Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thoughts on Bill O'Reilly's Comments

We love to see them screw up, our high and mighty leaders of the day. Be them actors or legislators, we just cannot seem to get enough of the pain and suffering of others. We are especially interested in the “gotcha” approach, splashing their wrong doings or misspeaks all over the national stage.

I’m thinking of Bill O’Reilly’s recent revelation about blacks in Harlem. Here’s the thing though – and you know I am no conservative, nor fan of O’Reilly – I think most people missed the point altogether, choosing to see his mistake as an opportunity to condemn him.

Now calm down. Let me make my point.

I have revelations, epiphanies, all the time on this blog. I record my misconceptions and missteps all the time. I write about things that I thought, and about my understanding that things are not as I previously thought. No one condemns me. Usually I am greeted with a “good for you” mentality; people understanding that I have developed in a positive way.

Not so with O’Reilly. Let’s just assume for a second that it was, indeed, a racist comment. That O’Reilly really was waking up to see that African Americans are really just like us whiteys. (For the record, I read the entire thing and I do not think that is the case.) If he goes to Harlem and realizes that most of the folks there are not gang bangers and hate-filled hip hoppers, then O’Reilly has just had a positive epiphany. His life will not be the same and such a realization will color a person’s life forever.

We should be proud of anyone who finally realizes that their discriminatory or prejudiced viewpoints were wrong. We should salute those who then have the courage to tell the rest of the world about that epiphany. It is a positive thing for Bill O’Reilly to state that not everyone who is black is also a gang-banger. There are so many conservative, religious Caucasians out there who desperately need to hear such a thing.

Here’s a hypothetical. I am willing to talk about hypotheticals because I am not running for office. If Larry, over at Simple Thoughts of a Complex Mind were to realize that his views on denying homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals were discriminatory, and he then choose to write about his new found understanding, surely we would not bash him for it. It takes some people longer to come to conclusions than others. I would hope that we would celebrate his understanding, not be made because it took him so long.

We missed an opportunity to address racial misconceptions with the handling of the Bill O’Reilly comments. The main stream media and bloggers alike have missed the change to help lead those who do hold racist views to better understanding of who African Americans really are.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Christians and Bigotry Part 2

Some Follow-Up Comments on Christians and Bigotry

Discussion. Discourse. And it is all civil and thought out. (Three incomplete sentences, all.) I have received several comments, both public and private, about my Christians and Bigotry post. They range from agree to agree-to-disagree, but I think the whole process has been very interesting.

Some have posed questions to me and I have done the same. I’d like to make it all a bit more public so the questions and comments gets flushed out a bit more. So in the Socratic tradition, I want to ask more questions to you all and maybe even post some thoughts I’ve had. Let’s see what comes of it.

  1. Should polygamists also be able to have multiple marriages? This is the typical response from the opponents of gay marriage. If you’ve followed my blog for anytime, then I think you know that I could care less. If two or three or 12 consenting adults want to have sex and live their lives together, then I could care less, even if they want to do it legally. To oppose it is a form of discrimination. It is a “duh” issue to me. Right now, the polygamists are not pushing for rights to marry as much as they are for the end of the prosecution of those engaged in lural marriages. I do have problems when polygamists marry 14-year-olds, and this appears to happen a lot. But that is a different issue. Isn’t the leader of the polygamist movement on trial for that very thing right now? If I remember correctly, he isn’t on trial for polygamy but for rape of a minor.
  2. What is your definition of “discrimination”? Apparently, we do not all agree on the definition that I used: Having different rules for different people is discrimination. Some feel that if a belief is steeped in religious dogma, then it is not discrimination. Bull [cough]. If you do not agree with the definition of “discrimination” that I have offered, then post your definition of “discrimination” here and defend it.
  3. Should government be involved in marriage? That’s a big heck no from me. I say marriage is a religious ceremony and each church/denomination should be able to decide who they will bless in marriage. I think we should abolish government marriages and simply have civil unions. Let the church decide the sanctity of marriage.
  4. I have my own forms of discrimination. I can think of two cases where my personal views (which are based on religious and secular ideas of right and wrong) are also forms of discrimination. The first involves say an 18-year-old and a 27-year-old (for instance). I can think of one instance when I oppose the marriage, civil union or sexual encounter of these two consenting adults. If the 18-year-old is in high school and her love is a teacher, then I oppose their “connection” based on the fact that the elder is in a position of power over the younger and violates the ethics of the teacher. This would also be true if the gender roles are reversed.
  5. I practice another form of discrimination. I am opposed to minors and adults having sexual relations. This includes the polygamists who practice the marriage of children to adults and those attracted to children. There are some groups that support adult-child relations as a perfectly normal and healthy outlet and that our laws are not allowing the child to express his or her own inalienable rights. Something like that anyway. My beliefs preclude me from supporting this view, therefore I am discriminating against both the adult and the child in this case. I do not try to rationalize that my belief is not discriminatory simply because of my religious beliefs. I simply accept the fact that it is discriminatory. The protection of the child is more important to me than the sexual civil rights of the adult, in this case.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Put Some Haters on the Front Page

