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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Quite possibly the most reasoned and intelligent conservative on the scene, Brooks always has his feet planted firmly in history and is the kind of guy you sense comes to conclusions after meaningful, judicious thought. We received no less from him today:

In the 19th century, industrialization swept the world. Many European nations expanded their welfare states but kept their education systems exclusive. The U.S. tried the opposite approach. American leaders expanded education and created the highest quality work force on the planet.

That quality work force was the single biggest reason the U.S. emerged as the economic superpower of the 20th century. Generation after generation, American workers were better educated, more industrious and more innovative than the ones that came before.

That progress stopped about 30 years ago. Read on…

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“But we trusted…and beside all this, today is the third day…” Luke 24:21

Every fact that the disciples stated was right; but the inferences they drew from those facts were wrong. Anything that savours of dejection spiritually is always wrong. If depression and oppression visit me, I am to blame; God is not, nor is anyone else. Dejection springs from one of two sources–I have either satisfied a lust or I have not. Lust means–I must have it at once. Spiritual lust makes me demand an answer from God, instead of seeking God Who gives the answer. What have I been trusting God would do?

And today–the immediate present–is the third day, and He has not done it; therefore I imagine I am justified in being dejected and in blaming God. Whenever the insistence is on the point that God answers prayer, we are off the track. The meaning of prayer is that we get hold of God, not of the answer. It is impossible to be well physically and to be dejected. Dejection is a sign of sickness, and the same thing is true spiritually. Dejection spiritually is wrong, and we are always to blame for it.

 We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power (the fact that we are dejected proves that we do), and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him. One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized.

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If Hell were a place to be joked about, I might compare it to an Iowa winter right now as I saw that Leonard Pitts, the far left Miami columnist, had something reasonably positive to write about George Bush, even if it was one line. Pitts wrote, “When President Bush decries ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’ he speaks insight and truth.” What I find interesting is this turn of phrase, I believe originally credited to Gerson.

According to many in the educational elite, if one believes in school discipline, one is cruel. Uniforms rob teenagers of self-expression; demands of timeliness aren’t culturally sensitive; one should accept that teenagers sometimes wear pajamas and who are you to pass judgment? Any behavior needs to be tempered by the mere possibility of a lower economic scale or rough homelife. After all, how can one expect a child to behave when he has been deprived of the latest I-pod? For having high expectations, one will be called cruel, callous, unfeeling, and heartless and perhaps a bigot.

What Pitts and Bush seem to be saying is that adults’ low expectations, laissez-faire shrugging of the shoulders, and winking at poor behavior in order to be “down,” “cool,” or liked is in fact bigotry and cruelty. School administrators and some teachers would do well to follow such lessons.

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This is an eight-post series on discipline continued in the next four parts with the writings of the Scottish Oswald Chambers who lived for only 42 years but not before writing a beautiful meditation, My Utmost for His Highest. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves. Reading Martin Lloyd Jones, that great Welsh preacher of the WWII era, drives home the point–discipline and punishment are two different things.

Indeed, when we are disciplined, Lloyd Jones contends that we ought not feel that we are now being punished; rather, we are being disciplined in the sense of being trained. This is very different from punishment which seeks retribution for a wrong. It is that God knows our excesses, weaknesses, what is out of joint. He is specifically training that aspect which needs edification or building up. The analogy works like this. Say my arm is so badly broken in a fall that I have no use of it for quite some time. I am assigned to do physical therapy and follow physical regiment in order to help slowly regain use, motion, and muscle.

But oh the pain of such a thing! How cruel it seems when the therapist demands ten more repetitions. Hamlet says, “I must be cruel only to be kind,” and there is much truth in that for the physical therapist who winks, gets paid, and chats for the half-hour is deadly. An atrophied, withered and useless arm one might as well cut off awaits that poor patient. The physical therapist who demands focus, pushes, and is relentless while measured and encouraging is priceless. So it is that God will painfully prune from us that which we rely upon not in the sense of punishment for that has been paid at the Cross but in the sense of training us as a TI yells and calls the new recruit out for not keeping up on runs.

Not that this makes the discipline easy. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” The requirement is that we are trained by it, we do not look on hatred, a rolling of the eyes, or bitterness at our therapist or trainer (God). In the end of An Officer and a Gentleman, Mayo looks at his T.I. who has demanded his drop-on-request and put him through a kind of hell in order to break him; Mayo stands tall and with gratitude in knowing that the seeming cruelty was full of purpose.

May we pray for the grace to understand the purpose of our pain.

