Archive for January, 2014

I recently posted at my blog that part of a solid education reform package would be keeping kids out of school until they are developmentally ready–say 6 or 7 (granted that some are developmentally ready at 5, but that none are ready at 3 or 4). I posted this to my LinkedIn account and got some feedback.

One wrote back:

"Should kids go to school at age 4, 5, 6. You mention family time would be better than going to school at younger ages but with many families trying to eke out a living they do not have the time to keep kids at home. The reality for many is that preschool and school are about child care not necessarily education. A well run program for young kids is certainly more beneficial than what many families could offer if the kids were at home" (Name withheld) 

I wrote in response:

The end of your statement is exactly the problem: "The reality for many is that preschool and school are about child care not necessarily education."

This is why parents then refuse to get involved in the academic success of their children, why teachers are expected to thus raise the children and teach them what they should be learning at home, and why there are so many discipline issues at schools.

Teachers are not in existence to raise other people's children or babysit them. We are there to educate the children. Children should be at home at young ages building forts, playing with trucks and dolls, and eating toasted cheese sandwiches made by mom or dad for lunch not dealing with the rigors of a 6-7 hour school day.

Sorry, I disagree with you entirely. School should not be be a place of social engineering which is what it becomes when children go to school at increasingly younger ages.

And when it falls upon teachers to be mere baby-sitters, education fails. I cannot concentrate on educating 15-20 kids in a classroom when there is 1 or more who require and demand my attention because of their misbehavior, or age appropriate behavior (for 3 or 4 or 5 year olds that is).

My point all along is that true education reform has to begin at the home. And what happens when children this young misbehave in the classroom? They are sent to the school psychologist who then runs a battery of tests and determines the child is ADHD.*** The parents then take the child, armed with new evidence, to a doctor who prescribes pills for the child.

The child then learns nothing because he/she does not learn to measure their own behavior or to self-regulate, but rather to suck down a pill. That is not education.

*Even the president thinks we need more pre-k services for children. But I ask why? What does it accomplish having children under 5 attending all day or every other day classes at a public school. The question remains: who benefits from children being in school at such a young age, getting burned out before they are in 2nd grade, missing their parents, and trying to learn what they are not ready to learn? Not the parents. Not the teachers. Not the children. (Hint: If you said the government, you are right.

**See also: Early-Education Advocates Welcome Fresh Federal Infusion. I am not advocating that early education needs more money, just pointing to the article as an example of how misguided this entire process is. Simply throwing more money at education 'problems' is not a solution. It is a washing of hands. I wonder how much suffering our culture could alleviate if parents kept their children at home until 6-7 years of age?

***And that is no knock on the school psychologist who is doing his/her job. My point is that if the child were developing at home under the aegis of the parent, some of these problems might just vanish befor the child is in school. Medication is not life; it is medicine. As an intervention specialist, I never recommend medication. Children can learn a lot from parents, and should.

 

Related articles

Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 1: Athletics & Academics
Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 2: Government Meddling in Education
Thoughts on Education Reform, pt 3: True Education Reform Starts at Home

A friend of mine posted a link to this essay on facebook. I thought I would expose it here since the author of the essay mentions several thoughts and ideas that I have also had quite independent of anyone else.

The essay is here: The Coming Common Core Meltdown.

Probably the most important thing about this whole Common Core mess that I was unaware of is that the Gates Foundation has contributed $160 million to the cause. Here's an excerpt:

The standards were drafted largely behind closed doors by academics and assessment “experts,” many with ties to testing companies. Education Week blogger and science teacher Anthony Cody found that, of the 25 individuals in the work groups charged with drafting the standards, six were associated with the test makers from the College Board, five with the test publishers at ACT, and four with Achieve. Zero teachers were in the work groups. The feedback groups had 35 participants, almost all of whom were university professors. Cody found one classroom teacher involved in the entire process. According to early childhood expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige: “In all, there were 135 people on the review panels for the Common Core. Not a single one of them was a K–3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.” Parents were entirely missing. K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.

Part of my ideas for education reform is that reform, true reform, starts at home. (See my post on the same subject.)

This essay by Karp is eye-opening.

 

CronTitle: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

Author: Ian Morgan Cron

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Page Count: 257

Date: 2011

Conversations on Courage and Faith

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review on my blog. Go to Booksneeze for more information.]

