Thursday, January 30, 2014

"The Holy Charge Which We Are Cherishing To Deliver": A Neglected Aspect Of Our Education

Thomas Jefferson thought about many things that few men have considered.  In my morning reading this week I came across two of his statements that are seldom considered in today’s discussion of the purpose of education which I think merit further consideration and elaboration. 

Both come from early in 1821 when he was in his mature reflective years.  Profound learning and experience produced not only great political and social wisdom, but seemed to lend to him an almost prophetic prescience.  In a letter to James Breckenridge he observed that the boys of their age would become the men of the next and “they should be prepared to receive the holy charge which we are cherishing to deliver over to them.”

Jefferson understood two things about the incredible legacy of liberty and government his generation was bequeathing to the next one.  First, it would be perhaps the greatest political gift one society ever passed on to the future.  He spoke of the “political blessings,” and “holy charge” they were “cherishing to deliver.” Jefferson’s awareness of the sacred and solemn heritage the future was receiving was surpassed by few if any of his generation.  He also knew that the following generation–and I would make that plural, generations–must be “prepared to receive the holy charge.”

Inferred here is a purpose of education that is all but forgotten in today’s almost single minded rush by students, parents, educators, administrators, commencement speakers, pundits, and government officials to prepare today’s youth to “get a good, well paying job.” We are simply not giving just do to preparing the present generation in understanding the importance and fragility of the governmental system they are inheriting, or the incomparable beauty and power of its founding principles.

Jefferson it seems, could foresee and therefore warned of such a situation.  In March of 1821 he wrote to Spencer Roane of his “hope that the [generation] now on stage will preserve for their sons the political blessings delivered into their hands by their fathers.” “But,” he warned, “time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch....”

“Corruption of principles” indeed!  For many Americans our founding principles are not only corrupted, they are nearly forgotten.  This generational loss of memory is due in large measure to the neglect of one age to prepare the subsequent one through education. Jefferson’s vision of the uniqueness, beauty, and holiness of the inheritance the Founders were passing down has grown dim. It is at our peril that it has done so.

Quotations source: John P. Kaminski, ed., The Quotable Jefferson, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006), p. 216.

Let's think together again, soon.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Open Letter To My Grandchildren About The Importance Of Learning To Communicate Well

9 June 2013

Dear Grandchildren,  

In Yellowstone Park last summer I talked with you about being born in ignorance.  This June I want to tell you about another thing we are born without–that is the ability to speak–to express our thoughts and feelings in language.  If babies are uncomfortable they can squirm, fuss, cry, and even scream, but that is all.  When tickled they eventually learn to smile, giggle and laugh.  Parents spend a great deal of time with infants helping them begin to learn language.  For many, the first word they learn is not “Mommy” or “Daddy” but “no.”  

The important thing to understand here is that language is something we learn.  We usually learn it in our homes from our parents and our brothers and sisters.  Then our world expands to playmates and people outside the home such as at Church.  When we start school the people we communicate with expands and schools begin training us to communicate better and better.  They teach us how to read so we can understand written words, articles, books, poems, plays, emails, things in our electronic media devices, and more.  They teach us to express ourselves in writing, so we learn the alphabet and we begin to learn words (expand our vocabulary), spell, and write sentences, paragraphs, and pages.

Many young people grow to dislike learning about language–they think it is boring or difficult or both. Learning to read and write doesn't just come naturally and it is not easy–and to do it correctly is even more difficult.  If we are lazy, we develop bad habits of communicating in reading, speaking  and writing.  One author I have read recently says that generally very few people continue to grow and mature in their ability to communicate with others throughout their lives.  In other words, we quickly become content with the abilities we have to speak, read and write.  He said, “In no area of our maturing ... is arrested [discontinued, stopped, or stunted] development more common than in the area of communication.”

Not continuing to learn to communicate better and better through the methods of reading, writing and speaking will create many problems for you throughout your lives.  That is because communication is so important in every aspect of our lives.  Please consider just a few ideas about the importance of being able to communicate well.

