Monday, January 28, 2013

Product Review: GOgroove FlexSMART X2

I started teaching at a new school this year.  It is a little longer commute, and its location is not really bus/train friendly.  I got a Google Nexus a few months back, so I found a good audiobook app and started to listen to books on my drive to and from work.

However, my setup wasn't ideal.  My car is old enough that it has a cassette deck, which I used via a wired adapter to my phone.  Cassette adapter, car plug for power, so-so sound.... and a royal pain if I had to take a call.

I don't know what triggered the thought that there might be a better Bluetooth solution available, but I started hunting around Amazon.  After looking at a dozen or so different options, I settled on the GOgroove FlexSMART X2.

What I love about it:
  • Easily paired to my Galaxy Nexus
  • Solid transmission to my FM Radio
  • Interfaces well with my phone: easy to accept calls, easy to place calls and works with my voice dial, calls come through the stereo cleanly.
  • Interfaces well with my media programs. 
  • USB outlet to charge my phone.
  • Flex arm extends away from car lighter for easy accessibility.
  • Off switch (useful since my car lighter will continue to power even when the car is off)
The only negative I have found, which is minor, is that the turn dial changes channels; it changes volume if pressed before turning.  It is curious to me that they would set volume as the secondary function of the dial.  I would think that most people would leave the station set and rarely have reason to change it.  No biggie to me, I just use the stereo volume anyway.

So now in the morning, I set my phone in the vent cradle, plug in the charger, and I am good to go.  Thanks to the android phone, I have books, music, podcasts, and out of state radio (it is great to listen to the Drew and Mike morning show in Detroit).

I highly recommend this little piece of tech.  It has made my commute a lot easier.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Facebook Faith #7

I can't speak much to the politics of this poster I saw on Facebook ... but I can say in all confidence that every person who claims the bible as authoritative cherry picks it; creating their own personalized version.

Many, especially the most fundamental, will deny this.  They will claim the entire bible is wholly inspired, and wholly true ... and there really isn't much you can say to convince them otherwise.

Toward the end of my time in Christendom, I was keenly aware that I was cherry-picking scripture. I noticed that in my 'hell, fire, and brimstone' early days, I was drawn to certain scriptures - whereas, when my faith took on a more liberal bent, I was drawn to others.

I often stated in those liberal days, and I still believe, that the scriptures we are drawn to and that we quote say much more about us than they do about God.

Whatever take one wants to hold in life, you can find yourself a biblical justification.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Same For All

One of the common arguments given against putting students in classes according to ability (rather than age) is that the student put in a lower level will get "stuck" at that level. Having been put in a lower track, they will never get out.

I think that hesitation is based on a common assumption that all students should be able to get to a certain academic location within a certain time frame. Somehow, it seems a horrid thought that someone should forever be a little slower in a particular subject.

This is one of the few areas of life where we cling to such an assumption.  In all other areas we know that people have different likes, predilections, tastes, etc.; and that all of these things have a factor in the person's pursuit and growth within a given area.  It is easy to see that some people favor mechanics, while others prefer literature.  Some have a  physique for certain athletics, while others have an ear for music.  We do not assume that because certain equations are accessible to Stephen Hawking that they can be grasped by everyone.  We would never think that, given enough training, just anyone could stand in the ring against Mike Tyson in his prime.  Nor would we think that because Einstein was not as well versed in history or languages, that he was somehow academically inept.

Yet, we are simply uncomfortable admitting that some children are better at this, while others are better at that.

It is understandable WHY we recoil at this admission.  Such language was used to keep races and people groups under subjugation. The non-privileged were told that it was their lot in life to do the menial labor or that education would be wasted on them - they should accept their position.

However, the practical upshot of our aversion is that we think everyone should do everything - so the child who is passionate about poetry is made to look a fool for not desiring quadratic equations; and the teacher who is unable to inspire passion for math in that student is defined as a failure.

Our American system is designed to teach the same thing to all children according to their age.  So classrooms in America are filled with children for whom everything is moving much too fast, or much too slow.  Huge gaps are never addressed for many, while others tortuously endure lessons in material already mastered.  Few students are getting the education that suits them.

Meanwhile, the educational community collects more and more data while expanding the testing schedule.

Liberals perpetuate the system because they believe everyone deserves the SAME education. Conservatives perpetuate it because it clearly harms the most impoverished neighborhoods and the results give them talking points for abolishing another public institution.

Is there any hope? I think so. My hope rests in families. Families doing their job sets the foundation for every child succeeding academically. Families being engaged and involved at their school generally produce good schools - which seem to be able to weather the storms created by the political powers around them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Delusions of Grandeur

"I'm out of it for a little while, everyone gets delusions of grandeur!" ` Han Solo (Return of the Jedi)

Facebook has been flooded with various opinions regarding gun restrictions, control, and banning. There are reasonable voices on both sides that I agree with... but I also had to state this last night during one conversation:

...and can we just say that there is a group of gun owners out there with delusions of grandeur. They saw Taps when they were younger and just get wet at the thought of government forces surrounding them in some building while they bravely hold out, screaming with Tom Crusie "It's Beautiful man! Beautiful!" as they fire on government forces...

