jasonbwatson

June 7, 2017

Let’s Keep “Parents” Around

Last August Joanna Schimizzi, a National Board Certified Teacher, wrote a blog for the “The Standard – The Official Blog of the National Board.” The blog post’s title was “Ban the word ‘Parents’.” Here’s how she started:

This school year, I want to challenge you to ban certain words from your vernacular. We each have our own set of words and phrases that are taboo in our classroom, like “stupid” or “I can’t”, but this year I want to challenge you to stop using the word “parents”.

What was the reason for this peculiar notion? Schimizzi wanted to challenge teachers “to realize that many of our students live in settings where ‘parents’ are not the only figures who are important to their success.”

That’s true of course. Dictionary.come defines “parent” as a father or mother or a protector or guardian. We usually have the former in mind when we think or say “parent” I am sure, and for years it has been common practice for many forms and communications to utilize “parent or guardian” due to the fact that so many children do not receive their primary care from a biological parent. The reality, however, is that there are more children living with two biological parents than most of us would guess. Last November 17 the U.S. Census Bureau, in Release Number: CB16-192, reported, “The majority of America’s 73.7 million children under age 18 live in families with two parents (69 percent), according to new statistics released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is compared to other types of living arrangements, such as living with grandparents or having a single parent.” According to that same report only 4% of U.S. children do not live with any parent.

Schimizzi said her position toward the word “parent” came when she was talking to a guidance counselor at her school about the low number of responses she received on a Parent Survey she sent home with students at the beginning of the year. “Her support helped me realize that many of my questions had implicit bias that placed value on certain experiences not applicable to all families,” Schimizzi wrote. “And one of her best suggestions was to change ‘Parent Survey’ to ‘Family Survey.'”

Of course family used to mean parents and the children they cared for. In fact, the leading portion of Dictionary.com’s definition of the word still says, “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.” It becomes immediately clear therefore that if Schmizzi and her guidance counselor colleague felt that “Family” would be more appropriate to the realities of students than “Parent” that they must both have agreed, whether consciously or not, that “family” no longer means what it used to mean. Therein lies a huge part of why this recommendation to abolish “parents” is so dangerous–but I will get back to that.

Continuing in her blog, Schimizzi mentioned Al Trautwig’s statement during the Olympics that gymnast Simone Biles “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad.” Biles was, in fact, adopted by her grandparents when she was just a toddler. But when Trautwig was challenged on Twitter about his statement he retorted, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” After being ordered by NBC to apologize, according to The Associated Press, Trautwig issues a statement that said, in part, “To set the record straight, Ron and Nellie are Simone’s parents.”

That situation, however, is a great example of why the word “parent” is so important–not grounds for banning the word. I think many people have long understood that there is an incredible difference between procreating and parenting. Whether by conscious choice to give up or abandon a child, by some kind of incapacitation or even by death, not everyone who contributes to the biological act of childbirth can or will fulfill the role of parent. The willingness of other people to step in and fill that role is to be celebrated and commended–and there is absolutely no need to differentiate their role by calling them anything other than parents. This is true when those voluntary parents are related to the child by blood, such as Biles’ grandparents, as well as when there is no genetic connection whatsoever.

Schimizzi wrote that when she distributes her now-revised survey she will “encourage… students to deliver it to whoever plays the biggest role in supporting them. It’s an interesting experience to watch students think about who in their lives offers them the most academic support.” That is a valid point and it is entirely possible (and sadly, in some instances, probable) that a child will receive greater support from someone other than their parent. That needs to be recognized as well but it is not grounds for abolishing the term “parent”–not by a long shot. Schimizzi ended her post by sharing examples from three classroom teachers for improving family engagement. All three of the ideas have merit but not one of them has anything to do with the definition or role of “parent.” Instead, they focus on language barriers, a parent’s own experience as a student and the failure of parents to do anything with information they receive from the school. Effective educators will look for ways to overcome each of those obstacles. Doing so, however, does not require banning a word.

Banning words is a big deal because words have meanings. We like to pretend they do not sometimes–especially when the word gets in the way of what we want to do–but that does not change the reality that they do have actual meanings. Homosexual activists did not like the idea that “marriage” was not permitted for homosexuals because it was restricted to a man and a woman. So what did they do? Get the courts to extra-legally change the definition. (Somehow extra-legal sounds less offensive than illegal, doesn’t it? The reality is they are the same thing. This is an example of how we also choose words carefully to make something sound other-than what it really is–but this does not change reality either). Once marriage was redefined to include homosexual unions the law began further redefinition. Just a few months ago, in March, a New York court granted three-way custody to what many have called a “throuple.” Slate‘s story on the ruling was headlined, “New York Court Affirms Poly Parenthood with Three-Way Custody Ruling.” Just that headline illustrates the point I am making; whoever heard of “poly parenthood”?

