Friday, January 20, 2017

the state of education

Imagine sitting down to do something knowing that you are expected to fail. Not because it's something that you aren't good at, but simply because it has been designed to be too hard for you to pass. Now imagine doing that a second time...and a third...and each time the task is purposefully made harder.

How disheartening would it be to see, over and over and over again, that some nameless and faceless entity (who, by the way, holds enormous sway over your future) sees failing as the best you can do?

And then, after you've struggled through this 3 different times, you have to do it again... "only this time," they tell you, "it's for real." Well, kind of for real...the results don't really count for or against you, but they are supposed to be used to predict your future performance. Oh, and those in charge of you are going to be judged on how well you do, but no pressure or anything...

Oh yeah--and you're a kid.

I'm sure some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. There are probably others, though, who have read this in disbelief. Surely nothing would ever be designed that way for kids. Sadly, our entire educational system is revolving around just such a system: ACT Aspire.

The ACT has been around a long time, and we've spent a lot of time and energy making sure high school kids are prepared for that test. It, in many cases, determines the college someone goes to and how much scholarship money they will get. It makes sense to want kids to do well on something like the ACT. It even makes sense to let them practice.

What doesn't make sense, though, is making teaching revolve around testing.

In most professions, the professionals are given freedom to work. After all, they are doing what they were trained to do. Of course there's management--and there are people who have trained for that, too. In education, though, that doesn't happen.

Teachers are told which "curriculum" to teach and when to teach it. Right now the go-to idea is Common Core (yes, Arkansas has their own standards, but they are just the same standards with a different name). The only true math content expert who worked on the math standards refused to sign off on the finished project, and that says a lot.

As teachers we aren't supposed to veer away from the curriculum, and we are supposed to make sure we cover every standard. But that should be okay, right? After all, Common Core was designed to be "more focused and coherent in order to improve mathematics achievement in this country. To deliver on this promise, the mathematics standards are designed to address the problem of a curriculum that is 'a mile wide and an inch deep.'" (from www.corestandards.org/Math/)

That sounds good...until you look at the standards. Here is a breakdown of just one course:
Algebra I
5 "Conceptual Categories"
10 "Domains" within those
23 "Clusters" within the domains

That in itself doesn't sound too bad--after all, there are 36 weeks in a school year so that gives plenty of time to cover 23 clusters, right?

Wait, though. In those 23 clusters, there are 103 different standards...and that's not counting all the times that there are "notes" for the teacher talking about all the other things that are part of the standard.

At the end of the list of standards, you have a glossary. Yes, some of the terms are relatively basic. I agree that kids in Algebra I should know what a variable is. Others, though, are ones like "Extraneous solutions" (yes, that's in there). They aren't numbered--maybe they thought that would be intimidating--but all together there is a collection of 50 terms.

Remember, Algebra I is typically a class kids take in 8th or 9th grade.

Then we have an Appendix. It lists 25 properties that the kids are supposed to know at the end of Algebra I.

That's for a single math course. Algebra II has its own set, with 15 Domains, 31 Clusters, and a whole slew of standards (I was too disheartened to spend the time counting them).

I could keep going, but I think you probably get the picture.

As a teacher, I'm told that I have to be a professional. In fact, I have to get 60 hours of Professional Development each year. I'm not, however, trusted to make professional decisions about the education of my students. I'm supposed to tailor my instruction to fit each individual student in my class, making sure that I expect just the right amount from each student and that I keep all of them engaged throughout the lesson and that I ensure that they are all emotionally secure in my classroom.

I'm supposed to make sure to acknowledge all of my students' differences without calling attention to the fact that they are different (because, you know, the kids shouldn't actually see that they all have different abilities). I'm supposed to support their weaknesses, but not make any student feel inferior to any other. While I'm pulling all my struggling students up by their bootstraps (because, of course, we can't expect kids to have self-discipline), I'm supposed to push my gifted students to extend their thinking (without making them feel superior to any other).

And then, after teaching every student in the way that best supports each individual, I stick a standardized test in front of them. Not just once, either--we know have 3 "interim" tests that the kids have to take before they take the "real" test at the end of the year.

