Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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.

Book Review: Pollution and the Death of Man

February 18, 2019

Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology

by Dr. Francis Schaeffer

I picked up some books at the used book store a looooong time ago.  Lost them, forgot about them, and rediscovered them recently and plucked the top one up.  While I’m a big admirer of Schaeffer’s practical theology and philosophy, I had forgotten how painful he can be to read.  It isn’t that the concepts are too technical or complex, but more that writing is just not his forte.  It’s one thing to think big thoughts, but an entirely different thing to communicate them in understandable terms!

But this book, after an initial rocky start, really is far more accessible than some of Schaeffer’s other writing.  The topic hasn’t gotten any less important in the last 50 years, and while his thoughts on it are something that anyone well-versed in the Bible might piece together on their own, it doesn’t seem to be a topic or a treatment that has attracted much attention.  Some of Schaeffer’s observations in this book are fantastic in that they apply in so many areas beyond ecology, yet they apparently elude so many Christians.

Schaeffer really hits his stride in Chapters 4-6.  He grounds Christian ecology on, logically enough, the creation account in Genesis.  He argues that Christianity is unique among religions and philosophies for providing the baseline argument of why we should treat nature kindly and gently: because God created it. Most other religions and philosophies argue for a certain treatment of nature that is far more anthropocentric – we should take care of nature because it benefits us, specifically, as human beings.  Schaeffer argues powerfully that such an anthropocentric view is dangerous, as is the other extreme – pantheism.

Schaeffer goes on to offer a compelling description of man and his place in creation, separated by a gap not only between himself and his Creator, but between himself and all the rest of creation.  That, endued alone with the imago dei, man is unique in creation but not separated from creation.  He is both unique in the imago dei and not unique in that he also is a creation.  Schaeffer offers an exploration of this and how man should treat nature.  The example that stands out is that man is free to rid his home of ants.  This is a necessity (at least most people would view it as such!) and so many does this.  But when he encounters the ant on the sidewalk, he steps over it.  The ant has a right to his antness in his proper habitat, just as man does.  And man does not have the right to arbitrarily destroy nature when there is no need for doing so.  And if there is a need to do so, man can choose to limit himself (in terms of time and profit, primarily) so that nature is not unnecessarily destroyed more than needs be.

This is really helpful reading.  It prevents us  from erring in the traditional way, but claiming that as God’s highest creation the rest of creation exists only for our own use or pleasure.  No, creation has a right to exist in itself, though man has the right to utilize nature towards his needs and ends, so long as it is done without losing sight of nature as a creation of God, just like mankind itself.  And it prevents us from erring with the pantheists or the materialists.  Pantheists see all things as divine and ultimately degrade humanity in the process.  Materialists do the same thing but because they lack any sense of divinity, rather than suffering from too great a sense of it.

Finally, Schaeffer rightly asserts that Christians should be living out these truths as witness to our culture and the world around us.  That our individual and corporate lives should be governed by decisions of self-limitation in order to preserve and respect the rest of God’s creation.  Powerful thoughts for Christians and their families and congregations!

 

 

 

More Politics

January 17, 2019

In case you were under the impression that there is freedom of speech and freedom of religion in our country, or that these rights are valued by some and not others, note this little article.  Our vice-president’s wife  is being criticized for teaching at a Christian school that adheres to Biblical principles and requires employees, students, and their families to do so as well.

I love the spin put on this at the end of the article.  A “religion” professor criticizing “the religious right” for making sexuality a  matter of faith.  Um, actually it’s the Bible that does that, not the religious right, and as such has been making a big deal about this for roughly 3500 years.  The Biblical position is nothing new, and prior to just a few years ago, was the normative understanding in most of American society.  And before that in most of Western Europe.  And still today in large sections of South America, Central America, and Africa.  Just to name a few.