“The only way you can have peace with Islam is if you convert,” said Walid Shoebat in a story by the Springfield News-Leader. Obviously, he should know because he is an Islamic terrorist-turned-Christian. He was in Springfield on Sunday spouting his newest-found fanaticism. Why fanaticism? He also said, according to the N-L, that Islam is the devil.

[gasp]. It may be shocking to you to discover that he also had copies of his two books on hand. Apparently, Shoebat also said that his message should be heard nationwide. Sure he does, he has books to sell and speaking engagements to secure. Seems a good gig for a former “terrorist”. So he says anyway. I bet he’s making the money.

This was the big headline on Monday and I think it only serves to put fear in the hearts of many and spread the idea that Christianity is the one true religion and all others are the makings of Satan his red self. There are plenty who will take the bait and keep right on promoting their version of fanaticism and hatred all in the name of Christian love. How many people have died in the name of Christ over the last millennium? Plenty.

I am a Christian but I am not a fundamentalist fanatic. It irks me when people hate in the name of God. If the moderate Islamists were not afraid of reprisals, I’m sure they would say the same. Who would? If you local paper put this kind of crap about how your religion is of the devil (insinuating that all members of your religion are out to kill you) would you be willing to be identified? I’d be scared, especially around here.

And people say the media is liberal. I do not think a liberal paper would put this kind of story on the front page. The media, by the way, is out for its own interests. Period. The liberal media is a myth perpetuated by … oh who cares?

Today's N-L had a Letter to the Editor rebuffing the whole story. Read it here and be sure to check out the comments.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Kool-Aid! Get Your Cold Glass of Kool-Aid!

Today is the day of blog posts, I tell you what. I had hung my blogging tool up for the day, then it happened. The neighbor kids got the idea to open a Kool-Aid stand. So daughter took off to make some bread. It wasn't long til they came back disgusted at the slow stream of money. I gave them more cups, bought some red chill myself and headed home. Not an hour later they had racked up over $12, most of which was earned by making signs and a newly developed hard-sell tactic. Just imagine. The kids were learning about economics and it wasn't even a school day.

Am I in that Bad of Shape?

I have joined the AARP fitness center of Springfield. In order for me to qualify for bariatric (lap band) surgery, I have had to undergo a special, physical-monitored diet. This is the same program that the elderly heart patients undergo. Yesterday was my first appointment and the place was full of seniors walking treadmills and pulling laps. I had to be there at the crack of God. I’m used to getting up early, but I’m not used to being somewhere at 6:30 a.m. It was rough.

I met with an exercise specialist and a dietician – a skinny little thing with a cutesy voice and bubbly personality. After an hour she managed to teach me all I needed to know about nutrition, which basically works out to starving.

I started the “lifestyle change” today with two cups of healthy cereal, ½ cup of milk and a light yogurt. I don’t know that the cereal is healthy exactly, but it is better than Frutty Pebbles. I figure any movement in the right direction is good progress, even if it is not perfect.

