Tuesday, January 31, 2017

you carried me

No matter which side of the issue you're on, you should read Melissa Ohden's book, You Carried Me. I just finished this book, and it's definitely worth your time. I received the book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review, so the words here are entirely my own opinion.

Melissa Ohden always knew she was adopted, but she found out as a young teen that there was more to her story than she knew--she was the survivor of a botched saline abortion. I can't even begin to imagine what that would be like. Her story starts at a point where a lot of stories have ended, a baby not meant to survive. Where her story goes from there, though, is hard to imagine.

So hard, in fact, that she's been accused of making up her story. Melissa's book--her life, the good and the bad, poured out on paper--is a story of hurt, betrayal, loss, and confusion. At the same time, though, it is a story of of healing, forgiveness, mercy, and grace. The writing isn't necessarily the strongest, which usually is something that really gets to me (typically I can't finish a book if I don't like the writing style), but in this case the story carried the writing when it got a bit weak.

I don't want to give away too much of her story, because it's not mine to tell and has much less impact from me. However, I will tell you that her story made me think about something I haven't considered.

When we talk about abortion, we talk about the victims: the innocent babies who are lost. There are other victims, though, ones we often ignore--the mothers. Sure, recently we've heard lots of women talking about how great it was that they had an abortion and how their lives are so much better, but that's not usually the case. Most of the time, a broken-hearted woman is left alone after the procedure.

Yes, we should stand up for the innocent victims of abortion, but we shouldn't forget that those babies aren't always the only victims.

For more on Melissa, you can visit her website: http://melissaohden.com/

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.