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Core Beliefs of a Common Culture

3 Jul

Stepping back from the edge of a problem is often wise practice.  Retracing our history, enables Americans to gain perspective.  Therefore, as we glean much from our past, a historical perspective informs our nation’s present understanding.  Viewing the historical values that unite our nation from the beginning, provides a larger scope within which we connect a national sense of belonging and pride.  From the beginning, the colonies that seeded our great nation, posited education’s prominent place in the developing American experience.  Passing onto colonial American children the values and virtues of homogeneous enclaves and communities, where the colonists lived, was paramount.  Education was local and left to the states, because they simply knew their people better and were much closer to the needs of local constituents.  Over time, immigrants assimilated into the already established culture.

As the United States came into existence in late eighteenth century, there were shared common beliefs across America’s states and these could be found within American schools and in her curriculum.  Certainly, there were differences.  Yet, our new nation was marked intentionally, incorporating both commonalities and distinctions of American civic and moral culture.  Moreover, public education in the United States began in a tradition rooted in the westernization of the works of Greeks, such as Aristotle and Plato.[1]  Now, many read social justice advocates and gay rights activists, believing a large government can foist upon a nation new sets of precepts.

U.S. education during the colonial days signaled that the essence of national character sprang from the belief that the divine purpose of educators of the day was to mold children in the ways of common culture, based on moral and religious colonial philosophies.[2]  Mission, purpose, and calling are hallmarks of American education.  Prior to the colonial period, education had flourished in Europe—largely due to the impacts of the Reformation and Renaissance—and character and moral education played important roles.  Today, in contrast, educators would be hard-pressed to find vestiges of the roles that once helped to define American culture.  In fact, it is not far-fetched to conclude that some culture-shapers are no longer tolerant of American culture of the distant or recent past.  Enter Common Core . . .

Education in Europe and the American colonies was embedded with theology—the “queen of the sciences.”  Over time, this queen has been dethroned by the secularization of public education—compartmentalized away from corporate culture–which is quite dissimilar to “corporate America.”  “The Founding Fathers of our nation believed that schools would be the crucibles within which there would be a melding of academics, civic virtue, and religious and moral instruction.[3]  The mission to produce more godly creatures grew out of a three-fold framework:  (1) The Holy Bible, upon which education was originally established in the colonies,[4] (2) the deistic and theistic religious beliefs of the colonists, and (3) the importance of the teachings of philosopher John Locke, and others.[5]

Locke’s stated educational goals included virtue, wisdom, and learning.  The teachings from this framework were plain in the lessons of colonial texts, such as Pilgrim’s Progress, Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and McGuffey’s Readers.[6]  If the very foundation of one’s society is separated from generations that follow, how then do we expect new generations to live? [7]

America is born of a Judeo-Christian heritage.  We should never apologize for this.  Our laws, the reasons we are extremely beneficent toward other nations, have a First Amendment protecting religion, and that fact that we understand unconditional love are all testimony to this heritage.  Today, some would be hard-pressed to find this heritage in some corners of contemporary culture, particularly in areas of morality, entertainment, leisure, and in the American public education system.  Unlike the past, when students were taught values from great literature, including the Judeo-Christian guide, the Bible, today’s students must navigate a vacuüm, often attenuated by classroom teachers, biased curriculum, and a culture continuing to find purpose in changing secularism and amorality.

Removing moral purpose creates a moral vacuüm.  If one’s work becomes moral purpose then what exists outside of work?  Unfortunately, telling students they must be educated to compete in a global economy is no replacement for deeply held values.  For example, today’s students are called lazy.  So what do bureaucrats decide?  They propagate an entirely new educational accepted point of view. Truthfully, what some call lazy, others call student boredom.  The brains of teenagers are still developing–another commonality often misunderstood by Common Core advocates.

Most public schools today, as corporate entities, and are self-declared moral-free institutions.  This is especially at American universities and colleges.  Education institutions have become satellites of secularism, whose purpose is the valuation and promotion of deeper cognition and employment after high school.  The nation now refers to this as “college and career-ready.”  How does this secularism square with aimless students somehow finding moral purpose and achieving excellence in school, especially with families also undergoing redefinition?  How is this accomplished when the very moorings of marriage and family are undergoing such radical redefinition.

