Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Book Review: Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

September 7, 2019

Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

From the Witherspoon Institute

I’m positive I’ve read this before but I was too impatient to search out more carefully if I’ve blogged about it.  This is a pamphlet more than a book, only about 50 pages.  And it reads like something out of a time capsule, from the ancient past.  However in this case the ancient past is 2008, before the sweeping judicial decisions that rushed same-sex marriage into public law across our country.

This is a fantastic resource.  It reads very easily, and lays out the basic argument for the primacy of marriage in a democratic and free society, and specifically a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman for life.  This is not a religious argument, but an argument grounded in research and science.  Research pertaining to the health and welfare of children, and research related to the health and well-being of men and women, married and unmarried.

Against the clamor of  it will be just fine! if we radically redefine marriage stands this brief summary soberly warning that it will not be fine.  A good body of research over considerable periods of time bears witness to the fact that men, women, children, and therefore the society they are a part of are all better off when marriage is upheld, supported and encouraged both privately and in public policy.

I strongly encourage you to consider having this resource on hand.  It’s a reminder that traditional marriage definitions are not simply a religious preference but a time-tested means of ensuring the best for as many people as possible in our society.

 

 

 

Free Tuition?

August 12, 2019

Democratic candidates are stumbling over themselves in a bid to offer the most sweeping promises of college student loan debt to young voters.  Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are the most detailed and perhaps the most generous of the candidates in this respect, offering partial loan forgiveness based on current earnings (Warren) or complete forgiveness of all debt regardless of current earning levels (Sanders).

It’s a smart ploy, of course.  College tuition has skyrocketed in the past 40 years and now even in-state students can easily rack up tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt – per year – at a public institution.  The local state university near me estimates $30,000 a year for an incoming, in-state freshman living off-site.  Just tuition is over $12,000 a year.  What a campaign pledge – imagine not having your student loan payment any more!

Funny how none of the candidates are questioning the outrageous tuition rates.  Funny how none of them are questioning whether it is reasonable, rationale, or moral to set a 4-year degree as an expectation for every single person in our country, regardless of their aptitude or the necessity or applicability of such a degree to the work they’d like to do.  Funny how the party that likes to portray itself on the side of the working person presumes that the average working person should be a college graduate no matter what the cost.  In fact, the cost is irrelevant because if you vote for us, we’ll eliminate the cost!  Well, the upfront cost.  In reality, you’ll still be paying college tuition not  just for yourself but for everyone else through higher taxes and other fees imposed either personally on you or the financial institutions you rely on who will pass the costs on to you.  For the rest of your life.  But right now?  When you’re 18 or 25?  Poof!  No more $500 student loan payment a month!  You’re instantly richer!  If you vote for us, that is.

This is what I call the short-term view of the situation, though.  Trading student loan forgiveness for short-term votes.  What I believe is going on though is a much bigger and long-term play for votes.

Universities and colleges – especially public ones – are overwhelmingly liberal/progressive/Democratic in outlook and philosophy, both as institutions as well as in terms of the personal views espoused in and out of the classroom by professors as well as in the textbooks used.  Of course Democrats are going to push for everyone to go to college, because by and large everyone will be exposed to the ideologies and assumptions that undergird progressive/liberal platforms.  While this will obviously be the case at public institutions, it will also be the case at many private ones as well.  I’ve talked with multiple recent graduates from the local private, Christian university in town.  They jokingly laugh about how they entered the school with one set of ideas – generally more conservative and traditional both politically and spiritually –  and emerged with a more progressive/liberal set.  Some can recognize this and chuckle about it – sometimes.  But I don’t see many of them resisting it very much or very well.  To get through the system you need to at least be able to repeat what they want you to say, even if you don’t believe it or agree with it.  Do that often enough, and it’s hard not to internalize the ideas you are required to regurgitate.

