Tag Archives: education

I’ll See Your Bible and Raise You a Torah

There's a proposed bill in the NC senate (SB 138) that would allow local school boards to offer elective courses in Bible study at their high schools.  This would probably cause some consternation with folks who see this kind of thing as violating the separation of church and state, but quite honestly if it's an elective that seems to be a bit of a stretch. On the other hand it does seem to put the state in the position of favoring one religion over others since it doesn't include other religious texts like the Torah or the Koran.

If the intent of the course is not to indoctrinate students but to study how the the Bible has influenced society then it could be seen as a legitimate educational effort rather than an effort to indoctrinate non-religious or non-Christian students.  And if that's the case then why not write the bill so that school's could offer similar courses to study the Torah, the Koran or other religious texts that have obviously had a tremendous impact on our world? 

Perhaps it would be helpful to look at the text of the bill to see if we can discern the intent. Here it is:

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
2 AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR LOCAL BOARDS OF EDUCATION TO OFFER TO
3 STUDENTS IN GRADES NINE THROUGH TWELVE AN ELECTIVE COURSE IN
4 BIBLE STUDY.
5 The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:
6 SECTION 1. G.S. 115C-81 is amended by adding a new subsection to read:
7 "(g4) Bible Study Elective. – Local boards of education may offer to students in grades
8 nine through 12 elective courses for credit on the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), the New
9 Testament, or a combination of the two subject matters. A student shall not be required to use a
10 specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament and may use as
11 the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament approved
12 by the local board of education or the principal of the student's school. A course offered by a
13 local board of education in accordance with this subsection shall (i) follow federal and State
14 law in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views,
15 traditions, and perspectives of the students of the local school administrative unit and (ii) not
16 endorse, favor or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward any particular religion,
17 nonreligious faith, or religious perspective. Courses may include the following instruction:
18 (1) Knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are
19 prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including
20 literature, art, music, mores, oratories, and public policies.
21 (2) Familiarity with the contents, history, style, structure, and societal influence
22 of the Hebrew scriptures or the New Testament."
23 SECTION 2. This act is effective when it becomes law and applies beginning with
24 the 2013-2014 school year.

At first blush it seems innocuous enough, but you still have to ask why other prominent religious texts aren't included.  By not including them it's easy to see how people would assume the underlying intent is to introduce Christianity to the public schools, and as mentioned before it definitely seems to put the state in the position of favoring one religion over another.

Let's end with a fun scenario game:

  1. Bill becomes law.
  2. School district decides to offer Bible elective at its high schools.
  3. Two-thirds of the way through the course a teacher, who's a Baptist, goes out on maternity leave and the replacement teacher is a Mormon.
  4. Parents of several students demand either a different teacher be assigned to the course or that their children be allowed to transfer out of the class without penalty. Their argument is that they don't want their children being fed "lies" by that "cultist."

Wouldn't it be fun to be a fly on the wall of the principal's office that day.
Related articles

Bill would create Bible study elective for high schools

The Perils of Helicopter Parenting

A teacher has written a nice little piece about what she sees as the danger of overprotective parents. Here are the money paragraphs:

These are the parents who worry me the most — parents who won't let their child learn. You see, teachers don't just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.

I'm not suggesting that parents place blind trust in their children's teachers; I would never do such a thing myself. But children make mistakes, and when they do, it's vital that parents remember that the educational benefits of consequences are a gift, not a dereliction of duty. Year after year, my "best" students — the ones who are happiest and successful in their lives — are the students who were allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.

If you spend enough time at schools, youth sports events, scout meetings, etc. you'll see plenty examples of what this teacher is talking about. What will really blow your mind is what parents of some high school students will do to make sure their kids' transcripts are pristine for the all-important college application process. They'll manufacture "community service" projects, write their childrens' application essays, do their kids' school projects or let them drop a class if it's too challenging or threatens to lower the GPA by a smidge. In their minds the purpose of education isn't to help their children truly learn and grow, it's to get them into a prestigious school so that they can get a prestigious job. And what happens when those same kids get to college and struggle? They call home and guess who comes running to try and bail them out?

