Tuesday, December 28, 2004

How Much Difference Can One Person Make?

Marginal Revolution has a great story on how the mayor of Bogota implemented a number of seemingly bizarre strategies to try and make the city into a friendlier place. His first hand spanish account is fairly interesting.

For a bit of reference from another perspective

Monday, December 27, 2004

Exposition or Change

In what ways are the scriptures revolutionary to us? From my perspective, it seems like the topical guide and easily accessible ensign stories dictate the content of talks. In this regard, I think mormons are quite different from evangelical churches that seem to favor expositional approaches.

By faith online discusses this issue quite well. Since the best Elder’s quorum teacher I ever had was a cognitive psych PhD who’s lessons revolved around getting us to look at things from new perspectives, I found the following quote interesting:

“In a similar way, a preoccupation with psychological theory has in many cases eroded confidence in the Scriptures. When the essence of the human predicament is redefined in terms of a lack of self-esteem, it is almost inevitable that people will be directed toward a couch but not a cross, a psychologist but not a Savior. The extent to which this has happened can be gauged by listening to various strange blends of psychology and theology, some of which are even offered as attempts at expository preaching!”

While reading it though, a few things struck me as fundamentally limiting.

When pastors become convinced that the central issue facing the church is political or psychological rather than theological, exposition will be forsaken in favor of political speeches and calls to wage war for “the soul of the nation.

Obviously most people would agree that the purpose of religion is to expound theology. Where theology focuses on the works vs faith continuum is perhaps less important than the fact that there are certain issues that should be learned and then implemented. However, I wonder if we don’t err when we start thinking that the fundamental purpose of the scriptures and even religion in general is to lay out a correct set of beliefs.

I think it is often assumed that having a correct set of beliefs leads on to a unique perspective. The refining of this perspective is what religion is all about. Basically its aim is to provide us with a God centered philosophy. Hence, the etymology of theology. However, I wonder if this approach doesn’t give the appearance of making exposition worthwhile, while missing what may be one of the central points of religion. Is religion about the doctrines associated with theology or is it about change? Obviously many would say the action involved in the true comprehension of doctrine subsumes the type of change I mention. However, I wonder if this belief doesn’t present the same type of trap that is found when mingling the doctrines of men (psychology and all) with God. As is quoted in this article,

Sinclair B. Ferguson wrote of such preaching, “While it is denied that additions are being made to the canon of Scripture, it is nevertheless implied that an actual addition is being made to the canon of living. Otherwise the illumination of Scripture and the wisdom to apply it would be sufficient” (The Holy Spirit [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996, p. 231).

As believers in modern revelation, I don’t think mormons are as concerned about this as Ferguson is. To my way of thinking the world view of Biblical times certainly doesn’t make the inevitable slants that come with revelations any more correct than the same slants that have happened with modern revelation. There is always filtering that occurs in the transmission of things from God to man, especially when this gets transmitted down to other people. Fundamentally, I would say the whole case depends on whether or not the purpose of religion is to produce cannon, or whether it is to affect something else.

Of course some would say that the scriptures are to establish the agenda. However the most profound parts of the scriptures aren’t the expositories of other verses. In fact, for the most part, the scriptures we have are expositionary in nature. With an open cannon, focusing in on exposition then seems very counter productive. It, in effect, closes the door to a revolutionary mind set. For the religious conservatives, this is exactly the point. However, if religion is about increasing what we have, it is exactly the wrong track to take. The flip side would involve using scripture as a way to realize that personal perspectives, popular philosophies and well developed theologies really amount to nothing when compared to the outlook needed to understand God. If there really is such a large gulf between man and God, what is needed is a way to get these paradigms to constantly change and evolve.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Problems In Education

This year I have been trying to do a little more general research in the field of education. Having now worked as a teacher for four years, I am starting to get a handle on teaching. New classes are still lots of work (1 to 2h extra per class per day), but I am coming to the point where not being able to create anything substantial and lasting is getting more frustrating than the extra work involved with being bumped around.

Being split between two schools obviously hasn’t helped things. It has put my goals of working with student teachers on the back burner. In return, this has thrown off a possible time line for getting my Masters. However, I have started working more with the local and divisional professional development committees. I am also presenting at Teacher’s Conference, and have a couple of demo trial projects on the go for our division (in addition to my regular unstaffed tech hours). What this means, is my eyes are getting more opened to what is going on around me.

