Thursday, February 24, 2005

#151 - Tally Ho!

Utah is leading the charge to turn our collective backs on President Bush's No Child Left Behind program.

It's about time.

I tend not to form strong opinions about most domestic policies, largely because I'm not that smart. I have always figured that if I were smart enough to fisk a government program, I might as well run the silly government while I'm at it.

However, as a parent I have always been concerned with whatever direction our education gurus appear to be pointed. Generally speaking, it's always the wrong one. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is no exception.

The basic premise of the Act appears good on its surface. Leave no one behind. Make sure everyone graduates with all the right skills and knowledge. Just as we don't leave a wounded Marine in the field, neither do we leave kids without all the tools they need to succeed in life. Quel noble.

The problem is - and has always been - in the assumption that kids can be made to learn at the same pace as their classmates. Just as "one size fits all" is a lie, so "one pace fits all" is likewise. A lie. A scam. A farce.

Exhibit A is my son. My ex-wife and I had decided early on to homeschool him. Try as we might, he just wouldn't get interested in reading. There was no question about his intelligence. All his other skills were right where they should have been by any reasonable measure. He just wasn't interested in reading.

As our marriage began its sunset, we realized that our son would have to go to public school. We were worried about how it would be perceived that a second grader had such sub-standard reading skills as he seemed to be exhibiting. Then, very suddenly, he started picking up the books and almost literally overnight became a voracious reader. Had he actually been in a public school before that happened, we would have been subjected to all sorts of testing, conferencing, and angst over his perceived non-performance. In fact, he was just waiting for his interest level to catch up with his skills. He actually could read, he just didn't want to.

NCLB, in this case, would have caused a lot of grey hair for no good reason.

The Woodyettes are another fine example. Here we have two youngsters who love to learn. They love the fact that Mommy is their teacher, and Mommy (an ex-teacher herself) loves teaching them. They have lots of fun together. The girls constantly amaze me with their progress. Reading is no exception.

Mrs. Woody settled on Hooked on Phonics for her curriculum and the older Woodyette went to work toward the end of her Kindergarten year. A year later, she was reading the first Harry Potter book by herself. Daddy was blown away. Mommy just wears that smug smile of a parent who knows her kids. Interestingly, while we hadn't planned on starting her quite so soon, the younger Woodyette began - on her own - to pick up on what her big sister had done. NCLB wouldn't have done that for my girls. Mommy did that because it was a natural progression for them, and they demonstrated that they were ready.

I'm pleased to see states demonstrate the kind of backbone required to snub the Feds. Shucks, if I thought California was capable of putting together a responsible and comprehensive education program, I'd even support higher state taxes to offset the loss of federal money. They're not, so I don't, but I can dream.

In the meantime, NCLB is dead. Long live NCLB. Now, let's move on to a program that works. For a change.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

#150 - America's Choir? Sure, But...

Kris Wright over at By Common Consent wonders about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and its somewhat recent cognomen of "America's Choir." The question is essentially asked (as I interpret it, anyway), "Why would a choir that represents a religion that was for years oppressed by its own country suddenly become a masthead for that very country?"

Based on some highly cynical comments that followed the post, it might appear that some members of the church somehow feel that the choir is not only representative of some high-level church-wide hypocrisy, but incompetent as a choir to boot. I'd like to address myself to the cynics.

Goodness. Where to start?

One cannot discuss the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without discussing its musical heritage. From the very first revelation directing Emma Smith to compile our first hymn book, the Lord has made it crystal clear that music is an integral part of the gospel. Music - by which I mean uplifting and edifying music - is said by the Lord himself to be equivalent to prayer. Prayer, as understood by Latter-day Saints, is the highest form of communication of which man is capable. Would that not by extension place music at the same level?