Then the second comment about how the school was forcing people to not be yourself or express support for viewpoints and lifestyles contrary to Scripture.  Again, not true.  This isn’t a public school.  It’s a private school that undoubtedly charges tuition – probably rather steep tuition.  Attendance at this school is completely voluntary, and nobody is being forced to do anything other than acknowledge the truths the school is based on and in.  If they don’t like those truths, I’m sure that there are other school options for them to choose from, including completely free public schools.  A halfway intelligent potential customer might even recognize that it is because of the policies and beliefs of this school that it is desirable as an educational institution to people despite its high price.

Expressing an opinion or a belief is only valid and right and fair if it falls in line with what popular culture or activists are demanding at the moment.  The fact that their stance on this issue is at direct odds with one of the oldest sacred texts in the world is irrelevant.  It is the sacred text and those who believe it who must change.

So, freedom of religion and freedom of speech?  Ditch ’em, apparently.

Cute Confusion

November 15, 2018

In the rush to normalize transgenderism, this book has come to the surface for assisting very young children (kindergarten) know how to deal with a classmate who is dealing with what traditionally was known as gender identity disorder but has been reclassified as gender dysphoria.

I appreciate the desire to help children understand how to deal with a classmate who is very different from them.  But I’ve been troubled by the approach of trying to make it seem as though it’s really not a big deal.  Troubled that kindergarten is now a time to talk about sex education and gender identity.  Gender dysphoria is a big deal.  A big deal that requires a lot of love and care, to be sure, but also a big deal that can’t be broken down into cute, easy to present sound bites without doing a lot of potential damage along the way, both to those who think they might suffer from it as well as their peers who don’t.

Here is a helpful review of the book from a medical doctor versed in this topic.  He makes a compelling case that what we don’t say can be as important (and damaging) as what we do say.  In fairness to everyone, we need a way to make sure that everything is communicated rather than dangerously oversimplifying things.

More Doomsday

October 17, 2018

If death from nuclear war or a massive decline in bug population wasn’t enough to make you jittery, perhaps this little article will.  One in ten people is more than 90 days in default on their student loans.  Student loan debt has grown by 157% in just over a decade.   What does that mean?  Over $1.5 trillion dollars in existing student loan debt.  Interest rates on student loans have topped 5% for undergraduate loans and are nearly 7% for advanced degrees.

Yet one cited expert in the article posits the student loan debt rise isn’t nearly a crisis on the scale of the housing collapse a decade ago.  He claims the difference is that student loan debt isn’t systemic.  I’m not sure what he means by that, considering earlier in the article another expert described the situation as systemic.  Elsewhere the article reported a further increase in the number of people living at home with their parents still by age 35.  Generations of people are unable to do the things their parents did by their late 20’s and 30’s because they’re saddled with massive student loan debt and, surprise surprise, aren’t able to find jobs that enable them to continue paying it off.

Meanwhile, tuition rates are basically at all-time highs and continue  to climb.  Why not?  If people are being groomed to see college education as an absolute necessity for future financial security, of course people are going to keep taking out loans to pursue that education.

Those most likely to default on their loans?  People who attended for-profit schools, minorities, and those who started on their education but didn’t finish.  Also, as a whole it’s the smaller loans that are defaulted on, rather than the big, six-figure loans.  Those who spend a lot of money to get advanced schooling for careers in law and medicine tend to be better able to repay their loans.

Meanwhile, the government just keeps handing out loans.  After all, it’s not  the government’s money.  It’s yours.  And mine.

I don’t know how any financially sensible person could see this situation as anything but a massive bubble waiting to burst, and burst it eventually will.  At which point I’m sure the effects will be very systemic.  And pervasive.  Destruction by nukes, bugs, or financial meltdown.  At least we have options to place our bets on.

 

What You Do Matters

October 11, 2018

In our Internet-connected age and world, more and more of our lives are open to public scrutiny.  Part of this is based on what we ourselves actively share through various social media platforms, but also what others – whether private individuals or organizations – share about us through their accounts.  People my age and older often joke about how relieved we are that we didn’t grow up in this sort of technological era, as our stupidity and poor choices could follow us the rest of our lives.

