Education

Irony and Evangelism

I was reading the news this morning, and saw three interesting stories, each of which had its own twist. The first involved a visitor to Florida who was injured when he stopped and got out of his car to look at an alligator. No, the gator didn’t get him—but the water moccasin he stepped on did. The second story involved a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” who got all the letters but couldn’t cash in because he couldn’t read the phrase. His inept attempt showed the world the “Achilles” heel in his education.

But the story that got me thinking was from a local university that has adopted a policy making it more receptive to students living in an alternate lifestyle (or perhaps even in an alternate reality). In announcing the change, a university spokesperson said, “All of our policies reflect our values. This reflects our value of being inclusive.”

The first half of that statement is absolutely true. What one does is a reflection of what he believes is good, acceptable, perfect, and preeminent. Even when I violate my conscience, the guilt or uneasiness that I feel confirms the truth of my foundational values.

The problem of the second half of the statement arises from the fact that values are dialectical—they always have two sides. For everything that one believes is true, there is something that must be false. For everything that one believes is good, there is something that must be bad. Usually that’s not a problem: there’s room in the world for people who think that cookie dough ice cream is delectable, as well as those who find it despicable. They can agree to disagree (or to compromise on mint chocolate chip). But that is the underlying falsehood of “inclusivity” and “tolerance”.

For every “tolerance” that claims that all opinions are equally valid, there is an “intolerance” that believes that no opinion is valid but its own. “Tolerance” must reject “intolerance,” thus becoming less tolerant itself. To embrace a relativistic morality is to reject the very concept of morality.

Jesus Christ was both the most tolerant and the most intolerant man who ever lived. He loved every person, and He hated every sinful act. As His followers, we must do the same; our problem arises when people claim that their very identity is defined by sinful behavior. If we point out the wrongness of their actions, we may appear unloving—attacking them personally. We may alienate these people for whom Christ died.

But that’s the key that we must keep in mind: Jesus died to save them from their sins. If we never share the message that all people can be delivered from their sins, we are not preaching the Gospel. In order to fulfill the Great Commission, we must be willing to be inclusive in our love, and intolerant toward sin in ourselves and others. These must be our values.

People who define themselves by sinful behavior will hate us. That hurts. But we must remember the Lord’s words, “Blessed are you, when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you for My sake…Great is your reward in Heaven.”

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The Not-So-Final Phase of My Recovery

I have not posted here for several months.  There has been what I consider a good reason:  I got a job teaching school.

 That’s a good thing.  I love teaching high school and I sorely missed it in the five years since I had to leave my last position due to family needs.  Though I substituted and did odd jobs, I never had the satisfaction of resuming my career and doing what I do best until this past September.  I am very happy with my position.  I love the kids and the coworkers.  The families have been great and the work has been fulfilling.  God is good!

 I am still battling depression.  Why? WHY?

 My pastor, my counselor, my psychiatrist, my friends and I had all agreed that when I got a good job I would be happy and the mental illness would be a thing of the past.  We were all wrong, for we were assuming that the aspects of depression I faced were based upon my attitude which in turn was based upon my circumstances.  As a matter of fact, my mental illness was, is, and always will be a result of physical causes within my body. 

 Don’t get me wrong:  I am better in many ways than I was even six months ago.  But as long as the chemical imbalance remains, my mind and emotions will continue to respond to situations in odd ways.  Let me describe a few of my personal observations, in the hope that someone else might gain understanding or even hope.

  •  For whatever reason, my memory is noticeably diminished; this makes teaching much harder than it used to be.  I am still struggling to remember a handful of student names.  Talk about frustration!
  •  I am extremely distractable, and find it difficult to concentrate.  Not only is it harder to grade papers, it is harder to stay on task for a 60-minute class, or even to follow my own lesson plans.
  • I fly through the day on an adrenaline rush—I am thrilled to be doing what I am doing!  But that leaves me exhausted physically and emotionally when the students leave and it’s time to start the 36-mile drive home.  Do you understand why I didn’t want to say that “I crash” at the end of the school day?  (And then I wake in the middle of the night, often to sleep no more.)
  •  Everything is new—the schedule, some of the classes, the policies and procedures, even the routines.  I had learned to cope with my limitations by living within a comfortable rut, but that’s no longer possible.
  •  The energy required to fulfill my duties no longer left me no choice but to eliminate a major source of stress in my life.  While I know I did the proper and necessary thing, in my weak moments I suffer from the temptation to feel guilt and regret.  The holidays have amplified this struggle.
  •  And one of the more difficult aspects of my position is that I am uncertain just how much I can and should say about my mental illness.  Those of you who have followed my journey know that I have been open and transparent, and that approach has been a blessing to me and to some others as well.  But as a professional educator, I must keep my students in mind; and I believe that my story is something that they need not hear, lest it cause confusion or distraction from the classroom ministry.  Some of the older students have found my blog, and, presumably, have read it; but none of them or their parents have commented on its contents.  My administrator and the school board knew my situation before they hired me; and my coworkers learned in October when I presented a seminar.  They have all been very understanding and, honestly, react to me as if I were “normal.”  I’m just not sure that my students in grades 7-? would be able to do the same, and I’m not about to put them to the test.  And the parents?    They pay the bills, and I fear that some would not trust their precious children to someone who has been unstable in the past.

 So I haven’t written in my blog.  I appreciate the patience of those who waited for a new post, and are ready to read this.  As time passes, I trust my energy levels will rise, my concentration will return, and my reputation at the school will allow me to write freely and frequently once more.  If you are a praying person, I would ask you to pray to that end.  Thank you.

 By the way:  I could write energetically about politics every day, but my counselors have advised me to stay positive.  God bless America—she needs it.

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Teachers Don’t Burn Out (and Other Lies)

Last week I presented a seminar to a teachers’ conference on the topic of burnout–which is often just another (more acceptable) name for depression.  I have included here the text of the handout I used.  I also included “Preacher’s Story” available elsewhere on this site.