1) Remember that language is the tool with which we think.   Words and language become the symbols of things, ideas and emotions.  Without language we cannot really think in its fullest sense.  So, if we are poor with language, our ability to think is greatly limited.  We limit our own ability to think and communicate what we think by the limitations of our knowledge and understanding of our language.

2) Communication is the process through which we are greatly influenced by others.  Through communication parents and teachers teach us.  Business people, politicians and others try to influence our thinking and how we act, what we buy, who we vote for.  Leaders want to influence us to follow, to work together, to achieve.  

Likewise, communication is the process by which we influence others.  If we are poor at writing or speaking we will have less influence.  We cannot teach others well, we cannot persuade or lead as well as we could if we could communicate better.  If you discuss this with your parents they will be able to think of other ways this principle applies in life.

One example among many is the importance of your vocabulary.  If it is poor, that is, if it is small and you don’t know the meaning of very many words then communication for you will be difficult.  You will not be able to understand many things people say or write.  Likewise, you will not be able to communicate ideas and feelings to others as adequately as you want.  You must make it a point to continue to grow in your vocabulary because it does not grow very fast once you leave school where it is emphasized.  The same is true for learning to read, write, and speak. 

3) Communication is the medium through which we get outside of ourselves and become involved with a larger community of family, friends, and associates.  We use language to express our ideas, beliefs and feelings to these groups.  Language is the method we use to share knowledge and experience.  If our use of the language, to read, write or speak is severely limited because we were satisfied with what we learned in elementary or high school, or even in college, our ability to engage with the world around us is severely limited and will likely be ineffective. 

4) Language is the most important way we express our feelings and emotions.  Studies of behavior of children and young adults show that before about the age of eight or nine, children generally express emotion through physical actions.  Teenagers and adults tend to express emotion through words.  If we do not become skilled in language our ability to express our feelings and emotions remain on a fairly immature level and will be terribly inadequate.  The lack of words at one’s command leaves many with nothing to do to express their emotions except by swearing, shouting, using cliches and slang, all of which leave us without the ability to express the uniqueness of our own personality.  By the way, anger is not the only emotion that we should think about in this discussion.  Expressing love, happiness, fear, sadness, remorse, belief, testimony, and humor are others that are stunted if we are not able to express ourselves well.   So... 

I want to encourage you to continue through your schooling especially, but also throughout your lives to improve your ability to communicate.

I hope you will learn to read well, and to learn to love reading so you can benefit from the communication of many others to you about life and whatever subjects interest you.  I hope you will learn to read widely so you can become interested in many things.  Don’t let your curiosity die–ever.

I encourage you to learn to write well.  Learn grammar, learn vocabulary–and keep learning it, so you can become ever better at expressing your thoughts, ideas, and feelings.  

I especially encourage you to learn to speak well because you will use this method to communicate with others more than any other.

I especially hope you will learn the value of communicating with confidence, precision, sensitivity, and beauty.

I love you all,

Grandpa Bachman.

Let's think together again, soon.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why I Believe: Introdcution To "101 Reasons I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet" Evidence One: Warn In Mildness And Meekness

Introduction to a series “101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet"© 

Either during or shortly after my Mormon mission to the Eastern Atlantic States (Pa., Md., Del., half of NJ., and parts NY., Va., W. Va., and Ohio) from 1962-64, I read George Edward Clark’s little 1952 book, Why I Believe: 54 Evidences of the Divine Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.) Many of the things discussed therein bolstered my young and growing faith and testimony.  Over many years of study about Mormonism and its founding prophet I have noted many more evidences that have added to my faith and testimony.  One day it dawned on me that I should write my own book on the subject. This ongoing but intermittent series will be the draft for that project.