The reality is the production of workers for the next decades from within a system such as Common Core is going to challenge the very notion of educational progress.  One might ask, “What is the nature of this challenge?”  The sets of values of the past are different from those of the present.  Changing education policy and drafting new education legislation is one thing.  Actively seeking the undoing, or repudiating of past education toward a new purpose, has become more of the federal government’s business.  It is flat-out the wrong direction for America’s schools

The question we must consider is whether Americans want the federal government, it’s ideas and policies—along with political secularists—filling this void.  Conversely, America would do well to consider whether to more deeply engage her people and their states and local governments.  An educational system which had rotated and spun tightly for years, is now wobbling quite badly.  Our schools are far from perfect.  But why strive for growing ever more imperfection wit Common Core?  The bottom line is that in a vacuum, there is room for anything.

[1]. Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Pinning Down Character Education.”  Summer 2000.  Kappa Delta Pi Record.  Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 156.  Cf.  Thomas Lickona.  “An integrated approach to character development in the elementary school classroom.”  In Moral, character, and civic education in the elementary school.  Jacques Benninga (Ed.).  (New York City, New York:  Teachers College Press, 1991, pp. 67-83.)  Cf. also, J. L Elias. 1989.  Moral education:  Secular and religious.  (Malabar, Florida:  Robert E. Krieger Publishers, 1989.)

[2]. R. J. Nash.  Answering the “virtuecrats”:  A moral conversation on character education.  (New York City, New York:  Teachers College Press, 1997.)   Cf.  Robert Bellah.  Habits of the heart:  Individualism and commitment in American life.  (New York City, New York:  Harper and Row Publishers, 1985.)

[3]. Nash, Answering the “virtuecrats”:  A moral conversation on character education.

[4]. R. H. Hersh, J. P. Miller, and G. D. Fielding.  Models of Moral Education:  An appraisal.  (New York City, New York:  Longman Press, 1980).  Cf.  H. A. Huffman 1993.  “A character education without turmoil.”  Educational Leadership 51 (3), pp. 24-26.

[5]. J. L Elias.  Moral education:  Secular and religious.  (Malabar, Florida:  Robert E. Krieger Publishers, 1989.)

[6]. Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Pinning Down Character Education.”  Kappa Delta Pi Record, pp. 155-156.  Cf.  Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Character education:  An analysis of state history-social science and English-language arts curriculum frameworks and content standards.”  Ph.D.  Dissertation, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, 1999.

[7]. Francis Schaeffer.  “How then should we live?”  The complete works of Francis A. Schaeffer:  A Christian worldview.  Volume 5, Book 2.  1982.  (Westchester, Illinois:  Crossway Books).

It’s Rough Growing Up In The Entitlement Age

7 Feb

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be young, again? Really, really, young again? George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  I read that and I wonder, did he work for Toys R Us?  Was he a teacher?

A discussion that prompts adults to consider going back to their youth is met with many responses.  I can hear groans now. Puberty, emotions, biological clocks and interpersonal issues?  Are you kidding me, Zarra?  Outcries are deafening and certainly do get my attention — but wait a minute.  How about we let teachers go back to their youth?  In some ways, teaching keeps teachers young.  We all know, in reality, it’s not true, but teaching is a profession that thrusts youth and adulthood together in unique ways.

So here’s the deal.  Although we can never really go back in time, teaching the same age group and grade level every year somehow circumvents the reality that we are getting older.  It perpetuates a perception that the time clock is somehow in neutral and that our relevance and vibrancy still exists.  The strange part is that as teachers age we are aware that students appear the same age, year-in and year-out.  Each new group of students that comes my way is about the same age as the previous year’s students.  It is in this sense that teachers perceive themselves as youthful — literally and figuratively.

Today’s young people have it made.  They work daily on typing skills and literary interpretations.  Text messaging is essential to them because they have to be in touch with friends in other classes.  It makes little difference that a teacher thinks they might be sending photos, messages or answers about a quiz or test.  Text messaging has done away with the need for writing notes to fellow students.

Typing skills are up.  Writing skills are taking a nose-dive.

Keyboarding teachers love it.  English teachers, not so much.

With the spell check option on every computer, anyone can be virtually as smart as Bill Gates.  That can’t be a bad thing.  Besides we all know today’s youth can be trusted with many things and would never try to get away with breaking any rules—I am smiling because I know what I was like in high school.

