Category Archives: Education

Those pertaining to my teaching career and to education today.

Merit Badge Religion

Most of us think that in some way we must do something to earn God’s love and forgiveness in order to become a Christian and qualify for heaven after we die.  I like to refer to that as “Merit Badge” religion and  it has little to do with what Jesus taught and lived.  When I was a Boy Scout leader, the boys who won the coveted rank of Eagle Scout were those who won a large number of  merit badges and completed a useful project for the community. It was what they knew and what they were able to do that won the award.  “Merit badge religion” is the result of the church being taken over by the American culture.   In this culture we attain superiority  by competing well: by being the most knowledgeable and highest educated; by improved morality and improved behavior.  We worship success in our culture  and believe that we get what  we deserve  by what we work hard for and therefore are worthy of.

We have transferred these same principles to our churches.  So to have the right informed knowledge about God; to  know the Bible through deep study  and to  behave morally and ethically according to its perceived teachings;   and to practice the  correct rites  of worship,  communion,  baptism,  plus giving our money in acts of  stewardship we will competitively qualify for heaven . We earn it.  It  is by what we know and what we do  that qualifies us.    And therein is the problem .Note I refer to it as “religion”  not “Christianity”

 

Our Christian spiritual lives and our churches are too often  based on this same sort of religious meritocracy. For example:

  • Being able to recite Bible memory verses
  • Going to church every Sunday
  • Attending Sunday school
  • Having the “correct beliefs” by understanding and defending the church’s creed
  • Being a “good” person
  •  Praying
  • Being baptized in the “correct” way
  • Taking communion
  • t These are admirable, I will concede, but none will earn us a seat at the Lord’s table in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus makes it very clear that ONLY GOD’S GRACE can do that and it has already been given to us.  All we need to do is be aware of God’s saving love and forgiveness.   It is freely given and there is no way God’s Grace can be earned.

The problem with “Merit Badge” Christianity is that it bases our entry into God’s Kingdom on what we do  and as the New Testament says and Jesus proclaimed it is all up to God’s grace.   “Merit Badge” Christianity says we must work, labor, sweat and learn, and do more to gain a place in God’s Kingdom. The opposite is true! God gives us his Kingdom. Nothing we do on our own can gain us entrance.

Jesus did not say “Blessed are the brightest and the best”

He said:   “Blessed are the poor for to them is the Kingdom of God”.

To Live is to Learn — The World Is My Classroom

For me, “to live is to learn” in the great classroom we call “the world.”  When I reach the point where this is no longer true for me it will be time for me to permanently check out of this life.

This great classroom is full of things to be learned. The physical world around me with all of its beauty and splendor;  the world of ideas in history; in philosophy; in  biography; in theology and spirituality and religion and in science. I am also constantly learning from the people I’m surrounded by and interact with.  All are also part of the great classroom I inhabit day after day.

I always have been an avid reader and my interests are varied and widespread. For example, currently I’m reading a book by Walter Brueggemann Out of Babylon that compares the Jewish exiles living under the domination system of Babylon to Christians in the U.S. living under  the domination system of American empire. Both try to answer the basic question How do we retain  our identity as Jews or Christians under the domination systems we are currently living under?   I’m  currently reading Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr, which is about the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous applied to Christian spirituality. I just finished a biography of President George Herbert Walker Bush, The Power and the Destiny (a book on tape that was read to me, which was 625 pages in length), and another biography of John Newton, famous for his life as a slave trading sea captain and begin transformed by his conversion to Christ. He wrote the wonderful hymn Amazing Grace to describe that transformation. I’m now listening to a book on tape, The Indigenous Peoples of North America.

Besides books, I learn each day from people who visit me–my ministers, my family, my friends, my hospice team–They are all part of my classroom.

I learn from the media as they report and editorialize on the news of the day. Programs such as: PBS Newshour, Washington Week, CBS’s 60 Minutes and the morning and evening news programs.

