Education

Close Your Eyes, Full Speed Ahead

I get so sick of political correctness.  The Bible teaches us to be kind, and to treat others as they would like to be treated; but when people demand to be treated in an unreasonable way, that’s a problem.  When so-called authorities who aren’t even in the game demand that we treat others in an unreasonable way, that’s idiocy.

My daughter sent me this link to an article involving the US State Department, and its latest directive from its “Chief Diversity Officer”.  He claims that phrases like “hold down the fort,” “rule of thumb,” “handicap,” and “going Dutch” are offensive racial or ethnic slurs that must be avoided.  He identifies their victims as Native Americans, abused women, people with abilities impaired, and people from Holland.  There are two problems here:  since when did the State Department become the language police?; and where on earth did this guy get his information?

As an English teacher, I have a library of books on the origins of words, phrases, and expressions.  There is no doubt in any of my sources that the term “going Dutch” was a British insult based upon the stereotypical reputation of the stinginess of the Dutch people.  It hasn’t meant that in America for decades, but okay–I can avoid that expression on principle.  But there is also unanimous agreement that “holding the fort” [its original form] dates to 1864, when Gen. Sherman commanded his troops to watch out for the Confederate army.  It has nothing at all to do with frontiersmen or Native Americans.

(On a related note:  if Native Americans were to attack a fort in a savage attempt to slaughter its inhabitants, would it be ethnically insensitive to consider them bad guys, and to make up and repeat a historically accurate expression reflecting their evil intent?  The Creek Indians were known for their attacks on settlers; must we whitewash or ignore history and eliminate from our language the expression, “I’ll be there, Good Lord willing, and the Creek don’t rise”?  For that saying has nothing to do with a babbling brook and everything to do with murderous tribesmen.  Do we have to apologize to the Creeks every time we refer to their bloody past?  If so, then I guess I deserve an apology every time anyone refers to my ancestors as “William the Bastard” or “wicked King John”.  I won’t even mention King Louis the Fat.)

“Rule of thumb” has nothing to do with some obscure antique law from some unnamed land (that apparently spoke some form of English), and instead dates back 8 centuries to when builders would use the distance between the knuckle and the end of the thumb as a rough approximation of an inch–using the thumb as a ruler.  “Handicap” has nothing to do with crippled people begging; it refers to a gambling game that lent its name to gambling on horses and the practice of weighing down or impeding a fast horse in order to make a race fair.

I guess it’s wishful thinking to expect our State Department to focus on things like Iraq, Syria, and Israel instead of fabricated word origins.  But as long as I’m on a rant, let me share three examples of my own “political correctness” that I think everyone needs to rally around:

  • The genius of our Founders in the writing of the US Constitution.  Every American ought to be insulted and say so when some politician, academic, or reporter denigrates the wisdom of their original intent;
  • The status of the Jews as God’s chosen people.  For centuries, society and history have criticized the Jews (primarily because of their successes and blessings); and today’s one-world emphasis considers them an impediment to justice for Arab Palestinians.  Remember:  it was God Himself Who said of the Jews, “I will bless him that blesses them, and curse him that curses them…”;
  • The name of God Himself.  We should not be shy about reminding people that the King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords deserves to be addressed with respect, reverence, and obedience.

And my sources are unimpeachable.  I guess I’ll never be qualified to work for the State Department. 

 

 

 

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Wrong on (Almost) Every Level

I’ll let you read the article for yourself.  I wonder who turned this story in to the media, and why the reporter thought it was newsworthy.  Did the journalist think the student, the school, and the author were right or wrong?  Here’s my grading scale:

  • The school assigning the book:  WRONG
  • The student wanting the advantage without reading the book:  WRONG
  • The student making outrageous excuses to get out of work:  WRONG
  • The author motivating the student with sex, drugs, and profanity:  WRONG
  • The author telling the student to do her  own work:  RIGHT
  • Overall grade: 20% (F)

I wonder what the story would have been if a committed Christian had gone on line protesting the book assignment as a violation of God’s standards and her personal spiritual convictions.  Would she have been portrayed as a bigot rather than as a lazy teen; or would the story even have been acknowledged?

Hold on, Christians–I’m afraid the ride is just going to get bumpier before we get to the streets of gold!

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Classrooms and Cash

One of the most tragic books ever written is The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart.  A fictionalized autobiography, the book traces Stuart’s real-life progress from teaching in a one-room schoolhouse to being superintendent of a large school district, with an ongoing theme:  how closely education is tied to finances and politics.  It ends when Stuart has to leave education and become a sheep farmer in order to afford to get married.