Some entries will be nifty little things that surface out of almost nowhere as it were, but when held up and examined in the light of reflection, provide their own evidence of their inspiration, truth and value.  They do not require detailed analysis or lengthy exposition. They are like the description by Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, authors of a wonderful little commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, of the revelations given to Joseph Smith in the year 1831:
“It is like trying to penetrate the infinite depths of space, where the handiworks of God bear witness of His majesty, wisdom, power, and love, and where each glistening spark of light, on close examination, turns out to be a world.” [The Doctrine and Covenants Containing Revelations given to Joseph Smith, Jr., The Prophet with an Introduction and Historical and Exegetical Notes.  Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1927, p. 255.]
Others, will be longer, and because this is a blog they may need to be split up into two or more parts to fit the pattern of blog readership.  Upon reflection, all–long or short–seem to whisper the same message: “How did Joseph Smith–the man who so many critics label an “imposter,” “fraud,” “scoundrel,” “lech,” “parapath,” “blackguard,” “ignorant,” “uneducated,” “country bumpkin,” “autocrat,” “megalomaniac,” “modern Mahomet,” “plagiarizer,” and two dozen more–how did he know that?”  Or, if he was as bad as any one of these words implies, “Why did he do that, or say that, or teach that?”  I will have many occasions to raise such questions during this series.  
I hope you will enjoy it whether it enlightens with some small insight or challenges you to think about something anew.  I invite your feedback, especially your own reasons for believing he was and is a prophet. Joseph Smith put the following words into Mormon scripture: “[L]et your preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness.”  [Doctrine and Covenants 39:41, emphasis added.]  In considering this topic I will do my level best to follow that directive and will ask others to do so also.

Evidence One:
Warn In Mildness And Meekness

By the way, that passage is the first of my 101 reasons for believing Joseph Smith was a prophet. If he was a “power hungry tyrant,” or “megalomaniac,” or frequently gave way to a monumental temper why would he impose such an ideal upon Mormon ministers and missionaries in the first year of the Church’s life?  For me the answer is that it came from God through Joseph Smith.  Such a teaching, though admittedly not always lived up to by Mormon ministers including Joseph Smith, flies in the face of extremists of all faiths who promote their religion through hate, bigotry, ostracism, war, suppression, conquest, torture, and death. It is a wonderful precept which can be sustained by a host of arguments in its favor.  Not a bad start for a young man of only twenty-five years of age.

Let's think together again, soon.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Question I Would Like To Hear Answered In The State Of The Union Address...But Won't

I said in my first article in this blog that I intended to discuss a number of topics-politics among them.  Here is the first one on politics.  On Tuesday 28 January 2014, President Barak Husein Obama will deliver the “State of the Union” address.  I have a question which I would like to hear him answer, but I know it will not be answered.

In 1998 Congress passed and president Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act-IRFA.  It created a commission and religious freedom office in the State Department and charged them with monitoring the status of religious freedom around the world and making concrete policy recommendations to Congress, the Secretary of State, and the President.

The act requires this annual review of religious freedom overseas and identification of “countries of particular concern,” defined as governments engaging in or allowing “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” religious freedom violations.  The State Department is then required to use this information to designate certain countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” on this vital matter.  The head of the Commission, Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, recently spoke about this subject and said the law “requires every administration, without fail, to engage fully in the job of designating countries.”  It isn’t optional, and it is the nation’s way of bearing witness to abuses of religious freedom around the world and to try to do something about it.

The Commission has done its annual review faithfully with care and professionalism.  But sad to report, the Executive Branch mandated with seeing that the laws of the United States are properly executed, this one included, has not been equally faithful or professional.  According to Professor George:
“The Obama administration issued designations only once during its first term, in August 2011–more than three years ago.
The result is that some of the world’s worst violators–such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Vietnam–are escaping the accountability that the IRFA law is meant to provide.” [Robert P. George, “Those of Us who Care about Religious Freedom have a Job to Do,” 2013 Leland Award Religious Liberty Lecture, Southern Baptist Convention Ethicss & Religious Liberty Commission, Washington D.C., 13 December 2013, in Vital Speeches of the Day 80 (February 2014), p. 41.]
So, here is the question:

Why hasn’t your administration fulfilled its legal obligation, except once in your administration, to designate as “Countries of Particular Concern,” those nations who have shown themselves to be egregious violators of religious freedom based on the “objective standard” set forth in and required of you in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998?