I long ago crossed the threshold of learning because I had to do so (as at school) to learning because I loved to do so.  That is the true test of success for our educators  today.  It is “to enable children to emerge from schools with the life-long desire and love of learning, while having the tools to do so.

As students go back to classrooms this Autumn, I pray that teachers, administrators, board members and legislators keep this lofty goal always in their minds. We need to produce students who strive to and love to learn–not because it is necessary to pass some test, but because it is necessary to satisfy the craving to learn that is a trait of all people if it is not smothered out by those who are preparing them.

Where have all the teacher’s gone?

Today’s newspaper reported that the number of teachers retiring, quitting teaching for other work,  and moving out of Kansas to teach has accelerated alarmingly over the past two years.   Meanwhile enrollment in Education Courses in colleges in Kansas has dwindled.

Where have all the teacher’s gone??

That is not difficult to determine if you have been paying attention the past two years!  Low salaries might be part of the problem but that has been true for a number of years, so the source of the present problem is deeper than just low salaries as teachers have never been paid what they are worth.

At the core of the problem is the state legislature, the governor, and the state Board  Education.  They have continued to de-value the worth of teachers at every turn..

They have taken away the right to appeal dismissal by removing tenure rights for teachers,   leaving good teachers at the mercy of administrators who are on power trips and are threatened by anything but blind obedience to their dictates.

They have tried to abolish teacher’s rights to bargain for anything but salary—not to be able to bargain on classroom conditions, etc.

They have voted out the funding formula for schools  that has been developed through the years and frozen funding in block grants—-largely to avoid having to carry out the Kansas Supreme Court decision that they are acting unconstitutionally.    They have lied about the block grants to the people of Kansas,  not telling them that much of the money in the block grant is going to makeup for past legislative failures to adequately fund the teacher retirement system and that the money going to classrooms has actually been cut.

They have threatened to pass laws to allow teachers to be charged with felony offense, if they teach something the community doesn’t approve.

As a final blow, they have discounted the preparation and education that teachers possess by now trying to meet the teacher shortage by  allowing any college graduate to get a teaching credential—-even if they have never spent a day in the classroom and know nothing of how students learn or how to teach.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a teacher and think what all of the above means to him or her.  As a teacher who spent over thirty-five years in the classroom let me try to show you what the above looks like through a teacher’s eyes.

When they take away tenure it causes me to remember a high school principal who visited my classroom to “evaluate me”.   I was teaching a civics class and the students were in the midst of a great discussion which I was leading with many students participating and all engaged in listening.    I thought, “What a great time to be visited”.  Wrong!!!   This principal sat for a few minutes and listened to the discussion and then got up and walked out, telling me on the way out that “I’ll be back when you are teaching!”    I was being evaluated by someone who did not recognize great teaching when he saw it!   I needed protection from the kind of administrators who if you crossed them, as I had done, will try and get you fired unless you have some protection.  Most administrators I knew were not educators.   They were  paper shufflers—and had escaped the classroom a.s.a.p. because they disliked teaching.   They were on power trips, and were excellent in playing the school district political power games.   In all my years of teaching I had one high school principal who I felt was a true educator!

When I see the right to negotiate anything but salary, and the accompanying inability to strike, it brings to my mind the powerlessness that I felt as a teacher.  Those making policy decisions about education were uninformed school boards and uninterested administrators.  And then I think of my home and family and the low salaries that I received, which practically always dictated a summer job and also a part-time job during the school year—taking away time with my children and wife.  And I remember the way I used my sick leave to catch up grading essays for my Advanced Placement American History classes that were too large but needed to learn to write if they were to pass the exam.  I had a high rate of passing the A.P. Exam—I don’t remember ever being congratulated for that.    I remember class sizes of 35  X  5 = 175 students to deal with each day and plan for,  grade papers,  maintain discipline. etc.    Powerlessness to do what you know needs to be done in the classroom is not a good feeling!