 I received my copy of this book more than a year ago. In fact, it had been such a long time since I had received the book that I had to go through a rather tedious process of updating my blog in several ways and having my review privileges reinstated by Booksneaze. The reasons for this are numerous, but fairly typical of the economics our current world.

In 2008 I bought my wife and sons a house. We had waited 17.5 years of marriage to do so. In 2009 I was fired/asked to resign from the church where I had been the preacher/pastor for nearly ten years.  A long journey thus ensued and I began the transition from local church ministry to public school special education teacher. Here we are almost 5 years later: churchless, home-ownership-less, and living nowhere near the church that crushed our dream and snuffed out our smoldering wick.

In fact, I have spent a great deal of time over the past 5 years or so questioning if I will ever see a church the same way again–and it's not likely that I will. Old demons were awakened and I have spent a great deal of time over the course of the last five years wondering if the church would ever see me in the same way again. Not likely. Yet I'm hopeful this is a good thing. I am sure we need to change; I am sure I needed to change and awaken to the truth about life outside the pulpit. I am sure I needed to know that I needed to know that Jesus is not someone who is content to merely live in our pockets, but that he is someone who wants and needs to be seen everywhere, that he plays in ten thousand places, and that he can, in fact, swim.

I had never heard of Ian Cron until I received this book. In fact, I'm not even certain why I got this book. The selection choices must have been slim at the time because reading a memoir, even a memoir of sorts, about someone you have never heard of or whose other book you have never read, seems like a rather mystifying task. Who is this guy? Why do I want to read his memoir? Why do I care? Then I read the back cover and see who is endorsing the book. Then I read the first four pages and saw a veritable who's who of authors endorsing the book–people whose theological output is often very off-putting (to me)–and now I'm curious to say the least.

It was more than mere coincidence that this book came to me. Of that I am now convinced.

Then the reading began in earnest and I found myself having a hard time putting it aside. And I'm not just saying that–it is such a boring cliche kind of thing to say when writing a review of a book. Rather, it is because you can't help but to be drawn into the pathos and struggles of a young man–at once being beaten in the middle of the night by a drunken father, or standing in the middle of the woods with his pants around his ankles as bullies mocked him, or gleefully riding a roller coaster with his mother. I usually mark up books with my pen when I'm reading them, but I didn't do so much marking in this book because it was enough to read it. I think this is a book I need to go back and read again, absorb, and allow it to agitate me some more. The first reading, however, was absorbing in a hold your breath kind of way: what could possibly happen next?

He writes about the relationship he had with his father, the church, Jesus–and his mother to whom he dedicated the book. He writes candidly about his struggles with alcohol. He writes frankly about the things that have made him who he is today–someone we are to understand doesn't have it all together, but someone who is willing to press on in the journey in the hope that maybe, just maybe, life is worth redemption after all. This is the story of someone who pressed on despite everything in the world being against him at times.

He is willing to press on and learn wisdom, become a person of faith, and grow in the vocation that God has called him to for now: father, follower, faithful. Which helps me understand why he wrote, "I can't get a refund for the Christmas Eve when Dad fell through the decorated tree, but I can honor the story by telling it, and that is its own reward" (210). This is one of two places I underlined in the book.  It's probably the most perplexing statement in the book, but I think I understand. We cannot always overcome all those things in our childhood that wrecked and broke us and nearly killed us along the way. Sometimes we can scarcely overcome those things as adults. I think what we hope is that somewhere along the we will look back and simply remember, remember without trying to attach any particular meaning.

So here I am now living my own 'memoir of sorts.' I'm  trying and there are times when I want to quit. There are times when I drink too much and have no compulsion to quit. There are times when I want my children to be small and fragile again so that I can take care of them like the overbearing father I have tended to be. Yet I also realize, often unwillingly or unwittingly I don't know which, that life moves forward and that there is nothing I can do to halt in in its tracks. We also have to grapple with the past and awake to its realities and confess it–out loud–to someone, somewhere and at some point. Cron's memoir of sorts is his confession.

This book spoke to me in a 100 ways; it spoke of me in a 100o more. If confession is good for the soul, imagine how much it will do for the flesh.

The only problem I had with this book is that I thought he overused his metaphors. They were fun and witty and I enjoyed most of them, but I thought there were just a few too many.  On the other hand, isn't our life a metaphor? Isn't it about something else? Someone else?

4.5/5 stars–with the note that I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it, but agreeing with the Spirit  that maybe I read it at just the right time after all.