I have been a Church "musician" since my youth. I have both sung in and directed choirs at ward and stake levels since I was seventeen. I have served as chorister in Sunday School (pre-bloc, of course!), Sacrament, and Priesthood. I have served as a music chairman in wards and stakes throughout my adult life. I have learned through long experience that worship without music is dry. Worship with music that doesn't quite fit the Lord's pattern is actually worse. I've learned that there's a reason why we need revelation in the Church, and the music we sing or listen to in our services and conferences is a prime example.

Whatever appellation it may acquire or assume over time, the Tabernacle Choir serves a few primary purposes: Along with providing the music for the general meetings of the Church, it also serves as an example to choirs throughout the Church as to the music that ought to be performed. (Yes, I know. How many wards have their own orchestra? On the other hand, how many sacrament meetings have you attended where a couple of violins accompanied the choir?) The other primary purpose of the choir, of course, is missionary work. The choir is one of the most effective missionary tools the Church has at its disposal, and members of the choir are, in effect, serving as missionaries. Only those who are spiritually defiant will fail to be moved when listening to the choir, especially in person. They teach by the Spirit.

As for its technical prowess, the choir has improved dramatically through the successive efforts of its conductors. I've been following the choir since the days of Condie. The improvement in the choir was remarkable under Ottley's leadership, and it has become even more technically proficient under Jessop's baton. So the occasional word may be mumbled. Try getting 12 voices to sing a true pianissimo and you'll appreciate just how well the Tab Choir does with 360 in a hall that seats 21,000.

Several years ago, Mom and I had an opportunity to sing with the Tab Choir as part of a guest choir for Music and the Spoken Word. What a neat experience that was! Most gratifying was having a chance to visit with Choir members and realize that they are, first and foremost, humble members of a worldwide Church. They have testimonies of the gospel and a desire to share a talent with which they've been blessed with the rest of the world. Bro. Ottley still had the baton, and he, too, was very gracious in conversation.

In the end, the name "America's Choir" is really just marketing. An affectionate nickname that shows how highly regarded the choir is in its native country. A reminder that even though they represent the Lord's restored Church, they are also American citizens and proud to be so. On the other hand, its recent worldwide tours should also amply demonstrate the love people feel for this group wherever it may be heard. As an American I may feel justifiably proud of this Choir and its music. As a Latter-day Saint, I appreciate this Choir for bringing me closer to God.

Here's an idea: Show your ward choir that you appreciate them, too. After all, they serve the same purposes for you that the Tab Choir serves for the entire Church. They may or may not be the best musicians the Church has to offer. They may not even have a bucket with a handle big enough to carry the tunes. But they love the gospel enough to offer those prayers on your behalf. Thank them for that the next time they sing. You'll make their day.

#149 - Controversy at the Academy? Really?

Via Drudge:

Chris Rock "clarified" his previous statement about straight men not watching the Oscars. Thank goodness.

Rock stuck to his guns. "I really don't know any straight men who aren't in show business that have ever watched the Oscars," he said.

Dead on, Chris. Haven't watched more than a few minutes of the show since I was a kid, I believe. Even then I realized just how politically and socially self-serving the entire industry really was.

As for Mr. Rock, I've never watched or heard his stuff. Simple imperative, really. His reputation preceeded him.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

#148 - Weeping For Joy

(H/T: Drudge)

This has got to be the nicest thing the Democrats have ever done for the country. If ever a chairman of the DNC could torpedo his party's chances of running this country, Dean is that chair.

Dean appeals to that liberal fringe of the party that helped them lose so handily in the last election. The ones who were so dead-set against anything smacking of centrism that they spent the entire election insulting anyone who dared believe differently from themselves.

I neither know, nor do I care, what most Dems think of this development. Typically, in my world anyway, party chairs have little or no influence on my political thinking. Heck, I'm not altogether sure I could even name the RNC chair. All I know is that sometime in 2006, this is the idiot who will be choking my mailbox with pleas for my money. Money they neither need nor know what to do with. I will, of course, be dropping those letters directly into my interactive round file. The one with the shredder attached.

