jasonbwatson

November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address

Filed under: Politics/Current Events — jbwatson @ 5:37 pm
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Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that Lincoln was not the keynote speaker that day, that he did not speak very long, and that he did not seem to think that his words would have any lasting impact, his remarks that day are unquestionably among the most important speeches in American history. It is not by chance or happenstance that his words are still remembered and studied a century and a half later. The text is engraved on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial and memorizing the speech is still fairly common among schools and even colleges in the United States.

I had a unique experience with the Gettysburg Address while I was in college. I was taking an honors course entitled Lincoln at Gettysburg: Propositions of Equality. The course was taught by my favorite professor, Dr. Myron Marty, and we spent the entire semester studying first Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg and then the impact of those words in general and the attempts by other presidents after Lincoln to effect the equality Lincoln spoke so eloquently about. (I, for example, was assigned to look at the first President Bush and the Americans with Disabilities Act). my unique experience, though, came when we were supposed to report to class one day with a question we had about the Gettysburg Address. I had forgotten to think of a question in advance and so, as Mr. Marty (as he preferred to be called) told us that he was going to distribute 3 x 5 cards and we were to write down our questions I quickly thought of this one: How, if at all, would Lincoln have changed his remarks if he could have known that they would still be studied more than a hundred years later? Mr. Marty then collected the questions and proceeded to read them aloud to the class, first telling us that we would have to select one of the questions to be the topic for a research paper we were going to write. For some reason only he will ever know, when Mr. Marty read my question he looked at me (no doubt with a twinkle in his eye) and said, “I am going to require you to write your paper on this question.”

In my mind I was thinking, “Thanks a lot! It is an interesting and thought-provoking question(if I do say so myself), but how in the world am I going to research what Lincoln might have done if he had known something he did not know?” Well, researching that paper turned out to be a fascinating experience for me, and I got an A on it. I think I still have it somewhere, but since I am not going to share it here right now I will go ahead and give you my conclusion: had he known his comments would be remembered and studied long after he spoke them Lincoln probably would have spent much more time crafting them and probably would have changed them, but he should not have changed them. In other words, they were practically perfect just as he delivered them.

Lincoln’s words have echoed through the decades because of what he accomplished in just a few minutes. He recalled the founding of the country, and the belief that all mean are created equal. The Constitution, of course, did not originally reflect that belief given that it did not grant women the right to vote and permitted slavery, but the belief was there in the hearts and minds of many and that belief was eventually recognized with the abolition of slavery and the granting of voting rights to women and non-whites. It has not been recognized yet in one very important way, though, and that is that unborn children are still legally murdered when their mothers decide for whatever reason not to allow them to live. This is a clear violation of the idea that all men are created equal. This idea is also being perverted by those who insist that homosexuals deserve the right to marry. I have explained numerous times why homosexual marriage is not a civil rights issue, so I will not do so again. My point, though, is that the idea that all men are created equal has still not reached its complete fulfillment.

There is far more within the Gettysburg Address that is worthy of examination. If you cannot remember the words of the speech I encourage you to look them up and find them–it will not be hard! Take time to think about the message Lincoln shared that day one hundred and fifty years ago. Take time to reflect on the sacrifice paid by men and women in defense of this nation and the freedoms we hold dear…a sacrifice eventually paid by Lincoln himself. Take time to reflect on Lincoln’s conviction that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” and think about the danger being posed to that government by the actions of our current elected officials.

Lincoln’s speech was brief, but heartfelt. He spoke out of the convictions of his heart. There were no speech writers, no teleprompters…he wrote the words himself and he delivered them reverently and solemnly. They are still remembered because they are powerful and, if we let them, they still have much to say to us today.

November 18, 2013

I’ll be a nutcase, thank you

The conflict over girls being allowed to participate in boys sports is not a new one, but unfortunately it is not going away, either. Parents of a seventh grade girl in Pennsylvania are suing the school district because it will not allow their daughter to wrestle on the school’s (all male) wrestling team. The school says the reason is that allowing her to participate would present dilemmas for the coaches. The family contends that it is because she is a girl.

Hmmm…ya think?

The family has filed suit in federal court. The district has responded that is does not allow boys and girls to participate together in close contact sports because students have a “right to be protected from undesired contact of sensual body parts from a person of the opposite sex.” The parents countered that their daughter began wrestling when she was in third grade and that in Iowa, where they lived at the time, she was on the school wrestling team in fourth and fifth grade and she competed against boys there. A federal judge has issued an order for the school to allow the girl to sign up for the team and will have a hearing this week to decide whether or not to make that order permanent. My guess is that the judge will rule in the girl’s favor. In my mind, that is unfortunate.

There are girls participating in wrestling all across the country. There are girls on wrestling teams in South Dakota, where I am a school administrator. Our school has a wrestling team and our school policy is that (1) girls cannot wrestle and (2) our boys cannot wrestle girls on other teams. If there is a girl on another team that one of our boys would be paired with, we forfeit the match. There is no discussion, no question, no negotiating. And yet this is not out of some sexist desire to exclude girls or restrict their opportunities or treat them as lesser individuals. It is, on the other hand, out of respect for the girls and the boys and the way in which God created them.

In 2009 John Piper wrote what I think is one of the best responses to the issue of girls wrestling boys. He wrote it in response to first female competitor in a high school wrestling tournament in Minnesota, and it was entitled “Over My Dead Body, Son.” In the post Piper wrote that the moment was not a step forward; “some cultures spend a thousand years unlearning the brutality of men toward women,” he said.

In Piper’s inimitable way he identified the real issue regarding the unwillingness of many to stand in opposition to this perversion of healthy gender roles: “It’s just too uncool. The worst curse that can fall on us is to be seen as one of those nutcases who hasn’t entered the modern world. This is not about courageous commitment to equality; it’s about wimpy fear of criticism for doing what our hearts know is right.”

I was never a wrestler, not in a formal sense. Like probably any male who grew up with a brother close in age I have certainly wrestled. But the sport of wrestling has rules, it has “moves,” and it has uniforms. None of these create a situation that allows for a healthy male-female interaction. First, the uniforms are skin tight. I have never seen a girl in a wrestling singlet and I never want to. Second, wrestling as designed requires grabbing, squeezing, twisting, pushing, pulling… There is, to my knowledge, no other sport in which the opponents are so physically close for so long. Wrestling opponents are literally as close to each other, and entwined with each other, as two humans can be. Tell me then, why in the world any sane parent would allow, much less encourage, a daughter to intentionally place herself in a position to be wearing skin tight clothing pressed together with a young man also wearing skin tight clothing? Piper writes of watching an online instructional video for wrestling, illustrating how to pin your opponent. Of this video he writes, “these two guys are pressing and pulling on each other with unfettered and total contact. And it isn’t soft. It’s what we do not allow our sons to do to girls.”

