Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Aquaponics 2

October 19, 2017

We’ve taken one step forward and two steps back this week in our aquaponics venture.  I procured three large 55-gallon drums for starter tanks.  But I also discovered this week that the most popular and common form of fish for aquaponics – tilapia – is not permitted in the county we live in (gotta loooooovvvveeee California!).

I had suspected this to be the case for a few weeks now after scouring the Internet.  But I held out hope that exceptions might be made if the system was completely self-contained (as opposed to privately stocking tilapia in a pond on your property or something).  I referred to the California game and fish web site to begin with.  I called the contact number listed there.  But the number was actually some sort of nation-wide contact, so they had to transfer me to a California person.  That person had to transfer me to someone else, and that person transferred me to someone else, who gave me the name and number of the person she was transferring me to, and I left a voice mail with this person.  She responded within an hour or so to give me another name and  number where I left a voice mail.  This woman called back in a couple of hours and was extremely pleasant but confirmed there were no exceptions to the tilapia ban.  She e-mailed me a variety of resources that will be very helpful as we progress, and gave me the name of  a guy down in San Diego that I have e-mailed, asking for his next best recommendation for an aquaponics fish.

In the meantime I’ve started researching other options for fish.  Catfish seems to be the next-best option in terms of growing quickly.  But it’s a less popular fish to eat.  We’ll see what the San Diego guy recommends.


If You Give a Moose a Muffin…

September 22, 2017

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this children’s book while after reading this blog post.  Apparently a news reporter interviewed a Nazi who was publicly assaulted, and the writer of the blog post was angry that they did so because it could make Nazism sympathetic and end up leading others to follow that ideology.  The alternative, the author insists, is that you never give a Nazi a platform.  Never allow their message to go out.

At first it makes sense.  I don’t like Nazism.  As a student of history I’m well acquainted with the evils perpetrated by that ideology.  I don’t want there to be more Nazis.

But the more I thought about it, I realized why this approach didn’t sit well with me.  It presumes that the hearers/viewers are helpless, passive, and incapable of understanding either the context of the interview or the ideology that the Nazi might espouse.  It presumes that viewers/hearers need to be protected less they fall under the sway of this virulent ideology.  It reminds of the way some conservative Christians choose to raise their children – by trying to shelter them from the junk in the world and never expose them to anything that hasn’t been thoroughly sanitized.

In both cases the result is the same.  By failing to prepare people for the ideologies they will encounter in our increasingly hyper-connected world, we make possible our worst fears.  The way to protect people against whatever charm Nazi ideology might utilize is to teach them about Nazism.  Teach them about history.  Teach them about the Holocaust.  At the same time teach them about democracy, and in particular teach them about the beauty and value of free speech.  Then, if they view or hear a Nazi who was the victim of a crime talking about their ideology, they will be able to distinguish the value of free speech and protection from assault from Nazism.  They’ll be able to say I disagree completely with what this person espouses, but at the same time they deserve protection under the law and the right to speak, because that is the democracy we live under.

Which is different from the censorship that the Nazis used to control what people thought, and which mirrors, ironically enough, what the blog author espouses.  In a democracy people should be educated so that they can make good decisions.  Not everyone can or will.  But it is better to risk that some should not make good decisions, than to deny everyone the freedom to make a decision.  An educated nation will be able to reject ideas and principles that are incorrect.  Maybe not immediately, but eventually.  Hopefully.  But that requires education.  It also happens to require a strong moral common ground, something that has been decimated by many folks who also argue that some groups shouldn’t be allowed to speak freely or aren’t entitled to the same rights that they themselves are.

Reject Nazism.  But don’t destroy democracy in the process.  Nobody is better off with an insulated, poorly educated population who relies on censorship to keep away things that they would prefer not to deal with.  Nobody is better off under such circumstances.  Other than those who happen to be championing them and insisting that their ideology is the one that should be implemented.

Meanwhile, at the University of Georgia…

September 5, 2017

According to the University of Georgia’s web site, it only costs undergraduates $11,000 a year for in-state tuition and $30,000 a year for out of state tuition.  I guess you have to determine for yourself if that’s a good bargain when your kids can choose their own grades.  At least in one class, though I’m sure this is a trend that is only going to proliferate beyond this particular school unless we have our cultural meltdown sooner rather than later.