Teachers Don’t Burn Out (and Other Lies)

Presented at NYACS Fall Conference Oct. 2013

Robert D. Bowker, ValleyHeightsChristianAcademy

 

“Burnout is not an official term or diagnosis in the field of mental illness….there is no agreement among scientists as to how we should define burnout.”   –Douglas Mental Health University Institute

“Teachers who feel a sense of accomplishment don’t burnout.”  –Maurice Elias

“You have a choice.  Stress leads to burnout; burnout leads to depression.  Next question.”  –quoted by Athlee Bowman

“Teacher burnout is a condition in which teachers remain as paid employees but stop functioning as professionals.”  –Martin Haberman in “An Antidote…”

  

 

True or False? 

In other words, do you agree with my conclusions based upon personal experience and research that I like?

_____ 1.  Burnout is a defined physical, emotional and psychological condition.

_____ 2.  Burnout is the greatest threat to teacher success and satisfaction today.

_____ 3.  The factors that may lead to burnout can be prevented or controlled.

_____ 4.  The factors that may lead to teacher burnout are primarily the school administrator’s fault.

_____ 5.  Behavioral and cognitive therapies are reasonable treatments for symptoms of burnout.

_____ 6.  Burnout is another name for depression.

_____ 7.  Time and place help to define both burnout and depression.

_____ 8.  Depression is quicker and easier to treat than burnout.

_____ 9.  .Spiritual Christians will suffer depression, but not for long.

_____ 10.  Depression is the result of sin.

 

1.  Burnout is a defined physical, emotional and psychological condition.  TRUE–though it is not recognized as a form of medical or mental illness.

Almost unanimously, burnout is said to be characterized by three aspects:

            a.  Physical and emotional fatigue  (with the pains, illnesses, irritability, inability to            concentrate, forgetfulness, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and other factors that can          result from any severe exhaustion)

            b.  Depersonalization  (the withdrawal of the individual from interaction with others)

            c.  Reduced sense of personal accomplishment (loss of joy, satisfaction, motivation, and             hope)

Note that these aspects involve physical, social, and psychological factors.  Also note however, that there is a spiritual aspect as well—necessary for prevention or recovery from burnout or any other situation that may involve symptoms such as these.

 

2.  Burnout is the greatest threat to teacher success and satisfaction today.  FALSE.

Burnout poses a threat to any teacher who cares about students; but burnout itself is a response to the threat we call stress.

 

3.  The factors that may lead to burnout can be prevented or controlled.  FALSE. 

By definition, stress results from our inability to prevent or control aspects of our life.

C. Kyriacou in 2001 listed 10 of the main sources of teacher stress:

  • pupils who lack motivation
  • maintaining discipline
  • time pressures and workload
  • coping with change
  • be evaluated by others
  • dealings with colleagues
  • self-esteem and status issues
  • administration and management
  • role conflict and ambiguity
  • poor working conditions

 

In most cases, the teacher has few resources to prevent or control these issues.  However, the teacher at the outset does have the power to determine how she or he will respond to the stresses.  Palliative techniques focus on reducing the feelings of stress in the individual.

 

4.  The factors that may lead to teacher burnout are primarily the school administrator’s fault.  TRUE. 

Well, maybe responsibility is a better word than fault.  In an ideal world, the administrator would be the person with the power to change the things that we cannot.

 

5.  Behavioral and cognitive therapies are reasonable treatments for symptoms of burnout.

TRUE.

While the terms sound worldly and unspiritual, the concepts that they describe are profitable spiritual exercises and steps of obedience and growth.

Whether we call them palliative, behavioral, cognitive, or some other kind of treatment, the fact is that the way we respond to stress under normal conditions is determined by our choices.  Do we think on the things of Philippians 4:8?  Do we focus on the fruit of the Spirit, or are we overcome by the works of the flesh?  Do we rejoice in the Psalms, or do we wallow in the first 11 chapters of Ecclesiastes?  Do we worship, or do we worry?  Have we made moderation and contentment our watchwords?

If (for whatever reason) wrong thought patterns, speech patterns, or behavior patterns have started affecting our lives and ministries, we can apply techniques of prayer, meditation, praise, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, etc.  These therapies will not change our circumstances, but they will change the way we view our circumstances.

Examples of behavioral therapies:

  • change in diet, especially to add vitamin D
  • increased physical activity
  • discussion group/relationship building
  • set and keep a simple schedule and routine
  • become actively involved in a hobby
  • breathing exercises and other stress relief mechanisms
  • seek and maintain regular counseling

Other examples of cognitive therapies:

  • trust God, read His word, pray–even if it is only a few minutes or a few words
  • list negative influences in your life, and deal with them appropriately
  • confess sin and forgive yourself–aloud if necessary
  • acknowledge and permit yourself to experience your disappointments and griefs
  • list encouraging words and practice them on yourself and others
  • memorize and quote or write appropriate Scriptures
  • list 5 goals for the future, and determine what it would take to make them come true
  • accept your illness and call it an illness
  • eliminate terminal words from your vocabulary:  can’t, won’t, always, never, impossible, etc.

 

It behooves us to pause and look at five stages of burnout, as defined  by Jesse Lyn Hanley, M.D.

Driven—the pre-burnout stage, when tremendous things are accomplished—not motivated by plan or purpose, but by the adrenalin rush triggered by pressure.  While this looks great to the casual observer, the driven individual is becoming dependent upon adrenalin (the “fight or flight” hormone).  Unless interrupted at this point, there is the very real danger of adrenaline addition and adrenal fatigue.  NOTE:  both of these are physical, hormonal imbalances that affect the body and mind.

Draggin’—the physical fatigue from adrenalin overload results in weakened determination and self-control.  Diet and sleep habits begin to be affected. 

Losing It.—Physical and emotional fatigue are having an effect on the social aspects of life.  Anger, hypersensitivity, and complaining are constant companions when you have to be around others.  On the whole, it’s easier to stay away from everyone else.