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Rick Majerus, St. Louis University basketball coach, will start Men Like Trees Walking off on an eight-post series which will include Majerus’ pithy quote, four meditations by Oswald Chambers on discipline, a couple of pop-psychologists, and an excerpt of a conversation that I had with John McCain’s cell mate Colonel Bud Day.

Parents want to take all the pain, all the heartache and all the sadness out of their kids’ lives. All the things that make you a better person, a better coach, a better teacher–all the things that are so much the fabric of life. I’m so much better for every loss I’ve had. You become so much better a person for all the bad things that happen to you. But all these helicopter parents, they just hover there, and they want to take all that away from their kids. They just don’t want them to fight through it.

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Lawmakers in Des Moines are considering hiking the compulsory attendance age to 18. The last thing our public schools need is more kids who don’t want to be educated. Some legislators have a new take on the old saying: you can lead a student to a school and you can make him think. While some drop-outs have unmet needs, some young adults simply refuse to be educated. Schools shouldn’t be places to keep “kids out of trouble” because too often, we bring the trouble to our kids.

The truth is that drop-outs see little reason for completing high school because they know they lack the skills to pass their current school work thanks to social promotion. At age 16, they may read at a 6th grade level; therefore, a diploma doesn’t represent marketable skills. These students are more honest in their assessment than schools which will hand them a paper and tell students they statistically have a better chance of success.

Drop-outs see little relevancy to their education because they have been told that success is a four year college degree. Instead, we ought to tailor education to students’ needs by giving them the opportunity to explore trades through vocational programs, many of which have suffered severe cutbacks.

And for a student who refuses to be educated, why force him to be in a desk with his head down and pretend we’ve solved the problem? Could it be that the student will learn the merits of the work world and later earn a GED once maturity and the real world help him along?

What we should never do is legislate that 17 year olds must be in school. Adding another retention specialist to a budget, pointing to more high school diplomas, or keeping older kids under the compulsion of the law will not bolster our workforce or help young people.


Think about it.

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D.M. Thomas wrote a moving biography of the great Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Alexander of Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life. In describing Solzhenitsyn’s demanding Soviet-style education with 12-14 hour days of studying Russian literature, French, chemistry, calculus, and world history, Solzhenitsyn said that he understood what he was getting from his education and that his learning was unlike what one would get in America—a cartoon of an education.

The phrase struck me. A cartoon? Solzhenitsyn was describing American schools back before the 1940s when standards were much higher than today. And then it sank in that a cartoon is the form of a thing, a sketch designed to be fun. In many ways, one can see a cartoon, say of Disney’s Hercules. The muses sing as jazzy soul sisters; Hades is witty, sarcastic, and changes voices. Zeus has enormous muscles and loves his little baby son who is so strong that he can lift Zeus up by his fist. The basic plot line is the same as the Greek tale as are the characters, conflict, and climax. The only problem is that Disney’s Hercules lacks the biting theme, flawed Herculean tragedy, and the awesome terror that the original conveyed. In short, cartoons (and American education) lack substance.

To illustrate the point, consider the following, all top-ten facts from my experience while teaching at a high school in western Iowa. I have included what I believe the students learned from the educational system. (The reason I try to be humorous is that given my two options when looking at our system, I prefer laughter to tears…)

10. Less than half of my 9th graders in 2006 knew who the vice-president of the United States was. 79% did not know the three branches of the United States government. A few out of 120 could name five African nations, one knew how modern-day Israel was formed, and three knew the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.

Translation: Don’t worry about stubborn things like facts. That is why Google was invented. If your boss asks you to make an argument using recent history, ask her where to hook up the computer to the Net.

9. There is no geography class, required body of knowledge, or foreign language requirement in order to receive a diploma. A student can receive a diploma without being able to tell his or her own state capital, who wrote Hamlet, what the Constitution is, what photosynthesis accomplishes in plants, what the Pythagorean theory proves, or why American entered the Vietnam conflict. In Iowa, there are no knowledge standards, only a poor-at-best set of tests known as the ITEDS to test basic reading and math skills.

Translation: You won’t be judged by performance-driven standards. When the boss says that the roof design must be complete, the presentation must be ready, or customers must report 95% satisfaction ratings, question whether that meant the whole roof, demand five minutes before the presentation what was meant by “ready,” and ask if she wasn’t sure whether or not 75% was “proficient” enough.

8. Students have a number of chances to do the wrong thing and attendance or seat time shouldn’t count. Extended school is a program of two weeks to give students a chance who had failed to accomplish their work when it was due. If they were below a 60%, the recently adopted passing grade, students could have two weeks to make up any extra work in order to pass the class. If a student failed that, then the student would be sent to summer school, a month to make up 18 weeks of missed work.