This policy is, of course, pure genius, and is particularly useful in preparing future business employes for the reality of name-your-own-salary interviews and of course the choose-any-office-you-want.  No sense dealing with the trauma and stress of all those pesky cubicles!  And it saves the professor a great deal of frustration in dealing with students who want help to boost their grades at the last minute.  No negotiations or awkward conversations necessary!


Quiet Victories

August 21, 2017

My oldest son started school this morning.

Facebook is littered with smiling kids preparing to depart for their first day of school with placards indicating the year and the grade.  They’re cute and I’m happy for them, of course.  Then again, going into the next grade is sort of expected.  It was never a big deal when I was a kid.  It was what was expected.  It was my job, if you will.  To study and apply myself and do what was necessary and expected to complete one grade level and move on to the next.  We didn’t have commencement ceremonies for kindergarten or elementary school or junior high.  You didn’t get that until you were really finished, which was graduating high school.  At that point you had accomplished what was expected.  Everything leading up to that was nice and all, but not exactly worth celebrating.

That’s what my son is doing.  It’s what all three of my kids are doing, to be sure.  And I’m fiercely proud of each of them.  But it’s usually a quiet pride.  However I have to say something about my oldest boy today.  He’s continuing school, but it’s the first time he’s left home for school in eight years.  He attended a charter school for kindergarten and first grade before we were ready to begin home schooling.  For the last eight years he’s studied at home, and with that goes all the uncertainty and hope and doubt and angst as parents that is perpetual companion to the decision to do things differently.  Are we preparing him adequately?  Are we doing right by him?  What are our goals?  Who is he going to turn out to be and how do we both help form and shape that person as well as enable and equip that person as they grow?

So today he leaves home for school.  At 15 he’s entering the formal classroom again.  But it’s not a sophomore or high school classroom.  Instead, he’s entering a dual-enrollment program at the local community college.  He’s sitting in a college classroom with a college professor and peers that are, with the exception of his good friend who is 16 and taking the course with him, much older.

I don’t know how he’ll perform.  I don’t know whether it will be easy for him or not.  I don’t know what grade he’ll get, or even if he’ll finish the course.  At the moment, none of those things matter.  I have high hopes, to be sure, and the utmost confidence in both him and our ability to help him be successful.  But for the moment, I’m simply proud of who he is as I walk out the door to work.  Smiling.  Confident.  Excited.  Eager.  Willing.

To me, that’s one kind of accomplishment I can already credit my wife with in home schooling our children.  They have a sense of confidence and capability.  They assume that if they put their minds to something, they’ll be able to accomplish it somehow.   That’s a great place to start.

There will be disappointments and failures undoubtedly.  Hopefully small and manageable.  But to at least begin with the belief that you can make things work, that’s a beautiful thing to see.  And I have to believe it will make the disappointments easier to deal with when they come.  It will make getting up and starting again or starting over easier.

But for the moment, I’m so happy and proud of him and the glow that surrounds him as he prepares to head out into the world.  I thank God for all He has given me in my wife and family and the hope I have for this world and myself because of them.

Go get ’em, boy.  You can do it.

Smarty Pants

July 22, 2017

With graduation season safely behind us, I guess it’s OK to start questioning at least some of the celebrations.  I mean, now that there are graduation ceremonies at every grade level, rewarding as extraordinary what not-so-long-ago was just expected for nearly everyone (and which is still just as un-extraordinary as ever), maybe we should talk about some of those report cards.  The fact that junior got a 4.0 GPA last year may not entirely be due to their diligence.  It could be the fact that lots more people are getting A’s now.  Nearly 50% of students, in fact.

Were this not so endemic, I would think that the top students would be making a big fuss about this, since it is their efforts that are ultimately being demeaned.  Showing love and care and respect to students is not the same as handing out A’s to everyone.  And as the article alludes to, this builds a false sense of expectation for college and the world beyond.  I’m pretty positive that we haven’t evolved to a state where now half of all students in the US are geniuses.  I’m also pretty positive that it’s in our best interests to let them know that they aren’t all geniuses, and help them plan accordingly.

And, to be clear, this is coming from a non-straight-A-student.  I’ve never had that drive – not on any consistent basis.  I’ve always been more than happy with B’s sprinkled with A’s and even a C or two.  I feel like I’ve always learned just as much as the folks with higher grades, I just didn’t care enough about it to prove it.  Throughout high school my peer group consisted of mostly upper echelon GPA folks, and I never mistook myself for being the same caliber as them, academically.  But I felt I could hold my own with them intellectually.  Sometimes.  I like to think this is more a testament to my laziness than any intellectual deficiency, but long-time readers are apt to draw their own conclusions on that topic.