Hitting the Wall—the body and mind are wearing down, resulting in aches and pains, outbursts of emotion, and forgetfulness.  The teacher who has “hit the wall” knows that she is no longer effective in the classroom, but can’t do anything about it—and frankly, doesn’t want to try.

Burned Out—Serious illnesses and accidents are common.  The teacher at this stage will often self-medicate or will stop taking necessary prescriptions.  The pervasive sense of uselessness, despair, and unworthiness leads to serious consideration of leaving the job, the profession, the family, or worse.

 

6.  Burnout is another name for depression.  TRUE.

It is my contention (and my experience) that when one reaches stage 5 of burnout as defined above, there is no distinction between it and depression.

 

7.  Time and place help to define both burnout and depression.  FALSE.

 

Various “experts” try to use duration or workplace setting to distinguish between these conditions, but their conclusions are contradictory and occasionally nonsensical.

John Rosales tells of a “Survive and Thrive” Mini-Sabbatical Intervention Program for suffering teachers.  The program begins with a retreat and “…After the first year, most [of the burned-out teachers] are back in their classrooms.”  Nicholas Provenzano assigns the most frequent burnouts to the end of the school year, lasting about two months.  Another writer (Douglas) contends if the symptoms are intense and last more than two weeks, then the sufferer has depression, not burnout.  Tim LaHaye describes how his own serious depression lasted only a few days.  He also documents the claim that the tendency toward depression increases over the years, and especially past age 50; Clandfield cites a study indicating that burnout is greater when the teachers are much younger.

As for the matter of location, Elias contends that “…Teacher burnout is most often an organizational problem….”  Leiter and Durup write that “…Burnout is primarily a social construct…” as opposed to the personal nature of depression; and that they illustrate by referring to how sufferers word their complaints:  teachers with burnout might say something to the effect that their job makes them feel sad, while those who are depressed express sadness without reference to the job.  Other writers (e.g. Brennfleck and Brennfleck) apparently believe strongly that burnout is specific to the job–suggesting that a primary solution to burnout is changing workplaces or even careers.  I have not encountered any professionals who have suggested that changing location would in any way help someone who is depressed.

 

8.  Depression is quicker and easier to treat than burnout.  FALSE.

“If the problem is depression, particularly of the endogenous type, effective relief may be only weeks away through appropriate medication.  Burnout may require many months or even years of adjustment for effective recovery.”  –Hart

My experience is that experts in depression may discount burnout (since, after all, it is not a mental illness) and assign quick and easy solutions for it.  Those who study burnout may, in their rush to differentiate it from depression, may make claims like the one above: depression may require medication, but burnout never does. [This is especially true in religious articles such as Bowman, Wiedis, Amimo, Vess, etc. etc.  I suspect there is an ulterior motive behind this phenomenon.] If, however, both conditions share the clinical cause of a hormonal imbalance, and both require physical, social, and emotional/psychological/spiritual treatment, then I do not see how one is easier to deal with than the other.

9.  Spiritual Christians will suffer depression, but not for long.  FALSE.

This denies the fact that true burnout and clinical depression are physical in cause and nature.  Many people wish to believe the statement, however, because their underlying belief is that

10.  Depression is the result of sin.  TRUE–AND FALSE.

Depression is a result of the sin of Adam, just like any other illness.  An individual’s depression may or may not be the result of sin in the life of the sufferer.

This is just my opinion based upon the appearance of the research, and my own personal experience:  but the feeling seems to be pervasive that though Christians can suffer burnout due to circumstances beyond their control truly spiritual people do not get depressed.  Here’s how Brennfleck and Brennfleck paint the picture:

 

You can’t get out of bed in the morning, and always feel tired no matter how much sleep you’ve had.  During the day, you feel unmotivated, bored, and perhaps depressed at work.  You feel overwhelmed and like you have lost control over things at work (and at home).  You have lost interest in the things that you used to find exciting.  You find yourself being more irritable or angry.  You are experiencing more physical aches, pains, headaches, stomach problems, or chest pains and find yourself sick more often than before.  When you are at home, you feel anxious, angry, and disconnected from your family members.  If several of these symptoms describe you, you likely are experiencing job burnout.

[Notice–not depression but burnout, though the description is textbook perfect for depression itself.]

 

Since my own struggles with mental illness began, I have spoken to numerous church groups and pastors’ meetings.  At every one, I have had Christian brothers and sisters confide in me that they too had struggled or were struggling with depression, but that they were afraid to tell anyone because “Spiritual Christians don’t get depressed.”  Every pastor has told me that mental illness is a genuine and serious problem among their members–yet they still hesitate to discuss the topic publicly–presumably because of the long-held prejudice that if believers would just trust and pray, they wouldn’t suffer from depression.  There is an ancient Greek word that expresses my reaction to that ignorant way of thinking:

 

Hogwash!

 

 

Works Cited

 

Amimo, Catherine A.  “Are You Experiencing Teacher Burnout?  A Synthesis of Research Reveals Conventional Prevention and Spiritual Healing.”  Education Research Journal. November 2012. <http://resjournals.com/ERJ/Pdf/ 2012/Nov/Amimo.pdf>.

 

 “An Antidote to Teacher Burnout:  Building the Learning Relationship.”  <http://straightpaths.typepad.com/straight_paths_through_cr/2013/02/an-antidote-to-teacher-burnout-building-the-learning-relationship.html>.

 

 “An Apple a Day:  Avoiding Teacher Burnout.” <http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/  Christian-Inspiration/2003/09/An-Apple-A-Day-Avoiding-Teacher-Burnout.aspx#>.

 

Bowman, Athlee.  “How to Manage Stress—Advice for Christian Women on

Managing Stress and Beating Burnout.”  Just Between Us. <http://justbetweenus. org/ pages/ page.asp?page_id=124173>.