Let's think together again, soon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

An Important Insight On Human Rights For Parents and Educators

In a column of “Living Philosophies” perhaps it is not inappropriate to consider a little genuine highbrow philosophy from real philosophers occasionally.  I have been reading Immanual Kant’s little book/essay On Education.  I have been extracting and annotating some of the things that are important to me.  I will have occasion to refer to a number of these things in the days ahead, but today I want to remark briefly on what impacted me as a rather stunning, if obvious, insight about human rights.
Kant is discussing the education of children and says the following:
“Again, we see the advantage of public education in that under such a system, we learn to measure our powers with those of others, and to know the limits imposed upon us by the rights of others.”   [Immanuel Kant, On Education,  translated by Annette Churton, (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003), p. 29, emphasis added.]
As you can see by the emphasis I have added, the phrase “the limits imposed upon us by the rights of others” greatly impressed me.  We live in a day when individualism reigns supreme.  Consequently, in discussions of human rights much emphasis is given to “my” rights and the limits those rights impose upon you.  Women argue for the right to abort a fetus if they do not want to bear children.  They have a right to engage in sexual intimacy for pleasure and abort the undesirable biological consequences.  The rights of the defenseless child are trumped by the rights of the mother.

For Kant human rights are a two-sided coin.  He asserts that in society part of our education as humans is to learn what limits are placed on our individual rights by the rights of others. Our rights are not total or absolute.  They have limits and those limits are at the border of the other person’s rights.  This is something we seem to only give lip-service to in modern education.  We are fond of saying that your right of expression ends where my nose begins, but the emphasis is on my rights and your limits, not on my limits and your rights.  The “me” generation has almost no conception of the rights of others and the limits those impose upon themselves.

I agree with Kant, this is a principle which needs to be taught to every child as part of his or her education about the subject of rights.  It should be reinforced through middle and high school and even into college. Because there are boundaries and limits placed on human rights, agreement on those limits and borders is not easy to achieve.  However, we could go a long way in illuminating this difficult issue if more thought and effort was given to teaching, examining, and discussing both sides of the issue equally.  But then it would not be the "me" generation, would it?  It might be the "you" generation, or at the very least the "us" generation. Not bad options in my opinion.

Let's think together again, soon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Crucible: Reflections on Life, Leadership and Mormon Missions

Continuing To Reap Success Series, No. 1.

Sometime ago I read a fascinating book called Leading for a Lifetime, by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas.  They conducted two hour video-taped interviews with business leaders under the age of thirty-two and a second set over seventy.  They were testing a theory about the influence of the time period in which leaders grow up.  To their surprise they discovered that four qualities were cross-generational and central to every leader–something they had not supposed. I’m not going to list those qualities now, to avoid being sidetracked from the purpose of this article and to encourage you to read the book yourself.

However, one of the fascinating things they found was that each leader had undergone a “heroic struggle of some sort” and overcame a series of unique obstacles in the course of becoming a leader.  They called these “defining moments” in the lives of these leaders. They also gave it a more dramatic name:  “The Crucible.”   In a “Foreword” to the book, David Gergen, advisor to several presidents from both sides of the isle, tells of Harry Truman, without a college education, becoming a leader during World War I.  Author David McCullough said the war was Truman’s “crucible.” Gergen goes on to discuss the importance of the crucible in preparing leaders.  He says:
“At least one national organization has formally embraced the idea of a crucible as a training ground for future leaders–and has found that it works.  In the mid-1990s, with the economy booming and labor markets tight, the U.S. military services were struggling to meet their enlistment goals.  The Army, Navy, and Air force decided to make their services more appealing by improving living conditions, allowing recruits more time with their families, and the like.  The Marine Corps went the other way: It toughened up. General Charles Krulak, the Commandant, introduced ‘The Crucible’ to Marine training–an incredibly grueling fifty-four straight hours of live fire exercises, long marches, and deep deprivation at the end of basic training. After climbing the final hill in this test, recruits are presented with the eagle, globe, and anchor emblem.  And with that, finally, they are Marines. Potential recruits rallied to the idea and the corps, alone among the services, saw its enlistment shoot up." [pp. xxvi-xxvii.]
Gergen went on to ask some searching questions.  “Why, for example, do some people find times of testing and adversity a great source of strength while others become discouraged and shrivel up?  If you are running an organization, how can you spot those who will succeed and those who will fail when trials come?  As a mentor or teacher, how can you help someone prepare for difficulties that may lie ahead?  What counsel can you offer?” [p. xxvii.]  He further noted that 63% of British Prime Ministers between Wellington and Chamberlain suffered parental loss at a young age.  This “crucible” forged and steeled them.  But, Gergen also notes that “two other groups, juvenile delinquents and depressive or suicidal psychiatric patients, show orphanhood rates similar to those of the eminent public figures. In other words, some rise from their crucible but others certainly fall.  Why?” [p. xxvii.]