I have been thinking a lot about educational reform since I started teaching three years ago.As a second-career teacher, I have seen many of the arguments, pro and con, for reform. I have been thinking about it because it seems like it is always in our faces. I’m not sure teachers are going to come out on the winning side of this debate/conversation. I am sure that teachers, teachers who have ideas, need to be more involved in the conversation and that those having the conversation need to stop using teachers as their piñatas.

It is important, I think, to seek input from various places and from various people, but I remain steadfast on the idea that those who are in the classroom day after day after day are the ones who have the best ideas for how and what to improve in our educational ‘system’ in America.

In his short review of Amanda Ripley’s book The Smartest Kids in the World, David Steiner wrote this astounding sentence:

To put the matter bluntly, if all U.S. schools applied the rigor and attention to their academic offerings that our high schools pay to their highest-profile sports programs, our students would come far closer to matching their demographic peers in high performing countries. 

This corresponds to exactly the point I made in my first post of this series: we need academic boosters as much as athletic boosters. That is, I see so much emphasis on academics in public schools that you would think kids only have one option: to play professional sports as adults. In other words, by over-emphasizing athletics we are necessarily de-emphasizing academics. Steiner could not be more correct in my judgment. 

But I digress. This final part of the series is focused on a final few things that I think we should consider when it comes to educational reform. Since this series has gone on for a long time, I will keep this part of the essay short and focus on three final areas that I believe need to be addressed in order for true reform to take place in the American Education system.

First, I am of the opinion, and there seems to be quite a mountain of evidence, that we start children in formal academics far too early. When I was in graduate school, I heard a great deal about so-called early intervention—especially as it relates to students who are eligible for special education services. There may be some merit to giving new parents to children with special needs the sort of support and intervention they will inevitably need as their child progress at a non-typical rate of development. I’m not arguing against that. What I am arguing against is the incessant compulsion our politicians seem to have for continuing to fund educational programs where children leave the home and start school at 3 or 4 years old.

Here’s what is written at the White House website:

Expanding access to high quality early childhood education is among the smartest investments that we can make. Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life—when the human brain is forming—represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social, and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and in life. 

Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—will provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a foundation for school success. These programs also generate a significant return on investment for society; numerous economic studies have documented a rate of return of $7 or more on each dollar invested through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults. 

There it is: ‘significant return on investment for society.’ It’s all about the cash. Education cannot simply be about return on investment–there are other ways to get a good return on investment. But take it back a step: if this is the time when a child’s brain and cognitive skills are full of potential and fully open and opportune window, why is the assumption that the best place for them to be is away from their family and at some public school program? Why, oh why, is that the assumption? Frankly, I cannot think of a worse place for a child of 3 or 4 or, to be sure, even 5 to be than someplace apart from their family.

I’m not sure how the evidence in America can point to the benefits of early childhood education and the evidence in England point in the opposite way, but that is exactly what seems to have happened. Some say children shouldn’t start school until age 6 or 7. In England, there is an entire campaign designed around the idea that children start school too soon and that it is harming them in numerous ways. The Too Much, Too Soon campaign website features numerous links and other evidence to support this claim. (See also David Whitebread of Cambridge University.)

I’m sure others have written more substantially on this topic than I am devoting in this one post, and that is fine. The bottom line is, however, that early childhood formal education is not, contrary to the official lines of politicians democrat and republican alike, as effective as they want us to believe. I will leave this for now, but there is more to say about it in the future.

Continue Reading »

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about the work I do and how I do it. More than once I have heard from other staff, who have spent any time in my room, that all teachers ought to spend a day in my self-contained, multi-disability resource room. I think I probably agree…they should come in and see what we do because general education teachers, generally speaking, have little idea what we do in special education. I seriously believe that sometimes they think we are not even educating the students in our classrooms.

As a new special educator (but as a second career and, thus, older teacher), I have been writing down some thoughts and observations that have helped me, and continue to help me, become a better intervention specialist. Here are 9 tips that have helped me.

First, be prepared for a lot of ill health, absenteeism, late arrivals and early dismissals. It can be a blessing and it can be annoying, but whatever it is, on whatever day it is, you have to be prepared for it. There are doctor appointments, there is a higher susceptibility for illness, there are appointments with psychologists or social services workers, and a plethora of other places your students will have to be. And it’s not just at home either. At school, your students will have appointments with counselors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech pathologists. This means, in short, that you have to be prepared and flexible.