In this age of high-powered teacher unions, many forget the image of the underpaid teacher.  (HINT:  look at private schools and see 30-year veterans making less than $20,000/year.)  But the link between education and finances is still very real.  We see it every day in the calls for more cash for classrooms–more state lotteries to benefit schools, more government programs, the need for more technology and improved facilities, increasing property taxes even in the face of declining property values–and the list goes on and on.

But one of the least-understood aspects of the educational/financial relationship involves student loans.  While other debts can be forgiven in bankruptcy, student loans cannot; and when those loans are federally-guaranteed, the consequences of nonpayment can be dramatic–including the reduction of Social Security retirement benefits.  (See the article here for details.)

Once upon a time, a student could work his way through school; not any more.  Not long ago, families understood that while college was a good thing, it was not necessarily an affordable option, so the young people entered the work force instead of racking up thousands in debt.  Before school loans were guaranteed, banks had the choice of denying payouts to those with little likelihood to repay.  The time was when a student graduated in four years and could pay off any school loans in roughly the same amount of time; neither of those timetables are the norm any more.

And, not so long ago in a land not so far away, parents and grandparents who cosigned loans for their loved ones saw to it that the loans got paid.  Apparently, when the going got tough, a lot of people mortgaged their Social Security–and now the tax man has arrived to take possession. 

Don’t feel sorry for the colleges, though.  They got their money.  On time.  Every time.  And still they raise tuition at a rate more than double the rate of inflation.  Go figure.

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E-books and the Future of Literature

Last week it was announced that, for the first time ever, more fiction novels were sold in e-book form than in hardcover.  That’s a scary thing for purists who like the feel of paper in their hands, and worry about all that will be lost if technology either degenerates in some electronic holocaust or progresses to the point that it leaves today’s e-books obsolete. 

I sympathize with the traditionalists.  I love my Nook, but it lacks the advantages of my physical library.  I can’t pull a book off the shelf and lend it to my wife or son or a student, and share with them the magic of an author’s inspired words.  Yes, there is a “Lend” feature, but my wife’s Kindle isn’t on speaking terms with my Nook.

But there is one advantage to e-books that I appreciate and hope to use to my own advantage:  the rebirth of the short story.

Print media in our age had all but abandoned the short story.  True, there were annual “Best of…” anthologies, but who read them?  The traditional outlets–newspapers and magazines–had either gone out of business or had severely limited the stories they published (and of course they preferred established writers whose names on a cover could stir up a handful of additional sales.  Textbooks tried to choose and include modern short stories, but they preferred the avant-garde, the politically correct, and (again) the known authors rather than allow popularity, reprint history, and longevity to determine what was literature worthy to be read.  But e-readers have changed that.

I have read more short stories in the past year and a half than I had in the preceding 20 years.  I’m cheap, so I troll the “Nook Book Deals” for free or low-cost titles that interest me, and I have discovered a world of hopeful writers, and a handful of really good ones.  I have encountered everything from “Flash Fiction” to character sketches to novellas and novelettes that I never would have seen had my wife never given me my Nook.  (Caveat:  there is a LOT of trash out there, so be discerning in what you download!)  And it gives me hope as an aspiring writer.

Regular visitors to this site know that nearly every Friday I post a short story or character sketch inspired by people I met in the hospital.  My goal, if I am up to it, is to write 20 or 25 of these little vignettes, and then arrange and publish them in electronic form.  I won’t have to find a publisher or spend a lot of money on printing and binding; the advent of e-books has made self-publishing feasible and affordable even for someone with such a skimpy writing resume as mine.  And while they will never substitute for my primary income, I can give a few away stories to build interest, and then charge a reasonable fee for the collection to reward my effort.

If you should wonder why I am weekly giving away a story that I may hope one day to sell, fear not; for every story that I post here, there is another in the file waiting to go into the book.  As I am growing healthier, I have progressed from one story per week, to two, to three–and one day, maybe, I can write every day.  It takes me about two hours to write a story in longhand on a yellow legal pad, and then another three or four to edit, revise, rewrite, type, and proofread it.  I never type or revise a story the same day I write it–I let it age for a couple of days (or more) so that I can approach it with a fresh eye.  I have discovered an interesting phenomenon:  for whatever reason, after two or three days I often do not remember writing the words on the paper in front of me, so I can approach them more critically and objectively.  And, yes, I frequently do research to supplement my knowledge of a specific condition or treatment; and I sometimes pass my work along to medical professionals for their input regarding the accuracy of the writing and the ethical considerations of writing about medical patients.