I have to be honest--I tell my kids to do their best to answer the questions, but not to stress. I tell them that I know the scores won't look good. I tell them that a test designed by a nameless, faceless entity that knows nothing about them can't tell them what they know and don't know. I tell them that they are so much more than a test score...

...but if education keeps going the direction it's headed, pretty soon those test scores will be the sole determinant of my value as a teacher.

Our teachers deserve to be treated like the professionals they are, people who have dedicated themselves to the kids they care for on a daily basis, the kids they lose sleep over at night, the kids who break their hearts sometimes.

More than that, though, our kids deserve more. Our kids don't need a "one size fits all" education. They should be shown their strengths, but they should also be shown their weaknesses. Without that, how can you grow? They should have something to work towards, a future that they shape with hard work and dedication. They should be shown that reward is not without risk and cost, and that your worth is not determined arbitrarily. They need to know that you don't make something of yourself just by showing up.

As much as anything else, they need to be given the chance to develop a love of learning instead of a fear of testing. Right now, the words of Einstein are very true: "It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

where is the Lion?

"How long must I cry, O Eternal One, and get no answer from you?
Even when I yell to You, 'Violence is all around!'
You do nothing to save those in distress.
Why do You force me to see these atrocities?
Why do You make me watch such wickedness?
Disaster and violence, conflict and controversy, are raging all around me.
Your law is powerless to stop this; injustice prevails.
The depraved surround the innocent, and justice is perverted.

ETERNAL ONE: 'Look at the nations and watch what happens!
You will be shocked and amazed. For in your days, I am doing a work,
a work you will never believe even if someone tells you plainly!
Look! I am provoking and raising up the bitter and thieving Babylonian warriors from Chaldea;
they are moving out across the earth
and seizing others' homes and property in their path.'"
~Habakkuk 1:1-6

ISIS is an evil, swarming across the land and destroying everything and everyone in their path. They wipe out women and children with incredible cruelty, all in the name of the "religion of peace." The atrocities those people see on a daily basis are unbelievable--things I am blessed to be able to say I can't even imagine.

It's easy to look at all that this world is facing and wonder why God could let such horrible things happen. Or at least, in the midst of all the horror, why would God let the innocent suffer?
image from CNN.com

There aren't easy answers to those questions, but even in the chaos and despair God is working. Besides the death and destruction that ISIS is leaving behind them, they are also leaving something they never planned: hope.

In their wake, they are leaving thousands upon thousands who are turning away from Islam and instead turning to what they are calling the "religion of freedom." The are turning to the One who promises to hold them while their tears fall, to the One who wraps His arms around them and promises to face all the evils of this world with them, to the One who is doing an awesome work even in the middle of the evil.
for more, click here

God hasn't stopped working. He hasn't turned His back on all those who are powerless to fight back against the "bitter and thieving warriors." He is there with them in their suffering, wiping the tears from their faces.

Sometimes we are like Israel when they were looking for the Messiah. We are looking for the Lion of Judah to come in, roaring, ready to devour our enemies. Like Revelation 5:5 says, "Stop weeping. Look there--the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. He has conquered..."

We want the Conqueror, the King, the Mighty Warrior of Zephaniah 3 who will swoop in and establish His kingdom and let everyone see that He is in control. And like John, we look to see the Lion.

"I looked, and between the throne and the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders stood a Lamb who appeared to have been slaughtered." Revelation 5:6b

We look for the Lion, but we find the Lamb.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

when birthdays are hard...

Tuesday, my brother would have turned 36.

I would have teased him tremendously, poking fun at the fact that he was inching closer and closer to 40 while I was still closer to 30.

I would have complained about having to have that gooey red cherry stuff on top of the cheesecake again--but I would have grinned while I ate it.

Instead, I was a little too quick with an answer when the kids at school asked for the date.

"The 6th" is what I said, but in my head the answer went on with my big brother's birthday.

I didn't say it, though. Sometimes I hesitate to say anything about him because I'm not sure how other people will react, but I can usually count on a look of pity, an "I'm sorry," followed by an uncomfortable silence while I smile to show that they don't have to be sad.