Obviously there are times you should help your kids, but providing help is often more about the parents than the kids.  It's actually harder to watch your kids struggle than it is to intervene and do it for them – it's literally painful – so when we step in and bail them out we're actually being very selfish. We're assuaging our own pain to our children's long-term detriment. If we really care about them we will let them fall and learn how to pick themselves up. It ain't easy, but no one ever said that good parenting was easy and that's why they pay us parents the big bucks anyway. Right?

Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic…and Coding

Last week I sent my mom a link to the registration page for TEDxWakeForestU (she's a Wake Forest alumnus) and she and I were discussing it during a visit this past weekend. Others in our group asked what TEDx was, so I tried to describe the TED concept and the TEDx extension of it, but really failed quite miserably. That's one reason I was ecstatic to stumble across this video from TEDxBeaconStreet; it provides a great example of the TEDx format that I can send my mom so she can share it. The other reason is that the presentation is about the intersection of technology and education – something my mom's passionate about and thus I'm guaranteed she'll find the presentation fascinating.

Hopefully you will too:

Teachers Paying Teachers

Contained in a blog post about the publishing industry is this eye-opening paragraph about what seems to be a possible paradigm shift in the textbook industry (one can only hope):

So lets take a deep breath and go back a step. The article on earning a million was sent to me by my daughter as a follow-up to both of us quoting the performance of the web service  www.teacherspayteachers.com. Here US teachers deposit their learning plans and receive royalties on their re-use. Deanna Jump, a kindergarten teacher from Georgia, has become the first teacher to earn a million dollars in royalties. The site has had 50 million page views in the last 30 days and teachers post over 800 resources a day. The site has a rival (not mentioned in the article) in the shape of the UK periodical Times Educational Supplement, which has adopted this business model and teamed up with the leading US teachers union in a jv, while exploiting a global market from London. As advertising retreats the TES has executed a wonderful transition: not migrating so much as re-inventing itself in close alignment to what its readers needed to be better teachers. Indeed, in some ways this is re-inventing the textbook as much as the magazine, but whatever it is the outcome is the same: understanding how users work and supplying (in this case user-generated) content in the right context and with the right interface is the new publishing.

Check out the "About" page for TeachersPayingTeachers and behold some pretty incredible numbers:

TpT by the Numbers

40,000+ Free Resources
250,000+ Products
1,100,000+ Registered Users
50,000,000+ Page Views/Month
$10,000,000+ Teacher Earnings

This kind of thing has been a long time coming. It's been baffling how the textbook companies have been able to keep a stranglehold on the school systems even as technology has reduced the cost of self-publishing and enabled peer-to-peer sharing. It will be interesting to see how this service plays out politically – it's hard to imagine school systems allowing teachers to take wholesale control of their curricula, or the textbook industry to go down without a huge fight – but in these days of austerity there might be a chance for some cost saving innovations like this to take hold.

Again, we can only hope.

What’s a Good Education Worth?

Fred Wilson has an interesting take on the student debt issue:

So we are big believers in the value of a higher education and we have invested in it for ourselves and our children.

I told the University President and the faculty members all that. But I also told them that I am deeply concerned that about the cost of a high quality education and the fact that it is getting out of reach for many. And I told them that I am not sure the return on the investment is as high as it once was for many degrees. And finally, I told them that too many students are walking out of college with a student loan burden that is crushing and that they can't and won't pay back. 

So how you reconcile these two opposing views and what can we do about it?…

But we also need to get more creative about the financing of higher education. We should measure the return on investment students are getting from the institutions they attend and the degrees they obtain and tie the amount of loans they can get to the returns they are likely to achieve. Students that attend institutions that can deliver higher returns should be able to take out larger loans.

Repayment terms need to change as well. Loan repayments should be capped at a percentage of current income. I know a woman who has been out of graduate school for more than a decade who dedicates one of her two paychecks a month to paying back her student loans. She is spending half of her take home income on her student loans. That is nuts.

Bubbles are driven by easy money that drives irrational behavior. Our student loan policies have been doing some of that. We can and should change our policies to force more rational decisions in the purchase of higher education in this country. 

There could be some pretty strong arguments made against tying the amount of a loan to the likely return of a degree. Someone who majors in English Lit with a concentration on 18th century poetry doesn't seem likely to have a high paying job, i.e. a high return, but you never know. There's also a compelling case for allowing kids to go on an intellectual exploration during their undergraduate years, and if you tie their loans to the return on any given degree you're likely to stifle that exploration.

