Well, Summer is here in Washington (DC), the temperature is near 90, and the baseball team just gained a lead in their game. My lawn mower is in the shop, where I should have taken it in the “off season”. Despite promises to have it ready in a week, I am making early inquiries about borrowing one for the next cutting.

Another political excitement this week with the testimony of the former director of the FBI about what the President expected from him has brought on another political scandal that will be investigated into the Fall (at a minimum). The President continues to travel and issue statements that his staff attempts to clarify, downplay, and generally wish had not been made. We can expect this to continue, as will the special committee of Congress that is investigating the whole mess, existing and prospective.

All in all, a more active summer than I had expected.

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My Values

Tuesday was the 72nd anniversary of the invasion of France by Allied armies. Seventy two years ago this past week was the Battle of Midway where the planes from three American carriers destroyed four of the Japanese carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor on the previous December 7th. My father was principal of a rural school (grades 1 through 11) and we had a short wave radio. When school was not in session, I had little to do but listen and ride my bike around the school yard. I was able to listen to DNB, the German short wave radio as well as some stations in the U.S. l had been able to keep up with the war from its beginning.

The excited reports of the battle of Midway and the Invasion of France were not only fascinating, but laid the basis for my understanding of what was to become the history of the times in which l grew up. In the summer of 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. To avoid the draft I volunteered (or was volunteered by an admiral) for the navy and upon graduation spent two years on active duty.

Much of the values which have shaped my life have been shaped by the total process of war: sense of duty

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St. Augustine

Many years ago, further back than I want to remember, I made a professional trip to Central America to visit professional schools of education in three different countries. Since I was going to spend a substantial amount of time on airplanes, I took The City of God by St Augustine to read. I finished it, (all 867 pages) but I had to reread, concentrate and spend a lot of time trying to put his ideas into my context. At the end of this trip, I came home and went to our swimming pool to assume the role of timer in my children’s swimming meets. Without moving directly to a classroom for use,  St. Augustine probably never became an essential part of my professional philosophy.

In looking through our library recently, I found a biography of Augustine, in 149 pages: The Restless Heart, by Michael Marshall. Unlike my first reading, this one focuses on his life and how he arrived at his theology. In his early life he worked his way through contemporary religions, Manichaeism and Gnosticism for example, and then left his home in Carthage for Rome. There, he became much more liberal in his life, dropped his wife for a lover and generally led a more inclusive life. His study of religions led him to Christianity which essentially took hold of his life. He was baptized in Milan in 387 A.D. and later returned to North Africa. He became Bishop of Hippo where he spent the rest of his life in the Christian church studying and writing.

This author takes you through Augustine’s life in a way that gives you the feeling for what the man became: a Christian.  The publishers have provided plenty of photographs to show the area he lived and worked in.

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New View Of The Brain

In this Tuesday’s Washington Post there is an article that reports on research that says our brain rearranges our mind every night, keeps some of the day’s experiences for integration into the pattern that controls our behavior and dumps the rest. The article is about how this takes place. This means we don’t look back, rather we are focused on what will happen to us later today, or tomorrow, etc.

From my standpoint as a teacher of teachers, it helps me understand the lack of interest by education students in the actions and ideas of past educators. It also explains why new methods textbooks sold even though they said almost exactly what previous ones said. Other subjects were similar. Yet, most prospective teachers had stored away selected information about teaching from one or more of their previous teachers. They planned to go out and teach the same way. The problem was that these bits and pieces were difficult to organize in a classroom situation different from the one their model had been in.

It was in student teaching that they got to see that they had to move their thinking to this new situation. The new teaching-learning situations in which teachers and students work together don’t respond to the old method of teaching where the teacher is in charge of everything that goes on in the classroom. Research like this is slowly changing classroom learning. Hopefully educating teachers will get on board.

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What Are Monuments?

Recently there have been a number of articles about monuments in Southern cities about the War Between The States, known more widely throughout the country as the Civil War (if it is known at all). South Carolina flew the Confederate flag on its capitol grounds; Alexandria, Va has its Southern soldier facing south, leaning on his rifle with his head bowed. Richmond has an avenue lined with Confederates on stone pillars. Every Southern city that could afford their version up to the early 20th century has something similar. There are even a couple of statues in the nation’s capitol.

So, how long do/can we keep events alive in our memories? There are a number of attempts to move the Confederacy into the memory cellar of people who still have it in an upstairs room. The flag has been moved off South Carolina’s capitol grounds; it took the murder of nine black people in their church to accomplish this. The mayors of Charlottesville and New Orleans are trying to move their statues to less central places. Depending upon the amount of discord this raises, and it seems to be raising a lot, other cities may attempt the same.