Interestingly, the same Slate article–which was very supportive of the decision, recognized that the ruling was simply a logical outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The victory of Dawn Marano and her child could set solid legal precedent for future custody claims of parents in queer or polyamorous families, a necessary next step in a vision of parenthood and child-rearing that extends beyond the boundaries of monogamous marriage. Funnily enough, this is the exact future predicted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent on the 2015 equal-marriage ruling Obergefell v. Hodges. While arguing that the slippery slope of same-sex marriage could lead to the total breakdown of social norms and family structures, he cited the important legal-theory volume “Married Lesbian Throuple Expecting First Child,” a New York Post article from 2014.

We cannot play fast and loose with our words. Words matter precisely because they mean something. Banning the word will not change that reality. The Supreme Court has demonstrated that it can effectively change the definition of a word, and the New York court has proven that it can follow that example by changing the legal basis of custody, but that is why we must be so diligent to protect the words and definitions that we have in place. When we carelessly cast them aside we are opening the door for something else to take their place–and we may have no idea what that something else will be.

Of course we will find out eventually. Or our children will. I am reminded of this quote from Ravi Zacharias: “Our society is walking through a maze of cultural land mines and the heaviest price is exacted as we send our children on ahead.”

August 29, 2014

Live It Out

Ravi Zacharias is, in my opinion, one of the wisest and most articulate Christian apologists on the planet. Rarely do I listen to him speak or read something that he wrote without being struck by something I want to be sure to remember and to try to apply in my own life.

Today, as I was flipping through some index cards on which I have written quotes that I find meaningful and worth reflecting on from time to time I was struck by the relationship between two consecutive cards in the stack. Maybe they have always been next to each other and it never struck me, or maybe they just ended up that way today, because some of the cards had come out of the clip in which I keep them and got rearranged. But I think that these two thoughts complement each other so well, and are such poignant reminders for all of us (and those of us who work with children specifically) that I want to share them with you.

The first is a quote from Ravi Zacharias. He says, “I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out.” The implications of that one sentence could fill pages–could actually probably fill books. The Bible talks clearly in so many passages about the importance of living out our faith. Professed belief is questionable if it does not impact the way in which the one making the profession lives his or her life. James, of course, says that believing in God is all well and good but is, for all intents and purposes, worthless in and of itself because even the demons believe. There must also be action, an out-flowing of the change that takes place inside.

I have heard on several occasions–and I am sure you have too–a political candidate say, “My faith will not interfere with my job,” or something along those lines. While I can perhaps appreciate the point the candidate is trying to make, particularly vis-a-vis the “keep religion out of the public sphere” atmosphere that dominates America today, I always find myself thinking in response, “Then it must not be much of a faith.” If someone can profess a religious faith and also profess that he or she can execute the duties of a political office without that faith having an influence on him or her then that faith is either completely meaningless or completely compartmentalized. (Actually, that’s redundant, isn’t it? A completely compartmentalized faith would be completely meaningless…) There are few positions that involve the influence and the potential impact of a political office; if one’s faith is not influential there, where would it be influential?

To the point that Zacharias is making, many people are completely turned off by those who profess the gospel message and therefore never even give the message itself a chance. When one who professes something lives in a manner completely inconsistent with that which is being confessed such a rejection is hardly surprising. This amounts to little more than “do as I say, not as I do,” and I think we all know how effective that is(n’t).

The index card right behind the one with the quote from Ravi Zacharias was one with this quote from Alison Thomas: “The most persuasive apologetic we can offer our children is not a series of carefully constructed verbal arguments, but a life beautifully lived close beside them.”

These two quotes are so complementary because they have the same idea at their roots. Zacharias’ point is that the gospel has the answers, but when those of us who claim it turn seekers off by the way we live our lives they will never give the gospel a chance. Thomas’ point is that coming up with the grandest instructions, arguments and rules in the world will matter little, if at all, if others–and in this case, children specifically–do not see the gospel demonstrated every day in our lives.

Neither Zacharias nor Thomas is suggesting we must be perfect–because none of us can. We will all stumble, make mistakes and “blow it” from time to time. That’s because we’re human. The frequency with which we do that should diminish over time as we grow in our relationship with the Lord but it will still happen. The question is, what do we do when that happens? Do we acknowledge it and repent? Do we apologize to those we may have hurt in the process? Or do we try to cover it up or excuse it away?

The inverse of Zacharias’ point is equally true, and is the point at which Thomas is getting. If we live a beautiful life alongside our children, one in which they see us growing, learning, struggling, messing up and handling it well, they will learn from us. They will ask questions. They will model what they have seen. The probability is high that they will embrace the faith themselves. Our words can be powerful teachers and testimonies, but only if the reinforce and echo what our actions are already teaching.

