The Inside Scoop – One Teacher’s Experience

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 9.56.36 AM.png

Schools across the nation have opened their doors; kids, dressed in their new school duds, carrying their new school backpacks have headed off for another year of learning. Their teachers have lesson plans written, and their rooms decorated.  Many are just as excited as the kids.  Though teachers, because of unions and because of the often left-wing curricula, have been stigmatized and blamed, we need to realistically look at what is happening to our teachers, many of whom work 50-60 hour weeks in extremely frustrating, counter-productive circumstances. The miasma of public school education is a many-headed monster, and many of those horrid heads are administrative. Let me tell you a story:

A good friend of mine teaches in a Title I grade school. Title I means that a high percentage of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunches (such as they are these days), which means that a large percentage of the students come from poor, and often dysfunctional homes. My friend – I’ll call her Rachel – teaches in the middle grades – 3rd and 4th – some years both in the same classroom. Luckily she’s very good at what she does and has successfully pulled that off. This year she didn’t know what grade she should be preparing to teach until the end of her in-service “week”—the few days she’s paid each fall to prep for the year.

Her district knew in the spring that its 3rd grade enrollment was up, but no district wants to commit to adding staff until the gun is cocked and pressed against the temple, so nothing was done. Rachel understood that she might have to teach the combination class again -- or she might not. No decision came down until the end of the last day of the prep week.

OK. I can hear you -- All jobs are hard and she’s had the summer off – stop the whining, but that’s just the beginning. So, at the last moment Rachel’s principal gets the go-ahead to hire a new 3rd grade teacher – just days before children will be filling the classrooms.

Oh, and there is no classroom. No desk for the teacher, no desks for her students, no books, no stapler – no nothing. Just the myth of another section of 3rd graders – and they are ready for school.

So, the principal orders the teachers to clean out their break room, move the resource room into the staff room, and set up the new classroom in the resource space. Then he went home for the weekend, leaving the teachers, who are not paid for that time, to spend their last few days before the doors open for the year, not prepping for their own classes, but schlepping furniture and scrounging supplies for the phantom teacher.

Last I talked to Rachel no new teacher had been hired. They can’t find one. In this school there should be 4 teachers for 3rd grade. Only 2 are there teaching. One is out on maternity leave and has a long-term substitute (which is another bureaucratic nightmare) and the ghost teacher’s position is being filled by a substitute notorious for her incompetence (one who has announced her plan to go into administration). Angry parents are descending upon the principal’s office.

Why aren’t there any teachers available to hire for this position? Here’s what happened – in the spring there was an available teacher, a talented young lady who had done her student teaching in Rachel’s school and who was hopeful of gaining employment there. When that hope dimmed she took a short-contract position at another school. When Rachel’s principal finally offered her a long-term contract to get her back, all hell broke loose.

The other principal who had hired the new teacher fought to keep her and successfully lobbied the superintendent to force Rachel’s principal to offer the new 3rd grade job as a short-term contract only. This robbed the new teacher of a chance at a solid career start and robbed Rachel’s school of any chance to secure another teacher in time.

Meanwhile back to Rachel, who has had no time to prep for her 4th grade class, which, she has just learned, will be burgeoning with students transferring from other schools. Why would they be doing that?

Well, that is courtesy of federal law. You see, if a Title I school fails the No Child Left Behind standards (in any category) parents are notified and informed that they may transfer their children to a passing Title I school at the district’s expense. Rachel’s school met the standards – partly because 90% of her students passed their exams; as I said before, she’s very good at what she does – so this year the reward will be more students. Not a bonus. Not a promotion. Not even an atta-boy. An overload.

This story is important, partly because it’s typical. As a veteran of almost 30 years in the public schools, I have seen this scenario played out dozens of times. In fact I still have an August nightmare that I get to school and find that I’ve been assigned to teach calculus or chemistry (I’m a typical English teacher so that is truly a nightmare.).