In 2011 Iowa high schooler Joel Northrup was the fifth-ranked wrestler in the state, but he took a stand when he was matched with a female opponent in the first round of the state championships. Northrup forfeited because he was unwilling to wrestle a girl. Here is what he had to say: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy [Herkelman, the wrestler he drew] and Megan [another female wrestler who made it to the state championships] and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most high-school sports in Iowa.”

Northrup’s father is a pastor, and he said, “We believe in the elevation and respect of woman.” ESPN’s Rick Reilly responded in complete foolishness to that statement when he wrote this on ESPN.com: “That’s where the Northrups are so wrong. Body slams and takedowns and gouges in the eye and elbows in the ribs are exactly how to respect Cassy Herkelman. This is what she lives for. She can elevate herself, thanks.”

National Review‘s Mona Charen wisely challenged Reilly’s comments with this questions: “Are we really sure we want to obliterate the last traces of chivalry in young men — to stamp out every trace of protectiveness from the male psyche?” Charen, like Piper, pointed out that boys wrestling girls are put in the position of either being at a distinct disadvantage or of touching girls in places that boys are told in every other context not to touch girls. Says Charen, “Supporters of co-ed wrestling insist that sex is the last thing on the kids’ minds when they’re in the arena, which is almost certainly false.” She concluded her piece with this summary: “Joel Northrup did the honorable thing by bowing out and refusing to wrestle a girl. He cited his conscience and his faith. They have been better guides for him than this gender-neutrality ideology has been for the state of Iowa.” I agree wholeheartedly, though I would suggest that gender-neutral ideology has been detrimental to far more than just the state of Iowa (as, I am sure, would Charen).

Selwyn Duke, writing for American Thinker, said this: “Having girls and boys grapple on mats in front of spectators is nothing short of social perversion.” Later, Duke writes, “We put boys — whose natural desire to be a knight in shining armor and protect girls should be cultivated — in an unreasonable position: They either have to contribute to the defeminizing of the fairer sex or the emasculation of their own.”

I am not really convinced that girls need to wrestle at all. If they do need to, though, they should be wrestling each other, not boys. After all, what other sport is there at the level of high school or above where girls and boys compete against each other? I cannot think of any. And if there is any sport in which coed participation should not be happening it is wrestling! Jen Chu, the Pennsylvania director for women’s wrestling, agrees. She said, in a March 2012 article for Max Preps (a web site devoted to high school sports), “My goal is to have something completely separate from the boys and establish girls wrestling. The answer is to separate girls and boys wrestling, and the way to expand the sport is to separate it.”

Bottom line, girls and boys should not be wrestling each other. There is no realistic argument that supports it. The gender equality argument does not. The comparison to other sports does not. The biblical perspective certainly does not. We need men and women to stand up for the truth, to be willing to say to each other and to their children that boys wrestling girls is not right, it does not benefit anyone, and we will not allow it. And if, in Piper’s words, that means someone will see me as a nutcase, sign me up.

November 15, 2013

What About Common Core? (part 5)

I hate to do this. Really, I do. Quite frankly, I am irritated that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have taken up so much of my time and attention recently–especially when I am not (1) required to follow them at the school where I serve, and (2) even all that interested in defending the standards themselves! What bugs me is the misinformation and the manipulation of the facts that is so prevalent surrounding the CCSS. I wrote at length on these standards last week and then decided after four posts that I was done. I intended to walk away from the issue and leave it alone. Then I got today’s mail…

In today’s mail I received a letter from Concerned Women for America (CWA) which was accompanied by a pamphlet entitled “Stop Common Core ‘State’ Standards.” The pamphlet included a picture of an elementary school child wearing a safety patrol vest, holding a stop sign. At the top of the cover was this statement: “An Unconstitutional Experiment on Our Children.” The lower part of the cover says, “An experiment destined for failure, loss of local control, loss of parental rights, loss of privacy, high costs and more.” Now, I respect CWA and much of what they do. However, I cannot ignore the inaccuracies and spin of their propaganda piece. The only way to have healthy and meaningful debate is to stick to the facts, and conservative organizations need to hold themselves to that standard–particularly organizations that are also Christian.

The inside front page of the pamphlet provides this explanation in response to the headline, “What is the Common Core?”

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a set of national K-12 standards in math and English language arts currently being implemented in 45 states and Washington, D.C. The CCSS were developed behind closed doors by a left-leaning Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group. Supporters of the CCSS claim that the development of the standards was a “state-led” effort, but that simply is not true. Neither state boards of education, state legislators nor local education officials, school leaders, nor parents were included in the development, evaluation, and adoption of CCSS.

That paragraph includes reference to an end note after the comment about the “left-leaning” non-profit group, and that end note directs readers to a report by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc., entitled “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education.” Interestingly, that report was published in 2008, and the CCSS were not even copyrighted until 2010. The suggestion, though, is that Achieve, Inc. is a “left-leaning” non-profit group responsible for drafting the CCSS. The report in question was outlining the arguments in favor of developing such standards. However, Achieve, Inc. (1) is a bipartisan organization that includes both Republican and Democratic governors on its board of directors, and (2) is not cited at all in the final CCSS.

Furthermore, that CWA paragraph states that there were no state boards of education, elected officials or local education officials involved in the “behind close doors” development of the CCSS. However, the CCSS were developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The CCSSO is “a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions.” The CCSSO board of directors has as its president Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. The president-elect is Terry Holliday, the Commissioner of Education for Kentucky. The past president is Thomas Luna, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Idaho. The board includes education heads from six other states. These individuals serve as the executive officers for their state departments of education and, in many states, also serve as secretary or ex-officio members of the state boards of education. It would therefore be difficult to suggest that neither state boards of education nor school leaders were involved in the development of the CCSS. Furthermore, the suggestion that teachers were not involved in the development of the CCSS is not true. There were teachers involved all along the way, and the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) are among the groups that were involved. PolitiFact.com rates the assertion that teachers were not involved in the development of the standards as “false” on their truth-o-meter, and even identifies and quotes teachers who were involved in the CCSS development (see the article here).