My wife made a meatloaf for lunch and I had a larger portion that I was supposed to. I am only allowed 6 -8 ounces of meat a day. For the love of Pete, I do not see how any human can live on only 6 ounces of meat per day, but I’ll give it a whirl. I also had carrot sticks and some celery (with peanut butter, of course). It has been an hour and I’m hungry again, but I suppose I should just get used to that. They tell me that I should not be hungry, but I’m not sure how they expect me not to be.

I think I prefer to exercise on the treadmill at home than to go to the blue hair health club. I mean crap. Am I seriously in as poor as health as the 85-year-old dude who just had a heart attack? I can’t bear it. I popped out my 30 minutes at home today and feel better. Somehow going up there feels to close to a nursing home to me.

TPing My House

The new pup has found his favorite toy: toilet paper. He got into our supply and had a big old time ripping the TP up from one end of the house to the other. Never had the inside of my house TP'd before.

Christians and Bigotry

I’ve been thinking lately about gayness as it applies to Christian morality and the political ramifications therein. Just some light philosophical thinking between classes. Here’s my dilemma: I have a friend who is a Christian and because of his faith he does not believe in gay marriage/civil unions. I am a Christian who supports gay marriage/civil unions because of my faith.

Now I’m not concerned about who is right or wrong, at least not in this instance. The part that I am struggling with is the label of “bigot”. Much has been made about the nasty label of bigot or hater. Many a conservative Christian has been labeled such because of their positions on gay marriage/civil unions.

I know my friend. He does not hate gay persons. He does not wish them ill. He does not try to stop them from engaging in their relationships. He simply does not believe that homosexuals should marry based on his understanding of the biblical code. Like others of his belief, he has been labeled a bigot for his religious beliefs. I do not believe my friend is a bigot and yet something feels wrong to me.

My friend is not the stereotypical “queer bashers” or “fag haters”. Far from that. So does the label of “bigot” actually fit? I’ve been mulling this one around for months now, trying to figure it out. Frankly, I don’t want to label my friend as a bigot. I just don’t think it fits. The problem is that there are other Christians out there who are bashers and haters, making it hard to find a distinction. I’m sure American Muslims find themselves in a similar situation when compared to their radical brethren.

While the label of bigot does not fit my friend, I do not think that just because someone has a religious belief, that they are automatically exempt from discrimination. It seems that some Christians want off the discriminatory hook because their perspective is religiously based (in their opinion). Something about that is wrong as well. Just because one believes the Bible states it, does not mean that the opinion is not discriminatory.

If your religious belief means that you set up different laws for different people, that the rules are different for one side over another, then that is, by definition, discrimination. The fact that a person bases their discrimination on biblical precepts is irrelevant. It does not and should not matter where they foundation of the belief comes from.

So is my friend a bigot? I still don’t think that label fits because he is not a hater. No, he is not a bigot. He does, however, have a belief that is discriminatory. There is a big difference. In my opinion, buddy, you are not a bigot. You simply have one belief that discriminates against a group of people. There are plenty of Christians who may want off the “bigot” hook too, but they simply would not qualify because of their hater views. I know some of those folks too.

So now for the even bigger question: What beliefs do I have that may be discriminatory? I would be willing to bet that we all have one. The more disturbing question for me is related to my faith. Do I have biblically based beliefs that are also discriminatory toward a group of persons? It is a big question. If so, then either the Bible is wrong or my interpretation of the Bible is incorrect. Time for some introspection.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Understanding the Role of Religion in Public Schools

The Academy for Educational Studies at Missouri State University wants to know the role religion plays in today’s public school system. So would I for that matter. So the group is hosting a conference to address that very issue on October 3-5. This will include many national speakers and educational philosophers as well as the ACLU and the Alliance Defense Fund.

Should prove to be a good time as the ACLU and the Alliance Defense Fund will be part of a final panel discussion on Friday, Oct. 5, 1:15 - 3 pm at the Plaster Student Union Ballroom on the MSU campus. There will also be a religious panel discussion consisting of local clergy on Oct. 3 at 10 am.