It means that you may have the most beautiful lesson plans ever written and have to put them on hold for another day or two or three or month. It means that some students will be perpetually behind in their work. I have had a student who was supposed to move out of state who actually never left town, was gone for two plus months, and is now returning to class. There’s a lot of work to do and there is no point in getting frustrated by the hecticity and chaos of the students’ schedule. Roll with it.

Second, be prepared to write an IEP, for a student you may have never met, on a moment’s notice. New students are arriving and new students are being identified for special education services all the time. You need to have a plan in place for how you will bridge that gap when it arrives. Often the ETR or IEP meetings are scheduled at a moment’s notice: be prepared. Gather as much information as you can, rely on state standards (or common core) for the language you will use in the IEP itself, and take a few minutes to talk to the student, if you can, beforehand. The key is to be ready–practice if you need to.

Third, be prepared to play ‘catch-down.’ This will tie in with another point I make later, but something I realized early on is that it is unreasonable to ask my students to move at my pace because then I’m always asking the students to play ‘catch-up.’ So, I took the initiative, placed the burden on my own shoulders, and decided to play ‘catch-down.’ I made mid-course adjustments so that I am moving at their pace. Now this is not to say that I never prod them to work harder or faster. I do. But it is to say that it’s OK if you do not finish a project in one day. I made a deliberate decision to simply slow down the pace.

Fourth, hurry is a choice. I was walking with my principal one day, talking about school stuff, and it was clear she was in a hurry. I get that. Principals have a lot of work to do. But it also occurred to me that being in a hurry is not something I have to do. I can choose to walk at a casual pace if I want to. Playing ‘catch-down’ is also a deliberate choice. It means that, even though it appears we have very little time, we actually have as much time as we decide we need. There is no point in getting overly stressed about time. Learn to manage it. Learn to make time your servant, and not the other way around. I heard someone say that ‘teachers do not get to choose when they go to the bathroom.’ I disagree. It seems to me that it makes better sense for a student to learn a few things thoroughly than a bunch of things poorly. Take your time.

Fifth, be prepared to write lesson plans for a variety of students who have a variety of abilities and a variety of interests and a variety of learning styles and a variety of skills. In the cross-categorical classroom, we have students with Downs Syndrome, Autism, emotional/behavioral disorders, and whatever else comes our way. And we do so happily and gladly. But we also know that no two of our students will learn the same way, at the same pace, and with the same methods. Lesson plans typically need to reflect this. Be ready to write plans that differentiate your instruction for your students. It is typically a lot of work; be ready. (Also, let's note that IEPs are individualized for a reason.)

Sixth, be prepared to communicate with parents often. I personally send home my own version of a daily-report card–daily. There is also email, phone calls, parent teacher conferences and the spur of the moment, unscheduled, my-kid-got-kicked-off-the-bus meetings. I tend to be pro-active about communication that way I am not caught off-guard. I try to communicate as often and as much as I can without interrupting the daily routine. It is not always possible, neither is it always easy (especially if you are communicating discipline issues or IEP issues), but it always necessary.

Seventh, be prepared to deal with the ignorance of general education teachers, but also be cooperative and helpful. (This is not an insult to gen-ed teachers. It is a reality. We all have our own specialty areas.) Generally speaking, regular education teachers are not trained to deal with an autistic student who is having a major meltdown. Generally speaking, regular education teachers have very little idea what we do in special education (which is, to be sure, teaching students just as they do, but differently). So when I say ‘ignorance’ I simply mean not specialized or unaware of what 'we' do. Therefore it is important for the special educator to be patient with other teachers (and they us), supportive, helpful, and deft in conveying information that will be helpful to them if they ask questions about their own students. In other words, be open; do not be a know-it-all. Help when asked, observe when not asked, and communicate clearly always.

Eighth, be prepared to spend a lot of time alone. Yes, teachers get lunch & prep time, but that does not mean that our students take a lunch and a prep time. They still have needs and they still could melt-down (sadly, I have seen it and it typically manifests itself in unstructured areas or when they are with inexperienced staff or paraprofessionals.) Again, the special education teacher needs to be flexible. On the other hand, special education is often a small and overlooked ‘department’ in the school. There’s not a lot of time for team meetings with other special educators and given the needs of our students, we must spend a lot of time with them. Be prepared to make some friends you can count on or be prepared to spend a lot of time alone.