I remember the passage of the infamous Proposition 13 in California where I taught in a high school and the apprehension that I might lose my job because of the drop in educational funding due to it.    That’s what lack of sufficient funding means to teachers.  Teachers have families.   They have college debts that they incurred in getting the education needed to be teachers.   Lack of school funding  also means to teachers that there will be a lack of basic materials to teach with, lack of support for special education students mainstreamed in our classes,  and it means more students per class.

When I see no education requirements except a college degree for licensed teachers, I think of the education classes I took at the University of Chicago and time and money I spent in acquiring the needed education to meet the requirements for a teaching credential.  I also remember the many student teachers I supervised as a Master Teacher through the years, who came to me with no experience and no idea what teaching classes day after day entailed, and the ones who succeeded under my tutelage and the ones who did damage to students learning.     And I think of the student teachers who were not good in dealing with 150 to 175 students on a daily basis  and decided after their  student teaching that they would seek other careers.   And then I read a statement from our Kansas State Board of Education that in lifting the Education requirements for teacher licensing that they are putting the students first—not the teachers—-and I gag at the lack of knowledge about education that these political hacks who set educational policy for the state of Kansas are showing.  They seem to view teachers as just warm bodies that are in the classroom—unimportant to the educational process.

Teaching subject matter is just one of the tasks that a good teacher does.   A teacher is the one that sees the students every day—sometimes spends more time with them than their parents.    A good teacher is one that students feel confident in coming to for advice and help with the stresses of being teenagers.   Good teachers inspire their students to explore and  develop their potential.   Good teachers show care for their students.  They celebrate their accomplishments and cry with them in their failures.   In my career as a teacher I found my high school students were more likely to come and confide their problems to me than they were to their school counselors.

Teachers are the backbone of the education system in Kansas—-from Kindergarten through college.   They deserve respect.   They deserve support.  They deserve thanks for the often thankless job they do every day.  They deserve decent salaries.   They deserve protection of their jobs which are often hazardous these days due to lack of funding for schools and lack of tenure.     They DO NOT DESERVE THE TREATMENT THEY ARE RECEIVING FROM THE KANSAS LEGISLATORS,  GOVERNOR BROWNBACK AND THE KANSAS BOARD OF EDUCATION.

Where have all the teacher’s gone?

They are taking their talents and skills elsewhere to a place where they will be valued, respected and appreciated.   And our students in Kansas are the real losers!!!

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Schools are not Factories

The big word in the vocabulary of legislators, school boards,  and even Presidents as far as Education goes is “accountability”.    Teachers and schools must be held accountable for the “product” they produce.    In that word “product” is the fallacy of this entire approach.    I call it the Factory Approach to Education.   It is based on several false assumptions.

First,the Factory Approach to Education assumes that students (human beings) are the raw material that are fed into the factory (schools) and out of that should come a product (graduate) that meets quality standards of production (learning).  One of the problems with this approach that immediately becomes manifest to teachers, but few others it seems, is that each item of this raw material (student) is uniquely different.   There is no quality control on the raw materials—-public schools must take whoever is in their district that shows up at their door.   Among those are homeless children;  children from abusive homes;  children from education-friendly homes who have been to pre-school and early learning programs and children whose first exposure to learning is when they enter Kindergarten or First Grade;  children who have books and magazines in their homes and those who do not;  children who have traveled extensively and those who have never been away from their home town; children who have moved frequently  from school to school and children who have always attended the same schools in their district from K-12;  children who have learning disabilities and children who are academically gifted.  The list could go on and on….

You get the idea—-each child in the list above has differing needs.    To take all these different children and somehow come out with the same quality product (i.e. student)  is equivalent to a factory owner trying to use all kinds of different quality raw material over which they have no control,   and still being able to produce a  quality product each and every time.    That doesn’t happen!   There is no machinery that can be built that would be able to do this and produce a quality product with every run, without control of the quality and kind of material to be used.  It cannot be done!    The saying goes that  “it is difficult to produce silk cloth out  of a sows ear” remains true for factories.    In schools,  teachers are asked to produce silk cloth each and every time out of all kinds of ears, not just sows’ ears!   And we tell them we will hold them accountable for each student.   We even try to base their evaluation on meeting this quality control standard as defined b y standardized tests.  It seems laughable when portrayed in the above words, but truly it is sad, ignorant, and dangerous to our public schools, our teachers who are excellent and and the children they labor with each day to help them learn and achieve.  We should be praising our teachers and schools for dealing with what they deal with each day instead of criticizing them for not meeting some external quality control standard.  Thomas Jefferson, one of our”founding fathers’ held that democracy is impossible without a well-educated populace.   Have we forgotten this?   When he said “well–educated” he was asking for more than students being able to pass standardized tests in reading, writing, and arithematic.