Seriously, if you had a chance to listen to the Alex Jones interview, you know what I am talking about. Or the CEO of Tactical Response who declared, "I'm not letting anybody take my guns. If it goes one inch further, I'm going to start killing people."

Yep, folks like this are similar to those in religion who look forward to an apocalypse. Their lives are so small, they dream of something BIG happening that they can be part of.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Facebook Faith # 6 - Truth

I wanted to post this picture because I saw it being used on Facebook by many different faiths and even my Atheist friends.

So, that means for once they have found something to agree on, right?

Not at all, of course. In the mind of each person, that word truth holds different meaning. There are different sets of life experiences and beliefs that impose different values and interpretations on that word.

"Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." Ben Kenobi (Return of the Jedi)

However, all points of view are not equal. We all have filters, but the filters of some are more fixed than others. One person commented on this poster, "Jesus said he is the Truth." Do you think someone who holds fast to such a view would have trouble stepping into another perspective?

There are many times you will hear a scientist lament that by merely observing an event, you may change the conditions and therefore, possibly, the outcome. It seems to me that this is somewhere Atheism holds an advantage. My religious friends have a stake in certain outcomes being true; therefore, there is a great temptation for them to sway evidence and information to skew toward a desired outcome. Having stepped out of faith, it is easy for me to look back and see all the times I bent reality to my will.

Still, I don't believe a lack of faith in any way frees me from the filtering process. Removing filters is a lifelong journey.

However, I hold a truth that is serving me well at the moment - Truth is a wonderful thing to pursue, but I am skeptical of anyone who thinks they have caught it.

"A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged. The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers. Otherwise we live in a closed system--within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath's analogy, rebreathing only our own fetid air, more and more subject to delusion." - M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Who Is More Likely To Leave The Faith?

In the comments section of my last post, Paul Sunstone asked this question:

Do you think conservatives are more likely than liberals to have difficulty maintaining a belief in deity once they admit that their belief is only one among many?

It is an interesting question and I wanted to wrestle my thoughts with it out on a post, and perhaps lure in some other folks to offer their two cents.

Off the top of my head, I think it would be harder for a conservative to get to that point. Conservatives, I think, tend to be very either/or in their process; so it would be harder to get them to that realization. A liberal, who tends to see things in shades of grey, would be more likely to start the journey.

However, I think liberals would have a lot more opportunities for "safe harbor" on their voyage to Atheism. I spent many years as a liberal Christian and I wonder, if I had not had my experiences with Mormons, if I might have stayed there.  

But as I think of the various folks I know who have gone to Atheism, they were often conservatives who went through a liberalizing period, and ended in Atheism. Usually Hell, or the church's treatment of homosexuals or women, or some such issue caused a period of questioning. Once they pulled on that thread, a lot more unraveled than they had anticipated.

For example, my friend Bruce was an extremely conservative Baptist pastor, but he went through a liberalizing of his politics and theology before finally abandoning his faith.  I think that is the typical route.... so I am wondering:

Does anyone jump straight from conservative theology to Atheism in one fell swoop?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Problem is Choice

Others? What others?  How many?
Growing up in conservative Christian circles, words like pluralism or multiculturalism were often derided and mocked. I assumed this was a somewhat normal fear of the unknown, and I felt this distaste was not born in the religion. If anything, it was a demonstration of conservative politics infecting religion.

As I was driving home today, I was listening to god is not Great by Christoper Hitchens.  This book is great to listen to since it is read by the author. Mr. Hitchen's explanations often remind me of the Architect from the second Matrix movie.  He reaches for the most accurate word available, and leaves it to his audience to either know it or look it up.

This quote really caught me:

"the end of god-worship discloses itself at the moment... when it becomes optional, or only one among many possible beliefs." (p.67)

My Christian religion taught me that other religions were false. The people in these religions were either deceived or were actively deceiving others onto their path. In any case, getting to know these folks - outside of an evangelistic motive - was not encouraged.

When we moved to Salt Lake City these learned ideas of mine were challenged. Here I befriended people whose faith was just as sincere as my own. As much as I tried to hold on to my learned notions about those of other faiths, one by one the arguments fell. When I looked at my Mormon friends, I saw my own faith and practices being reflected back to me.  I suddenly realized that my religion was one among many possible beliefs.

In that moment, the end of god-worship disclosed itself for me.

I realize that is why pluralism is so frightening for religion and why most cling to an "only us" perspective.  It is no wonder there are usually horrible consequences listed (both natural and super-natural) for leaving religion's embrace. If the religion becomes less than ultimate in the believer's mind - if it becomes one of many - it's days are numbered.

Hitchen's quote helped explain a reaction I got from a Christian during a conversation some time ago. This Christian had opportunity to attend a sacrament meeting at a Mormon ward and had some questions about their beliefs. Though I am no authority on Mormon doctrine, I am pretty well versed in the basics, so I attempted to answer my friend's questions.