So of course Democrats want to subsidize higher education.  It’s in their best interests in the short term (since once this becomes a policy, there will be a gradually decreasing level of  support and therefore votes specifically for the Democrats as the ones that inaugurated the policy).  But it is also in their best interests for the long haul.  They have the best chance of creating people who agree with their policies if everyone goes to college.  That’s a frightening reality, but not a very far-fetched one, unfortunately.

As a former college educator I highly value education.  But I question the outrageous costs associated with it, and I question why nobody wants to tackle that question seriously.  I also question the honesty of trying to prep everyone for college as though this is the path to financial success.  The past decade at the very least has shown this is not necessarily the case any longer.  While there are some  professions that legitimately require not just a four-year degree but more advanced degrees beyond this, for many professions and companies a 4-year degree is just a box to be checked off on a job application rather than a directly relevant matter of knowledge and experience.

Voters should be skeptical of the plan to offer free college education.  Not just financially but ideologically.  On both fronts, this isn’t nearly as good a deal as it sounds (and frankly it shouldn’t sound like a very good deal to anyone with the ability to think clearly – college-educated or otherwise!).  The government offering to subsidize an industry is pretty much a guarantee that costs will rise and quality will drop in that industry – at least if health care is any gauge.

Authority

July 29, 2019

We sit chatting at our Sunday night happy hour open house.  She’s  leaving this week for grad studies out of state and this will perhaps be the last time I see her.  She has an impossibly beautiful smile and a keen mind overlaying troubles and doubts and fears that walk with her through the rooms  of her life.  A friend has come along tonight.  He’s visited once or twice before, roommates with her boyfriend.  He asks me a curious question – what is a change you can think of in your theology?

The question strikes me as curious immediately.  What changes in my theology?  Is theology mine?  Am I free to change it?  Or is theology something I have received, that I can build upon and expand and grow in my depth of understanding and appreciation, but which I am not free to change outside of discarding error as I uncover it in myself?  A million thoughts flash through my mind.  What is he really getting at?  What changes has his theology undergone?  And what do you want to learn or know by asking a pastor about how his theology changes?

I bring up a theological doctrine of sorts  I was introduced to in Seminary that I have grown in my fondness for, even if I can’t substantiate it in this lifetime and may never even in eternity, touching as it does on the inner workings and relationships of the Trinity.  I talked about how amazed I was the first time it was suggested that Jesus did not perform signs and wonders within his own power and authority as the Second Person of the Trinity, but rather God the Holy Spirit performed signs and wonders through him by the directing of God the Father.  Essentially similar to how the apostles and other followers of Christ have performed miracles – not on their own power or authority but through the  power and authority of the Holy Spirit.  Though of course Jesus was the perfect conduit for such power in his perfect obedience to the will of God.

She brings up almost immediately how she still struggles with the role of women in the church.  It’s not relevant, but it’s on her mind.  She flashes her smile as I respond that her issue isn’t so much with the Church perhaps as it is with Scripture.  Heretic here, remember?  I’m the heretic.  She smiles again.  I know a bit of her story, raised Christian but with experiences and doubts that haven’t been addressed or remedied.  And now recently graduated from a local Christian university where, she admits next, she was taught to be a feminist.  The smile and the heresy comment are  meant to defuse and deflect.  No need to really grapple with what might be truth in this regard because we can just dance around the heretic term as though it doesn’t really mean anything.

I believe her assessment is accurate – she arrived at this Christian university with one set of ideas and understandings, and those were altered or added to during her four years there.  In part a good university should do this.  But in the realm of theology this becomes tricky, as I suppose it is in any realm.  But the ramifications of changes or additions in the realm of theology have potentially eternal consequences – something very unique to this realm.

I ponder as the conversation eventually trails off.  Raised for the first eighteen years of her life with one set of beliefs, she has now set those aside because of things she was presented with in four years of undergraduate schooling.  Because these things were presented as the intellectual, educated position, no doubt.  Because she was challenged I’m sure, to adopt these not just for herself but for her entire gender.