 

Brennfleck, Kevin, and Brennfleck, Kay Marie.  “Are You Burned Out on Your Job?”  ChristianCareerCenter.com.  <http://www.christiancareercenter.com/advice-and-resources/career-and-calling-articles/burned-out-on-the-job>.

 

Clandfield, Lindsay.  “Debate:  Are You Suffering from Burnout?”  OneStopEnglish.  2013.  <www.onestopenglish.com/support/mehodology/debates/are-you-suffering-from-burnout>

 

“Depression or Burn-out?” Mental Health A-Z.  <www.douglas.qc.ca/info/depression-or-burn-out.>

 

Elias, Maurice.  “Teacher Burnout:  What Are the Warning Signs?”  Edutopia.  May 12, 2012. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-burnout-warning-signs-maurice-elias.>

 

Hanley, Jesse Lynn, M.D.  cited in “Five Ways to Bring Yourself Back from Burnout.”  Oprah.com.  November 2011.  <www.oprah.com/spirit/What-to-Do-When-Youre-Burned-Out-Consequences-of -Stress>

 

Hart, Archibald D.  “Depressed, Stressed and Burned out:  What’s Going on in My Life?”

Enrichment Journal.  2013.  ,<http://enrichmentjournal. ag.org/ 200603/ 200603_020_burnout.cfm>..

 

Kyriacou, C.  cited in “Coping with Teacher Burnout.”  Center for the Advancement of Mental Health Practices in Schools.  <http://www.schoolmentalhealth.org/

Resources/Educ/CAMHPS/Coping%20with%20teacher%20burnout.pdf>.

 

LaHaye, Tim.  How to Win Over Depression.  Revised Edition.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1996.

 

Leiter, Michael P., and Durup, Josette.  “The Discriminant Validity of Burnout and Depression:  A Confirmatory Factor Analytic Study.”  Anxiety, Stress and Coping.  1994.

 

Mesar, Tania.  “Teacher Burn Out—3 Crucial Strategies to Get Beyond It.”  Articlesbase.com.  <http://www.articlesbase.com/education-articles/teacher-burn-out-3-crucial-strategies-to-get-beyond-it-784190.html>.

 

Provenzano, Nicholas.  “Teacher Burnout:  Four Warning Signs.”  Teacher Leadership.  May 22, 2013.  <www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-burnout-four-warning-signs-nicholas-provenzano>

 

Rosales, John.  “Surviving Teacher Burnout.”  NEA Today.  June 7, 2011.  <neatoday.org/2011/06/07/surviving-teacher-burnout/>

 

Vess, Daniel R.  “Are You Suffering from Spiritual Burnout?”<http://www.forumterrace.

com/Questions/Burnout.html>.

 

Wiedis, Dave.  “Ten Rules to Avoid Ministry Burnout.” ChurchLeaders.com. <http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-how-to/150219-ten-rules-to-avoid-ministry-burnout.html>                                                                            

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Time Capsule 9/25/2012–Take a look a year later

I have often opined that newspapers should go back to being weekly, and that daily news coverage was a waste.  I know how ridiculous that sounds; but think of the time and energy we waste on headlines and stories that will turn out to be false or insignificant within hours, days, or weeks.  With that in mind, I’m going to do a little experiment:  from of number of the daily sources I waste my time on, I have gathered headlines to post here.  At a later date, I will come back to see which ones were worth paying attention to.  If nothing else, I hope this serves as a “snapshot” of where the news coverage is this morning.

So which stories are still newsworthy and being referenced a year later?

International Issues

  • Obama to urge UN to confront roots of Muslim rage
  • Obama to vow to keep nuclear weapons away from Iran in UN speech--still being referenced daily
  • “Israel will be eliminated…” –Ahmadinejad–his words live on beyond his presidency
  • Ahmadinejad:  capitalism causes homosexuality
  • Obama admits Libya assault “wasn’t just mob action”–the mainstream media buries this story, but it’s still vital
  • New SARS-like virus detected in the Middle East
  • America’s deadly double tap drone attacks are “killing 49 people for every known terrorist in Pakistan”

American Politics

  • 2012: Obama USDA offering women, Hispanic farmers over $1.3 billion in “discrimination” payouts
  • New voting laws may keep 10 million Hispanics away from the polls…and tip election to Romney
  • Unskewed polls show major surprise for Obama [Pro-Romney]
  • Obama sweep!  Now leads in all key states, even NC, Nevada, Colo.–We still hear about his mandate
  • Obama on the View:  I’m just “eye candy”
  • Obama to release 55 Gitmo inmates

Economy

  • Health premiums up $3,000; Obama vowed $2,5000 cut–actual numbers are still on the way
  • Young adults flock to parents’ homes as sour economy limits jobs
  • Dodgy WI-FI and a confused Siri:  flurry of faults bug first iPhone 5 users
  • Apple sold 5 million iPhone 5s, fewer than analysts predicted

NYS Politics

  • AG:  New plan will monitor NY government and school budgets
  • Fracking to be topic at Tea Party meeting
  • Cuomo:  No timetable on Health Department fracking review–a year later, and no change; but still in the news

Education

  • SAT reading scores lowest since 1972
  • Complaints mount against Michelle O’s new lunch menu–new stories document states dropping the program
  • Morning-after-pill to be available at 13 NYC high schools
  • New evaluations scare off teachers from taking interns
  • Kindergarteners to applaud “gay” history?–just this week the president praised homosexual ed to kindergarteners
  • Kids warned:  don’t bounce on trampolines

Miscellaneous

  • Replacement ref furor grows after wild Seattle win
  • Feds brace for historic stink bug outbreak
  • Vet school opens animal obesity clinic

I was seriously tempted to do two things as I compiled this list from 7 different sources this morning:  I wanted to expand or comment on many of them; and I really wanted to put the “stink bug outbreak” under the US Politics heading.  But I was good.

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Common Core

3389124067_9b70b6254dcommon core (n.):  discarded remnant of the fruit both Adam and Eve ate from.

