eating a good steak, you need to slowly chew on the soft meat and savor the taste of the spices dancing on your tongue as the juices run throughout your mouth. Mmmm. Steak. Visualization is often essential to fully understanding a work.
  • Prediction. Last, but not least, you should always be trying to predict what is going to happen next. When we watch a movie, we are always trying to figure out how it’s going to end: Will the guy get the girl? Who is going to survive and who is going to get killed off? Books are no different. Because I like to read, I know most of the plot formulas that authors use when they write. Some of my friends hate to watch a movie with me because I can usually predict the end half way through it. I’ve pretty much learned to keep my mouth shut! (Two movies that managed to trick me: The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense.)  Prediction is an easy skill to master with stories, but it works just as well with nonfiction. When you are reading about science, try to imagine and predict what the next steps of a formula are going to be. If you are reading a persuasive essay, try to predict what the final argument will be, especially if you disagree; you’ll need to counter argue. The bottom line is, if you are trying to figure out what is going to happen, you are thinking about what has already happened, and thinking about the text is essential to understanding it.

 

STEP 5: Evaluation/Application. This begins during reading, but often can’t be fully completed until you are finished the work. First, you need to discover what the major themes, or most important ideas of the work are: find those life lessons and timeless truths hidden between the lines. Next, you need to ask, “How does this apply to my life?” We live in a time of unprecedented stimulation. Many people will give up reading a text just because they are not constantly feeling pleasure from it. It is true that good writers will leave you wanting to read more, and their skill with their craft will determine whether you make it to the end of their work, but a positive reading experience doesn’t always keep your brain stimulated at a high level. More often the stimulation is slow and subtle. Have you learned a new skill or gained useful information? Does the work change the way you feel about the topic, or has it reinforced your beliefs? If it has any impact at all, you can give the work a positive evaluation. It was worth your time. When you are reading for pleasure or self-interest, this stage may only take place in the form of deep thinking. You may find yourself washing the dishes or mowing the lawn and mulling over something you read that in the moment didn’t have much of an impact, but now you can’t get that phrase out of your mind. When you take the time to think about and evaluate what you’ve read after you’ve finished reading it, you are well on your way to comprehending it. The next step is to apply what you have learned to your life. Maybe you’ve read a novel set in Mexico and you fell in love with the culture, so you try an authentic Mexican Restaurant. After that, you begin planning your vacation to experience the culture first hand. Or you’ve been raised to believe a certain doctrine all your life that you just accepted as truth. You read an article that challenges your belief; you spend many sleepless nights trying to figure out what to believe, so you do more research on the subject and hear both sides of the argument. Whatever the outcome, whether you change your beliefs or become more grounded in them, you are still better off from the inner struggle; you have grown as a person. The most important thing to consider is how the material has enhanced your life. Did it increase your knowledge, provide an experience, change/reinforce your beliefs, or all the above? If you can answer yes to any of these questions you have had a successful experience with a book.

 

Conclusion: This is the reason we read, simply because reading causes us to think and evaluate life. Reading forces us to discover new ideas and new worlds. It opens our minds to the endless possibilities, and in the overwhelming process of the search, we begin to see a path develop towards something like truth, if not truth itself. If your source of information is dominated by quick sound bites on internet searches or talking heads in their endless cycle of shouting matches, you will never learn to truly think for yourself about the issues, because you don’t give yourself the time needed to think. If your source of entertainment is dominated by visual stimulations of graphic sex, longer action scenes, and insulting, crude humor, you will never develop the full potential of what true feelings are meant to mature into, because you will never allow yourself to move past emotional adolescence through the wisdom and experience of others. Movies and documentaries have the potential to offer thought provoking issues and ideas that can move your soul and cause you to think, but in our pleasure obsessed society this kind of media is hard to find, and the stimulation fizzles out and falls flat. True stimulation that lasts longer than the moment is more likely to be found in a book.

Peter L Richardson
2006

 

“Wordplay”

What’s in a word?
What’s in a rhyme?
Is it the silent tick-tock of time?
Are they definition, description or meaning?
Are they truth, fact or seeming?
A word is empty without sight.
The sun is darkness without light.

Peter L Richardson
1996