But that's a nit-pick. Fred's core point, that we need to rethink how we structure and pay for higher education, is spot on. With two kids at NC State our family can tell you that the effects of reduced state funding are very real, and they are having a significant impact on students' abilities to fund their educations. Reduced state funding is leading inexorably to higher costs, which means more debt for students and an increasingly urgent need to figure out a way to turn the tide on student debt. 

When Parents are Full of S***

The two oldest of our three kids will be heading to NC State in a few weeks, our oldest for his sophomore year (transferring from UNC Charlotte) and our middle child for her freshman year. Our son has already changed his major from business to a biology-chemistry double major. Our daughter is in First Year College and as of right now is thinking of majoring in engineering, but who knows what degree she'll end up with? That's as it should be since one of the core benefits of a college education is the opportunity to try different things on until you find something that fits, if you're lucky.

A couple of weeks ago we were on vacation and during dinner my daughter mentioned that she might want to major in Italian (I think it was Italian), and I made the brilliant statement that she shouldn't major in a language because you can always study a language independently by taking a course later. That statement was followed by something like, "You should study something practical that, if you wanted, you could practice in any language you might happen to learn." My mother, who was also at the dinner, gave me the look that is normally reserved for people for whom she feels sorry, and drolly asked if that's why I majored in English. Ouch.

I later told my daughter that her Dad had a moment where he was indeed full of s*** and that she should study whatever she is truly interested in, something that she can be passionate about.  Sharing this particular tale of parental malpractice was inspired by this letter written to Ted Turner by his father when young Ted informed the old man that he wanted to major in the Classics at Brown:

There is no question but this type of useless information will distinguish you, set you apart from the doers of the world. If I leave you enough money, you can retire to an ivory tower, and contemplate for the rest of your days the influence that the hieroglyphics of prehistoric man had upon the writings of William Faulkner. Incidentally, he was a contemporary of mine in Mississippi. We speak the same language—whores, sluts, strong words, and strong deeds.

It isn't really important what I think. It's important what you wish to do with your life. I just wish I could feel that the influence of those oddball professors and the ivory towers were developing you into the kind of a man we can both be proud of. I am quite sure that we both will be pleased and delighted when I introduce you to some friend of mine and say, "This is my son. He speaks Greek."

Note to my children: if I ever write or say anything remotely like this please tell me I'm full of s*** and feel free to not visit me in the home if I live long enough to get there.

Girls and Math

With a daughter who is interested in studying engineering in college (she's a high school senior), and seeing the reactions on peoples' faces when Erin tells them that she's leaning towards that field of study, I have to say I'm not surprised to see this piece about teachers' biases about girls' math skills. I'm also afraid that this quote may be more true than not:

“If the math bias against females is present in elementary school, which past research shows it is, and continues through high school and then college, then it’s much less likely that you will find women pursuing math-related high-status occupations in science and technology,” says Riegle-Crumb. “If you perceive the message ‘You’re just not quite as good at math as the boys are’ often enough, you may start to believe it.” 

Erin applied to several schools, including Embry Riddle and NC State, and thankfully she was accepted to both. If you're not familiar with it, Embry Riddle is a school that defines itself as an "Aeronautical University" so it's degree programs are all heavily dedicated to aeronautics (engineering, physics, math, etc.). Not many people are familiar with Embry Riddle so when Erin would explain it to them their looks of surprise were even more pronounced than when she mentioned she had applied to State.

Personally, I think people just assume girls prefer, and are more suited to the humanities, and that engineering and math are boys' playgrounds. Unfortunately if Erin stays on the course she's chosen – and let's remember that there are plenty of kids who change their majors mid-stream – I think she'll be fighting this kind of bias for the rest of her academic and professional careers. It's a shame that might be the case, but you can bet we'll be supporting her the whole way – if people want to assume something based on her gender then that's their problem.

By the way, as parents we're thrilled that Erin opted for State. Not that we don't think she would have done well at Embry Riddle, we just thought that the wider variety of programs at State would allow her the maximum flexibility to explore all fields of study and make whatever choice best suits her. And then there's the not-so-small issue of distance and we LOVE the fact that she'll only be a two hour drive away. Of course if she still wants to go into the field aeronautics she can always go to Embry Riddle for graduate level studies, and I fully expect she'll be able to do anything she sets her mind to, because as most mature men know, women rule.