Eat & Run

July 21, 2017

I thought this was an interesting article about how recipients of food stamps tend to run out of money for food within a week or two, meaning that for at least half the month, they don’t have any of these funds to purchase food with.  The article purports to explore how and why this is, and emphasizes that because funds are dispersed in a single installment, people have trouble budgeting properly and therefore spend too much immediately and run out of funds.

What it doesn’t explore is what people are buying with this assistance.

For three years, as part of a Christian communal living experiment, my family lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis.  My observations are anecdotal rather than deliberate, but have stuck with me all the same.  What we saw the neighborhood children eating constantly was junk food.  Sodas, hot fries, Cheetos.  Constantly.  We never saw them with fresh fruit or vegetables or any other sort of food (unless we shared ours with them).  We know that these children lived in households that depended on food stamps – the vast majority of our neighborhood did.

Certainly the issue of telling people how to spend their assistance is a tricky one at best, but if the issue of running out of money is due not just to budgeting problems but also spending that assistance on low-nutrition snack food instead of food that can actually improve your health and last more than a few minutes, then doesn’t our government (who created and funds the food stamp program using taxpayer dollars) have a duty to at least help people know how to spend their assistance wisely?

When I looked into our state’s web site for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program I didn’t see any information about good ways to spend the assistance wisely.  Perhaps that information is provided in another format beyond the web site, but perhaps it’s not being provided at all.

I’m sure that there is money used to lobby against any type of restriction on how food assistance is spent (beyond current limitations on alcohol, cigarettes, etc.).  I’m sure that companies that manufacture potato chips and soda would take issue with having their products declared off-limits for food stamp monies.  But if the issue is actually how to help people and make sure they’re getting the food they need, does it make sense to ignore the issue completely?

Ethics and Faith

June 8, 2017

I’m part of the professional networking website Linkedn.  I’m not looking for a new job, but it helps me to stay connected with people I have worked with over the years.  This week a colleague that I taught with at a private university 15 or so years ago posted this letter on the web site (he isn’t the author, he just shared the article and responded in the comments thread).

The article is from an educator who is angry that as part of his application to teach for a Christian university he was expected to fill out a detailed response regarding how he is living his life and the views and opinions he holds, regardless of how he is or isn’t choosing to live his life at the moment.  His argument is that as an educator teaching business courses, the school has no right or basis for making such a probing inquiry.  He appeals to others online to validate his outrage, which stems from an anti-Christian bias (he asserts in the comments that Christians are incapable or at least unwilling to engage in critical thinking or encouraging others to consider multiple points of view).

The irony, of course, is that he asserts his own methodology for handling such a situation with the assumption that he is objectively right, while castigating the school for holding a different point of view and practice.  His objections override the very ‘value’ of critical thinking and openness to other viewpoints that he claims to defend and demand.   The irony is also that other schools apply very similar (though opposite) probings to those who not only wish to teach, but those who wish to pursue terminal degrees, making it difficult for committed Christians to gain acceptance into high-calibre universities.

At the core is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian faith, a misunderstanding that has in large part been perpetrated and fostered by so-called ‘Christian universities’ that really aren’t Christian.  The misunderstanding is that Christianity is primarily an ethical system and more guide which only touch on certain aspects of life but do not permeate all of our life, both public and personal.

It is unfortunate that for some time, many Christian schools have de-emphasized the Christian aspect of their historic or current identity, acting as though faith can be compartmentalized and relevant to only certain areas of a person’s life.  It is no wonder that this gentleman is confused.

Having taught in higher education for nearly 15 years, I understand that teaching is not always a simple matter of information conveyance.  Good teachers (and especially good online teachers, which is what this man was applying for) need to be able to connect with their students, to bridge the technology gap that leads to isolation and separatism and foster a sense of community through personability which helps motivate and encourage students to stay plugged in and to strive for excellence.  This inevitably leads to side conversations and discussions both in public forums as well as through private messaging, and it is within these contexts that the professor’s opinions and life choices may come into play.  It is in these contexts that it isn’t merely what I as a professor do or say that matters, but the reasons why I do or say them which become important in the dialogue.