Let me encourage Chris, and Lora, and Kim, and Marina, and Gaileen, and Amy, and Steve, and Ken, and all the other former students and associates who were aspiring writers–the time is now.  There is no excuse.  You are the future of literature, and the e-book is your medium. 

Update:  The first story–a new one–is now available for free at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/208433.  Pending review, it will go to distributors like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  In the meantime, even if you don’t have an e-reader, you can download it as a PDF file and read it on your PC.  In the first 12 hours, without any publicity, it was downloaded 34 times; won’t you make it 35?

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Shielding Children vs Exposure and Instruction: A Study

As an educator in private Christian schools, I got it from both sides:

  • Proponents of government schooling claimed that our students were too sheltered; and
  • Proponents of home schooling claimed that our students were too exposed to social influences.

Now a study has been released with an interesting take on the issue.  Admittedly, the survey group is small, and the article does not provide enough information on which to base definitive conclusions; but what has come out is fascinating and potentially instructive.

Six- to nine-year-old girls were given a variety of dolls and told to pick the ones that they liked the most, or which represented what they wanted to be, or would be considered the most popular.  No surprise–about 70% chose the sexualized doll dressed in tight and revealing clothing as what they wanted to look like, and what they thought would be the most popular.

Here’s the interesting part:  the researchers divided the children on the basis of whether or not their mothers were religious.  Some of the children of religious mothers were less likely to choose the sexualized dolls, while others overwhelmingly did choose them.  The difference?  Exposure to media.

Daughters (of religious mothers) who were exposed to “…a lot of media” were less likely to choose the sexy doll;  similar daughters who were not exposed to media “overwhelmingly” chose the worldly image The conclusion of the researchers? 

The study also found that girls who consumed a lot of media but had religious mothers were less likely to choose the sexy doll, likely because their mothers held more conservative values such as modesty, the publication reported. But girls with religious mothers who did not consume a lot of media overwhelmingly did choose the sexy doll, in what the authors called a case of “forbidden fruit” that the girls idealized due to a lack of exposure to it, LiveScience reported.

It would seem from this study that children who were aware of the evil and were inoculated against it by proper biblical teaching turned out better than those who received the teaching alone without the context of the exposure.

So should we let out kids wallow in the muck of media licentiousness so that we can teach them more effectively?  Certainly not.  The study did not follow these pre-adolescent girls into their teen years or adulthood to find out how these childhood perceptions affected later thinking or behavior;  and another study showed that exposure to sexual media in the teen years had dramatic negative effects on attitude and behavior (potentially undermining any previously established convictions to the contrary).

My conclusion?  We should teach our children to be in the world but not of the world while they still admire and listen to their parents; and we should keep our teens busy and shielded through those years when they seem to be least receptive to parental instruction.

What was the most revealing conclusion of the first study?  Baptists, close your ears!  Girls who were in dance classes were LEAST likely to choose the sexualized dolls, perhaps because of healthier and more realistic perceptions of body image.

Parents, we have a hard enough job to do without losing our kids in their pre-teen years.  Wisdom says we should follow His Word and knowledge; and if the information in this blog causes you to stop and think about your parenting strategies, then my job is done.  For now.

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Tattoos

I have always had a thing for tattoos.  When I was a child, one of my favorite cartoon characters (Popeye) had one; a cousin in the navy had one; and my uncle had one (a snorting bull under which he later added the word “wife”.)  Some of the artwork and colors used today are extraordinary.  I don’t have any tattoos myself, but last year I considered getting one of those temporary ones on the boardwalk–but I couldn’t find an anchor like Popeye’s.

At the same time, I have always viewed tattoos as a matter of taste.  Robert Ripley and Ray Bradbury both presented overly-painted individuals as freakish; and my masculine associations with tattoos leave me confused when I see women all tatted up.  A lady with a small heart, or butterfly, or cross in an out-of the way place doesn’t send off any alarms; but a woman with tattoos all over her arms or her neck reminds me of an attractive postage stamp with a heavy postmark stamped across it.

Don’t get me wrong:  I defend anyone’s rights to tattoo anything anywhere.  If I don’t like it, that’s my preference, but I refuse to condemn anyone for their personal choice in the matter. 

At the same time, before the next generation gets the full Sherwin Williams treatment, they ought to be aware of a few caveats.