While in class, all anyone needs is an excuse to go to the restroom and then a student can make all the phone calls desired with no one around.  They’d have to check in with Mom to be certain she didn’t leave a very important voicemail that must be heard right away.  If there are other students in the restroom, one could also test out the phone’s camera and video to see if its pixels are adequate for immediately uploading to a YouTube, MySpace or Facebook account.  A person could even check a digital calendar to see what activities were occurring that day.  That would make Mom happy, in terms of responsibility.

Gone are the days of pagers, gigapets, Furbies and other toys.  Thank goodness we have technology and communication at the touch of a key.  Waiting and developing patience was the pits.  For that matter, who needs an imagination when one has virtual reality?  This technological “reality” just might cut down on daydreaming, which teachers hate.  Everyone might be more focused in class, much to the delight of teachers.

The wonders of technology would make youth so much fun.  If only we could be young again.

Think of the possibilities, parents!  Think about being young again and how fun it would be to be banished!  The words “go to your room” would be an invitation for an awesome time.  We would have our own cell phones, computers, instant messaging, cable-television, iPods, DVD players and video games.  Now that’s what I call being grounded!

Another cool thing about being young is that parents and teachers are virtually clueless when students copy and paste documents together from the Internet—along with sharing files and pirated music and other cool things.  Just think, no typewriters.  If we all became young again, we would be taught to work together in groups and turn in assignments derived from collaborative efforts. Mom and Dad always wanted me to get along with others and learn to share, anyway.

Being young also means being stylish.  We could wear our hats and hoods in class, claiming our heads are cold, while listening to our favorite tunes.  If our parents let us have cell phones and iPods, what is so wrong with using them whenever we so desire?  We must be entitled to them.

Whatever happened to vinyl 45s?  There is something to be said for that “pffffft, pffffft” noise with each turn of the record.

Shaw concluded that “Youth is wasted on the young.”  Couple that with another of his famous sayings, “I want to be all used up when I die,” and students might begin to understand just what parents and teachers have in common.  We are gigabytes in a terabyte world. 

Oh Baby!

16 Dec

Babies have a way of finding crannies of love that we hide from others.  The alcoves of our souls hide things that only God, Himself, knows of and can pinpoint.  Yet, there are those little ones who open us wide to the world–even if guarded, as such.  Think about it.  One baby in a room of adults reduces most of us to mere functional illiterates by choice.  We become entranced by the bald-headed, toothless squirmers.   

I remember talking to my own children.  “You wan Dada to bwring your baba or bankie?”  I won’t go into all the baby-talk, or nicknames my wife and I had for our children.  Some of them are hilarious, that is for sure. If you are like we are, you might still find the urge to pop one of them from time-to-time, just for the sake of reaction. 

There aren’t too many of us that are able to hold back baby-talk when face-to-face with a little life in our presence.  We sing to our babies in the womb.  We talk to them, and we pray for them.  W teach them nursery rhymes, tell them stories of our childhood (maybe just a bit embellished), and instruct them in praying before bedtime.  Remember those fun days, before they sat on the sides of their beds and cried for no reasons at all, or got quiet when held accountable?  Recall the moments when we asked them “What’s wrong,” only to hear in return, “Nothin”?  I surely remember them!  In fact, there are times I’d like to sit on the side of my own bed and cry a little for myself, these days.  It is sometimes a good thing to feel sorry for ourselves, as adults, at least for fifteen minutes, before someone asks for money, or the cell phone rings. 

Why do babies bring out the best in us?  A giggle, two tiny dimples, a gummy smile, flailing hands and stumpy toes, their splashing arms and legs during baths–capped off by their pudgy, wrinkly feet, capping off the ends of their soft and supple smallness.  All of this serves to remind us of life’s simplicities and basic human needs.  Babies also remind us of the necessity of the protection they need.  The trust they place in adults is astounding.  But they learn quickly.  Once they figure out that we are not really perfect, all things begin to change.  If you are like me you are torn by those early years, sometimes longing for them again—but happy also not to have to repeat those long nights, illnesses, and the like.  Why can’t they stay little forever.  Have you ever wanted that?  Nah!  There are grandchildren for those reasons.  Right?

Babies are signals of life.  They are reminders that the future is the present.  They comprise the past through one’s DNA and heritage.  They consume the present and they portend the future.  Babies are the miracles that are united from one sperm and one egg–gestating over time–to become the “other” us.  With each birth of our children we are reminded that “WE” are with us.  We are connected and that’s that.