The CWA pamphlet also states that many states agreed to adopt the CCSS and the accompanying assessments “sight unseen.” That may be true. Even if it is, though, that is a problem with the elected officials in those states, not with the CCSS. No state could adopt the CCSS without the approval of elected officials. It simply is not possible.

The CWA pamphlet also states that the CCSS violate the Constitution, specifically the Tenth Amendment. I addressed in a previous post the fact that the federal government did not impose the CCSS on the states because it cannot do so. It can incentivize the adoption of the standards, and it did do that, but that is not unconstitutional.

The pamphlet goes on to suggest that there are three federal statutes which “prohibit the federal government from guiding the educational curriculum of the states.” The first of those statutes is the General Education Provisions Act. This act reads as follows:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.

The problem with the CWA assertion, though, is that the individual states that are adopting CCSS have made their own decision to do so. When a state voluntarily adopts the CCSS it is the state, not the federal government, that is subjecting itself to the CCSS guidelines.

The second law referenced is the Department of Education Organization Act. This 1979 law creating the Department of Education contains basically the same language as the law quoted above. Section 103(b) reads…

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.

The reasons why CCSS does not violate this law are already outlined above.

Finally, the CWA pamphlet references the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Now, the full act is some 600 pages. If you want to read it all, help yourself–it is public record and not hard to find. However, this act actually does more to support CCSS than to hinder it. After all, Section 1001 (1) states that the law’s purpose is to “ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education” by “ensuring that high-quality academic assessments, accountability systems, teacher preparation and training, curriculum, and instructional materials are aligned with challenging State academic standards so that students, teachers, parents, and administrators can measure progress against common expectations for student academic achievement….” And again, any suggestion that the CCSS violate the law is negated by the fact that the individual states have opted in to CCSS; they have not had it forced upon them.

The CWA pamphlet goes on to state that “local control of education is best, whereby parents, teachers and taxpayers have a voice.” I agree wholeheartedly, and I am on record as advocating the abolition of the Department of Education completely. Again, though, this is a separate issue from the CCSS.

CWA also suggests that the CCSS actually lower education standards. I think this is a real stretch. It would take quite a while to go through and address, standard by standard, why I disagree with this assertion, so I am not going to do it. But I will touch briefly on one specific assertion made by the CWA pamphlet regarding literature. The pamphlet states that the CCSS has a “prominence of nonfiction ‘informational texts’ such as technical manuals, government documents, brochures and menus rather than highly regarded classic literature.” This argument is really a nonstarter for me. First of all, a well-rounded education needs to include “informational texts” as well as classic literature. Informational texts are certainly going to be more practical for most students than classic literature. Second, though, the assertion is inaccurate.

The CCSS text exemplars (and again, these are recommendations– they are not mandated) include a healthy variety of both. Grades 9-10, for example, include recommendations for stories, drama, poetry and informational texts. Homer’s The Odyessey, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Poe’s “The Raven,” Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73,” and Dickinson’s “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” are but some of the recommended reading for high school freshmen and sophomores. (One of the more bizarre rumors surrounding the CCSS, by the way, is that The Grapes of Wrath is recommended for second grade. Not true.)

What are informational texts recommended for grades 9-10? Speeches by Patrick Henry, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ronald Reagan are listed for Language Arts. The History/Social Studies information texts include works on Custer, art, fish, African Americans in the Civil War and great composers. Science, math and technical subject recommendations include Euclid’s Elements as well as works on stars, the circumference of the earth and a government document on recommended levels of insulation. Not only do the fiction recommendations exceed the nonfiction recommendations, there is nothing wrong or detrimental about the nonfiction recommendations!

So, to repeat my mantra yet again, please do not believe everything you hear or read about the CCSS. This topic has become quite the political hot potato and folks on both sides are using half truths and spin to support their arguments. Do the research and find the facts for yourself…and insist on candor and honesty from those who are arguing about these standards.

A budding star?

Last week the Washington Post ran a story on Nadia Bolz-Weber entitled “Bolz-Weber’s liberal, foulmouthed articulation of Christianity speaks to fed-up believers.” You may have heard of Bolz-Weber; she wrote a New York Times bestseller entitled Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. I actually had not heard of her until a colleague showed by the Washington Post article. Unfortunately, what I learned from reading that article and then exploring a bit more online has left me no choice but to comment on Bolz-Weber’s–shall we say, unique–approach to Christianity. No doubt the title of the article mentioned above is enough to clue you in to the attitude she takes.

The Post article calls Bolz-Weber a “budding star for the liberal Christian set.” It describes her appearance this way: “Her 6-foot-1 frame is plastered with tattoos, her arms are sculpted by competitive weightlifting and, to show it all off, this pastor is wearing a tight tank top and jeans.” That is a unique appearance indeed for any pastor, male or female. And while I may not be a fan of a black tank top with clerical collar, Bolz-Weber’s appearance in and of itself probably would not have prompted me to blog about her.

The Post article provides a very quick recap of Bolz-Weber’s life thus far: “A quick tour through her 44 years doesn’t seem likely to wind up here. It includes teen rebellion against her family’s fundamentalist Christianity, a nose dive into drug and alcohol addiction, a lifestyle of sleeping around and a stint doing stand-up in a grungy Denver comedy club.” Going from that kind of life experience to graduating from seminary and pastoring a church would make a dynamic testimony to be sure. And apparently Bolz-Weber has that. Interestingly enough, the Post article also includes several statements that I found encouraging. For example: “The type of social liberals who typically fill the pews of mainline churches sometimes feel like outsiders among fellow liberals in their lives if they are truly believing Christians; if they are people who really experience Jesus and his resurrection, even if they can’t explain it scientifically; if they are people who want to hear words from the Apostles in church, not Thich Nhat Hanh or Barack Obama.” While I personally struggle to reconcile biblical Christianity with many of the positions espoused by social liberals, the point that church should be a place for people who are truly believing Christians and who actually want to hear the Bible preached, not some pop psychology drivel, encourages me.