All of this stimulated my interest in reading further, but it also set me to thinking about two things relating to the Gospel.  First, we know that life is a test to see if we will live righteously and faithfully while out of God’s presence and prove our desire and worthiness to return to his presence.  Life itself is a “crucible” to test us all.  At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the parable of “The Wise and Foolish Builder.” The wise man built his home on a foundation of rock the foolish man on sand.  The rock was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The common element in both men’s experiences was that “the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon” their homes (Mt. 7:25, 27).  Some rise and some fall but the issue isn’t the nature of the crucible, it is our preparation for and response to it.  

It also led to a second reflection.  Gergen notes that in modern times the crucible of the draft and mandatory military service was a “ladder up” of leadership development which has largely disappeared from American life.  “It is worth asking, he writes, “what, if anything, has taken its place as a crucible.”  And I ask, what about leaders in the Church?  The tests of life often come late in the game.  Does the Lord have a crucible that will come early enough that it can be a “defining moment” to set men and women on the path of leadership? 

At the end of his “Foreword” Gergen reflects on possible solutions in America which also gave me insight into the Lord's program as well:
“Reading this excellent book, I couldn’t help but wonder how America could provide more inspiring opportunities for the potential leaders of the next generation, both men and women.  Is national service an answer?  Wouldn’t it help if we created a national culture in which the young were expected to give at least a year back to the country.  Wouldn’t many of them find their own crucible?” [p. xxix.]
You have probably already figured out where I’m going with this.  But it strikes me that the Lord has provided a crucible within his Church to test, forge and steel future leaders.  He already knows this true principle, and he has created a “church culture”–an international culture if you will–to provide leaders not only for his Church, but for the nations and countries of the world.  It is called a full-time mission.  I did not realize all of this when I used to tell missionaries in the California Roseville Mission their mission would strip them down to their very core and test them like nothing else had ever tested them.  Many said “amen”. Even then, without seeing these things as clearly as now, we used to discuss why this was the case, and we talked in terms of how missions were teaching missionaries about themselves, were forging, strengthening, and preparing them for the future.  The prophet Jacob taught, “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescension unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.”  (Jac. 4:7) Our missions were a test, a crucible, and a sieve that sorted and screened each of us.  Wherever we started from, our missions moved each of us to a greater understanding of ourselves, life and the gospel.  And for nearly all, it was a great preparation for life and for future service in the Lord’s kingdom.  

At this point it is important to say something to those of you who may look back and say that the crucible got the best of you.  Well, it did that to all of us in some ways at some times. There was more than one test in my first mission which I failed, or at least did not measure up to as I should have. I learned many things about myself that I did not like. Believe it or not, I dreamed about several of them more than once after I came home. But it is a little bit like how you remember the correct answers to the questions on the test which you answered wrong.  Many of the best lessons and insights to come out of my first mission were the result of my failures, mistakes, and yes, sins. But the important thing for all of us is that we use those things as opportunities to repent, change, improve, and grow.  I resolved to never again make some of the mistakes that caused me nightmares. When I was called as a student ward bishop the first time, I knew it was going to demand an effort from me that was akin to that required in the mission field. I decided from day one that I would not hold back anything, so when it was over I would not suffer from the guilt which came from the mistakes I made on my mission. As a result, I finished those three years with a sense of elation, completion, satisfaction, and contentment. Sure I made mistakes, but not the old ones.  n addition, I have continued to learn from my mistakes and sins associated with my leadership positions in the Church. I continued to learn about myself as a Mission President.  I made some mistakes and have lived to regret them. I won’t have the privilege of being a mission president again–at least in this life–but I have resolved not to repeat the mistakes that I am aware of which I made in California. If you suffer from regret or guilt, I hope you will turn those mistakes and failures into great lessons and “defining moments” through which you may continue to change, improve, and grow. America, this Church, and the world need your leadership.