I cannot post all of the information, but here is a list of the seminar titles:

  • Educational Vouchers and School Choice
  • Federal Policies and the Public Schools
  • Religious Talk and School Counseling
  • Religion and School: What Students Say
  • Getting Students to Think Critically about Religion
  • Religion Class and Religious Literacy
  • Religion and Public Schools: A Comparison of the Law in the US
  • School Prayer and the Law
  • Using Expressive Techniques to Explore Spirituality
  • Religion and the Schools: Implications for Educators/Administrators
  • The Public Religion of the Public Schools
  • The Role of Spirituality in Higher Education
  • Religion and Literature
  • Listening to the Philosophers
  • The Effusion of Religion and Spirituality in the Classroom
  • Student and Parent Voices
  • Religion and the Teaching of Science
  • International Perspectives
  • Understanding Unbelief as part of Religious Education
  • The View from a Faith-based Liberal Arts College
  • The Intersection of Religion and Democratic Community
  • Dogma, Privilege, and Lifestyle Issues
  • Religion, Schools and the Law
  • The Religious Voice (panel discussion of area ministers)
  • Technology, War and the Internet
  • Panel Discussion: What Role Should Religion Play in the 21st Century Public School?

I’m hoping that some of my education teachers will cancel class on Wednesday so that I may attend the event. It is a conference hosted by the Academy, which is part of the College of Education. I’m off on Thursdays and Fridays so I will be able to go on those days.

Click here for more information.

Comics for Halloween

If you love comics and want to promote literacy, then Diamond Comic Distributors has a deal for you. In conjunction with Archie Comics, Gemstone Publishing, and Marvel, Diamond is putting together a Halloween comic deal. Click here for the press release.

Rather than Butterfingers, Tootsie Rolls, and popcorn balls you can give the gift of literacy in the form of mini-comics. That’s right. You can be the coolest house on the block, and the healthiest for that matter, by giving out comics on Halloween night rather than the traditional sugary fare. These will be smaller comics designed to fit in most trick-or-treat buckets and bags and each will be 16 pages.

There will be three different comics, one from each of the three publishers. They will be available in packs of 25 and are supposed to ship on September 27. No word yet on how much the bundles will cost and if the bundles will include all three titles or just one title per bundle.

Uncle Scrooge: The Hound of the Whiskervilles
From Gemstone Publishing
By Carl Barks

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man
From Marvel Comics
(cover not yet available)
B Fred Van Lente and Michael Golden

Little Archie Halloween
From Archie Comics
(cover not yet available)
By Dexter Taylor and Bob Bolling

Here's the problem: You need to act fast. There will only be a small run on these comics, so you need to book it to your local comic book store and order yours this week. I have already ordered mine.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Teaching Concepts Over Worksheets

I have made the argument that a classroom focused on the teaching of basic skills is missing an opportunity to actually teach a child something meaningful. It might sound strange for someone in education to refrain from teaching basic skills. It is a bit misleading.

Teaching children to read and write, add and subtract are absolutely necessary to an education. No one would argue that. However, the approach one takes to teach these things are what are being bantered about. It is all about the teacher’s philosophy of education.

When a teacher walks to the front of the class and demonstrates the algorithm for adding numbers together (carry the one and all that jazz) then expects students to simply mimic what is being written on the dry erase board, then learning has stopped. Students are not increasing their capacity for learning. They are simply memorizing a meaningless algorithm in order to complete a worksheet and get a passing grade.

However, the good teacher presents information to students in a more meaningful way, before every working on any kind of algorithm. What does it mean to add, subtract, multiply or divide? What does that look like and how do we conceive that in our eye? This can be done through manipulatives – hands-on activities that facilitate learning. Students do not sit and watch the teacher and then do what he does.

Maybe the teacher is working on fractions. Each cooperative learning group of four students has two measuring cups. One measuring cup has one-half cup of oats. The other measuring cup has one-fourth cup of oats. First the students put them together and learn that one-half add one-fourth equals three-fourths cups of oats. Next the students separate the oats again and the teacher guides them in understanding how one-half add one-four equals three-fourths. All of this is done without writing down the tradition fraction addition algorithm.

