Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Little Slim This Time

The city library is doing their twice a year book sale this weekend. My last run netted me about three times as many as I got this time. The religion section had only a fraction of what was available last fall. In addition, a friend of mine snagged the only two Marcus Borg books mere hours before.

Also, I brought my son along with me this time. He is a trooper and has an appreciation for books as well, but he wasn't going to put in my usual 3 hours with me. Therefore my perusal rate was a little more swift than normal.

Still, I did find a few books that I was excited to finally add to the collection; along with some that just caught my eye. My stack and Jake's stack, just 9 dollars. LOVE the library sale!

  • Telling The Truth - Buechner
  • One Dharma - Goldstein
  • The Gnostic Gospels -Pagels
  • Killing the Buddha - Manseau
  • New Rules - Maher
  • A History of God - Armstrong
  • Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself - Alda
  • God Is Not Great - Hitchens
  • The Heart of Christianity - Borg *(this was one of the two Borg books snagged by my friend, but he passed it my way once he discovered he already had it.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Teacher as Savior Model

Do you need more time in your life? Are you not getting enough "me" moments in your schedule?

Well I have found some items that used to be assumed of parents, but it turns out you no longer need to fret about these things. From now on, don't bother:
  • reading with your children
  • making your children read
  • fussing about bed times
  • providing nutritious meals
  • taking your kids to museums or other educational outings
  • supplanting regular TV with educational programming
  • talking with your children
  • helping them with their homework
You can now safely skip all of the above.  Whew! Doesn't it feel good to get all of those pesky time consumers out of the way?

What's that? You thought these things mattered? Well I am here to say that you have been woefully misinformed.

You need to understand that a good teacher can make up for the absence of all those things. With the flick of his or her instructional wand, a teacher can make the child who has these things - and the child who does not - perform exactly the same. The adage Practice Makes Perfect is SO old fashioned. We now know that INSTRUCTION makes perfect!

Today I met with our district reading people to discuss the coming year. We were brainstorming about what changes we might make next year to improve reading scores (I teach at a Title 1 school and the majority of my 6th graders read at a 3rd grade level).

I mentioned that we might set aside some money each year for teachers to purchase "high interest" books. Our students rarely read outside of the classroom. However, each year I usually have a book that captures their imagination. This year it was "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". I have about a half dozen from the series and demand was far exceeding the supply. Having money available to buy additional copies would allow us to strike while the iron is hot.

This idea had no merit with the district reading representatives - it had nothing to do with my instruction.

"I think it does," I replied. "Our students struggle because they are never actually reading outside of my instruction. I need them wanting to pick up books that are not an assignment."

"If they are given the instruction they need, they will be able to read," came the reply.

I am always perplexed when I encounter this position. I said, "So, in general, a student who practices nightly at a skill, and a student who never practices that skill outside of a teacher's instruction will be at the same proficiency?"

The rep countered, "But they will not receive the same instruction. The teacher provides differentiated instruction to the child who does not practice."

"But you're saying that at the end of the year, the two students will be on the same level?" I said incredulously.

"That is exactly what I am saying!" the rep replied in a frustrated tone.

I shook my head. "I don't believe that for one second."

The rep threw up her hands. "Then why are you even here?!"

This is why, as a general rule, I keep my opinions to myself at my job. I am a shades of gray type of person, and I forget how black and white people will filter my words. It seems that because I insinuated that my instruction doesn't affect everything, I must be a defeatist with no expectations.

My reading rep's perspective is very common; President Obama holds it, as did President Bush before him. The Federal "Race to the Top" and "No Child Left Behind" programs are based on this perspective, which I have called the Teacher as Savior model. Under this model, things like pre-requisite skills, personal aptitude, personal motivation, parent involvement, home environment, practice, etc. are of no consequence. A teacher can render all of these other factors inert.

Is there any other area of life where we would take this view?  That all of those other components have no bearing on proficiency, but only the instruction.

I believe the Teacher as Savior model, which is growing in America, will drain the life out of an already fractured system.

My advice to parents (if they are concerned about their child's educational outcome), is read to your children, have them read nightly, turn off the Nickelodeon and put in some Bill Nye, get them to bed on time and limit their sugar intake, make sure they are doing their homework, and see everything you do together as a learning opportunity.  Do these things, and my instruction time with them will be SO much more beneficial.  Skip these things, and the value of my instruction will be greatly reduced.

I am the voice of one teacher calling out in the educational wilderness - Prepare ye the way for your children and make straight the path of their learning!

Monday, April 25, 2011


Nakedpastor is a blog I read regularly. It is written by David Hayward, a pastor who served as such for 25 years... until; until he started asking questions. I think it is rare that a pastor can ask honest questions - willing to let the answers lead where they may - and be able to stay behind the pulpit.