The article goes on to state this: “In her body and her theology, Bolz-Weber represents a new, muscular form of liberal Christianity, one that merges the passion and life-changing fervor of evangelicalism with the commitment to inclusiveness and social justice of mainline Protestantism.” That is, for the most part, exactly the kind of merging I think is needed in the church today. The “life-changing fervor of evangelicalism” is what the Gospel is all about, and it must not be abandoned or ignored. At the same time, there is a very real need for Christians to work for social justice and serve the poor and live out their faith. I cannot embrace the statement above in its entirety since “inclusiveness” is a not-so-subtle reference to accepting homosexuality, and while homosexuals need to be loved and treated with dignity, the homosexual lifestyle cannot be accepted by anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God and means what it says.

But the article follows the statement above with this one: “She’s a tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left.” Even putting the tattoos aside, the idea that someone can effectively represent and present the Gospel with a foul mouth is dumbfounding to me. Of her use of language generally not heard until late hours on television, let alone in church, Bolz-Weber says, “I don’t think church leaders should pretend to be something they’re not.” I would agree with that. I would also suggest, however, that deciding that being foul-mouthed is simply who she is instead of working to change that part of her life is not only inconsistent with Scripture but demonstrates a contradiction to what she also claims to believe–that the Gospel has life-changing power. God accepts and loves us as we are, but He does not expect us to stay that way. As we grow in relationship with Him, as we progress in sanctification, we should become less and less like the world and more and more like Christ. There is a reason that the language Bolz-Weber is known for using is called profanity–and that is because it is profane! That which is profane has no place in the life of a believer, much less in church.

The Post says Bolz-Weber’s message is this: “Forget what you’ve been told about the golden rule — God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things. God, she argues, offers you grace regardless of who you are or what you do.” Yes, God does offer grace, and no, God does not love anyone more for doing good things. But forget the golden rule? The golden rule, as it is commonly known, is a commandment from Jesus. This is exactly the way in which Christians are supposed to live. Living this way is how people will know we are Christians! When Jesus gave the golden rule he was turning the way the religious leaders of His day had taught completely upside down. Prior to Jesus, the teaching was not to do to others what you would not want them to do to you. That’s a good idea, of course, but it is a negative command, not a positive one. You could go through life never doing anything to anyone else that you would not want them to do to you and at the same time never doing anything nice, never performing any act of service, never demonstrating love to another person. I can go through life and never hit you upside the head, for example, but that is and of itself is not enough–that is not what Jesus has called us to do.

Continuing on through the Post article I again find moments of encouragement and times when I think “Right on!” Shortly thereafter, though, I am again confronted with times that make me think, “Are you serious?” For example: “Bolz-Weber says she abhors ‘spirituality,’ which she sees as a limp kind of self-improvement plan. She prefers a cranky, troublemaking and real God who at times of loss and pain doesn’t have the answers either.” Whoa! Hold on now… The God of the Bible is not cranky. Cranky implies moodiness, instability, emotions based on fluctuating feelings. God is none of those things. Yes, God gets angry, but He is angered by sin. He does not get angry because He did not get enough sleep or because He spilled His coffee or because he is stuck in traffic. And the God of the Bible is never without answers. Scripture makes it clear that He is omniscient–all knowing. If He knows all things than there can never be an answer He does not know. Surely there are times when He does not give us all the answers, but that is entirely different from Him not having them.

In a September’s issue of USC’s Religion Dispatches magazine Bolz-Weber was interviewed by Candace Chellew-Hodge, the founder/editor of an online magazine for GLBT Christians, pastor of a church in South Carolina, and author of a “Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians.” In the interview Bolz-Weber says that she was “allowed not to die in exchange for working for God. I’d have to become God’s bitch.” That word refers by definition, of course, to a female dog, but it is a slang word for a variety of things, including “a person who performs demeaning tasks for another; servant.” While being a servant of God is a good thing, the connotation of the word is entirely different from what the Bible has in mind when it describes serving God. Bolz-Weber, no doubt, uses the word for shock value. Later in the same interview, when discussing how God used worked through flawed people in the Bible, Bolz-Weber said, “All God’s favorite people are f_____d up.” Again, the word is slang, and even if Bolz-Weber’s basic message is on target the way in which she presents it is a turn off–it’s offensive. Dictionary.com says of that word, “For many people, the word is extremely vulgar, considered improper and taboo in all of its senses.” In other words, it is certainly not the way to present the Gospel!

Nadia Bolz-Weber has some valuable insights into Christianity and, at times, she is right on. Unfortunately, her desire to be “real” means that she is in many instances actually offensive herself. The message of the Gospel is an offense to the world; the Bible promises us that. Accordingly, there will be times when the messengers of the Gospel are offensive to the world, too. We must be careful, however, to limit our offense to the message, not to our careless handling of it. We must be careful not to confuse God’s acceptance of us for who we are with His acceptance of us staying there. And we must be extremely careful not to present the God of the Bible as someone that He is not.

November 14, 2013

“It’s just the logistics…”

Earlier this week the school board of Sioux Falls, SD decided that it would not make the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance a daily requirement in high schools. This was not a new policy; students in Sioux Falls high schools have not been saying the pledges daily for some time. However, a group of veterans asked the board to reconsider that policy. James Boorman, one of the veterans who spoke to the board regarding their request, summarized what they wanted this way: “This is what we are asking, ten seconds a day from standup until sit down. Ten seconds to recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day.” In case you’re wondering that’s a literal ten seconds, too, not hyperbole. Go ahead and try it–watch the second hand on your clock or watch and recite the pledge. At a normal cadence it will not take you ten seconds.

Addressing the reasons why the school board voted–unanimously– not to make the Pledge a high school requirement school board member Kate Parker said, “We felt that we wanted to make that clear that at the high school level, we don’t [recite the Pledge]. There’s not always an opportunity to have the Pledge of Allegiance spoken every day.” Really? There is not an opportunity to find ten seconds that students could recite the pledge? That seems awfully far-fetched to me, and it did with the veterans making the request, too. Said Dave Saunders, “Tonight we had a wounded veteran, it took him longer to get out and get up and get his crutches, then it would have taken the students to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag.”