But sometimes even our considered choices and decisions have long-lasting repercussions that could affect us in ways we don’t anticipate.  Take, for instance, the situation of Lara Alqasem.  Lara is a US citizen of Palestinian heritage.  During her university studies at the University of Florida, she rose to the position of president of a student organization called Students for Justice in Palestine.  SJP’s web page indicates that while it rejects anti-Semitism, it views the situation of Palestinians as living without basic rights under Israeli military occupation and colonialism since 1948.

Lara applied and was accepted to Hebrew University in Jerusalem to study human rights.  She obtained a legal student visa, but then was detained by Israeli authorities when she arrived in Israel, under suspicion that she might be a sympathizer with a movement referred to as BDS, which stands for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel.  As per a 2017 Israeli law, foreigners seeking entrance to Israel who espouse anti-Israel stances (such as supporting boycotts, divestments, or sanctions against Israel) may not be admitted to the country.

Predictably, this has outraged some, including, presumably, Lara.  Her appointed Israeli lawyer (I presume) claims she isn’t part of the organization any longer.  I assume this could be attributed to her graduating, as opposed to her renouncing her involvement in the organization.  Her mother insists that while Lara may object to certain Israeli policies, she respects the nation and culture and sees no contradiction in her views and actions.  Her Hebrew professor insisted that she has a positive view towards Judaism and Jews and the state of Israel.

All of which may be true, but then still leaves the question of not only why she would choose to participate in, but actively lead an organization that most people would say is anti-Israel not in terms of select policies but in terms of the country’s existence.  Certainly some people join clubs and organizations to fill out their resumes without ever really participating in the groups.  But to actually lead the organization paints a different picture.

I’m all for free speech.  Go ahead and formulate your ideas and opinions and articulate them intelligently.  But recognize that there may be ramifications for your statements and your involvement.  If your lifelong dream is to study the culture of Israel, then heading up an anti-Israeli student organization in college may not be a good idea.  Some countries retain the idea that while their citizens may have rights of self-expression to varying degrees, they are under no obligation to knowingly let outsiders in who are critical and may seek to work against the interests of the State.  Lara is one of 15 people who have been blocked.

The Israelis indicated they would admit Lara to the country if she willingly and directly (as opposed to her lawyer releasing a statement on her behalf) renounce her former involvement with SJP and the principles it espouses.  The article doesn’t provide any indication that she is willing to do this.  Her case remains at a standstill after an Israeli appeals court decided not to intervene.  Lara is apparently considering an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.  But it seems to  me that if she really doesn’t believe in the principles of SJP, it would be a much simpler matter to say so herself, rather than have others insinuate that she might not have believed them or may not believe them now.  It may not solve her current situation, but it would be a good-faith move towards clarifying her own intentions.

I’m not sympathetic to this young woman who complains about the bedbugs in her Israeli jail cell and the fact that she’s not permitted much contact via her phone or the Internet.  Unfortunately, it might be that living in the US these days Lara was under the impression that laws in other countries would not be enforced like some of the laws in our own country are not enforced.  She took a great risk in seeking admittance to Israel, even if she was accepted by a school  there.  Jail  is not supposed to be pleasant or conducive to free communication – these are incentives to avoid jail.  Her case sounds to me like another petulant person  demanding that the law not apply to them, while remaining steadfast (at  least thus far) that their past words and actions should not be held against them even if the law says that they can and should.  Hopefully she and others will continue to learn that there are sometimes consequences for what you say and do, and so you need to consider your words and actions carefully.  It doesn’t mean that laws are always right, but they are dangerous things to trifle with.

 

 

 

 

More on Context

September 22, 2018

We were sitting this morning as a family around the breakfast table.  We’re reading a book together,  The Life of Fred: Financial Choices  .  It is a source of great conversation, laughter and thought for all of us, not just the kids.  The author is clearly a very goal-oriented, disciplined kinda guy (or at least projects that persona).  I find this an admirable trait, though not one I can claim to share beyond a certain extent.

The chapter this morning focused on instant gratification vs. long-term rewards, and the author dutifully notes that these ways of thinking apply to all of life, not just financial decisions.  The author is very clearly in favor of long-term reward thinking and planning.  He speaks very dismissively about instant gratification, even as he tries to remain balanced and accepting of some instant gratification.