The US in general and NYS in particular have gone whole hog over the unpalatable slop they call “common core”.  Please bear with me as I share why I would prefer to discard it rather than feed off it.

Philosophically, pedagogically, and theologically it is wrong to make the assumption that every student in the state or nation should learn exactly the same things in exactly the same way to exactly the same standard.  While we are created equal in God’s eyes and should be viewed equal in the eyes of the law, each person is an individual.  Students learn by different methods at different paces and for different purposes.  The parents and the classroom teachers are the best judges of what each child needs to know and how well he or she can learn it at any given time.  When all the posturing is removed, it is clearly outrageous to think that bureaucrats in an office in Washington, D.C. can write a test that can measure the degree of a student’s equality with all others nationwide.  It is more outrageous to think that a free government with a free economy that promotes the freedom to excel would want to do so.  The latest test scores in New York underscore my contention:  only about a third of students tested could measure up to the standard of educational equality defined by the educrats; and ultimately teachers and schools will be penalized unless they get their cookie cutters working more efficiently.

I firmly believe with E.D. Hirsch that a common base of knowledge allows us to communicate as citizens and neighbors; and cultural literacy is based upon shared awareness of facts and concepts.  However, in a diverse society, we do not penalize those who emphasize one facet of our national culture over another.  Once upon a time, most major colleges required, for example, familiarity with literature such as Ivanhoe in order to qualify for admission.  Those colleges did not assume, however, that everyone was college bound.  When I was in school, we had the Regents diploma/college preparatory track, the local diploma track, and the vocational/technical track from which it was tacitly assumed that some would go into the workforce without any diploma whatever.  We all had basic English and arithmetic instruction, but the expectation was that not all students needed, wanted, or could succeed at the same “common core” of learning.

Finding a national common core in the humanities, language arts, or social sciences is an exercise in futility.  However, it seems to me that the skill-based discipline of arithmetic could lend itself to a standard field of learning.  Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals, fractions, and knowing when to use each process could and should be taught uniformly to all students through grade 8 (with the understanding that some students do not have the aptitude to master the skills by that arbitrary deadline).  What else could arithmetic focus on at that level?  Algebra and geometry have generally not been introduced yet; and so if any subject in any grade could lend itself to “common core” testing, it should be 8th-grade math.  And yet two-thirds of those taking the 8th-grade math test failed.

Either the arithmetic teachers are not teaching arithmetic, or the exam is not testing arithmetic.  With the scores so uniformly abysmal, I have to conclude that the test is rotten to the core.  And if the educational experts cannot test such an objective discipline as arithmetic, how can they possibly test the much more subjective fields of reading and language arts?

I occasionally will spend my money on a beautiful, nutritious apple; but I have never willingly paid for the core.  The worth is negligible, and the cost is unimaginably high.

Just ask Adam and Eve.

 

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What Is a Christian Nation?

In a recent commentary reprinted in the Press&Sun-Bulletin, Charles C. Haynes referred to the “myth” that the US has been a Christian nation.  While I agree with him that the Constitution itself did not make our nation “Christian”, I must point out a couple of serious flaws in his argument.

Mr. Haynes contends that a necessary condition for a Christian nation would be that political power must be limited to people of one faith (and implied by his comments about the diversity among Protestants, people of one denomination).  While his narrow definition could apply to a theocracy–a Christian government, if you please–a nation consists of far more than government.  Our culture, heritage, legal system, music, literature, and even our societal structure could define us as a Christian nation, while the government is built on the Christian principal of religious freedom.

Our nation was not founded on the Constitution; it was founded on the Declaration of Independence, which clearly  stated that our rights come from our Creator.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court recognized in 1892 that”…we are a Christian nation…” and in 1931 that “We are a Christian people….”

The “propaganda” of a Christian nation is working because it is an accurate historical portrayal of our people.

Notice I wrote “historical portrayal”.  Personally, I’m convinced that little in our culture today could be used in a court of law as proof that we are still a Christian nation.  Let us determine to be Christian individuals in Christian families attending Christian churches–and see how much impact we can have on our culture between now and the rapture.

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Federalism 101

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  –US Constitution, Amendment 10.
Those who know me well or who have been in my Government class know that I value Amendment 10 as highly as #1 or #2.  Unfortunately, most folks today seem content to let the national government take more and more power from the states and the people.  This erosion of local and state liberties has had and will continue to have increasingly more devastating effects as the economy grows more desperate.
This morning’s paper reports that the state of NY is not going to help rebuild damage from recent summer flooding in nearby counties.  The governor’s reasoning is telling:
“If we have additional emergencies, we have to handle them on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “This is not historically a state responsibility. It is a federal responsibility, so our main expenditures … when the state has to pay this, is an unusual circumstance and we have to work very hard to find the funding.”
When we give Uncle Sam the power to rule in state matters, it is only a matter of time until we view him as responsible in state matters.  As a result, we whine and complain when he doesn’t come through and we realize that we have not made the preparations to enable us to care for our own.
Believe me–I understand that this issue is far more complex than I have presented here.  My point this morning is that when we let someone else take over our own responsibilities, ultimately we run the risk of developing a victim mentality when Big Brother doesn’t come through.
Be responsible.  Be a victor, not a victim.

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The Teacher is the Key

A recent article in the LA Times cited a survey from California in which 59% of respondents said that increasing the number of online courses would make college education more accessible and affordable.

Well, duh.

Eliminate the teacher and the classroom, and you eliminate most of the cost; make the course available 24/7 on any computer, and it is more convenient for many who work or are otherwise unable to attend classes during normal hours.  Accessible?  Mostly.  Affordable?  Mostly.  Successful? 

Hardly.

Another story reported in the LA Times this week points out what any good teacher could have predicted:  most students do not complete and pass the courses.  Some classes have a drop-out rate as high as 90%.  Many of the classes offered online are remedial in nature, and

Educators elsewhere have said the purely online courses aren’t a good fit for remedial students who may lack the self-discipline, motivation and even technical savvy to pass the classes. They say these students may benefit from more one-on-one attention from instructors.