His birthday is hard. It makes me wonder what he would be like at 36...maybe a couple gray hairs for me to make fun of? A few extra pounds around the waist? Smile lines starting to form around his eyes and mouth?

The questions are too much sometimes. The unknowns get overwhelming; the what-might-have-beens choke me up.

The lump in my throat gets hard to swallow.

I've heard people say that they don't celebrate their birthdays anymore, that they stopped with #29 or some other number. But the thing is, birthdays should always be celebrated. Yes, we're getting older with every candle that gets added, and sometimes it's a rude awakening to think about how many years have passed since we were 20 (12 for me...)

But for some people, birthdays stop way before they should. Some families put "would have been" before a new age each year.

There has only been one birthday that I didn't want to celebrate, and that was the year I turned 24. That was the year I was first older than my big brother, and to be honest I wanted to just skip the whole day. I wanted to go to sleep the night before and wake up the morning after and just avoid the entire day. There was something wrong about seeing a birthday my big brother had never seen.

My own birthday has gotten easier, and for the most part Michael's birthday has gotten easier. There are moments in each, though, when I can't breathe and when I have to swallow the lump in my throat--just like on normal days sometimes.

If birthdays are hard for you sometimes, please know you aren't alone. So let the tears spill over if they need to, and then smile and celebrate.

Happy 36th birthday, big brother. You are deeply missed.

Monday, November 7, 2016

time to take a stand

You hear it all the time: "I'm not going to vote, because one voice won't matter."

How about 90 million voices? Because, you see, that's the approximate number of eligible voters who didn't stand up to be counted for the last election. And among those 90 million voices, at least 4 million are evangelical Christians.

As believers in and followers of Christ, we know that God is ultimately in control. He knows exactly how this election is going to turn out. The thing is, we shouldn't be using that as a cop-out to excuse not going to the polls tomorrow. You see, God uses His people to carry out His will. If we don't stand up and speak out, we aren't doing our part.

Yes, God can use anyone and anything to fulfill His plans. If He wants, He can change people's minds when they start filling out their ballots. But here's the kicker: sometimes, God lets us get our way.

Sometimes, God gives us exactly what we're asking for so that we figure out just how bad we are at doing this ourselves. When His people cried out for a king, God told them that they didn't want one. He warned them that a king would take advantage of the people. He told them that He was the only Ruler they needed.

The Israelites answered, "That's all well and good, but how about You give us a king anyways? We want to be like everybody else." (That's my paraphrase of the events of 1 Samuel 8).

I'm afraid that we as a nation have quickly put ourselves in that situation. We've stopped trying to be different. We've started sliding down hill so fast that we can't get a hold on anything to stop ourselves. We've taken our eyes off of God and turned them to the rest of the world, and now we're desperately trying to look like everybody else.

That's not what we as Christians are called to do. We aren't supposed to be like the rest of the world. We aren't supposed to value what the rest of the world values. We are called to reflect God, the One who made us in His image.

"So, first and foremost, I urge God's people to pray.
They should make their requests, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all humanity.
Teach them to pray for kings (or anyone in high places for that matter)
so that we can lead quiet, peaceful lives--reverent, godly, and holy--
all of which is good and acceptable before the eyes of God our Savior
who desires for everyone to be saved and know the truth.
Because 'There is one God and one Mediator between God and us--
the man Jesus, God's Anointed, who gave His life as a ransom for all
so that we might have freedom.'" 
~1 Timothy 2:1-6
So pray. Pray for our country. Pray for those who are voting, and pray for those who are running for election. Pray that our country will return to God. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God said,
"if My people, who are called by My name,
will humble themselves
and pray and seek My face
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Pray for your fellow believers, for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray that we will all humble ourselves before God and ask His forgiveness and healing for our land.
I know that the 2 main presidential candidates are far from anything we want--both of them. Neither one seems to be a reflection of the God I serve. But I feel it is my responsibility as a Christian to stand up and speak out. I can't in good conscience sit back and watch our country slide further down the rabbit hole, and I think that is what will happen if we as Christians keep quiet.