Finally, ninth, work that your students do does not have to be perfect, it just has to be theirs. Bottom line is this: I want the parents of my students to be proud of their son or daughter’s work, not mine or the paraprofessional's. We could do the work for them, make it look pristine and wonderful. Or we could leave it to the students–there will be too much glue, wrinkled papers, sloppy writing, overworked crayons, and more. It won’t be perfect, but it will be theirs. And this is the most important thing I can say to new special education teachers. Let the students be proud of the work they accomplish on their own without your help. It’s important that we guide our students, not control them.

Special education can be tricky. We want our students to do and be and succeed, but we (at least I) want it to be their best effort not mine. I practice hands-off because the only way I know if a student can do something is if they do it. If they try and fail, that’s OK. We learn in failure too. But if they never try, and they never fail, then what has anyone learned?

So that's my 9 tips for new special educators. What are some of the tips you would offer to new special educators?

Related articles

Our Most Critical Work
Loving my Students

When I was a blogger for Reality101 (Council for Exceptional Children's blog for new teachers) I wrote a lengthy piece about zero-tolerance. I was writing in the wake up a high profile school shooting and lamenting the fact that we hear so few opinions from local educators about how to reduce or eliminate such actions.

I was also concerned, probably more so, about the ridiculous policy foisted upon schools called Zero-Tolerance. After citing several examples of the absurd way zero-tolerance has been enforced in our schools I wrote:

I teach special education. I also teach a room full of boys. I have toys in my room that are used for sensory breaks—toys like Lincoln Logs, Legos, blocks, little plastic soldiers and other things. My students, my boys, build lasers, play soldiers, play secret agents, cowboys among other reality-based fantasy and role-playing games. I also happen to be teaching in a rural school district where the opening of deer season is akin to a national holiday and camouflage tuxedos adorn the yearly prom (I jest, of course, but camo is a popular clothing style in our school district).  

If I practiced the same zero-tolerance described in the articles above in my classroom, my students would never be in school. That is not rhetoric; that is reality. In many ways, this is what kids do: they imagine themselves as soldiers, cowboys, police officers. I did it growing up, as did my brothers and countless other boys and girls. If I took away the Legos and Lincoln Logs the boys in my class would use pencils or crayons or my pointer stick as guns. In other words, in special education, this is not merely a black-and-white issue. On the other hand, even in general education this is not merely a black-and-white issue.

I think it should be clear enough to most people that common sense would be a more appropriate law than zero-tolerance. Well, now we have the federal government stepping up to the plate again and interfering with local school districts:

The memo, jointly released by the departments of Justice and Education on Wednesday, urges public schools to ditch so-called "zero tolerance" policies the feds claim disproportionately affect minority students. The letter, which was sent to all public schools, said even well-intentioned policies are discriminatory if they end up being applied in greater proportion to minority children.

I'd like to make a few points here.

First, I agree 100% that zero-tolerance laws are absolutely absurd. What we need is common-sense and redirection. The point I made in my blog post is that boys are boys and boys do things that boys do: make fake guns, wrestle, chest thump, make sounds of explosions–they engage in reckless behavior and take many unecessary risks. But these are not reasons for boys to be expelled or suspended or sent to detention. These are occasions to educate and inform.

“It’s just the way they play, but the policy doesn’t allow for common sense.” [Christina Sommers as quoted by foxnews.com]

I suspect that if we continue shoving Ritalin and other medications down boys' throats, continue practicing zero-tolerance and boys live in constant fear of suspension if they so much as pass gas, and the ongoing effort to neutralize the male instinct in boys continues we are going to end up with a generation of men who will forever be content to sit back and let others run over them and run the world.

Second, this is not (only or primarily) an issue of minorities–it is an issue of boys. The foxnews.com article ends this way:

Other experts say that zero tolerance policies affect not just particular minority groups but all students, especially young male students, unfairly.

“The Attorney General was right, but if you look across the board, boys are being punished for simply being boyish,” Christina Sommers, a resident scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, told FoxNews.com, referring to recent stories about how young male students were suspended and expelled for making a gun gesture with their finger and making a play weapon from a Pop Tart.

This is true. With a few exceptions where girls have been the targets of such absurd measures, by and large it is boys–of all races, creeds, and colors–who have suffered under zero-tolerance laws. I have seen it first hand, which is why in my classroom I do not practice zero-tolerance: I practice common sense and hold every student–boy or girl, black or white–to the same level of accountability.