As I have been going through and seeing what other educators do, I am a little dismayed by how much flying by the seat of one’s pants there is. Perhaps this is not as much in lesson prep as in overall vision. Now obviously some people are better able to grasp the whole picture than others. Some just like to plod along, content to let someone else choose their path. However, education has some real problems. Just look at some of the personal education blogs that are floating around here and here. It is hard to imagine many other jobs where professionals work through such harsh conditions. And yet the difference between a successful classroom and a failing one is huge. As any teacher knows, classroom dynamics has a balance point that is tangible. As much as we may fool ourselves, there really isn’t any middle ground. There are only successful coping strategies, disguised as classroom management. And yet all the extra expectations that are thrown into the mix really only serve to water down the ability to break over the top. In military terms, education is suffering a division of force.

What education seems to be based on is re-enforcement of weakness. More effort is spent on remediating efforts than on anything else. Obviously education doesn’t work if competency levels get spread too far. This, however, shouldn’t mean that success comes by preventing the spread of competency. And yet, I think this is precisely the (un?)intended consequence of education today. Let’s do things that look like they encourage diversity, but make sure that no spread in society occurs. Eventually intelligent people reach a point where the fundamental axioms of these methods get rejected. To my mind, this is where tribal tendencies starts to occur.

The “goth” dogma as I call it seems to be what society really wants – an appearance of uniqueness with rebellion that never makes it out of the old status quo.

I think this is the light by which many people interpret the gospel. It is made into something that is really not revolutionary. Jesus really didn’t mind an emphasis on the letter of the law rather than spirit of the law. Doctrinal mysteries are more about finding the correct cannon than they are about getting us out of our comfort zone. Obedience is a means to itself. Orthodoxy is a fine alternative to orthopraxy because at least one will let you fit into an established group that supposedly is going somewhere.

Once in a while don’t we eventually have to accept the fact that the evolution of some structures make them counterproductive to their original aims? Or perhaps I just had a taste of too much kitsch and self-righteousness at my local bookstore. After all, how can someone, educators or saints, ever be missing something as long as they are working hard, sacrificing and feel good about what they are doing?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Seinfeld Is No Laughing Matter

This last year I have been assigned to teach a Spanish class. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if I was fluent in Spanish. However, going to a Portuguese speaking mission isn’t necessarily the best qualifications for the job. For those who jaws are now on the floor, welcome to the world of rural teaching. Add in 3 new courses, each of which requires a solid hour a day to prep, add in “voluntary” extra curricular work, and other sundry positions, and time is pretty busy. Of course, I am sure it is similar to what most people now days seem to be doing. However, in this career, with no advancement possible, the extra effort one puts relies almost exclusively on intrinsic motivation. Hence today when I got a complaint from two parents I was pretty miffed.

Obviously in a school setting there are always things that aren’t very appropriate. After searching high and low for 30 min videos that had a Spanish audio track (in Canada everything is only in French), I had pretty much given up on finding anything interesting and costing under $300 – at least with the time I had to ferret out deals.

While on a recent trip to the states, I had bought a Bullwinkle DVD and some other Spanish cartoons. For one reason or another, these didn’t work as a classroom aid. A number of students suggested DVD’s that they had recently bought. With prime time shows being pretty much all one can buy on DVD, I thought I would give it a try. I took a look through the Seinfeld series, and found the most innocuous episode I could find, The Library. Aside from Kramer flirting with the Librarian, this show is pretty mild. I also figured things would get watered down for the kids as they watched it is Spanish. it seemed to fit in quite nicely with some lessons we had on figurative vs. literal translations.

Next week we watched a Friends episode. Now, I don’t like Friends very much, and was leery about showing one. However, we have a number of smokers in class, and I figured the episode on Rachael trying to smoke to fit in at work would be a good multi-use of class time. Again, this was not an episode with sexual innuendos or crass jokes. However, I got a couple of forthright complaints from parents that day, on the moral degeneracy I was teaching. Now I can see people suggested that this may not be appropriate for class, but supporting moral degeneracy? Come on. I won’t get into the nit picky details to try and defend myself. However, it does annoy me that some people take such a prideful stance based on reasoning that may be faulty. After all if I told my kids that watching the 10:00 news was evil, chances are if they saw it in school they would think it was the most offensive thing ever, regardless of the content.

Now I can understand how difficult it is to keep kids away from many aspects of society. I can also understand how frustrating it is to have that stance breached at every opportunity. But doesn’t there come a point where the level of segregation one seeks turns every exposure into a conflict?

I think this recent drudge headline sums up some of the consequences I see happening as a result of this type of correctness.