Here in this sophisticated new millennium we tend the place things which has the sense of the miraculous, such as child birth, in the realm of the ordinary.  Each conception brings into existence an absolutely unique entity, a person of the most distinct, individual “being.”  We are all unique and the mold is broken with each one of us.  However, we have this little nature thing, with which to contend.  Therein lies the problem!

Imagine for a moment that your teenage daughter came home one day and told you that she was impressed in her spirit about something incredibly unique.  What if she told you that an angel of God had told her that she was specially favored among all other young teenagers of the day?  Assume, then, that sometime later she informed you that she was pregnant, yet maintained that she was still a virgin–untouched by any man sexually.  To make matters more concerning, imagine your single, teenage daughter had been engaged to a man more than twice her age–and that the engagement was going to be broken by the man, once he discovered your daughter was pregnant.  I know, I know . . . I see your faces now.  Yet, I do think you know where I am going with this.  The philosopher Paul C. Vitz asks us to “Consider that Mary was pregnant with Jesus today.”  I also ask us to do the same.

What are the chances that the parents of this pregnant teenage girl would have shuffled her off to the local Planned Parenthood clinic?  What would her friends and contemporaries say?  Speaking as one who was conceived prior to marriage, I kind of identify with that last statement, in terms of its implications.  Know that I mean?  No, I am not claiming divinity, personally—but divinity as a delicacy–that stuff it freakin’ awesome!

The prophet Isaiah (ca 800 BC) stated:  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)  A miracle baby son, a virgin, and the name translated to mean “God with us” (Immanuel)  Hmmmm.  Most interesting.

The disciple Matthew Levi (1st century AD), the tax gatherer wrote:  “And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.  But when he had considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.’  Now all this took place that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet shall be fulfilled . . .” (Matthew 1:19-24)

The Christmas holiday (derived from “holy-day”) is about the advent of Jesus, the baby, and the beginning of His earthly pilgrimage.  The birth occurred more than likely during the summer months and there was no snow.  That reminds me, what happens in Australia during December in the Northern Hemisphere?  I hope Santa’s varicosities aren’t too apparent with those pasty legs of his in those shorts.

John 1 speaks also to this event “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1; 1, 14).

This baby Jesus is the gift that keeps on reminding us of our flesh and mortality.  The baby reminds us of our beginning and the blessings we are to others.  But why do we keep Him in a manger?  Why is Christmas about jesus as a baby only? 

Is it because there is no room in the “inn of our hearts?”  Babies are no threat.  Babies do not challenge the way we live.  Babies are the miracle gifts in-and-of-themselves.  But babies do grow up into young adults and then enter adulthood.  Apparently King Herod had serious fears of the baby Jesus, for he had all male children slaughtered, age-two and under.  This infanticide occurred in Bethlehem and its surrounding environs (Matthew 2:16).  Herod feared all of this talk about the birth of a king, a messiah, would diminish his sovereignty over the land.  So the child Jesus and His parents went to Egypt until King Herod had died.  Afterwards, they returned to their homeland.

One interesting piece of trivia from the Hebrew language is quite telling.  The name “Beth-lehem,” actually means “House of Bread.”  Later Jesus was given the title “Bread of life,” and communion would be taken at “the Last Supper,” to symbolize His crucified and broken body.  Part of the communion remembrance today using crackers or bread illustrates the “broken bread” of life.  Who would have ever thought that the bread of life would have been born in a house of bread?  All of this is derived from the Christmas story?  Yes indeed! 

Another point of interest was that when the wise men came to visit Jesus, He was already a toddler.  The Magi were the ones who tipped off Herod, and this was the reason for the age-2 on down slaughter of the innocents.  So, we celebrate the baby Jesus, but we really should be celebrating the toddler, at least in my mind.  But no toddler I know would stay in a crib.  As far as my kids were concerned, they kept jumping out, or falling on their heads.  That might explain a few things.  Now my father’s statements to me in my youth ring clear.  He used to ask, “What is the matter with you?  Did you play too many football games without a helmet?”  I never figured out “how many” was too many. 