The purpose is not for the student to learn to reproduce an algorithm, but to understand how fractions work. This requires a lot of up front work on the part of the teacher, but it leads to life-long learning on the part of the student.

Last night I was tutoring a neighborhood child in fifth grade. She had to do some multiplication (2,564x5 and 45x32). This fifth grader could not remember the algorithm on how to multiply numbers.


5x2 = 10, so you put down the zero and carry the 1. She could not do it. She remembered doing it last year, but over the summer she had forgotten it. This is why we teach and re-teach the same material year after year after year. She had no conception of what multiplication was or how it is applied. If there is no conceptual understanding, then the algorithm is meaningless and forgettable. By the way, there are other multiplication algorithms that make more conceptual sense than the traditional carry-the-one approach.

You split the multiplication into its parts, making it easier and more conceptual. I’ll try to show you how it works.

2x5 (=10)
2x40 (=80)
30x5 (=150)
30x40 (=1200)

Then you add 1,200+15+80+10 = 1,440. Now for those of us who learned the traditional algorithm, this seems confusing. However, if you start with this algorithm, it makes more sense when combining it with the conceptual approach. In this case, the goal is not the algorithm or the right answer, but it is the idea of what multiplication is that drives the lesson. The rest of it, the algorithm and right answer will come after the conceptual lesson has been taught.

I remember days of sitting and completing math worksheets until my brain ached. Math = memorizing the times tables and accompanying algorithm. That is still true in many of today’s classrooms, and Every Child Left Behind is only exacerbating the problem. Why do worksheets when there are many other more affective activities that can be used? In part, it is because teachers want to teach the way they were taught, regardless of how effective that approach is. The path of least resistance is human nature. A classroom of worksheets gives the teacher more time for other things like grading papers. The philosophy is teacher-centered, rather than student-centered. It seems to me that a classroom should be designed for the students rather than the teacher. Go tell that to my college professors.

Every Child Left Behind

The News and Leader reports that Springfield Public Schools has not met proficiency tests established by President Bush’s Every Child Left Behind. Of the 38 districts in six counties, only seven met the benchmarks. Those seven districts were small schools serving no more than 800 students.

The News-Leader doesn’t offer any helpful information: no analysis or evaluations of what is really going on, just a note that things are not good. That is not good enough. I want to know which districts in Missouri are meeting proficiency tests and which are not. I want to know how many minority, English Language Learners, and special education students are in those districts and what their scores are. I want to know how Missouri compares to other states. Is this a Missouri problem or a national problem?

There are some goodies in the N-L story. We know that students who are learning English as a second language (called English Language Learners or ELL) are taking the same Communication Arts exams as native speakers. ELLs who live here less than a year are exempt. That shows what the writers of the Every Child Left Behind knows. It takes about seven years for a person to become proficient in another language. Obviously, districts with large numbers of ELL are going to have some lower scores.

The story also points out another major flaw with Every Child Left Behind: almost all children with disabilities are taking the same tests as everyone else. There is but a small fraction of children with severe disabilities who qualify to take an alternative test. If these students need help and accommodations with daily assignments, then common sense would tell us that they will also need accommodations to take standardized tests in order to actually asses what they know and have learned.

Notice that in 2014, 100 percent of the students will be expected to show proficiency. One hundred percent is an unreasonable expectation for any endeavor. Have we forgotten what the term “average” means. There are going to be students who are below average, average and above average. Now we are back to that common sense thing of which Every Child Left Behind has abandoned.