Another school board member, Doug Morrison, said, “Just the challenge of being able to find a period within a high school day to be able to say it consistently appeared to be a challenge.” Among all of the things that high schools have a literal challenge figuring out how to do, scheduling ten seconds to recite the pledge should not be one of them. Apparently high school students in Sioux Falls do not have home rooms, and the fact that they do not means it would just be too hard to make room for the pledge. That’s absurd. At the school where I serve the high school students do not have home rooms, either. That was a problem that was solved in about–oh–ten seconds. What do we do? The students recite the pledge at the beginning of the first class they have each day. (In fact, our students recite the pledges to the Christian flag and the Bible, too. Somehow we manage to survive despite the thirty seconds that takes every day).

The Argus Leader, the local Sioux Falls newspaper, reported the board’s decision this way: “Board members said the flurry of activity that occurs first thing in the morning at the high schools isn’t conducive to giving the Pledge the reverence it deserves.” In my mind, though, that’s pretty flimsy. Regardless of whatever activities occur at the beginning of any school day there has to come a time when students focus and get down to learning. If there are other things that need to be done before reciting the pledge–announcements or attendance or whatever else–go ahead and do those things first. But to say that there is not time, or that it is not possible to create the reverence the Pledge deserves, is disingenuous and silly. The simple fact is the school board does not want to require it and there is no other logical explanation for it.

Interestingly enough Sioux Falls requires that elementary students recite the pledge every day and in the same meeting that they decided high school students would not they expanded the elementary policy to include middle school students. The message they are sending, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is that the schools have time to encourage younger students to pay respect to their country and the men and women who serve, and have served, to protect it, but at the high school level that commitment of time is no longer convenient. Here’s the thing, though–when it comes to honoring the country and the men and women of the Armed Forces convenience should have nothing to do with it. It should be a priority.

Said James Boorman in the Argus Leader story: “Such reflections help us appreciate not only the veterans, but the freedoms we enjoy as a consequence of their service, taking time to reflect on how we are doing with our use of freedom, helps us to appreciate all the more where it comes from, and the heavy price that is paid to defend and sustain it. … Ten seconds to recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day, throughout all of your grade levels. This is not too much to pay, considering the sacrifice that others are standing in harm’s way for you.”

School board member Kate Parker said the board’s decision is not meant to show any disrespect. “It doesn’t reflect a lack of our appreciation or respect for all that our veterans do, it’s just the logistics of the high school day.”

All due respect to Ms. Parker, I think it takes incredible chutzpah to say with a straight face that when weighing the possibility of reciting the pledge each day or not–dedicating just ten seconds to honor the country, the freedoms we have and the men and women who protect those freedoms–deciding not to do so is just “the logistics of the high school day.”

That’s nothing short of incredible in my mind…and I do not mean incredible in a good way, either.

November 13, 2013

Memories of Grandma

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 6:39 pm

It is about a month shy of two years ago when I wrote Memories of Grandpa in this space. Now it is time to share memories of my maternal grandmother. She passed away on Monday after a series of health complications. I know that she is now healed and happy and much better than she was while she was here, given that her quality of life had significantly diminished. Still, losing a loved one is never easy. I think it is compounded in this case by the fact that she was my last living grandparent–there is just something, for lack of a better word, odd, about knowing that an entire generation of family members who were so involved and influential in your formative years are now gone.

I imagine many people think very highly of their grandmothers. After all, grandmas are special people. My grandma was no different. She was very different from my paternal grandmother in many ways, though in some very important ways they were similar. Both of my grandmothers loved the Lord and were involved in working with children at church through Sunday school and AWANA to teach the Bible to young people, and that is a legacy for which I am grateful.

My maternal grandmother never worked after she married and she never learned to drive a car, either. Before my family moved half way across the country at the beginning of my teenage years we lived about forty-five minutes from my grandparents house and I have many fond memories of holidays at their home, summer outings around the area and summer vacations to West Virginia. We were always at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Easter and Christmas. Easter dinner was a site to behold all on its own, with the good dishes and glasses and silverware and a table literally covered with food. It always included ham and potato salad, if I remember correctly. After dinner there was always an Easter egg hunt in the backyard. On Christmas day we would spend the morning at my paternal grandmother’s house before going to my maternal grandparents’ home. The family room downstairs would always have a Christmas tree surrounded by what seemed to a child to be a mountain of presents. Within just a few minutes of my grandparents’ home was an amusement park known originally as Wild World, though it is now a Six Flags. Grandma would purchase season passes to Wild World and we would go often in the summer. Grandma would pack lunches to bring in the cooler and we would spend all day at the park.

From the time I was eight until I was thirteen and we moved my grandparents would take my brother and I on vacation for a week every summer to Holly River State Park in West Virginia where we would stay in a cabin and enjoy the outdoors. There was no television or radio, just fun. My brother and I would play in the creek, we would all go hiking and participate in the activities of the week that the park had to offer… I can still remember watching my grandmother help my brother learn to swim by standing a short distance from the edge and urging him to swim to her fingers as she stood there making the “number one” sign with both hands. They would do this over and over, with Grandma gradually backing further and further away from the wall, my brother thus swimming further and further on his own.

Grandma never liked to read for her own pleasure; I do not recall ever seeing her read a book just for fun (a huge difference from my paternal grandmother). But she did like to read stories to her grandchildren, and she read them with gusto, changing her voice for the various characters and so on. She also loved to play games. Interestingly enough, for someone who did not like to read, she very much enjoyed word games like Boggle, but she would play most anything. I can remember playing Chutes and Ladders with her as a very young child, and remember playing Boggle or Phase Ten even once I was an adult.

Grandma served wonderful meals. It was not uncommon for her to get started preparing the next meal shortly after one ended. The rest of us would be sitting around stuffed and she would say, “Well, I better get started on dinner.” A collective groan would usually be the result, as we could not imagine eating again anytime soon… It was a family joke that Grandma would ask if you wanted some more as she was putting another helping on your plate. And I cannot forget “treat.” I am guessing that name stuck from the time my mother and her sisters were young, but my grandparents would have treat every night, usually long after most people would think of having dessert. It usually consisted of cake or brownies or cookies and ice cream…almost always ice cream. On a typical night this might be served around ten o’clock. After I was working, though, when I would go visit my grandparents on long weekends sometimes I would drive to their place after work on Friday, getting there around midnight. Treat would always be waiting when I arrived, and we would sit around and eat dessert in the wee hours of the morning! Which reminds me, my maternal grandparents were always night owls, too… They never went to bed early that I can remember. In fact, they usually stayed up later than I did!