People want answers.

I don't want to botch his history, so I encourage you to give his site a read. David has some great insights.

In addition to his blogging talents, he is a wonderful artist and cartoonist. I don't think there is anyone else out there who is addressing the topics he does with such a piercing wit. I was originally drawn to his blog through his cartoons.

Just recently, he has collected his cartoons in a volume entitled NakedPASTOR 101. I just got mine in the mail and it is excellent. It is a steal at Amazon for only 9 bucks. A great book to make you laugh and think... and offend your church-going in-laws. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Quotes from Blogs I Have Read Recently #11

Let’s see…….three wars, a trillion dollar deficit, 4.00 a gallon gasoline, and a sharply divided country and what does Congress spend time doing? Working on a resolution honoring the publication of the King James Bible.
Fallen from Grace

Perhaps the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn as I’ve raised questions about Bible-Belt Christianity is that no amount of passion or persuasion can convince others to ask the same questions. In fact, forcing such questions upon other people almost always makes the situation worse. Like many of you, I’ve grieved as some of the most meaningful relationships of my past have grown superficial and flat as we avoid talking about matters of faith. I desperately wanted these friends to join me on my journey because the road ahead was so lonely and frightening and new. But they couldn’t, and it was unfair for me to try and drag them along.
Rachel Evans


I seriously doubt that few traditional Christians outside the seminary walls have thought much about why the "righteous suffer. Most simply accept what they have been told in Sunday School, or have heard from the pulpit. However, there are a few, myself included now, who have many questions about suffering and really wish to know what the Bible has to say. As you will see in the next post, it has much too say, and what it has to say often contradicts another Biblical writer elsewhere. Reflections

In much of Christian sub-culture the ways we claim to oppose the world around us may actually serve to inoculate us against facing the reality that often we are the worldly ones, the ones who are participating in the systems of sin and injustice. So that we focus getting Christ back in Christmas, while engaging in the worship of consumerism and exploitation of cheap labor that the season entails. We will sacrifice to the gods of the market, as long as there is a nativity in front of the mall. Sort of an adventure in missing the point. New Ways Forward

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Conference with Marcus Borg

For the past two years, I have headed down to Albuquerque, NM for a conference hosted by Richard Rohr. Speakers there have included Phyllis Tickle, Brian Mclaren, and Shane Claiborne. This has always fallen conveniently on my Spring Break.

This year however, Richard spoke at a conference in Scottsdale, AZ which had almost the same speaking lineup so there was not one in Albuquerque. This conference, which occurred in February, conflicted with my work schedule. My just burgeoning annual solo-cation was being snuffed out in its infancy.

I was happy to find out that Marcus Borg was speaking at a little church up in Missoula, MT. Since it is only an 8 hour drive from SLC, I loaded up the car and headed out. Driving by myself, listening to the news, audiobooks, or music, is a treat.

I held off on reserving a hotel since I was not totally confident that my car would make the journey without incident. I am glad I did, because a coupon book at the rest area provided me with a hotel that was literally across the street from the church, and was cheaper than anything I had seen online.

Dr. Borg was speaking at a Methodist Church. It was a classic old building that reminded me of the Lutheran church I went to in Detroit until my 6th year. Like that church, it consisted of many levels with lots of narrow hallways and stairways - it was easy to lose track of which floor I was on.

Dr. Borg spoke Friday night and was excellent as always. He spoke of how the church is changing in the 21st century. Chief among his points was that, in the past, church was conventional. It was assumed that everyone within the community went to a church. Today, church is becoming intentional. Anyone going to church now tend to do so because they desire to, it is no longer the assumption of the community that one attends church. A testament to that truism is that the majority of people at the conference were over 60. I was one of the "young" folks.

Marcus spoke for two sessions on Saturday. In them he compared the Jesus of history, to the Jesus of popular Christianity. He contrasted present day Christian focus on belief, with the historic view of Christianity being that of a transformed life. An emphasis on Belief allows Christianity to bind ourselves with Western Empire, something the counter-cultural aspect of transformational Christianity could never align with. A ninety-two year old man, who had pastored the church decades before, would occasionally lean over to me and say, "I was preachin this stuff back in the 70s! Nobody listened then either!"

We had lunch there at the church. Various senior members from the church had cooked soups and chili, breads, and cookies. It struck me how incredibly peaceful and at home I felt in this church of seniors, quietly addressing issues of social and economic justice. Just before the afternoon session started, I had a chance to introduce myself to Dr. Borg and talk for a few minutes. Although I don't necessarily agree with every point Dr. Borg arrives at concerning the Christian faith, I have come to the conclusion that it is the temperament and attitude of men like him that I wish to emulate. His life, love, and compassion are what give credit to his theology.