Some 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus, his infancy still impacts the world.  While some wanted to make Him an Excellency, believers see Him as their Sufficiency, beginning with infancy.  The commemoration of Jesus’ birth is the real reason we celebrate by giving “gifts” to each other.  He was the ultimate gift to the world.  The reason for the season is ultimately for His pleasin’.

A second gift was given to us by the resurrected Jesus, just prior to His ascension.  Luke, the physician, records in Acts 1:3:  “. . . He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things to come . . . He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised . . .”

Jesus told His followers: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:15-16).  The Holy Spirit is the gift that keeps on giving. 

During this festive season of holidays, may we Christians celebrate like never before.  May we live and love like never before.  The baby has grown, lived, and He has changed the world.  He died, resurrected, and ascended.  Don’t you think it is time to be Christ-like in ways that show we’ve left our own “Christian cribs” (apologies to the hip-hop community)?  On Christmas, are we going to ask our families to pass the milk or pass the meat?

I dare say when we celebrate our own birthdays we do not present each other with kind notions of the time we spent in the crib.  We celebrate our birthdays as we are now.  I also know a little about this, having a birthday in the same month as the Christmas holiday.

Dear believer, let us celebrate the holiday as He is NOW in our lives.  May we look back to the past, while living in the present–knowing that we have a future with Him.   May our baby-talk grow into a mature contagious conversation, coupled with a powerful Christian walk.  May this walk evidence movement in the right direction, joined by the fruit of the Spirit.  No, I did not say fruitcake.  Unlike divinity, THAT stuff is so nasty, and is the evil twin of the yule log.

Thank you for reading!

OK, where’s my egg-nog? 

Feliz Navidad!

Rozhdyestvom Christovom

Buon Natale

Merry Christmas

Honoring Our Parents

8 Sep

As many of you know, I am working on this brand new class for church–and I am excited about its direction.  It’s no secret that we assimilate and emulate a lot of what we are taught, and we appropriate to our lives the things which our parents also have appropriated.  Yes, it is true that we all must live our lives for ourselves.  However, when things go wrong, there is this popular notion that we should blame our parents for our problems.  Well, I am here to say that rather than cause dishonor to our parents by making ourselves victims, why not see things and practice things differently?

Taking personal responsibility for actions and words brings honor to our parents, for it shows the quality of ownership of one’s humanity.  Being unable to stand back and accept full responsibility without also saying, “Look how imperfect you are too,” is a dishonor to our parents.  Standing back and saying “I was wrong, forgive me,” is an honor to parents. 

There are those of us whose parents messed us up royally, or at least we think so.  OK, but so what.  Show me an average human who is not messed up somehow.  I think we’ve messed up enough because of our own choices as adults, that we can now let parents off the hook.   Show me an average human who does not yet have choices in life to move away from one thing, or another.  Show me a human who is honest, sincere, and willing to come alongside others without pointing out another’s “second-hand humanity,” and I’ll show you someone who honors his or her parents.  We need to focus on ourselves and get off the side-taking and finger-pointing.  Those things are dishonorable and childish.  Our own kids will do to us what we have done to our parents–including the blaming part.  We need to break that cycle.

Whether our parents are still with us, or whether they have departed this earth, our words and actions continue to demonstrate honor, or lack of honor for their roles and memories in our lives.  I pray that one day when I am gone, my own children will carry on the legacy of honorable living for themselves and for the honor with which they presently live. 

I am not a perfect man.  It just seems that way to negative people who cannot, or will not change to change.  In many people live by negative emotion rather than common sense.  They are used to the negativity and are addicted to it. 

Piety is not notoriety.  It is humility.  Efforts to change on our own are often met with futility and it’s easier to tell the world to celebrate its foibles than overcome them.  I am an overcomer, a victor.  Most of you are too.  There can be no greater honor to our parents than evidencing in our daily walks the Godly qualities by which they lived.  The second greatest honor is getting it right for our own kids to appropriate into their lives, and so on.

So, to those of us who are moving forward, getting a few things right each day by the grace of God, we are living in honor to our parents.  Those of us who are not are probably not living an honorable life in the eyes of their own families. 

Break the negative cycle with each and every choice to do so.  It is so freeing.  If a friend is a bad and toxic influence, break the friendship–or be a better friend and a better influence than the negative one.  Make the choice.  It will bring US honor.  It will demonstrate honor to our parents, which should never stop just because they have left this earth.

Thanks for reading!

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