As Bernie Sanders’ outrage this week amply demonstrated, there is considerable confusion and antagonism against Christianity for asserting that some things are true and others, logically, are not.  The irony is that in castigating Christians for their world view, Sanders – as with this gentleman – ignore the reality that those they claim to be defending adhere to just as exclusive a world view, which in turn is no more exclusive than the world view they themselves are seeking to impose.  Ethics cannot ultimately be divorced from a deeper underlying worldview and understanding that unables them and lends them meaning and purpose.  Otherwise they are not so much ethics as matters of convenience, subject to change as the popular opinion changes.

To pretend that one’s own worldview is not exclusive while berating a differing worldview is inconsistent to say the least, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re teaching business administration or theology.  What you believe and how you live your life should matter, and to think that it shouldn’t matter to other people is defeatist of even bothering with an ethical and moral framework at all, let alone an all-encompassing worldview.


March 28, 2017

A beautiful thought to consider for a Tuesday.  Or any other day.  Or not.

You’re welcome.

Good Riddance

March 23, 2017

Thanks to Ken for this article on recent developments among Presbyterians here in the United States.  A traditional and hugely successful (in terms of numbers, books, congregations and ministries planted, and 5000 worshiping members in his current church – which may or may not be the best definition of successful) pastor and theologian has been rejected from an award after being awarded it because he dares to hold to the Bible and thus the traditional teachings and standards of the Christian church that deny we get to remake God into whomever we desire him to be in order to justify our redefined peccadillos of the day.

Tim Keller is a well known author and pastor who happens to teach and confess what the Church has taught and confessed for nearly 2000 years – human sexuality and gender are created by God, who alone gets to define how they are expressed and interacted with.  This if course is not the most vocal definition of things today, and those who oppose the Biblical stance on these issues in favor of radical reinterpretation that legitimizes what the Bible calls sinful demanded Princeton Theological Seminary rescind the award.

Amazing when a few letters and e-mails and phone calls can ride rough-shot over the Bible and centuries of teaching and confession derived from it.  It calls into question not so much Mr. Keller’s orthodoxy, as who determines the arc and trajectory of the institutions that train people like Mr. Keller.  What are theological seminaries committed to – the long-standing confession of the Bible and clear Biblical witness or the preferences of the students it hopes to attract to the program.

When I went to seminary, the buzz-word was theological formation.  I’m not sure this was ever really explained fully, but the basic assumption was that whatever I thought I knew as I entered the program, the intent of the program was to shape and shape me, rather than visa versa.  I could take or leave the program, I couldn’t demand the program accommodate my personal theological preferences.  It amazes me that other programs – theological or otherwise – around the country have so much trouble explaining this to their students.  I assume this has to do more with economics than anything.  For a school to survive it needs students.  To entice students you make it appealing to the students.  If the students demand something, you have to take it seriously or else your institution or your faculty are at risk of disappearing (at least that’s the assumption).  It is predicated on the relatively recent idea that students get to determine what an institution is, rather than students selecting an institution of higher learning (or a business to work for, or whatever) for what they want the institution to teach and define about them.  The authority is completely reversed.  The students get to lecture the institution.

At which point, the institution is already irrelevant and has for all practical purposes already disappeared.  I suspect Mr. Keller does what he does not for academic prestige or awards.  I have little doubt this snub will not change his theology or practice.  And as such, he demonstrates greater permanency than Princeton and it’s 200+ year tradition of education.  That’s commendable for Mr. Keller, but so sad for Princeton.  I hope what results from this are future generations of theologians questioning if they really want to attend an institution that allows students to dictate what it teaches, where the students insist on being the smartest and wisest people in the room.

Watch those Permission Slips

January 26, 2017

I remember having to get parental signatures from time to time as I was in school.  I remember needing their signature to watch Zeffireli’s Romeo and Juliet in freshman honors English.  I might have needed a permission slip to go and see Elie Wiesel speak as part of the Historical Society.

Permission slips seem to have evolved and changed a bit since then.  Hopefully you’re reading them carefully and asking good questions before signing them.  Otherwise, your kid might come home with missing teeth.

This strikes me as pretty weird, but is a good reminder of the increasingly central role that public school has come to play in our society.  Not just educating kids but providing them with food and health care as well.  We’d best be paying attention to this massive institution if it’s going to keep expanding power and presence in the lives of American families!