Third, while I fully agree that zero-tolerance ought to be replaced by common sense, I absolutely disagree that it is the responsibility of the federal government to issue fiats and directives to schools indicating such things ought to happen. Frederick Hess was quoted by Foxnews.com as saying:

“As best I can tell, they are telling schools that even if you have policies that are clearly neutral, that are clearly evenhanded, that are clearly designed to create safe environments for students and educators, DOJ still might come down on you like a ton of bricks,” Hess said.

He is correct. And I will say explicitly what he is kind of hinting at: the federal government of the United States of America needs to stay out of local educational policies. If a school wants to implement zero-tolerance, then so be it; if a school wants to adopt a more common-sense based approach to discipline, then so be it. It is not the responsibility of the federal government–and damn the 'good-intentions' monologue–to be a nanny to every single school district in every single state. Continued, bold, excursions by the federal government into education is only making it more difficult to educate students. It is also making it more difficult to give students the quality of education they deserve.

School should be a place of learning and joy and good memories, but when students have to live in constant fear of suspensions and expulsions for minor offenses–well, it takes its toll on everyone involved. It certainly isn't helpful when everyone from the principal to the pre-school is at defcon 5 every minute, of every day.

This is part of my platform for educational reform in America: local schools, by and large, have smart people in charge and they do not need the federal governments condescending to instruct us in what is 'in the best interests of the children.' We do not need their reforms, their philosophies, and we sure as hell do not need their meddling. We need them to get the hell out of our way and let us do the hard work of educating the next generation of children. When the federal government encroaches upon state and local juridiction everyone loses.

Related articles

Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 2: Government Meddling in Education
Loving my Students
Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 1: Athletics & Academics

DownloadTitle: The Case for the Psalms

Author: N. T. Wright (Unofficial)

NT Wright: Amazon Page

Publisher: Harper Collins; HarperOne

Page Count: 200

Date: 2013

There are many preachers and theologians I admire to the point of buying anything they write and listening to anything they preach. Among them are Eugene Peterson, D.A. Carson, Frederick Buechner, David Wells, Tim Keller, and Eddie Vedder. I am, however, especially fond of N.T. Wright.

When I was in Bible college and especially after I started preaching in the church, there were always aspects of the Bible that bothered me: things didn't make chronological sense, this verse seemed to contradict that verse, and so on. Then one day I finally figured out that N.T. Wright was not the same person as H.N. Wright and I started reading. And I haven't stopped. His theology simply makes sense to me of all those verses I couldn't reconcile with one another and all those contradictory things are no longer contradictory. And while I still have several volumes I need to read, I have read a great deal of Wright's work and listened to countles lectures/sermons he has preached.

When I was given an amazon.com gift card for a Christmas gift, I knew some new N.T. Wright would soon be in my hands. The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential was the first volume I read (currently I'm reading How God Became King and after that will be Scripture and the Authority of God.) 

The Case for the Psalms is a small volume–an aspect that sort of bothered me–but it is a Wright's call for the church to return to the Hebrews Psalter. I agree. I think there is not enough use of the Psalms in the worship (except for a rather shallow use) or in the church in general. Jesus taught us the value–a terrible word–of the Psalms when he uttered in prayer Psalm 22 while was being crucified. Why don't we pray the Psalms in the church? Maybe we are afraid of the language of the psalmists who pray prayers about God destroying enemies and bashing the heads of babies against rocks. Maybe the Psalms are too personal for us in the West.

How does a Christian, not least a modern Christian who values our developed Western democracy, pray these lines? (44)

There is a reason the Psalms use this language–and worse–in prayer to God. It validates our experience, it confirms our pathos, and justifies our wailing, gut-wrenching pleas to God: is there anything we can say to God that is offensive when offered in the context of prayer?

That is why this book is not so much an invitation to study the Psalms–though that, too, is an immensely worthwhile exercise–but to pray and live the Psalms. (22)

The Psalms seem to think not, and if we do not have words of our own to express our deepest anger, grief, pain, or joy we have the Psalms. What better place can we go to find words to offer back to God?

Another important aspect of Wright's thoughts is that the Psalms are more than mere words on paper. The Psalms are transformative–when practiced continuously, carefully, and predictably, the Psalms change us:

And the Psalms are there to enable people not only to become aware of this possible change but actually to help bring it about. (158)

It is a matter for all of us to take seriously. I have begun this very thing: reading 5 Psalms per day, in order, throughout the day instead of all at one sitting.

