Archive for April, 2017

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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On Tyranny

Libraries and book stores are full of books explaining what and why the social and economic worlds are the way they are. In many cases there is much supporting information about the environment around the problem, but not much about the problem, or issue. Recently, my wife ran across a review of the small book listed below, bought a couple of copies, and read one. She was most impressed and (highly) recommended that I read it, which I eventually did. In the meantime she bought several copies, one of which we sent to our Marine grandson. He took it to the office to read in his spare time, began it that morning and didn’t put it down until he had finished it shortly before lunch. He then gave it to his office mate and insisted that he read it.

There are twenty topics, framed as orders. Each one has from a half to two page comment that explains what Snyder intends each topic statement to mean. If there is a repository of advice about dealing with what is happening in this country, for me this is it.

(I have included three samples from his lessons)

On Tyranny; Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century
Timothy Snyder

Do Not Obey In Advance
Defend Institutions
Beware the One Party State

The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. So support the multi-party system and defend the rules of democratic elections. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.

Take Responsibility For The Face Of The World
Remember Professional Ethics
Be Wary Of Paramilitaries
Be Reflective If You Must Be Armed
Stand Out
Be Kind To Our Language
Believe In Truth

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Investigate
Make Eye Contact And Small Talk
Practice Corporeal Politics
Establish A Private Life
Contribute To Good Causes
Learn From Peers In Other Countries
Listen For Dangerous Words

Be alert for the use of the words extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

Be Calm when The Unthinkable Arises
Be A patriot
Be As Courageous As you Can

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