Let's think together again, soon.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Utah State University Professor Taught Me One Of The Greatest Lessons About Being A Teacher--It Is Time To Say "Thanks"

Some years ago I took a class on Shakespeare at Utah State University.  It was part of a self-help program I was undertaking to bolster what I felt was my somewhat deficient education. Aren't they all, really? It was a wonderful class.  The professor knew his subject well.  We were on the quarter system and we only had 10 weeks to devote to the subject so he picked 6 plays we were to discuss.  We started with Hamlet, in his mind the greatest piece of literature in the English language.  However we took so long on Hamlet that we were only able to discuss three other plays. [Someday I need to write about the experience of learning to read and understand Shakespeare, but that is for another blog.]

Today I need to say that I learned one of my greatest lessons about teaching from this rather hip professor who came to class with his shirt unbottened at the top two buttons exposing a hairy chest hosting a rather large round medallion on a thick gold necklace.  Our grade depended upon a paper, a couple of tests, and some quizzes–a couple of pop quizzes and a regular weekly quiz.

Early in the class, while we were talking about the Elizabethan world view, he announced that the quiz for the following Monday would include a question about the “seven deadly sins”–a subject he had not addressed, but which he wanted us to be familiar with for the discussions the following week.  We were to do the research on our own.  

I was the oldest person in the class and most of the students being Mormon knew that I was a teacher at the LDS Institute of Religion across the street.  Some of them had taken a class from me.  Several asked me what the seven deadly sins were.  I thought I knew and told them.  They quickly wrote down what I said.  

Tuesday when the quizzes were handed back our professor took the time to make some observations.  He pointed out that many, if not most of us had incorrectly answered the question about the seven deadly sins. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out what happened, and he may have even overheard the students asking me about it after class.  Had he been inclined, I had just handed him an opportunity to put one of those Mormon Institute teachers in their place.  He didn’t.  Instead he took the time to talk with the class about each one doing their own research and not relying on someone else.  What is more, he said we could all take the quiz again!

I was stunned, embarrassed, and grateful all at the same time.  I felt as if I had dodged a bullet, but I also gained an appreciation for a man who obviously had a lifestyle quite different from my own and who I had judged to be a bit eccentric and unnecessarily casual in his dress as a teacher.  I don’t know how he judged me, but I gave him an opportunity and he was principled enough not to publicly “put me down.”  He had obviously thought about how he was going to handle the situation and what he was going to say.  He taught the students a great lesson without making me the overt center of attention--and he really didn’t need to–everybody knew who the culprit was.  

I think I did, but I don’t remember for sure if I took the opportunity to return the favor by saying thanks. Just to be sure, here it is twenty-five years late!  Thanks for teaching me one of the greatest lessons I learned about being a teacher and a human being!

Let's think together again, soon.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Welcome to my "Living Philosophies" Blog

I've entitled this blog "Living  Philosophies" because it is the name my maternal grandfather used for a weekly column he wrote for a small local newspaper in the western United States.  It was something of that day's blog for him. He was interested in people's philosophy of life and he wrote to many celebrities of the time asking for their philosophies.  He sometimes incorporated these things into his column.  I have inherited some of these letters and a collection of some of his columns.  So, because I want to do a little writing about life, religion, politics, education, current affairs, and occasionally a special message to a large group of young friends entitled "Continuing to Reap Success," and whatever else strikes my fancy, I decided to start a blog and in honor of my grandfather use his title.