Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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!

Discussing vs. Teaching

January 17, 2017

By many accounts, we have a crisis of communication in American society today where people are unable to interact with people who hold diverging opinions and ideas from their own.  Being able to discuss things without taking it personally is an important skill to have, so I was curious when I saw the headline for this article.  Of course knowing the source, I assumed it would be hostile in some regard to a person of faith, but it was almost humorous how the author decides to start out.

By immediately dismissing as ridiculous a set of opinions and ideas on a number of hot-topic issues in American society today.  Not by discussing the actual facts or examining the other position, but simply by dismissing those ideas as obviously wrong and ridiculous and chalking them up to something other than possible alternate interpretations of data.

Admittedly, world-view shapes how we interpret data.  My world-view leads one person to assume that we all evolved from simpler organisms and there should be a fossil trail of some sort that shows that, so that ever fossil has to be fit into an evolutionary spectrum.  I don’t assume that this is how we got here, so I’m not forced to place fossils into such a spectrum.  My world view causes me to assume that scientists are just as prone to sinfulness – or to being exploited by other sinful people – as anyone else, so that companies based on science like pharmaceutical companies shouldn’t be presumed to be error or criminal free simply because they employ scientists.  I don’t doubt the reality of global warming because my understanding is that our planet has gone through plenty of cycles of warming and cooling over time.  But I may doubt that mankind is the cause of this particular warming cycle, and I may doubt the notion that we can actually reverse such a cycle.

What Mr. Shermer doesn’t seem to recognize is that world-view contributes to how everyone interprets data to create facts.   His world-view leads him to discard opposing view-points, and the data that might support them – as erroneous.  He exhibits firm faith in a certain understanding of things despite the fact that evidence is hardly conclusive and exhaustive.  And while I’m no fan of conspiracy theories as a rule, the idea that something sounds conspiratorial is not in and of itself grounds for dismissing the idea out of hand.  The melting point of steel is a scientific matter, is it not?  While I don’t hold to a conspiracy theory on the 9/11 attacks, it seems odd to dismiss such a piece of data or fact as minutiae  as I’m sure that such data contributed not just to the creation of those steel girders, but their selection for use in the building of the Twin Towers in the first place.

The good news is that his advice for dealing with those irrational people who disagree with him actually works in reverse as well.  And if  both sides are willing to abide by these as a means towards deeper conversation, there’s a chance that useful conversation might be had – useful conversation that might ultimately lead one or the other to change their ideas, if not their world-view.  In a surprising turn of events, I’m actually optimistic that such respectful dialogues are the hope of moving towards answering questions and away from demonizing people who disagree with us.

Truly Safe Spaces

December 12, 2016

Long-time readers know that we home school our children, and that my wife helps lead a home-schooling cooperative.  It’s mostly a means for about 300 home schooling families to communicate, sharing resources, ideas, field trip invitations, and any number of other miscellaneous items with one another via a somewhat moderated (and very unwieldy) e-mail list.

Part of what my wife coordinates is a weekly play date at a local beach or park (depending on the time of year).  It’s a great way for people new to the area or new to home schooling or both can come and meet others and integrate into the community.  Over time, she’s made some really good friends with a handful of other home schooling moms who come regularly for their kids to play together and for them to talk together.  They’re all very different people, to be certain, and were it not for home schooling, they might never have crossed paths, let alone become friends.  There’s a mutual respect and appreciation which has developed despite different home schooling approaches and backgrounds.

So it struck me recently, as she was talking about a conversation that had happened the day before, how destroyed our society is.  The conversation among the mom’s veered over to the issue of vaccinations.  One of the mom’s felt it necessary to remind or warn the group that this is a controversial subject.  How sad.

How sad that a group of adult women who are highly capable and educated, who have known each other for some time and have grown to truly appreciate one another, feel like they have to warn each other before talking about a controversial subject.  As though because it’s a controversial subject, they’re suddenly going to turn on each other and become nasty and rude and dismissive?  As though it isn’t possible for intelligent people to reach different conclusions on a topic, be able to discuss the topic respectfully, and remain committed to one another even if nobody changes their mind as a result of the discussion.  As though there are things that we shouldn’t talk about because it’s just too risky.  As though issues and our stances on them are what defines and determines our relationships, rather than mutual respect and appreciation.