I also think it is my duty as an American citizen to vote. That's a right my brother fought and died for, along with many other brave men and women who would give just about anything to be voting tomorrow. We owe it to them and to the men and women who are currently fighting to vote for a Commander-in-Chief that our military can stand behind, someone who will support them, believe in them, and never leave a man behind.

Don't worry about the "politically correct" candidate tomorrow, because I've found that "politically correct" is most often the choice that stands in stark contrast to what God says is right. So pray, then vote, then pray some more. Pray that every follower of Christ will base their vote on God's word and His will. Pray that we will become a nation after God instead a nation intent on our own desires. Pray that our leaders will draw near to God and base their decisions on His word.

Vote--and if you don't, remember that you have no right to complain about the direction our country goes following the election.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

when you're lost...

So, I just realized that it has almost been an entire month since I last wrote...ouch. I have to tell you, I can feel that it's been that long because I can feel a little bit of my sanity melting away. My husband will tell you--I'm a much better person to be around when I write. In the past he's called writing my therapy, and I guess there are a lot worse things I could do to decompress.

I have to admit, though, lately words just haven't come easily to me. For a long time now I've been struggling with the thought that I'm a bit lost in the grand scheme of things. I've been begging for God to show me where I fit in His plan, but for some reason He seems to be silent on the matter.

Have you ever felt that way?

So often, I hear people talk about finding God's will as if it is a simple thing: just say a prayer, and God will tell you exactly where He wants you. Can I be totally honest? Sometimes, those people make me want to pull my hair out.

Because, you see, I've been begging to know God's will for at least 6 years now (though it's probably been longer than that, just not quite as desperately until I was getting ready to graduate from college). I can't even start to tell you the hours I've spent on my knees, the verses I've poured over, the prayers I've written out, and the tears I've cried.

But God has kept track of all of them.

That's the amazing thing that we lose sight of--God knows just how many tears I've cried as I've poured out my heart to Him. He remembers every word I wrote. He whispered to me through the verses, and He knelt down to listen to me while I was on my knees.

No matter how I feel--despite the little voice telling me that I've been forgotten and left on my own--God is faithful. No matter what our fickle hearts tell us, He never changes. In James we're told,

" Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above,
courtesy of the Father of lights. He is consistent. 
He won’t change His mind or play tricks in the shadows.  
We have a special role in His plan.
He calls us to life by His message of truth
so that we will show the rest of His creatures His goodness and love."
~James 1:17&18

I know that. Really I do; the answers are there in my head. The issue is sometimes just reminding myself of that. Even when I feel like I'm stuck on the periphery, out there by myself just watching everybody else fulfill their role in God's plan, God is consistent. He's got me in the palm of His hand. Even more amazing than that, God says "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." (Isaiah 49:16)

God has made me a part of Himself. If I'm engraved on His hands, there is no way that He can push me aside and forget about me. I'm not lost, even though I can't see exactly where I am. The path may be hidden from me right now, but God still knows exactly right where I am and where I'm headed.

And in the midst of my misgivings, insecurities, and messy issues, that is a thought I need to cling to.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

when self-reliance becomes something else

I'm big on self-reliance. My whole life, from the time I was little bitty, my mantra has been, "I can do it myself!" One of my dreams is to one day have a self-sustaining farm, one on which we can totally support ourselves and our loved ones without counting on anyone else.

Worldly self-reliance isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God tells us to work and to support ourselves so that others won't have a reason to speak against us--"make it your goal to lead a peaceful life, mind your own business, and keep your hands busy in your work, as we have instructed you. That way you will live peacefully with those on the outside, and all your needs will be met without depending on others." (I Thessalonians 4:11 & 12, VOICE).

The problem comes, though, when my self-reliance comes ahead of my reliance on God. It usually sneaks in a little at a time, starting with something tiny, something I can handle on my own without "bothering" God about it. I want to handle things myself, but in doing so I start trusting in my own power and stop trusting in God.

"My goodness, how you've turned things around! You seem to think that the potter is equal to the clay; should the pot say about the potter, 'He didn't make me'? Or does the thing formed say about the one who formed it, 'He doesn't understand anything'?"
~Isaiah 29:16

When I start trusting myself instead of God, I'm like the pot saying that I know better than the Potter.
God doesn't expect me to take care of everything on my own. In fact, it's quite the opposite. He doesn't need or want my help taking care of things.