I had the evening free, so I grabbed a burger at a local diner and then walked along the river that bi-sected the town. Missoula is a very beautiful place; a peaceful community nestled amongst the mountains in the middle of nowhere.

Sunday morning, Marcus Borg taught the Christian Education class before church. There was only a small group of us. Sitting in the basement of a classic Methodist church, drinking coffee, and listening to Marcus Borg teach is my idea of the perfect Sunday morning.

By 11:00 am I was on the road, headed back to Salt Lake City. I felt like all of my life batteries had been re-charged.

All of his talks were filmed and posted on Vimeo.  Here are the links:

Two Visions of Christianity Today
Jesus in the 1st and 21st Centuries: Telling His Story Today
Jesus in the 1st and 21st Centuries: Holy Week, Easter, and the New Testament
Open Hearts and Thin Places

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memorization is Good for the Brain

When I was young, I was a terrible student. I never completed homework, and I devised a myriad of shenanigans to distract myself from learning at school. I think, prior to the 10th grade, I never achieved anything above a C.

Two things pulled me out of the pit of ignorance I had dug for myself. One was Star Wars. I was addicted to Star Wars before the era of DVDs and video rentals. The only way to satiate my ravenous desire for Star Wars between movies were Star Wars novels. My love for Star Wars overcame my disdain for reading.

The second was bible quizzing. Having become a Christian at the age of 14, I joined a bible quizzing program at my school to help me stay in "The Word" regularly. My motivation was that this would help save my soul; but, unbeknownst to me at the time, it was saving my educational ass.

Over the next 7 years I committed to memory the New Testament books of John, Acts, Romans, James, Hebrews, Peter 1 & 2, and major chunks of Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians. The skills I developed memorizing this material, along with the intellectual elements of the bible quizzing competition, turned a dull-witted boorish boy into an armchair scholar.

It occurred to me during an education seminar I attended recently, that my students are completely bereft of the opportunity to memorize. So like myself at that age, they are woefully ignorant, with little motivation to make any change. In addition, our educational system tends to disdain memorization. Aspiring teachers are taught that making your students do anything by route and repetition will kill their love of learning; such methods are labeled "drill and kill". The most immediate and noticeable result of this ethos is that less than 10% of my 6th grade students know their multiplication facts. Knowing the positive effect memorizing had on me, I returned from that seminar motivated to get my students memorizing.

We started with the preamble to the Constitution. They groaned and moaned through the whole process. However, I did notice that they liked being able to quote it at the end. I believe being able to rattle off the material gave them a sense of accomplishment. Over the past two weeks we have been working on the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. Again, lots of groans and moans... but parallel to that is a confidence that comes with having material like that at one's disposal. I nearly fell out my chair when one of the girls in my class made an astute connection between the material she had memorized and a story we were reading!

My plan is to develop a progressive list of material for my students to memorize next year. I know I have an eclectic, and well read, group of people who read this blog; so I would be interested in any text suggestions you might have. I am assuming I would start out the beginning of the year with a short piece, one paragraph, and work towards larger pieces over the school year. I am personally weak in the area of good poetry, so those suggestions would be particularly helpful.

I am also considering the use of religious texts. I agree with Stephen Prothero that our lack of religious knowledge is detrimental to our interactions with one another. I know helpful sections from the bible, but I am in need of short, useful sections from the Quran, Bhagavad Gītā, the Tao Te Ching, etc... I think it might be interesting if I could find a common theme of goodness that each religious text addresses.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts and suggestions.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why Beer Is Better Than Religion

I actually lost a few Facebook friends over this list (probably will lose a few more once this gets cross posted by NetworkBlogs). Of course, it may just have been the last straw amidst a string of irreligious comments by me.

But here's the thing - regardless of your beliefs about the Universe and our place in it - if you can't find SOME level of comedy and absurdity about your views.... well... you're just not trying. :)

Top 10 reasons why Beer is better than Religion...

10. No one will kill you for not drinking Beer.

9. Beer doesn't tell you how to have sex.

8. Beer has never caused a major war.

7. They don't force Beer on minors who can't think for themselves.

6. When you have a Beer, you don't knock on people's doors trying to give it away.

5. Nobody's ever been burned at the stake, hanged, or tortured over his brand of Beer.

4. You don't have to wait 2000+ years for a second Beer.

3. There are laws saying Beer labels can't lie to you.

2. You can prove you have a Beer.

1. If you've devoted your life to Beer, there are groups to help you stop.

My friend Randy on FB added one to the list - I actually WANT a beer!

(By the way, if you are not yet my friend on Facebook, I welcome you! I have new openings all the time!)
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