Home schoolers, of all people, ought to recognize not just the benefit but the need to model healthy dialogue and intellectual discourse to their children.  To demonstrate that it is possible to disagree without disparaging.  That someone who reaches a different conclusion than you is not necessarily an idiot or deranged or less of a human being than you are.  If public schools are more and more prone to ideological indoctrination that makes people intolerant of others – all in the name of tolerance – then truly those educated outside of that box are going to need to know how to communicate with one another, how to engage in true intellectual discourse rather than just name calling and ad hominem attacks.

The great fallacy of our age is that there is only one right solution to any given situation, and that anyone who holds a position different from our own must be wrong and bad and stupid.  The problems that face our society are nothing new.  They have been around as long as people have, despite the shiny gadgets we have that are new.  If solutions have eluded us for thousands of years, the odds of one group having the silver bullet solution and everyone else being raving morons are pretty low, it seems.  And perhaps focusing on issues and challenges, rather than on political associations and ideologies, might be a better way of moving forward together.

If our education system is a mess, I don’t really care if a Democrat or a Republican is the one who comes up with a better solution.  If we really want to slash our national debt, it’s going to require a new alternative to what has traditionally been championed by one party or another, if only because party-politics prevents any plan from being implemented very well.

There shouldn’t be any issue that can’t be discussed, particularly among people who respect and care about each other and yet may have different attitudes on the topic.  Sharing different perspectives, learning about how and why people think differently is hugely important.  It’s important for us as adults but also important for our kids as well, and I’m grateful that my wife has a place where this can occur, and where our kids can watch and hear it happening.

The alternative is that we aren’t allowed to discuss anything, and that’s truly deadly for all of us.

Thinking Provocatively

December 6, 2016

It isn’t what you think it is, you cheeky monkey, you.

Here’s an amazing interview/article with an intelligent man who is infuriating those who see freedom of speech as a dangerous and unfair thing.  Beware of a few obscene words here and there, but beyond a shadow of a doubt it is his counter-cultural stance that many will find most obscene.  He does an admirable job of defending something we used to take for granted – freedom of speech even when we disagreed with what was being said.  For this, his job is likely on the line, and perhaps eventually, if he refused to change his tune, his freedom.

When Life Is Too Good

October 10, 2016

Thanks to Ken for sending me this article from the Wall Street Journal, which discusses the skyrocketing numbers of students seeking mental-health services from colleges across the US.  On the surface, it seems as though more and more college students have difficulty coping with life or college or a combination of the two.

But the article doesn’t clarify adequately what the numbers mean.  If mental-health staff are actively promoting their services and luring students to come by to pet service dogs, and if students are attracted by the “warmth and accessibility”, and if these centers are reaching students that would not otherwise have sought them out, does this accurately portray a greater need among students for mental health services?   If a student misses their dog at home and comes to the mental-health center to pet a therapy dog, does that mean the student needs therapy?  Why not just allow dogs in dorm rooms?

The article also doesn’t make any attempt to ask why students are increasingly feeling alone and inadequate to the tasks that face them in life.  I can’t help but wonder whether the rising levels of young people with little or no religious/church experience – the nones – are correspondent to a rise in levels of people looking for things that used to be gained through religious practice.  In other words, does religious belief (and in America, that overwhelmingly has meant Christianity) provide benefits which, when absent, leave people vulnerable, anxious, worried?  If students are looking for warmth and accessibility, it seems that congregations near campuses could be reaching out to these students through activities that are not – initially – specifically religious.  If members show up every evening with their pets for a play-time, does that qualify the pets as therapy pets?  Mid-week, home-cooked meals and times where students could sit in a home with a family and eat them have always been a great blessing to many college students.  Must love and care and compassion be reduced to a clinical diagnosis?

College is a stressful time for many students.  The drive to do well, the awareness of the huge costs they personally or their families are undertaking to make college possible, the growing list of things that are necessary to do in order to leave not with just a degree but a robust resume, all of these things are stressful.  But they seem to be distinctly first-world, self-created and self-perpetuated issues as well.  Not that they aren’t real, but they are real because of a very small bubble of possibility and prosperity.  Outside that bubble, stress and the problems of life quickly take on much more dramatic and lethal dimensions, as this article about the torture and execution of Christians by ISIS illustrates.

Stress is stress, and the causes and reactions to it are likely defined primarily by our culture and society – what is considered normal and reasonable.  But it’s bitterly ironic that people are willing to suffer horrendous things and die in humiliation for their belief in Jesus as the Son of God, while here such beliefs are seen as irrelevant despite the many warning signs in our culture to the contrary.