The teacher is the key.  The textbook, curriculum, or computer program is a less important factor for student success than the instructor.  Location, social/economic background, and past performance are less important than the teacher.  A good teacher can provide the discipline, motivation, and even technical savvy to help the vast majority of students to complete and even pass the course.

So is California considering adding more qualified teachers to overcome the failures of its online program?

Of course not.  They are proposing to add another round of courses–orientation to teach students how to take online courses.  And from the sounds of it, some of those West Coast students need some orientation:

Fewer than half of the [online course] students were enrolled in San Jose State; many were high school students from low-income communities.  A large group were enrolled in the Oakland Military Institute, a college prep academy. Many of them didn’t have access to a computer — a fact that course mentors didn’t learn about until three weeks into the semester…

So the students in a college prep academy didn’t know that they needed a computer to take an online course?  A good teacher could have fixed that misunderstanding in a heartbeat; I guess the hearts of online course monitors beat a little more slowly.

Please note:  the Oakland Military Academy is a highly-regarded charter school in California.  The school should not be judged because of a group of students who foolishly signed up for something not appropriate for them.

And By the Way:  this topic has direct correlation to the situation in our churches today.  From my observation, it seems that more and more people are choosing a do-it-yourself type of Christianity where the pastor, Sunday school teacher, and local congregation play no part.  Not only are they missing out on a key factor in Biblical learning, but they can’t even blame it on accessibility or affordability.

Sadly, I expect that this post-Christian Christianity will have a high drop-out rate, and an even higher failure rate.

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Comic Book Heroes

I admit it.  When I was growing up, I was a comic book junkie.  Comic books were the video games of my generation.  They could keep us occupied for hours (especially the boys) and, for better or worse, they helped shape our characters and perceptions of our world.

I do have a point, so stick with me to the end; but first let me walk down memory lane and share some of my favorite comics and characters and some lessons I learned from them.

Harvey comics:  some of my earliest favorites were Hot Stuff, Spooky, and Baby Huey.  Nobody ever told me that I was opening myself to demonic possession by reading about these cute supernatural “Sad Sacks” or their grumpy attitudes.  I maintain that my love for puns was derived from Hot Stuff, who would regularly visit places like “Clockville” where each inhabitant was some play on words involving time or timepieces.

Dell comics:  Who could help but admire Tarzan or the Phantom?  If I’m not mistaken, the Disney comics were also published by Dell.  In any case, I loved Donald Duck, his Uncle Scrooge, and especially Gyro Gearloose, the inventor.  More grumpy attitudes, but also spirits of adventure, individuality, and learning from our mistakes.

Gilbert comics:  The Classics Illustrated series.  My introduction to the great stories of the world–a stepping stone to my becoming an English teacher.  Twice I tried to collect the entire series; today I have the complete set reproduced on DVD.  I still go back and read them.

Archie comics:  though I would read them all, I was bored by the romantic competitions and themes.  I much preferred the “Little Archies” (does anyone remember them?) which presented the characters at a younger age before hormones or dating ever became an issue.

Marvel comics:  I never got into the universe of Marvel superheroes.  Their realism and more human portrayal left me a bit confused and bored.  However, this publisher put out a series of cowboy comics, such as “Kid Colt”–today they would be politically incorrect, but back then, these western comics presented characters who joined Roy Rogers, Matt Dillon, and the Rifleman among the pantheon of my truly American heroes.

DC comics:  And here I get to my point.  While I read Superman, Batman, the Flash, and Elongated Man, they were merely harmless entertainment.  I never was tempted to put on a cape.  I enjoyed Robin’s naivete and Superman’s playful streak–and I really like “Bizarro Superman” who did everything backwards, and ultimately failed at each endeavor.  But my very favorites, especially as I entered my teen years, were the war stories.

It was during the Viet Nam War, and other Americans may have become jaded or ambivalent about what our “boys” were doing on the battlefield; but Sgt Rock and I knew the importance of fighting for freedom and justice, and against an evil enemy.  The Unknown Soldier reminded me of the impact that one man can make if he’s not looking for glory.  The Haunted Tank united north and south as they fought in a Stuart tank, and the various regiments and battalions were fully integrated racially and ethnically.  The USA was the good guy, and the Germans, Italians, and Japanese were the bad guys as they fought WWII again in each new issue.  When I read these military comics, I was proud to be an American.

As far as I can tell, virtually all the war comics stopped publication in the 1980’s.  I’m sure that today they would be too violent (killing bad guys, and the occasional sacrifice of a heroic figure) and too “hackneyed” and patriotic.  Just as Superman no longer fights to defend “…truth, justice, and the American way…”  Sgt Rock would be out of place except in a VFW or NRA meeting.  And in my opinion, it’s too bad.  Our young people could use some brave and strong American heroes today–even if they had their origin in comic books.

If we could get the guys to put down the video games long enough to read them.

Sgt_Rock_367

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The Diary of a Little Too Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank has been a popular book for many years, especially for young teen girls.  Ms. Frank’s descriptions of her experiences with the horrors of war are an important historical account that resonates with young people.  Schools have been allowing or assigning its use in the classroom for years.

Occasionally there have been complaints about a “coming of age” passage in the book, but generally it has been considered worthwhile reading.  Until now.

Apparently, an unedited “definitive” edition has been published and specified as required reading for at least one Michigan school district.  Among the extra material included in this newer edition is a graphic description of Anne’s “…discovery of her genitals,” her emerging sexual desires, and her portrayal of her mother and other people living together.  According to a news article, one mom has called it “pornographic” after her uncomfortable seventh grader showed her the passages.  The mom is seeking to have the unedited version banned from the school.

In a telling comment on our society, almost none of the other students noticed or cared about the content.