When I was growing up Grandma would always call on our birthdays and she would sing Happy Birthday through the phone to whomever was celebrating. She had very distinctive handwriting, which I can picture clearly in my mind, and when I was in college and we were exchanging actual snail-mail letters I can remember her writing in considerable detail about whatever topic she happened to be addressing.

It is, from a human standpoint, sad to know that I will never see Grandma again in this world. I am glad that the last time I did see her–Christmas last year–she was still living with my parents, not in a hospital setting, and that she could still have conversations to some extent, even though her mind was, for the most part, gone. I am rejoicing to know that her mind is now sharper than it has ever been, that she is in heaven with the Lord and that her body will never again suffer pain. She is in the presence of God, no doubt visiting with old friends and with Grandpa. And some day, I will see her again.

November 8, 2013

What About Common Core? (part 4)

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Politics/Current Events — jbwatson @ 4:22 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have spent more than enough time and space on the topic of the Common Core State Standards now, and the bottom line is that the debate is not going to go away. As I mentioned earlier, the debate is good. If nothing else, the CCSS have awakened some people to the importance of being informed and involved in education. I could spend more time and space talking about whether or not Bill and Melinda Gates are performing the role of the man behind the curtain in the development of CCSS, I could explore whether or not the federal government is violating its constitutional role by providing incentive funds for states adopting the CCSS, I could go standard by standard, state by state and evaluate whether the CCSS are an improvement or not…in short I could make studying and addressing the CCSS my full time job for the foreseeable future if I wanted to do so. I do not want to do so, and I am guessing my readers do not want me to, either.

In conclusion, then, I would like to share a few final thoughts…

First, the strength of any school will always be its teachers, not its textbooks nor its standards. That raises another topic altogether, of course, given the contracts some teachers unions have negotiated for public educators in this day and age. Ask Michelle Rhee how easy it is to get rid of poorly performing educators….

Second, regarding Glenn Beck and others of his ilk… Mr. Beck is certainly entertaining, and he does, at times, bring a needed and insightful approach to some of the topics he may choose to address, but let us also not forget that he thrives on controversy and alarmism in order to perpetuate his audience. Unfortunately, not everything that Mr. Beck has reported or stated regarding the CCSS is accurate. There is nothing in the CCSS that will strip local schools of their control of their curricular choices any more than there was in previously existing state standards. The CCSS is just one more in a long line of outcome-based education models, concerned almost exclusively with whether or not the skills enumerated are achieved by the students as evidenced through their performance on standardized tests.

Finally, the Common Core State Standards are here to stay—at least until the next movement comes along. The reality is that there will always be debate and conflict over what exactly constitutes a quality education. There will never be unanimous agreement over what students should learn and when they should learn it, over which is more important—facts or skills, and over a myriad of other educational topics.

At the end of the day, it is the right and responsibility of each parent to ensure that their child(ren) receive a quality education. The beauty of it is that different parents will define that in different ways. I have definite opinions about what a quality education looks like, and I am not shy about sharing my opinions. Anyone who has read this space at length knows that in my mind the movement known as “unschooling” does not qualify. Other parents think that that is exactly what their children need in order to have a quality education. I respect their prerogative to think that and to raise their children accordingly.

As a Christian, I believe wholeheartedly that what matters most is how well we measure up against God’s standard. The Bible does not clearly state where children are to go to school, for how long, or with whom, but it does provide clear instruction in plenty of other particulars that will provide clear direction in making decisions regarding the education of children. To those who are all worked up about CCSS I say “bravo for you.” I hope that your new-found passion for ensuring that your local school system operates the way it should and provides the education that it should will not diminish. Whether through CCSS, some other nationwide set of standards, or a multitude of locally-developed standards, the best way to ensure that American children are getting a quality education is to ensure that American parents are informed, involved, and holding educators accountable for the education being provided.

November 7, 2013

What About Common Core? (part 3)

As I indicated at the end of the last post, all of the hullabaloo over the Common Core State Standards is really over a much deeper issue than these standards. One of these issues is one that was around long before CCSS, and if Common Core is going to alert people to it then that is a good thing. The second and third are problems with the government, not with the Common Core, though most people seem not to understand the difference. Perhaps I can shed some light…

First, the problem that has been around since long before Common Core is the issue of local control of public schools in general and textbook selection in particular. Public schools do not operate as agents of the federal government–or at least they ought not. Public schools are under the auspices of the various state departments of education and under the authority of local school boards. Most public schools have committees that deal with textbook adoption, and these committees often include educators as well as community members. Of course school boards are almost always elected bodies, with members of the community serving on the boards and deciding who the board members are. What anyone who takes the time to truly study what Common Core is (and is not) will discover is that individual states have adopted the Common Core; the federal government neither designed the CCSS nor forced them on anyone. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, the CCSS does not assign or dictate textbooks. Even in the English standards, the CCSS provide a recommended reading list, or what the CCSS call Text Exemplars. There is no mandatory reading dictated by the CCSS. There have been concerns raised by various people about some of the titles included on the reading lists. I consider that debate to be healthy. At the same time, the fact that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is one of the recommended texts does not mean that the entire CCSS is evil. After all, the recommended reading lists also include O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention,” George Washington’s “Farewell Address,” and Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” among many other worthwhile titles. And again, the decision as to which titles will be read is to be made by the state, the school or the teacher, depending on how the particular system works–not by the CCSS. Bottom line, people who care about their children and the education being offered in public schools need to take every opportunity to be involved in the decision making process.

The second problem–the first of two with the government–is the federal government’s use of money to essentially bribe states into adopting the CCSS and the refusal of most states to even consider rejecting money. This is an issue that is much larger than the CCSS and would require much more space for me to address than you really want me to spend right now, so I will try to keep it brief and restricted to the CCSS. The CCSS were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers–not the federal government. Respected leaders and experts in mathematics and English were involved in the development of the standards, and feedback was provided by literally thousands of individuals, including teachers and parents. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia expressed approval of the standards as they were being developed and reviewed. So where did the federal government come in? The 2009 stimulus package included $4.35 billion in education funding through the Race to the Top education program developed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The funding would be available to states that adopted some standardized (i.e., common) guidelines and benchmarks for student learning. Only the CCSS met the guidelines and benchmarks the Race to the Top program designated, so states were faced with (1) adopting the CCSS to receive their slice of the pie, (2) developing their own standards that would meet the Race to the Top guidelines, or (3) saying “no thank you” to the federal dollars. To my knowledge no state has yet attempted option number 2, and rarely are states willing to pursue option number 3, especially when money for education is such a hot topic already.