I suspect that if I were God I would not have chosen to entrust my message of love, redemption and forgiveness to the human race. Even if I had loved humans enough to offer them that, I would probably have done it in a manner that eliminated the possibility that humans could, through their own bone-headedness, become an obstacle to other humans wanting to receive or even hear my message. God, in His sovereignty, chose to give us mortals that responsibility…and what a responsibility it is! If we are going to profess a faith in Him, we better be sure to live it out.

June 24, 2014

Ruining the Beauty of God’s Creation

One of the beautiful realities about truth is that it is timeless. Sure, some truths are circumstantial and those will change as circumstances change. For example, last year it was true that my daughter was in fifth grade. Next year that will not be true. Those are circumstantial truths. Absolute truth, though, is unchanging (hence the use of “absolute”). God’s truth is absolute and therefore anyone writing or speaking about God’s truth is also presenting timeless truth–truth that will be just as true, just as accurate and just as relevant days, years, decades and even centuries after it was written or spoken.

More than ten years ago Ravi Zacharias wrote a book entitled Recapture the Wonder. On page 36 of the hardcover version of that book Zacharias wrote, “Anyone who thinks he or she can place the boundaries arbitrarily will either destroy the enchantment of life or else wear him- or herself into exhaustion. God’s commands are there to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around. Implementing that truth in our lives keeps us from losing the wonder.”

Because Zacharias was writing about absolute truth that statement is still accurate today. Yet, we live in a world that wholeheartedly embraces the idea of placing boundaries arbitrarily–moving them whenever convenient or desirable, or even eliminating them altogether. We see this perhaps most clearly in the area of sexual behavior. There is an ongoing effort to shift or erase all God-given boundaries of sexual behavior, including God’s design for marriage (between one man and one woman), God’s design for sex (between a married man and woman) and God’s design for gender (male or female, as He created each individual). Much as they may claim to be thrilled with their behavioral choices I believe that many of those individuals who champion this boundary realignment, and/or who live their lives based on the realignment, have in fact destroyed the enchantment of life and are working themselves into exhaustion. They put so much effort into trying to convince the world that their redefinition of what God created is normal and acceptable that they cannot possibly be enchanted by life any longer.

When anyone can, with a few clicks of the mouse, see any manner of sexual activity and perversion imaginable it is nearly impossible for there to be any wonder left about sex as God designed it. When the world embraces the idea of doing whatever feels good or desirable at the moment there can be no sense of enchantment remaining.

The inside flap of Zacharias’ book includes this statement: “Our sense of wonder is a blessing from God, given so that we would be continually amazed at His beauty and creation. But for many of us, our wonder has diminished through the years, and we doubt that we’ll ever be able to experience the overwhelming sense of awe we once had as children.” I would suggest that no small part of the reason for that is that, unlike children who are discovering the world for the first time and are enchanted with each new discovery, we adults are, collectively, seeking to eliminate anything that might be undiscovered or secret or private.

Imagine, for example, if the most beautiful sunrise, or sunset, you have ever seen was available every day, any time you want to see it–and to anyone in the world, not just you. The beauty of that sunrise or sunset would begin to fade. It would gradually become less special, less awe-inspiring, less desirable. It could easily become commonplace, ho-hum or boring. That is what the world is doing, or attempting to do, to God’s design for mankind. This effort to eliminate the special, the private–the sacred, even–is painfully obvious when it comes to sex but is evident in many other areas as well.

What we need to do is return to the truth that the boundaries, “God’s commands,” have been given to us “to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around.” If the human body and sexual behavior was supposed to be open and available for anyone to see God never would have created clothing for Adam and Eve after they sinned. If sex was supposed to be whenever, wherever and with whomever, God never would have given instruction that the man and the woman were to cleave to one another and enjoy sex within the boundaries of their marriage. If sex between men or between women was perfectly acceptable God never would have called it an abomination or referred to it as abandoning the “natural” relationship between men and women. We have allowed Satan to delude us into thinking that by throwing back the curtain and openly celebrating and flaunting any and all varieties of behavior we are in fact celebrating and enjoying life. Quite simply, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are we destroying the wonder and enchantment we are in fact ruining the beauty of God’s creation.

July 5, 2013

The Antitode to an Abuse of Freedom

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias posted this statement on his Facebook page on July 4: “Freedom can be destroyed, not just by its retraction, but also by its abuse.” That is a profound reminder for everyone who claims to be a lover of freedom. And if I may be so bold as to add to this statement, I would suggest that freedom is most likely to be abused when those who possess freedom fail to understand freedom–what it is and what it is not, where it comes from, how it is preserved and so on.