It’s true that very few people possess the discipline for long-term goal setting.  It makes those who are both admirable and probably more often than not more successful.  My wife and I were in a follow-up conversation about it after breakfast, talking about how some people just seem to be wired more towards long-term thinking.  They know what they want to accomplish – often from a very young age – and are nearly single-minded in their determination to accomplish it.

My wife mentioned the girl who sailed solo around the world at age 16 (this girl, I assume), and related how at one point she ran away from home for fear her parents might not let her pursue her dreams (not sure if this is an actual biographical detail or not, but we’ll assume it is for the purpose of our conversation).

It reminded me of my musings a few days ago.  It struck me that we admire these people when they’re successful.  We hold them up as examples of human capability.  They are inspiring and become models that we point to for our kids and grandkids.  But if she had failed and died in the attempt, we wouldn’t glorify her.  We’d likely vilify her parents for not doing their job to guide and look after her.

Again the issue of context becomes critical.  Goal-setting is important and valuable but it requires a context within which to function both healthily and safely.  Without such a context, it can become actually dangerous both personally and relationally.  It appears that Laura Dekker’s parents (or at least one of them) was pretty supportive of her efforts.  But we could easily understand if they had not been.  And at that point, Laura faces a decision – reject her parents’ duty and authority to pursue her goal, or abide by their guidance.

Sounds like the plot context for a movie-of-the-week.

I want my kids to be happy and successful but more than this I want them contextualized, embedded in a larger understanding – a meta-context – that helps them define what these terms even mean and could look like.  Without that, the definitions become slippery and evasive, potentially even damaging to themselves and those around them.

This is part of what faith in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible does.  I don’t simply adopt it or teach it to them as a means to an end of personal fulfillment.  I believe it is true, and because it is true, it will have these side benefits of providing a healthy context for my life and my children’s lives.  It doesn’t mean it will always be easy to remain consistent to this faith, this meta-context.  But it provides a means for doing so, and those means by and large seem very consistent with my personal experience and the experience of those I know both personally and historically.  There will be anomalies, and those might be inspiring, but only if we also acknowledge the real costs involved, the real risks that remain whether that person succeeds or fails.

Long-range planning isn’t enough on its own – it requires a context to function within.

Context matters.  Authority matters.  What’s yours?

Contextualizing Advertising

September 20, 2018

Despite a much-delayed and oft-sidetracked undergraduate career spanning 13 years, I did eventually graduate from Arizona State University.  It’s an accomplishment I am proud enough of but typically stoic and realistic about.  Going back to university at nearly 30 to complete a degree you gave up on years earlier because of a lack of direction or motivation is difficult, and I acknowledge that.  But what credit there is to be taken for that lies in me (by the grace of God), and not so much my alma mater.  I know folks from my high school that are die-hard fans of the universities they graduated from, and constantly sport the clothes, tail-gate parties, and hand signs of those institutions.

I’m not one of those folks, and anyone who knows me probably isn’t very surprised by this.

To be fair, I don’t feel an unusual attachment to any other institution I’ve ever attended, whether primary, secondary, or graduate.  It’s just not in my genes.

But that doesn’t stop these institutions from sending me their magazines every quarter, hopeful no doubt that perhaps I’ve improved my situation in life markedly from my earlier years and am looking for a place to devote some of my wealth.

I’m not one of those folks either, sorry.

But as I was quickly flipping through my alma mater’s most recent magazine, the only thing that really caught my eye was the back page and an advertisement from Starbucks.  An attractive and undoubtedly upwardly-mobile-minded female barista smiles glowingly at the reader, hands on hips in a pose of confidence.  The tag line, which claims to be a quote from her, reads:

Always push for what you want, what you love, and your passions.