And so a person’s theology changes.  But doesn’t just change, in this instance.  Changes so that the source and foundation of that theology ceases to be the revealed, sacred text it derives from and becomes something else.  Something personally dictated.  Authority switches from the Word of God expressed in human language to the personal beliefs or preferences of an individual or a larger but transitory culture.

So perhaps her response was more on topic than I first assumed.

This has over and over and over again been the point of conflict and disagreement in theological discussions on Sunday night.  What or who is your authority?  And over and over and over again it has become very clear that even for professing Christians, the Word of God is not their authority.  It is their personal emotional concerns or worries.  It is the cultural expectations they are inculcated with, expectations of how you define things like equality.  And that if the Word of God doesn’t back their definitions or ideas or even directly contradicts them, they’re more apt to discard the Word of God – or at least that particular part of it – and hold on to their own feelings and ideas.

Now, to be sure we all do this in small ways, most likely.  There are aspects of God’s Word that confuse or frighten us, that we avoid thinking about and reading.  This is sinful, of course, but it is different than outright confronting these issues and seeking to faithfully adhere to God’s Word even if it means discarding our own ideas and preferences.  This trend that I see and hear so often now is very dangerous indeed.

And others recognize this as well.

The role of the Church is to teach and reinforce the faith, as conveyed to us through the Word of God, and as made sense of in both doctrine and practice.   The Church should equip men and women with these abilities so they in turn can instill them in their children, not simply as rote memorization but in an active and alive sense so that their children grow to be men and women who, assisted and strengthened by the Church, are able and willing to pass these things down to their children.

But this process has been disrupted  in our American Christian culture – or at least parts of it.  Christians are increasingly unfamiliar with the Word of God, resistant to doctrines and practices grounded in it, and increasingly willing to discard all of this in order to cobble together a set of beliefs and practices that better support their authority – themselves.

Here is just one recent example of another article saying exactly the same thing.

Note several paragraphs down how younger people are discarding organized orthodox religion (doctrine and practice) for a smorgasbord of other  concepts and practices, often drawn together from diverse and contradictory traditions.  Not that they necessarily believe any of this, it’s a matter of convenience, of serving the purpose of reinforcing their own authority.  If they find that it no longer does that, they can discard it without any feelings of guilt or any concerns about eternal ramifications.  None of that is real, anyways, right? is the basic gist here.  If there is anything greater than us out there, it probably likes us and isn’t very interested in what we do beyond wanting us to be nice and happy.  And if there’s nothing greater than us out there, well, might as well be the me I’d like to be, right?

She  leaves this week for graduate school and starting life in a new place.  She’s bright and beautiful and has a wonderful boyfriend and likely a future together with him.  I’ll pray for her and him and them.  Not simply for their relationship but for their authority, that it would be not  simply the faith of their fathers, so to speak, but the faith as revealed in the Word of God.  Even when they don’t like it or it feels restrictive or when it clashes with societal notions.  Even when their professors (at a Christian university) won’t back it or support it but put out their own ideas and their culturally formed notions instead.

Authority matters a great deal, and you can’t claim to be Christian if you reject the authority of the Word of God, just as you can’t claim to be a good Muslim if you reject the Quran.  We can have theological discussions or debates about interpretation to some level, and this is good and helpful.  But to skip that quest and grappling for truth  in favor of just ignoring the bits we don’t like so we can do and think and be the things we prefer, that is a big problem.  For the Church, for families, for the world, and possibly for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

Pumps & Systems

July 9, 2019

That’s the name of the magazine.  Really.

Thanks to Lois for sharing this article with me.  It’s a brief story about Mike Rowe, the guy who became famous for a show about dirty jobs and has gone on to become a leading proponent for re-introducing the trades to upcoming generations who are almost exclusively steered towards a 4-year degree – and the associated debt which more often than not goes along with it.