Translation: If at first you don’t succeed, don’t worry: it just gets easier.

7. Absence doesn’t matter. At my high school this year, 405 students (roughly 25% of the school population) missed 10 or more days unexcused or truant in two or more classes. (The school year isn’t half over!) On two different occasions, I have had homework requests for students who were to be absent who had already missed 32 days or more.

Translation: Employers don’t really worry about absences, especially if you don’t call ahead of time.

6. Students have 18-year-old textbooks, the district considers suing the state of Iowa for tax equity, the district continues to lose record numbers of students who leave the district, and the district hires a Communications Coordinator whose job it is to send good news to the community.

Translation: If you are the manager of a pro-football team and the team goes 0-12, look to buy new uniforms. If you are a city manager facing a deficit, consider redecorating the downtown office.

5. There was a teacher with zero failures at our high school. The teachers with high standards (which to the public would seem low) are normally the ones that need to tread lightly. The teachers with the low standards are caring and compassionate exemplary teachers who gain power within the school structure.

Translation: Your college professor, a gentle, benign grandfather or a winsome woman with a soft spot for you, will reward your efforts, the only thing that really counts.

4. The Assistant Superintendent meets with the African-American students exclusively in order to feed them pizza and encourage them. The principal called all Hispanic students down to the auditorium to let them know of Hispanic Parent Night. Feelings of being “other” and lower expectations are all part of the price to pay for the Messianic complex and the caring veneer of self-serving administrators. It is odd to have to say as a teacher, “If you are Hispanic, you need to leave. Come back later for instructions after school. You can’t because you ride the bus? Well, I guess you’ll have to come Monday morning before school. Sorry…”

Translation: If your people has a history of grievances (and society can provide plenty), you will have a better shot. To truly want a fair opportunity, you would have been called a radical 80 years ago, a liberal 40 years ago, and a racist conservative today (paraphrased from Thomas Sowell).

3. Some teachers (not just a few) actually believe that grades should be based on goals. One head administrator suggested that gone are the days when an A meant excellent, a B meant above average, and a C meant average. In this system, a student could set the goal to read at a 7th grade level, above the current 5th grade level. Based on her goal, such an accomplishment would be an A. Does anyone wonder why USC received over 20,000 student applicants with a 4.0 GPA and why grades carry so little weight for college admission?

Translation: In Basic Training, your T.I. will reward you with a sit-down meal and a certificate which he painstakingly does in his own calligraphy if you tell him that your 3 pull-ups is more important because you tripled what you could do when you came in. The fact that Jackson with limbs like wiry branches can do 21 is of no consequence. (Remember Jackson could only do 14 coming in and hasn’t even doubled his number!)

2. The district thinks that 9th grade English students should be reading a different novel at the same time requiring novels on the 9th grade level, 7th grade level, 5th grade level so that each student can read at his or her own pace. Number of complete sets to give an entire class: 1. To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading level? 10th grade.

Translation: If you manage a kitchen and the cooks come to you earnestly and ask to be stocked up on necessities like cooking oil, butter, and seasoning for an especially busy night with a steak special, surprise them and provide them with whip cream, salad dressing, and tartar sauce.

1. Bad behavior is winked at. A student called my class “F—ing Bull—-” and had to be removed from class. Consequence? Eating lunch in the main office. This year, the administration told our students that any foul language directed at an adult would result in suspension until the parent came up to school. Wow, I thought. Maybe students will get the message and in compassion, be taught the seriousness of such an action so that civility would be extended out of school, thus helping the student transition into the real, adult world. When I asked a student to show me her identification which the administrators asked us to require, she asked, “Are you f—ing serious?” Her consequence? She wrote—and the administrator claimed with a straight face that it took her a half hour—“I am sorry that I asked you if you were f—ing serious” except that the last two words were misspelled. I found the note in my mail till.

Translation: Go ahead and tell the policeman who pulls you over to do the biologically impossible. As long as you write on the back of the ticket that he gives you that you are sorry, you need not pay the fine.

There are rare good school administrators and good public schools (I worked at one previously in New York), but there is a reason that I wouldn’t ever send my child to a public high school in our city. It’s not teacher quality—it’s a poor system. A cartoon? Not even close. Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland at least had some method to his madness.

What gets lost in translation when you adapt the rewarding work of a substantive, disciplined, high-expectation, world class education into the cartoon of a fuzzy, lax, low-expectation, third-rate education? The student. That is one sacrifice that society cannot afford to make.

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