My real problem is not with the merits of the case; but I don’t like how it has been reported.  The “news” article ended with a blatantly editorial opinion:

Meanwhile, parents in Virginia’s Fairfax County lobby to remove Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Beloved” from high school curricula*. Add Horalek’s aversion to Anne Frank’s diary on top of that and it’s almost like parents don’t want their children confronting the more uncomfortable parts of history.

That’s right:  take a stand for morality, and you will be accused of being an ignorant bigot unwilling to face the reality of history.

Let me close with this analogy to draw the distinction that the reporter seems unwilling to recognize:  I have no objection to students learning about Henry VIII beheading some of his wives; but I don’t want them reading detailed accounts of his honeymoons.  Both are aspects of historical reality, but only one meets a standard of decency that needs to be revived in our schools and in our culture.


 

*Here is what one blogger wrote with regard to Beloved.  Notice the same disdain for morality displayed in the news article.  Warning! Even the summary here is more offensive than young people need to be exposed to.

Beloved contains incest, rape, pedophilia, graphic sex, extreme violence, sexual abuse, physical/emotional abuse, infanticide, and an extensive amount of profanity. The first two chapters contain five references to sex with cows in addition to other types of sex.
They cite violence and sex, but I suspect the real reason behind continuing challenges to Beloved is that it confronts us with our sins.

By the way, the same blogger whose writing was presented as news in the main article above, previously wrote about the controversy over Beloved.  The headline says it all:

Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ is simplistic pornography, say two Michigan parents who don’t appear to be very smart  BY Alexander Nazaryan

Nuff said.

 

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School Issues

Just a couple of random thoughts about the politicizing of our schools today:

Was anyone else angered by the President’s speech at the Teacher of the Year ceremony?  It wasn’t enough to recognize the outstanding achievements of this dedicated educator, or to thank faithful teachers everywhere–POTUS had to give special attention to the teacher at Newtown, CT.  They weren’t there, and the event was not about them, but it gave the politician-in-chief another chance to lobby for gun control.  Mr. President, there is a time and a place, and this wasn’t it.

Also,

It seems to me that we punish our students more quickly for their t-shirts and their toys than we do real criminals with genuine weapons.  Today’s “no tolerance” policies get kids suspended (or even arrested) for harmless acts, without any consideration for their motives.  For criminals like the Boston bombers we agonize over their reasons for their deadly acts, as if the reasons made a difference.  Until scientific studies demonstrate that children who play innocently with toy guns grow up to be mass murderers, I say leave them alone.  It’s the intentional killers who should be suspended, if you get my drift….

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Effort vs. Achievement

There’s a story in the news today about a 106-year-old Ohio woman who has been given her high school diploma, even though she did not fulfill the requirements for graduation.  Years back, she refused to do the final required assignment–to read a book–in order to pass English and have the credits she needed to graduate.  She claims to have said that she had read the book in the past, and no one was going to make her read it again if she didn’t want to.  The teacher, supported by the school, upheld state educational law and denied her credit for the class, meaning that she did not meet the standards to graduate.  Now they have had a change of heart and have reversed their decision because…well, I guess just because she’s old.  This is just another example of the disregard that our society has for achievement.

Several years ago I conducted a survey of students in our high school in order to determine how they viewed the importance of achievement versus other factors such as effort or fairness.  I proposed a theoretical situation where the PE teacher was testing students on their ability to do chin-ups (today called pull-ups in order to accommodate, I assume, people who have no chins).  The majority response was that a student who attempted a chin-up should not only pass the test, but get the same grade as a student who performed one or more of the exercises.  Furthermore, a smaller majority answered the survey by saying that even a person who would not attempt a chin-up (for any reason whatsoever) should pass the test, though with a lower grade than one who tried or accomplished the task.

Understanding that many non-athletic students do not believe that physical requirements should be tested or used to determine a student’s grade, I changed the questions, and targeted an English assignment.  Once again, the students said that anyone who attempted a term paper, even if they didn’t finish the assignment or meet the requirement should get a passing grade.  Only the student who did nothing and turned in nothing should get a failing grade–but even that grade should be high enough that it would not have a significant impact on the student’s overall grade for the term.

In essence, my students believed that anyone who attend school should pass every class, even if they do not actively participate; and anyone who tries the work should get grades equal to those who succeed in completing the work as required.  Effort, intent, fairness, and perhaps other factors were held to be as important as achievement.  In the case of this elderly woman, the teachers and administration today apparently felt that it was unfair to deny her a diploma any longer, out of deference to her longevity alone. 

On a spiritual note, God does not judge us on our intentions, efforts, or our expectation of fairness toward us.  He will never say, “Welcome, sort-of-good, kind-of-faithful person; I’ll let you into my Heaven because you tried to keep my commandments.”  Christ does not reward us for the wood, hay, or stubble that we build into the house of our spiritual life–Christian behavior is judged by what remains of the story of our life after He burns away all the unworthy parts.  We will give account for what we have done (not just tried) for Him.

[If we were judged based on our efforts, that would mean that salvation is something that we could earn if we tried, and God would owe us credit for anything we try or intend to do to please Him.  On the contrary, salvation itself is based on Jesus Christ’s achievement by laying down His life a sacrificial offering for our sins.  Our part in His salvation–our ticket to eternal life and heavenly blessings is based on the completed adoption process achieved when we surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives.  By the way, I don’t know of any place in the Bible where God assigned a believer to do a task for Him, and then He didn’t give them the power, wisdom, and direction to meet the goal.  When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, our salvation is already a done deal; but we will lose reward when we have failed in the assignments He has given us.]

Which takes me back to a bumper sticker I used to have:  “God doesn’t grade on a curve.”  While He may choose to show us mercy and grace while we walk this earth, the day is coming when the grade He gives will be Pass or Fail–and I surely don’t want to fail.  A big red “F” on that final report card is a guaranteed ticket to a place that starts with a big red “H”, if you know what I mean.  That’s why I accepted as a teenager the eternal grace of Christ’s completed work which was accomplished when He died on the cross.  And that’s when He wrote my name in the Lamb’s Honor Roll of Life, never to be crossed out.