However, as the conversation continued, my friend seemed to be more and more agitated. Rather than just asking a question about Mormon beliefs and hearing the answer, my friend began to stop me in the middle of my explanation - to tell me why what I was saying was wrong and what the bible had to say about it. I finally said, "You do understand that I am not Mormon and that I am just telling you how they think about these things, right?"

After the conversation, I thought that maybe I had sounded pro-Mormon in my explanations, and that had brought about the agitated response. However, when I was listening to Hitchens today, another explanation presented itself - I was talking as if my friend's religion was just another religion among many. Nothing I said was giving my friend's religion the favored position. The interruptions were an attempt to assert dominance.

For religion to survive, it cannot be optional. It cannot be one among many possible beliefs.

I think this is a possible explanation for the rise of the "nones" here in America.  When I, and my father, and my father's father were kids, there was an assumption that everyone was religious, and most likely Christian.  Everyone went to church on Sunday.

No more.  The "nones" are growing rapidly.  It is no longer assumed that everyone you know is religious or of your religion.

The problem is choice.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Making the Education Gap Disappear

I read an article in the local paper about how our state is coming to the realization that it is pivotal for our students to be reading proficiently by the third grade.

"The K-3 period is absolutely critical,"

The article goes on to talk about how the legislature and various experts are going to have schools test, track, and push low students more and more.

Another example of closing the door once the horse has left the barn.

I taught inner-city school for 8 years.  The majority of my students were grade-levels behind their suburban counter-parts.  According to a lot of the rhetoric, and the occasional movie documentary, this situation exists due to the schools.


Last year, I taught 4th grade in an inner city school.  At the same time, my son was a 4th grader at our local suburban school.  My son could out score every student in my class.  In fact, his scores in most cases were more than double.  He could read a chapter once at the beginning of the week, take a test at the end of the week, and pretty well ace it.  My students could read that same chapter every day of the week, have the book available to them during the test, and three-quarters of them would still fail it.


Did my Jake have magic K-3 teachers ?  Were the K-3 teachers at my school that lazy or incompetent?


I knew Jake's teachers.  I knew the teachers at my building.  Do you want to know what the difference was between them?

Not a damn thing....

They were all enthusiastic, run-o-the-mill, cut from the same cloth, early elementary school teachers. You could have done a complete swap of the K-3 teachers at Jake's school and the K-3 teachers from my school... and you would have seen no end-result difference in Jake or my students.

So what was the difference, if not the school?  My Jake lived in a completely different world that that of my 4th grade students.  Unlike many of them, he was reading before he entered school for the first time.  In his environment, prior to kindergarten, he was surrounded by people and activities that expanded his knowledge base, deepened his vocabulary, and set in place many of the disciplines he would need to make his schooling productive.

He started that race 100 miles ahead and hit the ground running.

Those kinds of realities were never mentioned in the above article.

Nor did the article state that those realities don't change once the children enter school. The circumstances that created the gap are still present.

So, once the children entered kindergarten, that gap was going to grow.

Since my son had a broader foundation, a deeper vocabulary, and countless hours more academic practice, every lesson given to him in a classroom made more sense to him, had more life connections, and stayed with him much more easily. He was filing away reams of knowledge - while my students, most being years behind academically, were still trying to get through the first sentence on the page.

Presently, our education system is trying to come up with a way to get those inner-city students to score like my son. This may sound defeatist, but they won't - not with the approaches listed in the article.

They will occasionally point to the successful outliers and say, "See, see! It can be done." But there is a reason we call outliers outliers in mathematics. You can't direct policy or measure outcomes based on outliers.

I don't know what the solution is, but after teaching in the inner-city schools for 8 years I can tell you one thing:  Putting inner-city teachers and students on a hamster wheel, throwing rocks at them, and yelling "Faster! Faster!" will not work.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

I, Humanist

I was involved in a discussion with one of my brothers recently on Facebook. My Atheism was brought up, and he noted that my journey had been a progression "from Believer to Universalist to Agnostic to Atheist". So, was there another step to take?

An interesting question. Here was my response:

Well, I think the underlying change happened when I became a universalist. I would not have defined it this way at the time, but looking back, that is when I became a humanist. For the first time, people became more important to me than doctrine, and it was the first time I was willing to look at scripture and decide that, if it brought about a harmful result to people, then it was wrong. In this way I think Jesus, and MLK, and others are/were humanists - they were willing to defy the accepted dogma of their day in order to protect people. 

I think Atheism is a definition that describes how a person relates to any form of theism; but humanism is a moral and ethical statement which is used to describe how one views the world - that which promotes the advancement of the human condition is moral, that which detracts from it is immoral.

I think the humanist moral standard is a better standard. Having found it to be better, I found less and less use for the the theism... until it finally fell away. I think is possible to be religious and a humanist. Rob Bell would be a good example. In places where he finds popular dogma to cause harm to people, he either discards it or throws it up to such a flurry of questions as to render it inert. He puts people first. I think that whittles away at theism over time.... I think mine was hurried along though some of my interactions with Mormonism, but my leaving the faith was only a matter of time.

Yes, it is true that I am an Atheist. However, if I must be known by a label, I choose to take on one that speaks more to what makes me tick.

I am a Humanist.

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”  - Marcus Aurelius

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