And the story is important also because it clearly illustrates much of what is wrong in public education – the bureaucratic mindset. Let me enumerate the problems:
ν    The people running things have no stake in the outcome. If Rachel’s class comes apart this fall because of inadequate planning, the superintendent is not going to live through the ensuing chaos, yet it was his decision to postpone the inevitable.
ν    The number of rules and regulations from the union, the state, and the federal government has gummed up the works. Example: earlier I mentioned the complications with long-term subs. Well, federal regulations require that a long term substitute must be “highly qualified” (What does that imply about the usual, temporary subs? Are they only moderately qualified? Gees.). The official definition of “highly qualified” is a person who has passed the $250 exam that they, themselves, have to pay for. When this district’s HR department hired the sub for the teacher on maternity leave they didn’t tell her about the test and when she found out – just days before school started – she said no thanks. So the only available qualified person got that job and that left no one for the phantom 3rd grade section.
ν    Teachers are quitting. Who wants to be jerked around like the instructors in this school – in this very typical school?
ν    Too often teachers who can’t hack it in the classroom become administrators – who can’t do that job either, but there they don’t have to face out-of-control students -- they can hide in their offices.
ν    Also too often excellent teachers who want to advance leave the classroom for administration. Partly this happens because in teaching the only way up is out, and partly it happens because these professionals want to make it better for both teachers and students. Then they discover how powerless they are to improve things. And the school is out another good teacher.

We hear a lot of fuss about Common Core these days – and there is much to be concerned about, but most of the bother is aimed at the wrong target. Common Core, like its predecessor No Child Left Behind, is yet another layer of bureaucracy when our schools are already drowning in useless rules, and another tidal wave from the feds will not make things better. Nor will more demands from the unions. Bureaucrats, who are often lazy, self-serving, and incompetent, produce the fodder for the unions, and the unionized teachers, who are sometimes just as lazy, self-serving and incompetent, provide the need for the rules and regulations. Can you spell vicious circle?

And who suffers? Kids. Parents. All of us, actually. I do see hope in the charter school movement. I see hope in the voucher system – let the free market sort this out. Let good teachers earn bonuses. Let good administrators have more power. And keep it all small and local and transparent as glass.  


America's New Gods

A whole new dynasty of deities has descended upon the American people and we are about to experience the wrath of God much as the Northern Kingdom of Israel did in the 8th century B.C. when the Assyrians swept down upon ten of the tribes and carried them off to oblivion. America’s chickens, if I may borrow a phrase, are coming home to roost.

What? New gods? We’re not a pagan nation, you say. Really? We now have a whole pantheon of little idols we bow down to on a daily basis. Three of these gods are Multiculturalism, his cousin Diversity, and her genderless offspring, Political Correctness. We have sacrificed much of what is valuable in this society to these upstarts.

These gods are demanding that our children be taught to follow them, that our laws be changed to honor them and that we be ready to sacrifice our very lives to their dominion. We must scrap the amazing culture we’ve built here in just over 400 years.

I know we’ve all had quintessential American experiences
•    a Little League ball game –boys sliding through the dust to 1st base, moms in T-shirts and flip-flops, dads shouting directions,
•    or a concert at the Lincoln center – Copeland, Bernstein, Gershwin followed by a square dance competition out in the square.
•    or my niece’s wonderful wedding in a steepled clapboard church on the Nebraska prairie – the little girls in their lavender flower-girl dresses, the stained glass windows, the reception in the luan-paneled basement --- fried chicken and cole slaw, Jello and cake – so Garrison Keillor it seemed unreal.
America has a culture -- fresh, vibrant, unique.

Enter the idol Multiculturalism, who slipped in quite easily. America is good at assimilating other cultures – winnowing out that which isn’t helpful and taking to our hearts everything that fits the American mold. The Mexican siesta – delightful as that sounds – never caught on here because America can’t sit still, but Mexican food – ah, yes, that was another matter -- please pass the enchiladas. Given that elasticity and our tendency to be self-critical it only took two steps to the left and we were bowing to a slovenly, dangerous deity.

The schools taught our children to question the veracity and the righteousness of the American Dream and then we called upon Diversity and Political Correctness to push young people to their knees.