A number of individuals have cried foul over the federal government’s use of monetary incentives to push the adoption of the CCSS, but it is nothing new and is certainly not unique to Common Core. Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project has suggested that federal involvement in education violates the Constitution because education is not within the domain of the federal government but power shifts that way when states choose to accept federal funds. But again, no one is forcing states to accept federal dollars, the federal government does have the authority to offer financial incentives, and it has done so for decades and in various areas in which the federal government does not have authority on its own. If people are unhappy about this there is a built-in remedy for it called the ballot box. Common Core is an example of the “problem” but is not the problem itself.

The third problem–and the second one that involves the government–is the way in which questions about CCSS have been handled. For example, a couple of weeks ago Focus on the Family e-blasted an article called “Common-Core Chaos.” The article started with this question: “Are you tired of hearing the message that ‘we know better than you what’s best for your kids’ from liberal media pundits and overzealous government officials?” The article went on to describe the way in which Robert Small, a parent in Maryland, was “shut down” when questioning the adoption of Common Core at a public meeting for parents. According to the Focus on the Family article Small was then “shoved and dragged out of the meeting by a security officer. Once outside the doors, he was handcuffed and slapped with criminal charges carrying thousands of dollars in fines.” Apparently his charges were later dropped. “But still,” the Focus article continued, “the spectacle of a parent being manhandled for simply trying to express a relevant viewpoint was disturbing.” I absolutely agree. But again, the Common Core standards did not drag this man out of a meeting. The CCSS are simply standards that were lawfully developed and lawfully adopted. The problem that Focus on the Family needs to be focusing on is the way in which governments have responded when questioned. If Focus has issues with CCSS then by all means it should address them, but it needs to distinguish between problems with the standards and problems with the individuals handling questions about the standards.

Unfortunately Glenn Beck, his lieutenant David Barton, and other conservative talking heads are misrepresenting the facts about Common Core State Standards. Last summer Barton, filling in for Beck on The Blaze, said that CCSS wants to make every student the same. The reality is, though, that assertion cannot be supported with any actual evidence from the CCSS. In that same broadcast Barton, after highlighting some of the questions students were expected to be able to answer after completing 8th grade in 1895, said, “See, back then, students were actually required to use their brain.” The implication, of course, is that the CCSS do not want students to use their brains. There is nothing that could be further from the truth. In fact, one of the key areas of focus in the CCSS is reasoning and evidence. Compare these statements from teachers who have familiarized themselves with the CCSS and teach in schools that have adopted them with the assertions made by Barton… Andrew Jones, a Christian school English teacher in Indiana, told WORLD Magazine, “In a world that is telling kids that they make their own meaning, it’s encouraging to see Core standards encouraging methods like, ‘Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says.'” Lane Walker, a Christian who teaches in a public school near St. Louis, says of the CCSS math standards, “There’s a huge difference between getting kids to memorize a formula and getting them to understand a formula,” and the CCSS emphasize understanding. The same show on The Blaze where Barton made the wisecrack mentioned above featured a spot accusing the CCSS of wanting to eliminate instruction in cursive handwriting. As opposed to that line of thinking as I am, it is not original to the CCSS; there have been folks advocating that for years.

Again, I could keep going, but I will not. I should perhaps even point out that I serve in a non-public school, so we are not even required to adopt the CCSS. I am not spending all this time and effort to defend the CCSS themselves. Rather, what irritates me is the spin, the misrepresentation and the outright lies. Should there be a rigorous and vigorous debate over education in America? Absolutely. But the Common Core State Standards are not, in and of themselves, the real issue. Demand that your leaders learn and speak the truth, and seek the truth yourself! Be informed, be knowledgeable…and do not swallow hook, line and sinker anything anyone says…including me!

November 6, 2013

What About Common Core? (part 2)

Indiana has been one of the states at the forefront of the Common Core debate. That is due in no small part to the fact that Indiana was among the early adopters of the CCSS and due to the fact that there has been a concerted effort in Indiana to un-adopt the standards.

One of the leading opponents of the CCSS in Indiana is Heather Crossin. So successful have Crossin and her grassroots organization been that Indiana decided this year to temporarily suspend Common Core adoption. But what got Crossin so worked up about Common Core in the first place? In 2011 her then-eight-year-old daughter brought home a math problem that struck Crossin as odd not because of the problem itself but because of the fact that despite getting the mathematical answer correct, Crossin’s daughter received only one point out of three. Why? Because she did not provide the correct reason for how she knew that a 448 foot bridge was longer than a 407 foot bridge. Crossin’s daughter answered said that she knew it was because 448 is a larger number than 407. The Common Core-aligned textbook being used in the classroom, however, wanted the student to compare the numbers in the ones, tens and hundreds columns individually and determine that 448 is larger than 407 that way.

From that one problem launched Crossin’s crusade, now formalized in the group Hoosiers Against Common Core. The group’s purpose, according to its web site, is to bring “together concerned people from all points of the political spectrum in order to effect legislation resulting in the reversal of its [CCSS’] adoption.” Why? “For some, the idea of violating states’ rights is important. To others, they oppose it strictly from a quality perspective. A majority oppose it because it stifles curriculum development and teacher/school autonomy in choosing what is best for their students.”

Therein lies the problem, though. The CCSS does not stifle curriculum development. It may well serve as an excuse for those developing curriculum or those adopting it, but the fact that the CCSS makes a convenient excuse does not make it the actual problem. Furthermore, the CCSS does not “negate teacher/school autonomy in choosing what is best for their students.” The reality is that teacher autonomy is, always has been, and almost surely always will be restricted by the fact that teachers have supervisors at various levels above them to whom they must report. Teachers, therefore, cannot use whatever books they want as the textbooks for their classrooms. That is not unique to CCSS and it will not go away if CCSS is trashed. There could be legitimate and healthy debate about the autonomy of public schools to exercise autonomy in textbook selection, but that is a debate that precedes CCSS and will still be around after CCSS, as well. In other words, CCSS has served to get Crossin’s attention, and the attention of others, but what they are really worked up about is a more deeply-rooted problem with public education (or any education aligning itself with any system that restricts its autonomy, since Crossin’s daughter was at a Catholic school).