In the United States of America one way to gain a more complete understanding of freedom and what it means in the U.S. is to understand what the Founders were thinking and doing when they formed the framework of this nation following the accomplishment of independence from England. As a student of American history, I would suggest that one of the best ways to understand what the Founders intended when they wrote the Constitution is to read the eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay that have come to be known as The Federalist Papers. These essays were originally published in newspapers between October 1787 and August 1788 in order to present the case for the ratification of the Constitution. The complete collection of essays was bound into two volumes in late 1788 and have been available in single or dual volumes ever since. For those who prefer to read on their computers or e-readers, the text of all eighty-five essays is also available (for free) on the Library of Congress web site as well as a number of other web sites. For more than two centuries they have been the authoritative source understanding the thinking and intentions of the Founders.

Historian Richard B. Morris said that The Federalist Papers form “an incomparable exposition of the Constitution, a classic in political science unsurpassed in both breadth and depth by the product of any later American writer.” Thomas Jefferson called them the best commentary ever written about the principles of government. The Federalist Papers website quotes James Madison as writing that “a people who mean to be their own governors must be armed with the power that knowledge gives.” Alexis de Tocqueville visited the young American nation and wrote in his book Democracy in America that Americans of that time were “far more knowledgeable about government and the issues of the day than their counterparts in Europe.”

Why bring all this up? Because, according to a recent article by Mindy Belz entitled “Against the Mental Grain,” The Federalist Papers are now being ignored by the most respectable institutions of higher learning in America, including its law schools. Belz quotes Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, as pointing out that Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley no longer require their students to read any of the Federalist essays, and these are the schools that “produce many of the nation’s leading members of the bar and bench.” Berkowtiz goes further and explains that not just the law schools, but the political science departments at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford do not even require undergraduate or graduate students to study The Federalist. Berkowitz writes, “The progressive ideology that dominates our universities teaches that The Federalist, like all books written before the day before yesterday, is antiquated and irrelevant,” and that by letting students acquire an education without studying such important writings as The Federalist Papers, “our universities also deprive the nation of a citizenry well-acquainted with our Constitution’s enduring principles.”

The Federalist Papers Project, whose web site I linked above, has this states purpose: “The mission of The Federalist Papers Project is to get people the history, government and economics lessons they never got in school and to motivate them to push back at the erosion of our liberties and restore constitutionally limited small government.” And to bring this discussion full circle, please note that “the erosion of our liberties” is but another way of saying, in the words of Zacharias, “an abuse of freedom.” Founding documents are important, whether the Ivy League schools think so or not. Let us, as Madison urged, arm ourselves with knowledge that we might defend against the abuse of our freedoms by those who have ignored the limits on government intended by our Founders.

March 8, 2013

Think!

I know it is not original to me, but I have always said that the best thing a teacher can do for his or her students is teach them to think. Unfortunately, while it would seem that this should be a given, it is not always. Far too much “education” these days is in the form of pumping the heads of students full of facts and figures long enough for them to pour it back out for the test. After that, who cares? As long as the scores are high enough on the standardized tests and the school makes “adequate yearly progress” that’s all that matters.

I was reminded of the importance of thinking recently when I saw an ad for Reformed Theological Seminary. A picture of young man gazing intently into a star-filled sky was beneath the headline “If you long to know the mind of God, you must learn to use your own.” Near the bottom of the ad is this statement: “[A] faith that’s truly mature requires a mind that’s well-informed.” I am not particularly familiar with RTS, but based solely on this ad I am convinced that someone there “gets it” (even if only someone in the marketing department).

Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay entitled The Lost Tools of Learning that is well respected among many educators, especially those within the field of classical education. My favorite statement in her well-written essay is this: “Is not the great defect of our education today–a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned–that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.” And that was written some sixty-five years ago; how much worse is it now?!?

Unfortunately the dearth of thinking goes far beyond institutions of formal education. Sadly, it tends to be a mark of the church, as well. Far too many Christians fail to engage their minds, somehow afraid to wrestle with the practical application of their faith to their everyday lives, throwing their mind in neutral at church. John Piper wrote a book entitled Think, and Ravi Zacharias has radio broadcasts entitled Let My People Think and Just Thinking. They have built their ministries at least in part around stimulating the believer to engage the mind as well as the heart when it comes to spirituality.

Dictionary.com begins its eighteen definitions of the word “think” with these two: “to have a conscious mind, to some extent of reasoning, remembering experiences, making rational decisions, etc.; to employ one’s mind rationally and objectively in evaluating or dealing with a given situation.” The Bible is full of instructions on the use of the mind and the importance of thinking; why have so many believers allowed their minds to become intellectually flabby? Why are so many churches failing to stimulate thinking and intellectual rigor?

Jesus Himself said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind….” Can we really love Him with all our mind if we refuse to think?

I dare say incredible things would happen if Christians would start thinking seriously about the Word of God and about using its power to impact our world.

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