 

  • The Bible clearly told the Jews not to get any tattoos (Lev. 19:28).  There must have been a reason, and if that constitutes a general spiritual principle, we ought to consider it as we make our decisions.
  • Even with modern technology, tattoos should still be considered permanent.  Everyone I have known who got a bad tattoo ended up getting it covered by an even bigger one, rather than having it removed.
  • As popular as tattoos have gotten, they still have strong associations with prisons, rebellion, and gangs.

Which brings me to the inspiration for today’s cautionary tale.

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal details the difficulties faced by some immigrants trying to live down their tattoos in order to get ahead in the US.  Actions, even long past actions, have lasting consequences.

Isn’t it just the same in our Christian lives?  There is behavior that may be legal, but it might not be expedient, and it might leave lasting marks on our reputations or even our bodies.  Paul spent years trying to live down his years of persecuting The Way, so that he could be recognized and minister among them.  Solomon may have gotten straightened out later in life, but he will always be remembered for the many wives who led him into idolatry.  Every Sunday School student still knows about David’s sin and Peter’s denials.

Before we get caught up in a fad of our popular culture, we ought to consider the consequences that our actions may have not only on our lives and ministries, but on our children and grandchildren.  We certainly don’t need a black mark against our name.

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Disrespect–an act or an attitude?

A recent news article reported that a number of junior high school students were kicked out of the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC for throwing baseballs, plastic bottles, and other litter into the memorial pools. 

While virtually all the adults and some of the other students deplored the act and called it disrespectful, one young scholar offered this quote:

“No one was disrespecting.  It wasn’t nothing like that,” said one student.   “No one was being serious.  Everyone was kind of bored and it was just something to do.”

The poor grammar aside, this young person defined for us old fogies just what disrespect means to some youth today:
  • Actions themselves, no matter how egregious, are not disrespectful;
  • A serious attitude and intent to show disdain must motivate any action if it is truly disrespectful;
  • Any action can be justified if it is done out of boredom.
I have often encountered this argument that only intentions matter, as in “I didn’t mean to do that,”  [as if that excused the action.]  I am convinced that certain words, acts and deeds are inherently wrong and must be avoided; and my standard response was, “But you didn’t mean NOT to do it,” [so you did it and it was the wrong thing to do, and the discipline about to come your way is fully deserved.  Next time, think about your actions and intentionally avoid the wrong.]
My question is, Where were the teachers?  Why did the memorial officials have to put a stop to the actions, rather than the teachers?  Oh, I forgot:  teachers are innocent victims of student misbehavior, not paid supervisors responsible to correct and discipline misbehavior.

Rene LaRosa, of Saddle Brook, N.J., pinned the blame squarely on the shoulders of the students.  “If these kids were in middle school, then they’re old enough to know better,” said LaRosa, a preschool teacher.

Which reminds me of the school bus aide who has been in the news lately for being bullied by middle school children.  The students were wrong–but what was the aide hired to do?  She should have had that driver pull over so she could radio back to the school and have those miscreants on report, in detention, and off the bus quicker than YouTube could play the video.  She was reported as saying that she didn’t want to make it worse–but if stopping bad behavior and disciplining disrespect makes the problem worse, then there is no hope  under the sun for the next generation.

     Adults, be the kind of adults that you want these kids to grow up to be–by whatever legitimate means possible.  Please.

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Not for the easily offended!

I have been watching a news story for a couple of days.  I encourage you to read it and shake your head.  If you are an angry ultra-conservative, flag-waving, gun-toting, church-going American, please remember two things as you read it:

All participants in the story are considered merely ignorant until proven stupid; and

All participants are also considered merely wrong-headed until proven wicked.

You’ve been warned!  Go ahead and read the story if you must.

 

School pulls patriotic song at graduation, but Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ is OK

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/school_silences_patriotic_song_xdunXcLPbE8S2rAEcZoUiP#ixzz1xU2oRvWu

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News Item and related story

A recent news article (from New Jersey, of course) tells of a man who has repeatedly stolen a car, and then returned it a few hours later.  The reporter then challenges the readers to try to think of a motive for such a crime.  Duh!  It’s cheaper than taking a taxi or renting a car!

It reminds me of a parent I knew who had children in a school where I worked.  School policy required that parents MUST attend teacher conferences in the fall, or else they would not get the first quarter report card.  This one parent didn’t own a car, and didn’t want to pay for a cab; so every time one of these required meetings came up, the parent would walk to the nearest car dealership and test drive a car–test drive it all the way to school and back!  I often wondered about the sales person who waited for a couple of hours, hoping and praying that the car would be returned–but it always was.