It’s something we continue to talk with our kids as they get older (17, 14, and 13) and look to the future.  As a former university faculty member I value education greatly.  But I also know there are many ways to learn throughout your life that don’t require the debt and other issues associated with a 4-year degree.  I worked my way through my undergraduate degree because back then you could still do that with part-time jobs.  Now even if you go to an in-state public school you aren’t going to be able to work and pay your way through it.

There’s nothing wrong with considering the trades.  Lord knows we need good, honest plumbers, electricians, and all manner of other folk to survive, and this is a beautiful way of loving your neighbor as you love God.  It isn’t necessarily for everyone, but neither is college.

I hope more and more folks will consider all of their options – or all of the options for their kids and grandkids.  You don’t need a college degree to be intelligent.  You don’t need six figures of student loan debt to be well-rounded.   You just need to know who you are and how God has gifted you.

Voluntary Book Burnings

July 3, 2019

I’m a huge fan of Ray Bradbury, and while I’m  not sure I would agree that his most famous work, Fahrenheit 451 is his best work (or at least my favorite), it is hugely influential culturally for good reason.  But his warning against autocratic suppression and elimination of undesirable literature and eventually all books assumes the idea that such policies will be implemented by a hostile governing authority under rule of law.

I agree with Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death that such warnings as Bradbury’s and George Orwell were good in inoculating us against fascism and communism, but powerless to prepare us for a reality where people  are primed primarily to amass unrelated trivia facts and focus on non-stop self-entertainment.  Rather, we should have also been pushed more  to consider the ramifications of another means of control, one of abdication of personal responsibility along the lines of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

So it is that books can be banned instead of burned.  Not as an official government policy but simply by merchants being pressured to not carry some books that some people  find offensive.  However when the merchant is Amazon, the impacts of such non-binding restrictions can be far more powerful than if individual brick and mortar bookshops were targeted and pressured.  And without most of the possible negative repercussions.  So it is that Amazon will quit selling certain books.  The nice thing is  that this has been noticed.  The scarier reality is that undoubtedly lots of decisions about what to carry or not carry are regularly made.

Online vendors (and traditional brick-and-mortar outfits) generally have the appearance of being objective.  They carry a variety of things they hope to sell, and selling is their primary motivation, we assume.  In reality, every person and therefore every organization is inclined towards what they are or aren’t willing to sell.  Objectivity is not completely possible, and factors beyond what the customer might want come into play.

You might want to think twice about what’s on your bookshelf and making sure that you save certain things.  They might not be available down the road.

The Cost of Education

June 4, 2019

The cost of education is something parents need to grapple with.

This is usually used as a means to spur parents to save for their children’s college education.  In which case, it’s not doing a very effective job by all accounts, as the price  tag of higher education continues to skyrocket, necessitating the need for student loans.

When I started my undergraduate degree at a major state school, tuition and fees per semester was $498 for 12 or more credits.  Not including books, room & board, etc.  I could work part time jobs to pay for my college education without taking out student loans.   Not really practical for most students these days (presuming the concept of working to pay for your education is even part of popular parlance these days).

It’s easy to take out student loans, but paying them back is often overwhelming.  So overwhelming that people are actually leaving the country after graduation in order to avoid repaying them.

And whatever they learned at college, they don’t appear to have learned the concept that if you borrow money from someone else, you ought to pay it back.  They’ve learned some brutal practicality – following your bliss can be very expensive, and regardless of what your bliss pays, if you borrow money you’re going to be expected to pay it back at some point.  So if your bliss requires you to skip out on that debt, so be it.

 

Speaking Out

May 28, 2019

Good to hear that there is growing willingness to speak out against the atrocity of legalized abortion on demand in our country.  Though for some folks not so inclined on the topic, the source of some of those words of outrage will be troubling – none other than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  Justice Thomas rightly notes the troubling ideological roots of legalized abortion both in our country and in other parts of the world (like Nazi Germany), and notes the devastating effect  abortion has disproportionately on minority children, mothers, families, and communities.