See, when Crossin questioned the principal of her daughter’s school about the bridge problem and the approach used in the new textbooks, the principal told Crossin that the school had no choice but to use the books because they aligned with the CCSS. That is not true, though, at least not entirely. Whether or not that specific school had the autonomy to select its own texts I do not know. I do not know how textbook selection works at that school in particular or in Indiana in general. What I do know, though, is that the implication that the textbook in question was the only one aligned with CCSS and therefore had to be used is not true. There are many textbooks that align with the Common Core standards, and their number is growing. Furthermore, the math standards established by the CCSS provide plenty of room within the guidelines they establish for discretion in textbook selection.

The CCSS standards for mathematics begin with eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. What are those eight standards? That students should (1) make sense of problems and persevere in solving them; (2) reason abstractly and quantitatively; (3) construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others; (4) model with mathematics; (5) use appropriate tools strategically; (6) attend to precision; (7) look for and make use of structure; and (8) look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. I am no mathematician, but I fail to see anything in those eight standards that should raise the hackles of any parent or educator.

To the specific problem that first made Crossin aware of the CCSS I would say this… The problem is ideally suited to address the second of the eight standards above. Crossin’s daughter provided the correct answer as to which bridge was longer, and her reasoning clearly demonstrated quantitative reasoning. She may not have accomplished the level of precision or abstract reasoning that the textbook’s authors wanted, but that would be a problem with the way in which the problem was written, not with the CCSS in general. It also highlights a problem with the teacher who graded the problem; it makes no sense to provide a student with only one-third of the possible credit when the student provides the correct answer!

Even when looking deeper into the specific standards for specific subjects within the field of math the standards are emphasizing only the facts and skills that students should master, such as this standard within the Geometry area: “Derive the equation of a circle of given center and radius using the Pythagorean Theorem; complete the square to find the center and radius of a circle given by an equation” (CCSS.Math.Content.HSG-GPE.A.1). This is, to my mind, a fairly basic standard that any Geometry student should be able to meet, CCSS or not.

The Hoosiers Against Common Core includes a gushing endorsement of a piece written in the New York Times in June “defending traditional mathematics.” That article, by an associate professor of philosophy and a professor of mathematics, asserts that most math instruction today is on “numerical reasoning” rather than the “more traditional focus on understanding and mastery of the most efficient mathematical algorithms.” However, the CCSS do not discount algorithms or the mastery of them. They do expect math teachers to explain to students the reasons why algorithms work, and they expect students to grasp the reasons, but this is not a knock on Common Core. As the Times article points out, this is not even new to math! The article states, “Although every decade has its bad textbooks, anyone who takes the time to look at a range of math books from the 1960s, 70s or 80s will see that it is a myth that traditional math programs routinely overlooked the importance of thoughtful pedagogy and taught by rote.”

In fact, the third grade CCSS standards specifically state that students should be able to use “algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction.” In other words, exactly what the Times article argues for and exactly what Hoosiers Against Common Core seems to decry about the CCSS.

So if the CCSS are not the problem, then where are we now? Oh, we are back at bad textbooks. The simply reality is that good textbooks, good teachers and good schools have been doing what the CCSS now outlines for years. The most effective teachers will find almost nothing in the CCSS that will alarm them because they have already been doing what the CCSS asks them to do. The best textbooks will require little if any adjustments because they already do what the CCSS ask them to do. Contrary to what anyone may say, the CCSS simply do not require specific textbooks! So the uproar over the CCSS is really over a much broader, and much deeper, issue…one I will continue to explore next time.

November 5, 2013

What About Common Core?

Unless you live under a rock or pay no attention to the news you have undoubtedly heard of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), most often referred to simply as the Common Core. It would be silly for me to spend multiple entries here addressing the state of education in America today and not address Common Core. In reality, I may even need more than one entry to do it justice, so bear with me.

The odds are probably good that you have heard about Common Core mostly by way of hearing complaints about it, hearing or reading why it so terrible. Now, this may surprise you if you have read the other posts on education, but I am not convinced that the CCSS are as horrible as many people, groups and talking heads have made them out to be. Are they flawless? Of course not. What is? For starters, though, let’s look at what exactly the CCSS are…

First, I should acknowledge that whatever the flaws of the CCSS may be—and I will address that issue shortly—the motivation behind the CCSS is a noble one. The Common Core State Standards Initiative has as its slogan, “Preparing America’s Students for College and Career.” Though certainly not a complete overview, that is what every school strives to do for its students. Furthermore, it is difficult to find something in the CCSS Mission Statement with which to disagree:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

That the mission of the CCSS is one on which just about everyone can agree is evident in the fact that the CCSS have been adopted by forty-five states, the District of Columbia and four territories. At the same time, it is certainly not necessarily true that something is good just because it is popular, and I am not suggesting that, either.

To date, CCSS have been developed for Mathematics and English/Language Arts. Please note that the standards themselves serve only to outline a basic level of knowledge and understanding that students in the United States should have. In other words, the CCSS is not a curriculum.

At the same time, it is important to remember that these new standards are likely going to indicate in many areas—particularly in many public schools—that students are not achieving the level of success that the many groups endorsing the CCSS want them to achieve; indeed, that they should achieve. For example, Kentucky was the first state in the nation specifically tied to the CCSS, having adopted the math and English standards in 2010. When the assessment results for the 2011-12 school year were released, “the share of students scoring ‘proficient’ or better in reading and math dropped by roughly a third or more in both elementary and middle school the first year the tests were given,” according to an article in Education Week.

It is important for anyone considering the CCSS debate to keep in mind a very important distinction between adoption and alignment. Any good school adopts its curriculum, textbooks and materials based on the quality of the content and (at least for Christian schools) the worldview of the text, always aiming to adopt the textbooks and supporting materials that will most effectively meet the needs of its students. It is the responsibility of the school to carefully consider each textbook selection and to choose those curricular materials that will best meet the needs of its students.

Contrary to what Glenn Beck and others may say, there is nothing in the CCSS that will strip local schools of their control of their curricular choices any more than there was in previously existing state standards. The CCSS is just one more in a long line of outcome-based education models, concerned almost exclusively with whether or not the skills enumerated are achieved by the students as evidenced through their performance on standardized tests.

Now, make sure you come back for the next post, because I do not want you to go away thinking I am an unabashed defender of the CCSS. There is still more to the story….

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