All this will do is force the schools to put pressure on teachers to teach the test. That is what is happening and will continue to happen. Is that what you want? I do not. How did you do on standardized tests as a kid? I hated them and didn’t care. Have things changed so much? Standardized tests cannot be the sole (some would argue it should not be the main) assessment tool. To see if a child is making progress in Communication Arts, we can simply look at his or her language arts portfolio. We can assess how the student has learned to use adjectives and adverbs, write more interesting and complex sentence structures, and look at their spelling tests. What kinds of creative stories, essays, poems, plays and journal entries are they writing? There are other, better, ways of assessing proficiency other than standardized tests. Our President, the husband of a high quality school teacher, should know that. In our fervor to make 100 percent of children proficient at the same level we are leaving every child behind, but hey, it looked good on the political trail.

I say all of this, but my comments should not be interpreted as a defense for the current educational philosophy of our schools. The basis for Every Child Left Behind is that American school children should do better. I can’t argue with that; I can just argue with the approach taken to address the problem. We spend entirely too much time teaching basic skills as opposed to teaching the concepts behind those skills.

Check Out The Japanese Festival

It's going to be a soggy weekend for the Japanese festival held at the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden (at the Nathanael Greene Park, 2400 S. Scenic). If you've never been, it is a great time. There are plenty of places for kids to run and play and be outdoors as well as special booths and events just for the kiddies. There is also Japanese drummers, tea ceremonies, Iaido demonstrations (samurai sword), and martial arts demonstrations.

If you are at all interested in the samurai, then the Iaido demonstration is particularly interesting. Mark Boisse, the Iaido instructor, lived in Japan for a couple of years and studied the art of the samurai sword from the masters. What you see is real art and swordsmanship, as opposed to Hollywood's version of swordplay.

The tea ceremonies are also authentic and beautiful. The last couple of years, they have had a booth of Japanese candies, snacks and drinks. This is always a big hit. It is an interesting cultural event. Despite the weather, plenty of people had fun last night, according to the News-Leader.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Barkley-Buddy Blogging

Well the puppy has been home for a little over a week and things are going well. Sure, he's not potty trained yet, but he does pee, assuming we take him out every four hours. If we forget, well, then it's our own fault.

This morning Barkley (the dog) and Buddy (the cat) played chase. That was the first real sign that they are becoming friends. At first the cat wasnt' sure about Barkley, but he's figured out that a little dog can be a good friend.

As for the daughter, she is crazy about the dog. She dresses him up. Yes, that's right. I have a teeny, tiny dog that gets dressed up like a doll baby. What of it? Big honking biker guy hauls around an insy winsy dog. It's funny; I get it. It's worth it to see all the happiness that this little guy brings my daughter and wife. They even have a dog purse so they can take him with them. The wife doesn't warm up to pets too much. She just doesn't, but she loves this dog. She dresses him up and cuddles with him and all kinds of things. Something about a little dog that helps bring out empathy in people. He's been great for the daughter that way too.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Inequity is Fair


The above space is where you would see my ranting and raving about the unbelievably naive and ill-conceived notion that the school districts in St. Louis and Kansas City deserve more money per pupil than other school districts, especially the small, rural ones.

The News-Leader has taken the stance that the urban schools should get more money per pupil because … well they didn’t bother to address why we should discriminate against the rural schools. They just advocate for it.

Dad’s On A Rant beat me to the post and he did a darn fine job. So there’s no point in rehashing it all. Dad is right and I cannot imagine why the News-Leader would support inequality in school funding.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Kitchen Remodel: Day 27

We ate our first meal in weeks at the table today. The remodel is coming to an end and it feels great. The project has come down to details: putting the hardware on the cabinets and drawers, installing the stove (when it gets here), installing the rest of the lights and ceiling fan, caulking, that kind of stuff.

We spent all of yesterday washing dishes and putting things in the cabinets. We have not put much away, but we are getting there. My parents came up and helped us move in and arrange the furniture. It’s a good thing they did too. My dad was here to help me move. My wife and mother supervised the work, arranging and rearranging the furniture. We also had the help of both of my grandmothers, which gave us two too many bosses for my taste. My mother is very good at arranging and so we love her help. She is an amateur interior decorator and is, by far, better than many pros. She and Pa went with us to pick out some lighting, door treatment and a few other accessories. It was fun.

(Pics will come at the end of it all.)