However, this will not be easy. Richmond, capitol of the Confederacy, has a boulevard lined with Virginia confederates and I am sure there is a cleanup group for them. From what I have read and watched on tv, there are two groups with opposite positions, and a majority that really doesn’t care. Paris is full of statues of Napoleon, who was a loser himself. However, his Frenchmen who put them up are the same as Frenchmen today. Like a couple of kings, he represents France in its greatest hours.

In our southern states, there is no such attitude unifier. About half of our black population lives in the south, and they cut the possible number of important Confederate supporters by about half. In addition, there are the Yankees who have moved south since WW II for whom that “War” carries little interest.

As these two examples seem to show, old allegiances can last as long as people have a sense of ties to past events. Germans are an example of what can happen when commitment to a set of values brings such destruction to a social system that it has to be reconstructed. In the case of the Confederate states, they were legally readmitted to the union, but basically walled off economically and socially until Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.

So, monuments seem to be attempts to retain loyalty to people or events from the past that some group thinks important. People such as Lincoln and Churchill and Beethoven have monuments because they contributed to national goals and people. In the case of a divided nation, how do we deal with people whom we have come to view as historically important? George Washington owned slaves, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, in fact, fourteen members of of the Constitutional Convention delegates owned slaves.  Should we remove them from our view?

Using this example, how much of our history do we want to erase? How do we decide?

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Is Any of This Us?

In talking with one of the rectors at our church, she gave me a quotation from Edmund Burke:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

I have been thinking about the meaning(s) of this statement and where l can see it today. Having spent my working life trying to help individuals do the most they can with their lives, I see good men and women struggling to make sense of our world. The first place that crossed my mind was in our political life. With change of political life at the national level, it is on my mind every day. Since my party lost the election, and a crowd l could agree with less now holds power, I view every political action with suspicion and worry. With my Republican friends, l have felt for some time that the Federal government ls becoming too big and unwieldy. But, is what the current Republican administration doing is what should be done to reduce expenditures and maintain support where (I think) it is necessary?

In another case, the change in our economic life began, according to our economic experts sometime in the 1960’s. I must say that I did not see it then, and only several years later. All of our economic help, mostly to European countries, created competitors to our steel producers, automobile manufacturers, electronics producers and just about any other manufacturer. By the time I saw what was happening, it had happened. Manufacturing was moving overseas and jobs were going with them, leaving thousands of people unemployed.

In this economic sense, can leaving people without a way of earning a living and excusing it by saying that’s the way the system works be called evil? Government began to respond to this situation by creating new programs of assistance for those in in need, leading to the size and cost of our current government. Unemployment is located heavily among the uneducated and the poor, who stay that way and perpetuate a class society. So, an economic situation of constant invention of machines by humans has created a world in which machines constantly displace people in the economic system. The Democrats have used government to support those who can’t support themselves, spending increasing amounts of money in this effort. The new Republicans see cutting services as the answer to this problem.

Both political parties embarked on routes that if carried to their conclusion, wherever that might be, could bankrupt the government or leave some people starving. Would the breakdown of government be evil?

P.S.  Ford is running a completely automated plant in China.  Will that come here?


Is Donald Trump Proving Eric Hoffer Right?

“All great movements start as a cause, evolve into a business and end up as a racket.”

We are back with Eric Hoffer. The political movement that gave us Donald Trump started as a cause. The appointments he is making to leadership positions in federal government departments indicate he sees federal government as a business. Are we on our way to the conclusion of Hoffer’s statement?

Eric Hoffer was a part of the 1930s depression and he worked at a variety of jobs including cleaning ditches.  During the day he thought about the world he lived in and wrote his thoughts down.  In the forties, he got a collection published and he was off and running as a philosopher (though he never saw himself as such).


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One Of Our Everlasting Concerns

One of the most written and talked about topics from local to national levels is education, mostly as schooling. It’s methodology, money for schools, my child, his teacher and who controls what. Historically, schooling has been a local matter, but gradually states were pushed into providing money and setting state wide standards. So, now states set state wide curriculum standards and so much money for each portion of day that children attend school. Standards for teachers and other school related personnel are pretty much the same through the 50 states.