So, here we are, prostrate and subservient. We’ve had to pack away our old icons – justice, courage, duty, decency, common sense, loyalty, and national pride,. One can see those virtues at work in human society from the earliest of mankind’s experiences:
•    Adam and Eve paying the just price for their disobedience,
•    Noah dutifully and courageously building the ark,
•    Joseph being both wise and decent rejecting Potiphar’s wife.
•    Jonathon and David pledging loyalty to each other,
•    Christ crying tears of love for his Jerusalem,

These have all had to be sacrificed at the M-C altar. After all, if we are not only to tolerate, but embrace all cultures; we can’t make any moral judgments about them. We can’t turn up our guilty noses at the beheading of children, or the rape of little girls. We can’t get up on our (evidently questionable) moral high ground and denounce genital mutilation, or suicide bombings. And how can we in good conscience deny illegal immigrants access the ill-gotten gains of American capitalism? After all, it’s so hard to make a living in socialist Mexico that we can’t blame people for coming here in any way possible, making a living however they choose.

And the other two divinities demand their due. The goddess Diversity wants us to quit judging the behavior of Americans as well. We do this by willingly sacrificing our babies before they are even born, while drug and alcohol dependencies have morphed into sicknesses and no social stigma should follow. No social stigma is levied upon adultery or homosexual behaviors either. Of course we are to be horrified and condemnatory of those who still “cling to their guns and religion,” but we must be respectful of prostitutes (after all, theirs is the oldest profession), and psychics, and thugs – especially if they’re black.

Diversity is an exacting little Aphrodite who demands retribution for loyalty to America’s original God. You see, we must lay reverently across her feet the bloody bodies of private property and the sacredness of marriage. She will exact penalties for failure in this area – fines and lawsuits will descend upon you even for slight infractions like refusing to bake a wedding cake or displaying the old ten commandments.

Here’s where Political Correctness comes into the worship service. It may be last, but it knows how important it is in the scheme of things and it demands a heavy sacrifice. We must be willing to give up truth, and its corollary, freedom of religion. After all, religion can be very exclusionary and we can’t have all this shoving-down-throats behavior, unless, of course, it’s Islamic terrorists doing the shoving because theirs is a culture other than ours, and therefore is more valid. (Besides, Islam is pretty scary and we’re caught without our old reverence for courage.) Atheism (oddly accepted by PC) takes precedence over Christianity because the former is not a religion and therefore can be shoved down throats, taught in classrooms, and honored in courts of law.

The godlet PC, more than any other offering, demands we leave behind our freedom of speech. We can’t any longer speak what we think, but only what the ever-changing feelings of leftists want to hear. I’m sure Lois Lerner saw nothing wrong with going after Tea Party conservatives – after all, they said horrible things, things that showed a complete lack of respect for the new deities.

This pantheon is a treacherous crew because they are not governed by anything. The old God had limits – the limits of His own perfections. He couldn’t be duplicitous, or cruel, or capricious. This new bunch can. The old God couldn’t be stupid – His omniscience wouldn’t allow it, but this new trinity is so arrogant that it’s become dumb as a broken brick. This new world pantheon crouches yoga style with hands over eyes, ears, and mouth, but speaks a new motto: See no truth, hear no truth, speak no truth. And it will keep chanting that mantra until the wrath of the Almighty explodes, using perhaps ISIS or Mexican drug cartels or the stock market or a super volcano. We don’t know, but those of us who are paying attention can feel it lurching over the horizon. The chickens are coming home to roost.


Rightly Dividing

I have occasionally heard the Bible described as nothing more than some ancient scriblings by a bunch of dead guys. Well, true; it’s ancient – the book of Job probably dates back to c2500 B.C., the writer most decidedly dead. Moses compiled the first five books sometime around 1440 B.C.. John the Apostle penned the most recent book, Revelation, close to 1900 years ago. Old and dead they are, and if one sees the world from an evolutionary point of view then old and dead would mean worthless.

But what if – and little by little science is beginning to admit its Darwinian misdirection – God did create the universe? What if He did cause the writing of the Scriptures? Shouldn’t we pay attention? Wouldn’t we want to absorb as much of it as possible, and be very sure that we had understood it correctly? You’d think so, but today’s church is too often either more concerned with tradition, or more interested in how to use God to gain success and happiness (in that order) than they are in really getting to know who and what God is.

Recently on one of the forums I take part in, a participant asked, “Why bother learning theology and doctrines – how will that help us solve our day-to-day problems?” The question threw me back on my heels – was there a time in my Christian life when I saw the Word of God that shallowly? Sure. I thought of the Book as being a how-to, DIY tutorial for making my life trouble free. And, over the long haul, there’s some truth there as well -- but not the complete truth.