I would  also mention to lawmakers and school boards and our Kansas governor that “accountability” is a two-sided coin.   Our Kansas lawmakers and governor  want to hold teachers and schools “accountable” but they themselves  remain “unaccountable”  for the lack of funding of these schools and the low salaries of the teachers.   Indeed Kansas is even taking away the tenure that protects good teachers as much or more than bad ones.    Yet, this year in Kansas  with block funding, school and teachers are being  told to be accountable but legislators are lacking accountability in providing money to educate children as teachers and school districts know how to do.

Children are human beings.   They are all unique.   Our schools teach them much more than reading, writing, and arithematic.  These extra learnings outside of academic learnings  are not testable by multiple choice tests designed to hold teachers and schools “accountable”.  

Schools teach children values.   They teach them how to get along with each other.   They teach them how to learn for a lifetime.   They socialize chiildren by teaching them our culture and school them in our democracy and democratic society and government.   They teach patriotism and also the way to criticize  our country—something  which a true patriot will do.   Schools teach human beings—-human beings are not products to be shaped all in the same way  in a factory system but are to be cared for and nurtured so that they develop to the greatest extent their own unique potential!

Asking the Right Questions Today?

 

A recent article in the Alban Weekly caught my attention by its title.   “New Questions for a New Day?”    Although it was an article on new questions churches need  to ask rather than the ones they are asking, it caused me to think about questions that desperately need to be asked in our political jungle today.    We are allowing the media and political pundits to ask the wrong questions of our politicians!   Let me give you a few examples:

The question:   “How will you vote on issues concerning abortion?” should be replaced by the question:  “How will you vote on issues concerning quality of life for all human beings in our society?”   Will your votes  seek to protect only fetuses or will your vote be for protecting the one in five children in Kansas who are hungry and without access to enough adequate foods and considered food insecure.   Will you protect these children  from disease by your votes that extend badly needed medical care, or are you only interested in unborn fetuses?

The question:   “How will you vote on issues concerning gay marriage“? might be replaced with the question:  “what will you advocate through your votes that will protect the rights of all citizens of the U.S. regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation so that all citizens can enjoy the full range of freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.?”

The question:  “Are you a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican?” might be replaced by the question:   “In what way will you vote for the common good of all citizens, regardless of party preference?”    I recently saw a poster on FB that showed a bird flying and said “politicians should be like birds–both the left wing and the right wing support the middle!”

The question:   “How can we better hold educators accountable?” should be replaced by the question, “ How are you going to be held accountable for the education of our children in Kansas? ”   How are you going to better support teachers in their difficult job?  Are you going to respect the job that teachers do, often for poor pay and little appreciation?   What are you going to suggest and vote for that will make sure that children we send to teachers are ready to learn by supporting early childhood education?   What are you going to do that insures that half of the children coming to the Wichita Public Schools are not coming to school hungry and therefore unable to learn?  or homeless and therefore insecure and having difficulties learning?    As I read recently—“When Congress passes “No Child Left Unfed, No child without Health Care, and No Child left homeless, then we can talk seriously about No Child Left Behind?  After that happens we can talk about accountability!

It’s time we get the message to the media and the political pundits that we wish to have politicians speak on these questions rather than the old tired ones that are now asked..   As Ghandi once said:   “Be the change!”  We can “be the change” by defining the real problems in our society and then demanding answers and solutions to those problems by asking the right questions.  We then need to use the power of the ballot to demand accountability from those who govern us.   The change can begin with your intelligent and knowledgable casting of a ballot that holds our elected officials  accountable.   “BE THE CHANGE”.