Finally, as with everything Wright puts on paper or into the air, the Psalms are about showing us Jesus:

Here is the challenge for those who take the New Testament seriously: trying singing those Psalms christologically, thinking of Jesus as their ultimate fulfillment. See how they sound, what they do, hwere they take you. (110)

The book fits nicely with Wright's theology of God becoming king. In fact, it is an invitation for the reader of the Psalms, the pray-er of the Psalms, the singer of the Psalms to get in sync with God in space, time, and matter. The Psalms teach us how to 'offer ourselves as living sacrifices' (Romans 12). The Psalms teach us to number our days.

The aspect of this book that I enjoyed the most was the last chapter where Wright makes a connection between the Psalms and his life. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his life and the things that have shaped him. Yet what I found is that he always tied his life to Scripture. Wright lets down the curtain for a minute or two and allows us to see his humanity–that side of him that has been shaped by Scripture, not just the side of him who has made understanding Scripture his life.

I actualy found myself doing this just yesterday when we found ourselves 'trapped' in the house due to frighteningly cold temperatures and a power outage. I had been reading through Psalms 8 through 12 during the day and shortly after the power went out, I found myself reading Psalm 11: "In the Lord I can take refuge" (v 1). It was cold. It was getting colder. The house was empty because my wife and sons had gone to warm houses. It was dark. Yet 'in the Lord I could take refuge.' It was a lot of comfort during a short period of physical discomfort ot hear those words at just the right time.

It made me wonder how many times I had missed hearing God's voice in other difficult, disastrous, or discomfitting times.

Only a couple of things bothered me about the book itself. One, I wish the book had been larger and longer. I read it in a day and wish it had taken me two. It felt rushed. Two, I wish the section dividers had been more than a mere double-space. Some headings would have made the text flow and connect better.

I rate this book 5/5 stars simply because if it did nothing else, it gave me the courage to start reading the Psalms all over again. And to pray them too. Which means I have started learning how to talk to the Father again.

 

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Remember the Setting
Blessed

In part one of this three part series, I wrote about athletics and academics. My point was not so much that we should eliminate athletics in schools as much as we should deemphasize them. I realize this causes a lot of problems for many people given how much of our national budget is spent on sporting activities yearly, monthly, daily. I have no problem with sports in their proper place. I just think that too many people get too excited about student athletes and not excited enough about student academics.

In this second part of the series, I will address the following issue: I believe that if we are going to make any advancement at all in education reform we desperately need to find a way to lessen, if not eliminate, government involvement in local education. Marc Bernstein wrote in June 2013:

Federal involvement in education has increased geometrically under President Obama as his Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan used 2009 anti-recession Congressionally-approved stimulus money to fund state and local school district grant programs that were focused upon student accountability through standardized testing and teacher evaluation based upon those student test results.

But he is also careful to note that government involvement (or meddling) has been on a steady increase since the 1980's. (Bernstein is writing specifically about school vouchers, but I think the point is all the same. Vouchers is just one manifestation of the disease of government meddling.) As he notes:

The upcoming battleground is the larger issue of education–what role should the federal government play versus the states. Historically, education has been a local matter; however, the federal government has found a persuasive way to become involved, namely, by offering large amounts of money to those states and school districts which implement federal initiatives. As always, money is a great motivator.

Money is a great motivator. And it is sad to say that educators have reached out, grabbed the shiney apple, and not thought for a minute about the consequences of doing so. 

Continue Reading »

LogoA quick post to alert readers to a new resource (new to me that is). The website is called We Are Teachers and from a quick look, there is a lot to enjoy.

There is a brief registration one must follow in order to access all aspects of the website. It took me about 3 or 4 minutes. A profile page can also be edited in order to make connections with other teachers. 

There is a section containing blogs where teachers can find ideas and inspiration for the classroom. There is a section for lessons and resources for a variety of classroom subjects. Much more can be found at the website and I'll look forward to exploring it more deeply later. For now, I'm merely giving it some props without endorsing everything that is there. 

Finally, there is a section dedicated to special education–which makes me very happy. Complete with blogs, lesson ideas, and lesson plans specifically dedicated to the intervention specialist should prove useful and worthy of repeat visits.  

Other sections can be found for science, social studies, writing, technology, language arts and more. Check it out and see if it is helpful to you. 

LOO

I thought this was a fairly interesting book. The author covers many topics: cloning, education, immigration, drugs, drug cartels, farming, the nature of evil, freewill, murder, freedom, religion, mythology, death, ecology, hope and a lot more besides. Sometimes the plot was a bit thin for me and I wanted the main character to to be a lot more heroic than he was–given that he was el Patron! The ending was satisfying, even if there were a few questions left unanswered. (I can't ask those questions without spoiling some of the plot.)

