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Our Founding Fathers Were Right, by a Florida Mom

Our Founding Fathers were right, about education, too. Have you ever wondered how a generation with one-roomed schoolhouses produced so many great thinkers? Have you wondered what types of books were available when Abraham Lincoln studied on his own? Unlike many instructional books today, the educational books our founding fathers used were designed for simplified teaching, and self-teaching. They used McGuffey’s Readers, Harvey’s Grammar, and Ray’s Arithmetic. These were not grade level books; they were progressive level books, and they produced great thinkers who became great men.

Pioneers could only pack a few books with their belongings, so they picked the best. You’ve included many resources in your prepping library, but have you included these? Are you ready to teach another generation “Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic”?

Basic Library

Critical Thinking

More importantly, teach them how to think! Did you catch the hints in the list of books? Can your children think logically and critically? Do they know how to find foundational principles? Have they learned to reason from truth to its application in daily life and thought? [Disclaimer: The definition of critical thinking in education has been re-defined to be a focus on politically “correct thinking”. That is not the focus discussed here. Be aware when you read “critical thinking” in educational standards.]

“Mom, why do we have to learn this?” As a parent and teacher, I wanted to be able to answer that question. In a teaching workshop, I learned how to research with my children to find the answers to questions they had. Also, as we looked up answers together, I realized I was laying a foundation for critical thinking. With a Bible, a concordance, and Webster’s 1828 dictionary, we could find a Biblical answer: We learn to read so we can read the Bible and learn from what others wrote. History is studied to remember what God has done for us and can be seen in the greater picture of what God is doing in the world. Math and algebra are practical, but they also teach logical thinking. Grammar, composition, and spelling are essential to effective communication. Science is important in recognizing God’s hand in an awesome creation, in everyday life to avoid disasters and scams, and to teach principles of life. (“Consider the lilies” implies a lot more than looking at pretty flowers!)

One way we learned to apply logical thought was during the disciplinary process. We didn’t ask “Why did you do that?”; instead, we asked, “Why was that wrong?” We asked them to make a connection between one or more of the commandments and the choice they had made. For example, “You shall not kill,” includes deliberately causing hurt to your brother or sister! (Questions 99-153 in the Westminster Larger Catechism deal with the applications of the 10 commandments. The questions clarify very specifically “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden….” In the example above, “You shall not kill” then also encourages actively looking out for the safety and welfare of others.) Another interesting (non-disciplinary) activity is reading Leviticus case law to see if you can figure out which commandment is being clarified. (Hint: Building a parapet around the roof is based on preventing injury and thus comes under “You shall not kill.”) Eventually, they will realize they can’t “keep all the rules” without God’s help and you have the joy of explaining to them that Jesus did it for them and offers it as a gift.

By “Teach your children to think critically”, I mean teach them logical thought processes. Start with the foundation of absolute truth. Explain why you do things the way you do. (“I wear gloves/use safety glasses for this activity because…”) Talk through your decision-making process with them. Evaluate what went wrong with a project and why. Learn to ask leading questions that guide their thoughts to logical conclusions and accurate analogies. (“What would happen if I did it this way?” “What do you already know that could help you figure this out?”)

Tell them the goal of an activity or lesson and give them several options for achieving it. Eventually, they will come up with creative options on their own that meet the goal. Also, be prepared! Pray! Teachable opportunities will present themselves, sometimes when you don’t expect them. You’ll have to be ready to give an answer, so think ahead. There will be times you aren’t ready with an answer for a decision you have to make, so please come up with something better than “Because I said so!” (“Will you trust me on this one and just obey?”)

[Another Disclaimer: When you teach your children to think, they will sometimes come to different conclusions than you have. Listen to them; evaluate their thinking process; correct any logic errors; and let them have their own opinions! Aren’t we teaching them to be independent thinkers? Lay the foundation in God’s word and His principles; trust Him with the outcome.]

Another application for high school involved essays and papers. For my children, no paper was complete unless there was also research and application of principles from Scripture. They started with research on their topic, defining terms; then they used those terms with a concordance to find the principles in Scripture. The conclusions included summarizing main points and bringing in applications. Your children will amaze you, when you give them the tools they need to succeed.

Find a good logic book. We used Better Thinking and Reasoning [13] by Ron Tagliapietra. Have your children evaluate advertisements or commercials based on the reasoning being used to sell the item. What are they appealing to? Editorials can be interesting to analyze. Start with the definitions of the key phrases. Is the writer using the words accurately or twisting the meaning? Are the facts accurate? Do the reasons given support the conclusion?

I mentioned Webster’s 1828 Dictionary compiled by Noah Webster. The information contained in the definitions is challenging. For example: Education “The bringing up, as of a child; instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.” A government school cannot address all of these issues. We, parents and grandparents, have a great responsibility to train up the next generation.