However, even though state standards are mostly the same, what they do within them can be quite different, mostly because of the size of districts within our 50 states. For example, the size of school districts:

Above 25,000 are 2% of districts enrolling 34% of the nation’s kids
10,000 – 24,000 = 4% of districts with 19% of children
2,500 – 9999 = 22% of districts enrolling 30%
1000 – 2499 = 24% of districts with 12%
600 – 999 = 12% of districts with 3%
599 & under = 35% of districts with 3%

So districts with 2499 children and under constitute 71% of school districts nationally with only 18% of school age children. Small school districts, particularly, are mostly rural and poor throughout the country, with the resulting problems of providing curriculum in math and science. Some areas meet this lack of students by combining several districts under one superintendent and bussing students, sometimes long distances, across district lines. Teachers in these districts are mostly from within the state and very often from the local area

The very large districts are in cities and are mostly divided by income and social class. Poor whites live apart from poor blacks and latinos, but they share lack of optimism and desire to work through the curriculum. In the more well to do areas, teachers are more likely to be invested in teaching, the schools have a wider curriculum with an atmosphere that encourages participation.

So, we have thinly populated rural districts struggling to provide a basic and varied curriculum with teachers who are often teaching subjects for which they are ill prepared. While in urban areas schools range from those which have students from educated parents down to those which have students who don’t know who their parents are and some/many of whose teachers are not well prepared. The smaller districts have few of these concerns, but have fewer students for speciality areas and fewer student to support a larger curriculum.

This brief report illustrates the difficulty in trying to set up government and professional organizations that can provide services to state educational institutions. One problem, of course, is cost. In addition, these institutions and the people working in them, particularly in poorer districts, are often overcome by the problems from such a wildly diverse population.

Our method for dealing with such diversity is to constantly add new methods and programs. Well funded districts (18% of children) do pretty well. The less well funded (71%) go from less well to struggling.

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An Unknown Hero

One of the interesting things in life is the discoveries you make long after earlier events. When I went in the navy, I was on a ship whose business was to put landing craft in the water, fill them with marines and send them off to the beach. We had a captain who rarely left his quarters when at sea to come to the quarterdeck. I think I saw him once to talk to when I asked for three extra days leave when we were in port at Christmas to get married. Several years after I left active duty in the mid 1950’s I saw an article in the newspaper about several naval captains who had been promoted to admiral, and he was among them. And that was that.

Recently, I was reading about the invasion of Okinawa when I came across a description of what happened to a destroyer squadron that had been placed between Japan and the Okinawa invasion force. The task of these ships was to help prevent the Japanese air force from reaching the invasion fleet. Shortly after being put in position, Japanese planes of all sorts armed with bombs came across this small destroyer fleet and in one day sank them all but one and, after a day of attacking it, left it barely afloat with every crew member dead or wounded. Briefly mentioned was that it’s commander, who was wounded but continued functioning, was my former commanding officer. That one reference was all I could find.

Then, this past week, when I was looking through books on naval world war II history in the Pacific, up popped up Hell From The Heavens, which was based on The Ship That Would Not Die (the USS Laffey), by its former captain, Julian Becton, my former captain. I have ordered a copy of this later rendition of Captain Becton’s story.

This is a story I wish I had known sixty five years earlier.

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Well Intended, but flawed

Resident Aliens,

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon

The description of this book on the cover is, “A provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know something is wrong.”

The authors go straight for our chops in the preface: “The church is a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another.” Acknowledging that Christian culture is subsumed in an increasingly alien, secular one, they lay out how Christians can function as Christ calls to us to do. Each of their chapters comes to grips with particular aspects of Christian belief in our daily lives.

What are the right questions in the modern world? How do Christians know how to respond? How do Christians involve themselves and their churches in the increasingly diverse life of the country? What are Christian ethics: what Jerry Falwell preaches? What liberal Christians preach and practice? Can there be anything common about the preaching and practice of Christianity?

The authors tackle these topics and weave others in. They come head on in both their analysis and dictation about how Christians handle the ambiguity that we work into the interaction of our faith with living in present day America. The book is thoughtful, well written and engages its readers in self consideration.

Having given this analysis, there is a caution to be added. The authors lay out a world in which religion plays a decreasing role in human behavior. For example, they draw some examples from WWII. They use the examples of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan and the plowing under of Germany by Allied bombing being approved by President Truman and Prime Minister Churchill as being unChristian. Having lived through WWII, I find this unacceptable. War is never Christian. The Germans were in the process of exterminating Jews and the Japanese treated military prisoners, and every one else they came in contact with, particularly the Chinese whom they exterminated by the hundreds of thousands, with brutality. In the case of the Japanese government, atomic bombs were the only thing that would have brought the Japanese to the peace table and prevented the invasion of Japan. The first one had no effect on the government’s decision to continue the war, and neither did the second one. It was the Emperor who came out of his isolation to announce his acceptance of surrender. Christianity, as these two use it, had no effect on the decision of the Nazis and the Japanese to force violence on the world.

However, this is a book for people who take their religion seriously and are willing to be faced with looking at their lives through Christianity as held up by Hauerwas and Willmon.

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