 All that said, I like the imagination the book requires. At times the characters seem to be hopelessly wandering and merely exploring the Alacran estate (Opium) which is huge. And as new discoveries are made, more questions are raised. (And there were a lot of questions left lingering for me.) It seems to me that perhaps another volume is needed to answer all those questions, but maybe it is important the author didn't answer the questions and I am left simply to use my imagination and create my own satisfying conclusions. Or, better, to continue wrestling with the questions and balancing their answers against an already formed worldview.

Could a world such as the one described in The Lord of Opium exist? The author has her characters struggle with a lot of different things. The main character, Matteo, is especially good at this and as he struggles, so do we. What should he do with the eejits? Is it enough to merely 'set them free'? What is death? Can he, or will he, be a clone of El Patron or will he choose a path that's clear by choosing freewill (especially as El Patron continues whispering in his ear). In some ways, perhaps Opium does already exist and perhaps we are all slaves (eejits) to its cause. Or perhaps as we travel around Opium we will continue to find oases here and there where we might find respite and answers to the questions that plague us most here on earth. 

The author, frankly, doesn't answer a lot of those questions and neither does Matt. We are left to discover our own answers by approving and/or disapproving of the choices Matt makes. 

Personally, I thought the pacing was a bit strange. It starts slowly, moves slowly, but when the action really takes off it just takes off and leaves the reader almost breathless. I would have appreciated more balance to the pacing, but that is, again, a personal preference. I wanted to see more of the discoveries made during the characters' exploration of Opium play a role in the plot, but it seemed to me that it just did not get there. 

I liked this book and I would probably be inclined to read more of Farmer's work based on this (and the prequel) alone. I rate this book 4/5 stars. It is a quick read (took me about 2 days or so) and the short chapters make for easy digestion of the text. 

PS-I appreciated that at the end of the book the author included an appendix where she gave us some of the 'real life' ideas behind some of the fictional ideas in the book. This was helpful. 

 

I saw these links in my Twitter feed today and thought they were important enough to repost links here.

The first deals with suicide and isolation among people with Asperger's.

When I googled the terms "suicide" and "asperger's", I was surprised at how frequently the subject seemed to be treated with confusion – why would a person with Asperger's feel driven to suicide? To me, the answer to this is obvious. The need to bond with others is a basic human need. The very definition of Asperger's is to have trouble fulfilling that need. So why is it surprising that someone with these difficulties might fall into despair?

As educators, it is important that we take time to note when our students might appear a little or a lot out of sorts. It is not always easy to help our student through difficult times, but paying attention and being aware of changes in their routine or demeanor might mean the difference between life and death. 

The second article, 15 Workplace Behaviors that Exclude, also help us see that we do need to be sensitive to people who have an ASD. Certain behaviors that we might think are innocuous might create a hostile workplace environment. The bottom  line to this article, is that we should simply be courteous. Frankly, it really doesn't matter if the person has an ASD or not, most of the behaviors the author speaks of are just plain rude. 

The third article, What Does it Mean to Have Asperger's Syndrome?, is a brief introduction of sorts to Asperger's Syndrome:

In general, people with Asperger’s generally have trouble with social interaction, communication, as well as regulation of the motor skills and sensory systems.They also can develop obsessive and compulsive tendencies, which manifest themselves in various ways.

We can look around and see that perhaps we have been just a bit unfair or unkind to people who might be on the spectrum. So as educators we need to continually raise awareness of Asperger's and Autism in order that people will be a lot kinder and slower to judge. Knowing can lead to understanding and understanding can lead to more compassionate responses towards those who are on the spectrum. 

This is one of my main 'job's as a special educator. I mean this sincerely when I say I am sometimes left flabbergasted at the ignorance of the general education teachers. I think a large part of our work is to help keep the general education teachers informed (or at bay) when it comes to our students who are on the spectrum. This in and of itself is a monumental task–one would never imagine that people so educated could be among the worst offenders when it comes to students in special education. 

Hopefully you will find something interesting in these three short posts. Again, it is important that we, as educators, continue to raise awareness and advocate for our young friends (students) who happen to be on the autism spectrum or who happen to be differently-abled. I believe it starts with us–eradicating ignorance and snuffing out the flames of discrimination. Our goal is, as always, to help out students move about in the real world as fluently, frequently, and freely as possible.