 

The Kansas “Herd”—the GOP, not Buffaloes

 

 

We Americans like to think of ourselves as “rugged individualists“, but in reality we are often like a “herd” that blindly follows the leader.   The problem of course with blindly following a leader  is that if the leader happens to be a “lemming” we will all be led over the cliff.

One of the lessons  I learned as a Park Ranger about directing traffic at the San Diego Wild Animal Park was that if you got a car to go in the right direction all of those behind that lead car would follow.   Sadly, the same thing was true if  the car went in the wrong direction!     The cars behind followed the car as it went in the wrong direction!

German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche had a name for that—“the herd mentality“.  He framed his philosophy of the ubermensch (the superman) on that premise—a strong leader could lead the masses in any direction that he desired and they would blindly follow—as the lead cow leads the herd.   That premise led to a further  premise that “might makes right” and that those who have the power decide what is right or wrong.    Adolph Hitler adopted this philosophy and proved it to be true, to the woe of the German nation that he led into World War II and disaster for their nation.

In Congress, the majority of the Republican Party exhibit a “herd mentality” as they blindly follow their leaders.  They do not consider the legislation they pass or defeat on any basis other than maintaining their power by re-election as they let the Tea Party and those who contribute to their campaign funds  tell them what to do.    Truth, morality, the common good, all suffer from this “herd” mentality when our law makers do not think for themselves.

This is what troubles me about politicians and their followers today, and specifically about Kansans who at present are being led into fiscal disaster by a leader and legislature that are convinced they are right, regardless of the facts,  and are using their power to decide what is right and good for everyone whether it is good or not for the common welfare.   And we just went through an election that proved Nietzsche correct, as Kansans blindly  re-elected them to another term, even though complaining that they had lied to them and that their situation financially and economically (except for the privileged businesses who received the tax breaks) was worse than when these politicians began their previous term.   Many Republican voters have confessed they voted Republican because that is the way they always have voted and regret that they elected these folk now.   But they are all in the same boat now—“lemmings ” following their leaders over the financial cliff for the benefit of an elimination of income taxes for around 100,000 “small businesses”, and are paying the price in reduced education funds, reduced programs for the most vulnerable of our state—the homeless, the children, the elderly.   Even Kansas roads are going to be full of potholes as the governor shifts funds to pay for an “experiment” in economics that has proven to be as unproductive and disastrious as most economists initially predicted it would be.

Recently I saw a poster on Face Book that speaks to this:    “Be careful when you blindly follow the masses.   Sometimes the “M” is silent!  

Why people can’t hear what the church is saying….

 

“Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear a word you are saying!!!     Perhaps this should be inscribed in the chancel area of every church in the nation.    This is probably the main problem that mainline churches have and it is the reason they are decreasing in number and size—their  actions and their words are, too often, not matching.

I recently ran across a poem called “The Mood of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.   It reads:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

 The work of Christmas begins:

               To find the lost.  

               To heal the broken.

               To feed the hungry.

               To release the prisoner.

               To rebuild the nation.

               To bring peace among people.

               To make music in the heart.”

We Christians love the Advent Season and the Christmas Season.    They are times of Joy and Love, and Peace and Hope for most of us—-and rightly so—-the coming of the Christ Child (God with us—Immanuel)  was a time of “Joy to the World” as the hymn we sing says it.     But it is not Jesus’ coming that is so important, it was what Jesus did after he got here and the message of the Kingdom of God—-a different and better way to live—-that is important.   

I’m afraid that message of what life can be like if God is at the center of it. as om the Kingdom of God,  and the messenger’s life of sacrifice and service to God that models life in the Kingdom,   have been lost among the Christmas wrappings.   The work that Jesus set his followers to do was what Thurman wrote about.  It is the ministry Jesus described in his sermon at his home synagogue:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

I am going to use only one of the items on Thurman’s list  to illustrate my point, because it is a problem that is near to my heart, and I feel it is near to God’s heart….Feed the Hungry.  