If you want to know how someone could possibly not see the words of a highly educated African-American man as relevant to this topic, here’s an alternate perspective.

Note the headline, which aims to garner far broader empathy and sympathy not for abortion itself (though this is clearly presumed) but rather for birth control.  Rather than seeing this as an effort to preserve life – all life, as opposed to the far more selective range of life envisioned by Margaret Sanger – it is repositioned as a racist attack against black women.  The idea seems to be (and I pray that this isn’t actually what somebody says, though in this day and age that’s undoubtedly wishful thinking) that bringing up the disproportionate number of abortions by minorities is a means of making minorities racist against themselves.

While  some rather odd individuals might make this case, it’s not one I’ve ever heard in any pro-life discussion.  The idea is not that minority women hate their children, but rather that they are lured into aborting them by an ideology that denies the humanity of the unborn child (unless of course you’re excited to be having a baby, in which case, it magically is a human being!) and posits quick, secretive, and free abortions as the solution to communities where minority family and community life have been devastated over generations by many of the programs purporting to help them.

The argument links higher abortion rates to reduced access to contraception, and then goes on to paint the picture that ultimately, contraception is going to be threatened for all women, therefore women should get involved now to defend abortion and nip all this lunacy in the bud.

The reality is that I don’t think contraception will ever be in danger of being outlawed.  The largest Christian group to teach that contraception is sinful is the Roman Catholic church, and most of their own folks don’t agree with this teaching, and even if they did the Catholic Church has been so marginalized via scandalous behaviors that it has effectively lost any voice it might have once had towards larger moral issues.  Most non-Catholic Christian groups don’t have a problem with contraception, even if they oppose abortion.  And while I tend to think this is a rather poor bit of theology and Biblical exegesis, that’s not likely to change or catch on.

The reality remains that an unborn baby is a human being.  The law can’t change this, it can only ignore it.  Considering our divisive this issue has been literally since the Roe v. Wade verdict was handed down, I find it interesting how dismissive people can be of any theology or philosophy (or science) that finds it reprehensible.  I have hopes that Roe v. Wade will be overturned, but I have no illusions that this will be the end of the discussion by a long shot.  So long as pro-life positions are characterized as right-wing religious nut-jobs, and the clear science on the matter is ignored out of convenience, there will be no long-standing fix to this issue.  The next version of Roe v. Wade will already be in the queue before the ink is dried on any rescinding of the original.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to work and pray for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but it’s a good reminder that, at least for Christians, the more important work is relationship to the people around us – including those on the other side of the ideological fence.  The Holy Spirit changes hearts, and when hearts are changed, it matters far less what the laws on the books say.  If abortion remains legal, fewer people will avail themselves of it.

Slow Moving Train Wreck

May 1, 2019

The Los Angeles Times reported today that for the first time since records have been kept, the county of Los Angeles experienced a growth rate of 0% last year, and California as a whole grew by the smallest amount since we’ve tracked these sorts of things.

The article duly noted a variety of potential causes for this slow in growth rate.

  • Fewer immigrants from Mexico and more from Asia.  Asian immigrants apparently on the whole are better educated than Mexican immigrants, and better-educated people tend to have fewer children.  Tuck this particular detail away in your memory for just a moment – we’ll come back to it.
  • Native-born Americans have been experiencing a decline in birth rates for years.
  • A lack of housing (affordable, of course) is another possible contribution to slower growth rates as people can’t afford to move here.  Or stay here.
  • Economic uncertainties over the past 20 years are also likely to blame as people are less able or inclined to have kids in rugged economic times.
  • Natural disasters such as the devastating wildfires of 2017 and 2018 contributed to a rearrangement of population in certain affected areas.
  • California lost roughly a million people between 2007-2016.  Six million people moved out of the state and only five million moved in.