At least this parent didn’t steal a car every time there was an appointment–Christian School parents have integrity!  (and ingenuity!)

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Let’s Play “What if…?”

What if the Christian School movement had not arisen and come to prominence in the last 50 years?  Where would the Church be today?

(I don’t like to play “What if…” games, but I think that sometimes it helps us put issues into perspective, so here goes.)

 

  • What if all the money that churches spent on Christian Schools had been spent on foreign missions or domestic church plants?
  • What if the tuition spent by parents had been tithed and used to support church projects?
  • What if the remaining 90% were used by families to save, invest, pay for college, and otherwise prevent themselves from going into debt?
  • What if some of the teachers and administrators went into pulpit ministries, and the rest became missionaries in the workplace?
  • What if the students went into the public schools, and were told to be salt and light?
  • What if the budgets of AACS , ACSI, and other support groups went to support other ministries?
  • What if our school choirs never sang in nursing homes, and our special programs never  attracted unsaved family to be exposed to the gospel?
  • What if two generations of young people had never been “inoculated against” Christianity as represented by handbook-wielding pastors and teachers?

 

Would the world and the church be better places if Christian schools had never existed?  I don’t think so, but I welcome your comments, and I expect to revisit this topic as the Lord allows.

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Remember when Christian Schools were affordable?

The Christian School movement is on life support, at least in the Northeast.  This extended economic downturn has put the final nails in its coffin, and the average Christian family can no longer afford to have their children in a Christian school.  Total enrollment is way down, and even with numerous schools closing, the number of students in the remaining schools is on the wane.  It’s hard to believe that Christian School was ever affordable for the average middle-to-low income family–but it was, and those of us who were around back then remember how it worked.

Disclaimer:  I only worked in 5 Christian Schools, but I visited, observed, and evaluated many more.  Every item on my list of memories may not be true for every school, but every item existed and made the movement viable.

Why were Christian Schools affordable in the ’70’s and 80’s?

  • They used existing facilities–often the church building.  Sunday school rooms became  Monday school rooms, which needed to be torn down every Friday afternoon, and set up after church on Sunday night.
  • They used affordable curriculum.  The ACE and Alpha-Omega workbooks could be bought and used for pennies on the day; and more traditional schools utilized hand-me-downs and used texts whenever available.  One school where I taught was using 40-year-old literature books; they were sturdy, durable, and the core content hadn’t changed.  Other schools had parents buy books, and then sell them to the next group of parents at a discount.  Saxon algebra books were available for free, and didn’t require the purchase of a scientific calculator.
  • They used volunteer personnel.  Every school had at least one principal/headmaster/supervisor on the payroll, and many had a handful of sacrificing teachers; but a LOT of the work was done by parent volunteers.  The lunch program–if there was one–was run by volunteers.  Recess, Phys. Ed., music, art, teacher aid duties, chapels, transportation, and even cleaning and maintenance were provided at no cost by committed parents who know that their involvement was the secret to keeping costs down.  And while many teachers were hired, they were done so at wages far below their public-school counterparts (and willingly so.)
  • They were underwritten by the church.  Christian schools were often owned by a church that picked up major aspects of the expense, and many fundamental churches in the area included the local Christian School in their missionary budget.  It was understood that tuition and fees could not and should not pay the way, and church support and donations often constituted up to 50% of the school’s annual budget.

Often, there were no gyms, music rooms, computers, Smart boards, special ed programs, advanced placement, science labs, or school buses–and yet a generation of students graduated well-versed in the three R’s, and many have gone on to be productive citizens and active church members.  And isn’t that what we want today?

[Of course it is–as long as it comes with a great sports program, exceptional music, state-of-the-art science and computer programs, pre-school and after-school programs, beautiful and well-maintained facilities separate from the church, programs for gifted and talented students as well as the intellectually challenged, the most current curriculum materials, and minimal meddling from the pastor and church board.]

Our motivations for Christan Schools have changed–both for us as parents, and for our churches.   As parents “raised” their expectations, and churches lowered their levels of involvement in the movement, the costs went up substantially and irreversibly.  And don’t blame the home school movement–it didn’t destroy Christian Education.  In many ways, it has been a return to the values of the early, affordable Christian Schools.

I love Christian Schools, and I would be teaching in one today if an opening were to come up.  I just hope that the schools and I both survive the economic downturn long enough to join forces once again in the cause of Christian Education.

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