But if news these days is to be believed, this is the fundamental problem  in our culture.  People pushing for what they want.  The news is decidedly anti-male these days, highlighting a cavalcade of men past and present who followed the above mantra fully and are now paying the consequences for it.  I doubt anyone would recognize this mantra as appropriate in the context of allegations about Brett Kavanaugh.  Or Bill Cosby.  Or Harvey Weinstein.  For that matter would people agree with this mantra in the context of Trump and his tariff policies, or Obama and his health-care reform?  Would liberals agree with this in terms of who gets confirmed as a Supreme Court judge?  For that matter would conservatives?

Our culture is in the throes of chaos precisely because of people who follow this mantra.

It doesn’t sound like a bad mantra though, does it?  Doesn’t it sound warm and glowing and awesome?  Isn’t it inspiring and confidence-building?  Doesn’t it reek of the go-get-it attitude that once characterized America?

Yet on the other hand, we could argue this mantra is destructive, evil, patently bad advice.

How can this be?

Because this mantra, this slogan – as with any mantra or slogan – needs a context.  It needs a larger background within which it fits, and which determines how it is  applied.  Only a fool would assume  that marketing companies and companies should be dictating human behavior in any given country, right?  That would be chaos, with norms and expectations and standards changing every time a new, more compelling slogan or mantra came out.

It’s terrifying to think that for many people this is exactly what is happening.

It isn’t that mantras and slogans are new.  They’ve been around for centuries, and we all can think about the most successful of them.  Be all that you can be.  Just do it.  Have a Coke and smile.  Have it your way.  There’s a common theme in them – they’re all applied to the individual and designed to encourage the individual to activity, engagement, and eventually or ultimately consumption of one form or another.

As marketing campaigns these were wildly successful.  But as rules for living your life?  Not so much.  And over and over again we are reminded that while it sounds like a good idea to Always push for what you want, what you love, and your passionsin reality this isn’t something that we should always do.  By a long shot.  Or perhaps ever do.  Because society is going to determine what is acceptable to push for, what is acceptable to love, and what sorts of passions are acceptable.  It may decide these things in retrospect years down the road.  It may change its mind about them.

What these mantras and slogans need is a context.  An overarching understanding of how one is to live their lives that makes sense of these urges or prompts, determining when they are acceptable or appropriate and when they are not.  And I think this meta-context is what our culture has discarded in the last half-century.

I suggest that the meta-context that used to be in place was Biblically based and easy to remember.  Love your neighbor.  While not everyone might know or agree with the person this meta-context is associated with (Jesus), they understood the basic concept.  It’s a concept that – on its own and out of the fuller context of how He said it and what else He said – isn’t even strictly Judeo-Christian.  It could be argued that this idea is implicit in all of the great religions and even philosophies of the world.  Of course each will define the terms and parameters slightly (or radically) differently, the basic underlying idea remains.

So then I’m free to Always push for what you want, what you love, and your passions, as long as it doesn’t cause me to cease loving my neighbor.  As long as I’m anchored in this larger meta-context, I can apply the mantras and slogans of the day in a limited fashion.  And of course the meta-context also provided the criteria to know what was loving my neighbor and what wasn’t, since we all tend to define this in ways that are easier or more convenient for us.

It’s not a perfect system, of  course.  There will still be anomalies and violations.  But we could at least identify them as such and deal with them as such.

Now, it’s a lot harder.  Oftentimes it seems to come down to who yells the loudest as to what constitutes a proper or  improper application of the mantras and slogans around us.  There was an effort a few years ago to come up with a new meta-context for life in our culture – tolerance.  It didn’t work so well.  It continues to not work very well.  And now we’re being told that in some situations, tolerance is actually the equivalent of refusal – which anyone with half a brain would have recognized right away.

So be careful what advertising or marketing mantra or slogan you grab on to.  Be careful what you quote to your kids or grandkids as inspirational and life-guiding advice.  They might just listen.  And they might just discover that it’s really not very good advice.  Not without something deeper and more reliable behind it.  Something not prone to the whims and waves of public opinion at any given moment (driven so often by slogans and mantras as well).  Maybe you should consider passing on something much deeper, and more  reliable.

For that matter, maybe you ought to consider adopting it for yourself.