"Listen! The Lord, the Eternal, the Holy One of Israel says,
'In returning and rest, you will be saved.
In quietness and trust you will find strength.'"
~Isaiah 30:15

God doesn't need my strength--He doesn't even want it. To Him, my strength is nothing. Instead, He wants me to let go. He says, "This is the way; here is rest for the weary. I am showing you rest." ~Isaiah 28:12
That's hard for me, that "rest" thing. All I do is look around and see all the things that are being left undone, all the things I should be doing, all the things that I need to "fix." I have a tendency to do the same thing with God. He calls me to rest, but I start looking around and seeing all the things I think I should be doing.

In James, we're told, "Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind. Those adrift on their own wisdom shouldn't assume the LORD will rescue them or bring them anything. The splinter of divided loyalty shatters your compass and leaves you dizzy and confused." ~James 1:6-8
When I rely on my own strength and wisdom, I usually get myself lost at sea. And when I'm lost, being tossed around by the waves and getting more and more disoriented, I start paddling frantically trying to get myself back to shore. It's only when I'm undeniably lost that I start asking God to show me where I'm supposed to be. He can't always show me right away, because sometimes I've gotten myself so far off track that He has to lead me back through the waves and across the open sea before we're even in sight of where I'm supposed to be.
And it's only when a story comes along that rips the paddles out of my hands and leaves me totally incapable of doing things myself that I finally give in and let God. I don't want to do that. I want my first thought to be like the Psalmist's:

"When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone."
~Psalm 56:3

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

what do I know of holy?

I've written a few times about songs that have meant a lot to me in some way, from childhood songs that God's used to remind me of truths I'd lost sight of to songs that helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life. Recently, I heard a new song that really got to me. It's by Addison Road, and it's called “What do I Know of Holy?”

If you haven't ever heard this song, here's a video. I highly recommend listening to it. I can't get blogger to work with me right now, so you'll have to watch at youtube. I'll try to fix that soon...


I have to admit, the first time I heard this song it was as if somebody had stepped into my thoughts: “I tried to hear from Heaven, but I talked the whole time.” Wait a minute—so that's not just me? Other people tend to carry on entirely one-sided “conversations” with God, too? I can't tell you how many times I've begged and pleaded for God to tell me something—anything—but never stopped long enough to actually listen.

“Be still and know that I am God.”
~Psalm 46:10a

“I think I made You too small...” I wrote an entire devotional about the power and magnificence of God, yet I'm still guilty of this on a regular basis. Every time I let fear overwhelm me, letting the stress and anxiety pile up until I feel like I can't breathe, I'm making God small. When I let the fears take over, I'm telling God that I don't trust Him to take care of me through all of it. I'm telling Him that my fears are bigger than Him.

“So do not fear,
for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
~Isaiah 41:10

“I guess I thought that I had figured You out...
I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about
How You were mighty to save--
but those were only empty words on a page.
Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be;
The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees.”

I've grown up knowing what we always called the “Sunday School answers.” I can tell you all the stories about all the heroes, all the times God worked on behalf of His people. I asked Jesus into my heart at a revival when I was 9 years old, and I have no doubt that I will spend eternity with Him. I can sing the hymns and quote the verses and name the books. But even with all of that, there are times when all of those things kind of blur together into a single, shapeless mass.

Don't get me wrong—I know I'm blessed. Sometimes, though (and too often than I want to admit), I forget just how amazed I should be at the very idea of being blessed by the Creator of the universe.

I've written about how studying physics and biology has given me a different view on how faith and science intertwine. Sometimes, I get a tiny glimpse into the absolute enormity of God's power, and I'm left in awe. I see brilliant minds who are humbled by the unbelievable simplicity that can be found buried underneath even the most complex of physical systems, and the complexity that lies within seemingly simple things. In those moments, I realize that I really don't know much of anything about God.

“For the LORD gives wisdom;
from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
~Proverbs 2:6

“Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
What do I know? What do I know of holy?”