What the questioner didn’t know yet is that the effect of studying the Bible is much deeper, much more far reaching than just daily problem solving. An open-minded, long-term study of God’s Word scours the soul of misconceptions – many of which cause the problems we so desperately need help with. It re-aligns our thinking based on our new understandings and all things just clink into place. Even the insanity of human society becomes understandable – not pleasant, but comprehensible and bearable because we have confidence that God has it under control.

The more our thinking patterns line up with God’s thinking the easier it becomes to have faith in Him and His plan for our lives. But too many 21st century churches fail to deal with the issue of how we think. Too many churches are more concerned with how we feel and with attempts to build a shortcut to feeling good. I attended a church service a few years ago during which the pastor, evidently discerning a lethargy in his congregation’s response, stepped out from behind the pulpit and harangued them saying, “Come on now! I’m trying to get you excited. I’m trying to get you wound up! Come on! Let’s get pumped!” His frustration was evident, but, truth be told, he hadn’t really said anything that was even interesting, let alone exciting.

Today’s church is scared to death of controversy and the only way to avoid that is to avoid thinking, avoid doctrine, avoid disagreements of all kinds. I suppose some of that fear comes from an understandable, but ignoble, wish to keep everyone happy, and  willing to ante up when the collection plate goes by. It comes also from a desire to lure more people to the fold by presenting a pleasant, smooth, and cool surface to the world.

And theological arguments not only ruffle feathers, but require knowledge – knowledge of what the Bible actually has to say (taking into account both exegesis and isagogics), what other knowledgeable scholars have had to say – both right and wrong, and what other Bible passages have to say on the subject. Then one has to know enough biblical doctrine to be able to put the passages or concepts into a well-developed context. It takes scholarship.
It’s hard and takes time and effort. But Paul wrote to Timothy in his second letter, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2:15)

“Rightly dividing” sounds like it might be possible to wrongly divide it as well. And how do we know if we’re correct in our understanding? We discuss. We look to what others have thought and sometimes we discard, sometimes we embrace those writings. Then we discuss some more. We take part in controversies – not with anger, but with an honest effort to get to the truth. And controversies are interesting – are they not?

After all, what does theology mean? It comes from the Greek words for God theos and for study ology, and ology comes from the root log – word, reason, logic. The word or logic of God. The study of God. And we have two sources for that study – nature (Modern science was created by men who wanted to learn about God from what He had created.), and God’s Word.

Our own preconceptions, whether they come from our previous education, our personal experience, or traditional beliefs should not be part of it. “Your thought are not my thoughts, and your ways are not my ways, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

If we are to truly know who God is and why we’re here and what in the world is going on we have to have our theology straight. If we veer off into Calvinists’ exclusive concentration on the sovereignty of God, or the Armenian worry about losing our salvation, or the Roman Catholic reliance on works and ritual – or a hundred other positions that fall short of biblical accuracy then we rob ourselves of the fullness of Christ.

Is it easy? No. Is it likely that any one person has it all right? No. But Jesus himself gave this command, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. “ (Matt. 22:38) The more we know about the mistakes of interpretation that have been made in the past, the less likely we are to repeat those errors. Our brains need to be engaged in this process if we are to be successful Christians. Churches can’t be successful if their congregations aren’t. And, even more urgent these days, a nation can’t be successful if its churches aren’t. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) Churches don’t need guitars and youth groups and ice cream socials. They need to be helping their people “renew [their] mind[s].”

The Bible – 66 different books penned by 40 different men over a period of more than 2,000 years, translated into more other languages than any other book, owned by more people than any other book, and studied more than any other book is the foundation of any functional society. The further a nation wanders from the precepts preserved in this fount of wisdom the more dysfunctional, tyrannical, and cruel it becomes.

Why should we know all the intricacies of the Bible? Because it is the Mind of Christ who died for us. Because our churches are farces without it. Because our nation is hopeless without its people being solidly grounded and thoroughly obedient to the Word of God. Personally, I’d rather obey Him than some dictator – those are the choices – the only choices.