Recently the Kansas Food Bank that serves more than 215,000 Kansans annually, combined with the Hunger in America national organization to issue a report on Hunger in America.   They used rigorous academic research standards for their report which was reviewed by a technical advisory team that included researchers from American University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and the Urban Institute.    The study was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation the data was gathered by over 6000 trained data collectors.   This is not “a bunch of crying, do-good liberals” reporting.   This is hard data gathered and put together by trained researchers.   The results are frightening!  I will share a few of them with you.   The full report may be seen by going to Google and entering  Hunger Statistics, Kansas Food Bank Warehouse.

1 in 7 people in Kansas—an estimated 215,300 people, turned to the Kansas Food Bank meal service programs for help in feeding themselves in 2014.   Of these 215, 300 persons  68, 900 were children and 19,900 were senior citizens 11% were adult students..   Among all clients, 14% were black, 37% were Latino, and 42 % white.

The above reported that 82% were buying inexpensive , unhealthy food because they couldn’t afford the healthier.  They also reported the tough choices and trade-offs they had to make to try and keep food on the table this past year:

71% reported choosing between paying for food and utilities.   35% had to do this on a monthly basis.

73 percent report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation to work.   35 percent made that choice every month.

66 percent had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine and medical care.  30 percent of thse households had to choose every month.

60 % reported choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.  28% reported having to do that every month.

Ways they tried to cope with food shortages included,  52% who ate food past the expiration date.  37% pawned or sold personal property in order to buy food.  33% reported watering down food or drinks.

Why does this happen in a wealthy country?   The report gave the following reasons:   Low Wages; underemployment; and unemployment.  Of the 60% who were employed last year, they were only able to work part time and at minimum wages.   For families with both husband and wife working part-time at minimum wage of 7.25 per hr. it has been shown that even if both parents work, they cannot make enough to live on and pay rent, utilities and food expenses.   Therefore the choices that they have to make that are  listed above.

So far the churches have been mostly silent in dealing with the causes of poverty.   They are involved,  at least some of them, in treating the symptoms and helping those caught in this vicious cycle survive—-but not in dealing with the causes of the problem itself.

Can you imagine the impact if churches as a group were to demand that their legislators at state and national levels take action to raise the minimum wage to one that a family could live on?    What if churches boycotted those business who paid their employees just the present minimum wages of $7.25 an hour?   What if we said—-we’re not going to buy your hamburgers, McDonalds, until you pay your employees a living wage and provide benefits for them.   We don’t care if you raise the price of a Big Mac in order to do so!

Behind unemployment is often the lack of an education.   It has been proven since the days of John F. Kennedy’s Head Start Program that Early Childhood Education to get poorer children ready for public schooling improves their chances of success in school and acquiring the education they need in today’s labor market place.    Yet in Kansas,  our Governor and Legislature is currently taking the Tobacco Funds earmarked for Early Childhood Education and putting them in the General Funds  as well as taking funds from Education,Kindergarten through College, in order to continue allowing  over 100,000 small businesses in Kansas to not pay income taxes at all.

What would happen if churches were to demand that this not happen?  What if we demanded that everyone pay their fair share of taxes—including businesses?    Most of the legislators and the governor are presenting themselves  as Christians.   Governor  Brownback and your legislative toadies—your actions speak so loudly we can’t hear a word of what you are saying about being Christians!!

There are many other ways of attacking the problem of poverty.   The problem is not lacking ways but lacking will to do so.

In my opinion, if churches are not actively involved in doing something to change  at least one of the above 7 things—actively involved—-then their action, or lack of action, is speaking so loudly to the world that the world can’t hear a word of what they say to each other on Sunday a.m. at the worship service.   If they are not working to correct the above problems at their root, then they have no right to proclaim the Kingdom of God that Jesus commissioned his disciples to proclaim.   Jesus gave few commandments, but one that he did give was the Great Commandment  to “love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself!