Author’s note: The following article is the essence of a speech that I delivered to Hope School’s P.T.A. meeting on October; 7, 1977. I include this article under this rubric because I believe it is pertinent to parents who desire to educate the seed of the covenant “In His Fear.”
Sometimes one feels somewhat like a fish out of water, as if he is overstepping his bounds. I feel this way about the topic before us this evening. And especially after a little more researching of this topic the feeling increased. I read many scholarly works that deal with the “slow-learner.” These works were written by concerned and knowledgeable people in the field. Yet I found no consensus as to a solution to the dilemma of the “slow-learner.” I will readily admit to you that I am not a professional educator. But I am a pastor and a parent. And I think that this somewhat qualifies me to make a few observations and points this evening. For, first of all, as a parent I have the concern of maintaining the covenant education of my own children. And, secondly, as a pastor I see the heartbreak and frustration of parents who must deal with children who cannot “keep up.” I am concerned for the little sheep in the church of Christ.
Our topic tonight is rather limited, yet at the same time applicable to all of us: It is limited because the number of children that are “slow-learners” is relatively small. Yet this small number is the concern of all of us in that we attempt to maintain a parental school that is based upon the idea of the covenant. These children are part of the body of Christ in the church where they reside. And when a little member of the body suffers we all suffer!
I am going to state quite frankly what I have in store for you this evening. I intend to put across the fact that we have a problem. And that this problem must be faced. It is only through awareness of the problem and a collective effort toward a solution that the problem will be solved. I hope that this little verbal orientation this evening stimulates some activity in this direction. It is my desire to keep things very simple this evening. I am going to cut out all the fancy “lingo” in order not to isolate the parents. Those of you who are interested in the scholarly studies that I consulted can do so at your leisure. I want to be Scriptural and practical!
Let us first of all come to grips with the problem. It is legitimate to ask the question: what precisely are we talking about? We can narrow the boundaries somewhat. There are many terms that are thrown around in this aspect of education dealing with the slow-learner. They speak of mental retardation, mental deficiencies, mental handicaps, and many more. I choose not to use any of these terms, for two reasons. First of all, many of these terms are not applicable in our situation because more extreme cases of mental deficiency require more attention than this school system can give. Secondly, these various terms carry with them a certain stigma or bad connotation. This I desire to get away from. Therefore I want to confine myself to the “slow-learner” who is sometimes called the “under-achiever.” A definition of such a child is very simple. These are children who are characterized by, as we say, the inability to “keep up.” Children who acquire the ability to perform certain skills at a somewhat slower than normal rate. They are children who achieve at a slower rate and will never be geniuses. Consulting various works, as well as our own teachers, I find the percentage of these children to be about 15, or perhaps two or three in a class of 20. This small group of children has an acute problem! And though most of us may be unaware of this problem, particular parents who struggle with such children know the heartbreak of the situation. This problem is not going to go away. And if we do not find a proper solution to this problem the wrong solutions will be employed.
We must fully appreciate the dimension of the problem of the “slow-learner.” There are two aspects to this problem. First of all, there is the obvious scholastic difficulty. God gives these children talents to learn, but to learn more slowly. They are not able to keep pace with what we term the normal rate of progress. We must recognize that this problem is a progressive one. By this I mean that the gap between the “slow-learner” and the normal achiever increases as the chronological age of the children increases. Or let me put it this way: the child that needs to be pushed through the first grade needs this pushing more and more as he progresses through the school system. At last you cannot push hard enough because this gap is too wide. Such children are often flunked periodically. This does not help the child except, perhaps, in that things are run past him twice. We must also understand, as far as the scholastic problem is concerned, that these “slow-learners” never come near the peak of norm. I’d like to emphasize this. All our children are not going to be Einsteins or Leonardo Da Vincis. We have to recognize this as parents and teachers else the consequences are going to be disastrous. What I am really saying is that the goals that are established for the “slow-learner” must be lower. This does not mean that we must be satisfied with less qualitatively but quantitatively. Each must use his God-given talents to the fullest, but the number of talents may differ.
But, in the second place, I am really more concerned about the psychological and emotional difficulties of the “slow-learner.” In this regard I want to state first of all, that these difficulties are not innate. Lest I be misunderstood, let me clarify. I am not saying that these children are not corrupt and consequently not responsible for their sin. But I am saying that these psychological and emotional difficulties are not inherent problems of the “slow-learner,” but rather side or after effects. All too often we make the mistake of treating this problem too superficially. We say that these children are nonchalant, disinterested, cocky, always in trouble, and problems in general. And we, not appreciating the difficulty of the “slow-learner,” think of them as headaches, truants, and finally dropouts. These characteristics may be traced to their intellectual inability to achieve. Psychologists tell us that these children, as well as those handicapped in other ways, have the same needs as normal children. They need the same love and affection. Anyone who has ever dealt with grossly retarded children will know that they cling to you as you are trying to make an exit. More to the point in our discussion, “slow-learners” have the same need for achievements and personal satisfaction. No one can operate in a negative atmosphere. We know better than to try this in our homes. We destroy our children if we always say no, not good enough, etc. The spiritual equivalent of this would be for a pastor to remain in the first part of the Heidelberg Catechism and never proceed into Redemption and Gratitude. But the difficulty is that these “slow-learners” have trouble achieving toward the norm we the community sets for them and to satisfy the goals that are held before them. Even if these children had the ability to achieve to that point, they are unable to do it in the time frame that we provide. For example, a child with an I.Q. of 75 develops at three-quarters the rate of the normal child. We must set for our children attainable goals and we must give them time to reach these goals.
If we do not take these variables into account, then education for these children becomes a series of successive failures and frustrations. This must lead to emotional difficulties caused by outward and inward factors. Externally these children become ostracized from their peers. They are labeled the so-called “dummies” of the class. They are the last ones to be chosen for a spell down and the first ones to sit down again. They receive an invisible mark of inferiority. And children can be so cruel to each other! This inability to achieve the norm inevitably leads to a personal feeling of being unwanted, of seeing oneself as a dismal failure. Oftentimes these children will strive for recognition in other ways. They feel the need to prove themselves and become the “dare devils” and “cut-ups” of the class. They then become discipline problems and are sometimes written off as irreversible cases. And more serious than this, these children are often separated from our covenant schools and Christian peers. They find themselves largely outside the distinctive sphere of the covenant and this has its toll! This bothers me.
(to be continued)