What the article didn’t see fit to note is the popular idea – pushed for the last 50 years – that we are overpopulating the planet.  This idea – pushed in schools particularly – is likely to take psychological root in many people who then decide to have smaller families.  The longer you’re in school (the better educated you are, as per above), the more often you’re going to hear this over-population mantra and will likely feel greater pressure to respond to it by not having lots of (or any) kids.

However the article mentions in passing the completely devastating this false idea is and will continue to have on our society as fewer young people struggle to support a larger population of older people.  Is it any wonder that socialism and a restructuring of our economy is gaining popularity among younger generations?

Also not discussed in the article is the trend for people to wait longer before marrying.  I’d presume that there is a corresponding delay in having children, at least among people inclined to think that those two things are related.  And if you aren’t marrying until your very late 20’s or early 30’s, and need to get your economic ducks in a row before contemplating children, then it’s going to be getting more and more difficult (biologically) to get pregnant and carry to term.

And I wonder about possible links about delaying having children and whether people who have built enjoyable lives without children are having a harder time considering adding children to the equation and spoiling some of the fun.

No conjecture was offered as to why more people are leaving than coming to California, but many Californians will quickly offer some explanations – over-regulation, over-taxation, and a disconnect between the major population centers and the rest of the state.

Lots of factors to consider, both ones that the Times chose to talk about and a few it didn’t think to mention, but which likely have a real impact as well.

 

 

 

Living What We Believe

March 27, 2019

There’s a funny dichotomy at play in our culture today.  On the one hand, people  with alternative values and ideas about reality are expected not simply to believe these things but put them into practice to transform traditions and time-honored ways  of doing and thinking.  On the other hand, religious people (ie. Christians) and others who find value and meaning and purpose in tradition are told they can believe these things privately (for now) but are publicly castigated and punished if they attempt to live out their beliefs in the public sphere.

I love the headline on this article.  The Christian school is allegedly “denying education” to this young person, rather than simply denying them admittance to their particular school.  The sad thing is here at play are many actual members of the Catholic parish that runs the school, who think that the Roman Catholic teachings on sexuality are a “notion”  rather than a long-standing theological understanding of not only Christians but Jewish people before them.  The situation also highlights the importance of consistency, as making exceptions in one area can lead to the misunderstanding that exceptions are appropriate in all situations.

Sad But Not Surprised

March 13, 2019

So scandal has broken loose again.  The rich and famous have been found using their status and money to set their children up with admissions to top universities.  People have been paid to take tests.  Lies have been told.  Money has been paid.  And former starlets have been arrested.

Most of the people I’ve heard talking about this are shocked and outraged.  I can understand the outrage, but shock?  Really?  Are we that naive?  Or are we that convinced that our sinful human natures have been sufficiently remedied by our rule of law?  C’mon, people!  You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, and you should assume that somewhere, in some manner, money is talking and people are listening and systems are compromised.

This is how it’s always been.  Money buys influence.  The rich have access to myriad options that the rest of us don’t.  It’s not fair or right, it just is.  It can and should be illegal but people will still find ways around it.

This is not justifying the behavior and saying we shouldn’t care.  Sure, go ahead and care.  Allow justice to do its work when it gets the chance.  But don’t imagine it has solved the problem or eliminated the practice.  Some people got caught.  Others haven’t and won’t.

Nor is this another argument for redistributing the wealth.  Fiery politicians seem to think they can just take money away from rich people and end all of our problems that way.  This won’t work either.  Corruption conducts business in all sorts of currency, whether monetary or  related to prestige, influence, beauty, etc.  Once again the sinful human temptation won’t be erased, you just change what it looks like and how it plays itself. out.

It’s a shame.  It’s unfair.  But, despite the insistence of some folks, life isn’t fair.  Hasn’t been since Adam and Eve got booted from the garden for pilfering fruit.  It won’t be fair again until God restores it to that status.   In the meantime, be outraged, but don’t be surprised.