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Interesting quote

clarence darrow pleaded for the life of leopold and loeb.  he said:

why did they kill little bobby franks?
not for money.
not for hate.
they killed him
because somewhere
in the infinite processes
which go into the the making of the boy or the man
something slipped.

something has slipped

not only in chicago.

something has slipped in towns everywhere across america,

in maine and in kansas,

in oregon and indiana and vermont,

something has slipped and as a result

we are all

sliding

back toward the dark ages.

–Karen Hesse, Witness, 2001.

 

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Gun Control, Public Safety, and Reality

The President says we cannot tolerate this kind of gun violence any more.

Has he been tolerating it?  I haven’t–THERE IS SIMPLY NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT.

Wickedness, evil, murders and madness.  They have always been with us, and they will always be with us.  Even in Christ’s peaceful 1,000-year reign on earth, there will be criminals who are punished and executed.  So what makes us think we can stop them?

In reality, gun violence and mass murders have DECREASED over the last few decades (the peak was in the 1920’s).  Why do they seem so much worse today?  Wall-to-wall media coverage.

Why was so much false information broadcast on Friday?  Because the media were trying to fill hours of continuous broadcasts to keep viewers from changing the channel.  They reported everything that came their way–right, wrong, or ridiculous.

Gun control is NOT going to solve the problem.  Connecticut has one of the nation’s strictest gun laws; see what happened.  Countries like Ecuador where guns are completely banned have crime rates through the roof.  China has rigid gun restrictions; last week several school children were injured in a knife attack.  America’s worst school violence was not at Virginia Tech or Columbine–it was in 1927 when 3 bombs were used to attack a school.  Oklahoma city and the first World Trade Center attacks were carried out with bombs; 9-11 was perpetrated with box cutters and airplanes.

By the way:  how did the government respond to the dangers revealed by the 9-11 attacks?  By putting more armed security on duty at airports and even on the planes.

One reporter last night said that attempts at gun control would be “complicated” by the second amendment to the Constitution.  Here’s my opinion:  anytime the Constitution is complicating or preventing the action you want to carry out, YOU ARE PURSUING THE WRONG POLICIES.

Can schools be safer?  The schools with which I have been associated have all had similar safety plans to those in place in Connecticut.  That school did everything right, and 26 people died.  What more could they have done?  One historical episode gives me a clue.  Remember a few years back when a gunman tried to get into the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.?  The armed guard inside the door kept the madness from getting any farther than the foyer.

I am actually in favor of limited gun control, to the extent that I don’t see any reason that any citizen needs to have an assault rifle–even for protection.  Ban those like we ban hand grenades, bazookas, ground-to-air missiles, etc.  But beyond that, nothing else is reasonable, possible, or wise.  Are we really going to shut down all the gun shops and sporting goods stores?  Are we going to go door-to-door and confiscate every legal weapon?  (And gun registration is just the means to prepare for gun confiscation.)

The second amendment was written so that people could protect their homes and families–not only from predators, but from overreaching and tyrannical government.  We must not let the sensationalistic media (let’s call it what it is:  today’s yellow journalism) delude the ignorant masses into thinking that the government can solve their problems if we give Big Brother the right to abandon the Constitution. 

We all grieve for the families affected by the recent tragedies–but in reality, the only positive step that schools could take to make their institutions safer would be to put armed guards at the doors.  And by the way–don’t ask the federal government to help fund this one practical and effective measure; THE CURRENT ADMINISTRATION HAS QUIETLY ELIMINATED FUNDING FOR SCHOOL SAFETY INITIATIVES FROM THE FEDERAL BUDGET OVER THE PAST 4 YEARS.

I don’t like being a fatalist, but here’s my closing thought:  the most effective measures to decrease violent crimes in America are to enable an economy that creates real jobs, and to teach our children to love God, respect authority, and recognize their place in society.  But I don’t see either of those things happening any time soon.

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An Inconvenient Truth, a Good Testimony

Last night I attended a lecture at the Binghamton Public Library on the topic of Joseph Brant, notorious Mohawk leader.  The speaker was “Buzz” Hesse, who has done a lot of research and archeology on the area, especially regarding prehistory in the upper Susquehanna Basin.  Right from the start he was “politically incorrect”.

Here is a man who discovered and excavated the Iroquois site at Unadilla; who uncovered 4 original letters written by Joseph Brant (one describing the Cherry Valley massacre, one written from Unadilla, and one written from Onaquaga [Windsor]); and who owns the only cannon ever recovered from the Clinton/Sullivan campaign down the Susquehanna. 

Here is a man who gives all the credit to God.

He prefaced his remarks by saying that the things he has been able to do could not be done by a normal person under normal circumstances; and that he is certain that whatever success he has achieved has resulted from God’s blessings.  (The full house sat in tolerant but uncomfortable silence at this declaration.)

He went on to illustrate his point.  As a teen he had discovered half a trade bead on the Sidney side of the river; some 20 years later, at the village site he unearthed across the river, he found the other half of the same bead and recognized it.  He was able to join the two halves (which matched perfectly) and had it photographed and on display.  The odds of that happening are incalculable; it clearly showed the grace of God bestowed on this man’s work.

When he discovered the Unadilla site, it was about to be developed for construction of a new building; he had 4 days to excavate, map, and recover artifacts; then the bulldozers came in.  If he had been one week later, the site would have been lost forever.

Mr. Hesse also pointed out a little-known aspect of Joseph Brant’s character.  This fierce warrior killed dozens (if not hundreds) in battle, but protested the slaughter of women, children, and the elderly; and when he retired from life on the battlefield, he translated and published the Book of Mark in the Mohawk tongue, so that his people could have the Gospel in their own language.  He, too, gave the credit to God.

God does not seem to fit into the modern presentation of history; but He did last night.  It wasn’t a church service, but it was a clear testimony.  Thank you, Mr. Hesse.

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