Dean will, of course, be doing the same for the Dems. He will light fires under those same Hollywood luminaries whom we as Republicans are publicly thanking today just in time for the Academy Awards. And in the meantime, we can all expect to be treated to the following platitudes, ad nauseum:

"We only have one way to go, and that's up," Georgia delegate Lonnie Platt said.

You'll need a loooong ladder.

"We are trying so hard to be like Republicans and we're not. I think Howard Dean says clearly that we are different," Cusack said. "We are the party of ordinary citizens and not the elite, we are everyday working folk."

Ordinary, non-elitist, everyday working left-wing liberals. Remember which Democrats the Deanites will be playing to.

At the end of the day, Dean can do nothing more than play the old shell game. It's all about perception, and if you can swing the perception in your favor, that's what you do. Fortunately for us on the right side of the spectrum, he's telegraphing his moves:

Dean told Democratic committee members Friday that it's important to learn to be more comfortable discussing the party's core values.

"The way I hope to deal with that problem, is not to abandon our core principles, but talk about them in a different way," he said.

Democrats are not pro-abortion, but "we are the party in favor of allowing women to make up their own minds about their health care," Dean, a physician, said.

Democrats are not for gay marriage, but "we are the party that has always believed in equal rights under the law for all people," he said.

"We are the party of moral values," Dean said. "There is nothing moral about cutting 300 million dollars that is used to feed starving children."

Neither is there anything moral about killing unborn babies for convenience, dissolving the institution of marriage, or talking about morals without having any.

Let the games begin.

P.S. Did I mention the relative morality of a party that fights harder for the protection of their pets than their unborn children? Didn't want to forget that...

Friday, February 11, 2005

#147 - Thus Spake the Poet

My brother is a serious poet. For all his chuff and bluster, his poetry does a better job of revealing his true nature than does his rapier wit. And that's saying something.

I hesitate to offer interpretations of efforts like this latest offering. First, it's difficult to know exactly what was in the author's head when he wrote it. I may (and have in the past) miss the point completely. Also, even if I'm right, interpreting such work somehow diminishes its impact. It's a little like watching a movie for the first time, only to have some idiot behind you tell you not only what's coming, but why the director chose to portray it a certain way.

So, with as little interpretation as possible, I encourage you to read this indictment of modern-day Holland. From noble past to reprehensible present, it's a neat encapsulation of what I consider to be the Dutch Deformation.

Well done, Bro.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

#146 - "Arrest of the [insert chronological unit here]"

More years ago than anyone cares to think about, sports reporters on local and national sports shows began "Athlete Arrest of the Week" features. The title varied, of course, from reporter to reporter, but the substance was the same. Far too many professional (and not a few amateur) athletes were getting arrested on a variety of charges, up to and including murder. It may have seemed like a joke in the beginning, but courts quickly began working overtime to handle these celebrity cases.

After hearing about yet another teacher being arrested for chicanery of one kind or another involving one or more students today, I decided to see just how many other stories of this kind were currently being reported across the country. The answer is depressing.

Following is a list of teachers who have been arrested sometime in the last couple of months. In all fairness, none of these has, to my knowledge anyway, been tried and convicted, so innocence is still presumed. Still, the fact that these represent a mere fraction of the stories found on Google News is sobering. Any one of these charges, if true, carries with it not only the censure called for by law, but also the potential for ruining the lives of the individuals involved.

I really don't think I want to feature a "Teacher Arrest of the Day" as a regular part of this blog, but I wanted you to know that I've already got the material to do it. Yes, I'm a homeschooler, but this is not about some smug arrogance on my part. This is about warning parents to watch out for their kids. The list of people with whom we can safely entrust them is growing ever shorter.

Christopher Ryan Davis, sexual battery by an authority figure, Tennessee
Katherine Tew, sex offense with a student and indecent liberties with a student, North Carolina
Pamela Rogers Turner, sexual battery by an authority figure and statutory rape, Tennessee
Wayne E. Christopherson, first degree child molestation, Washington
Peter Ziskin, molestation, California
Joseph Conte, lewd conduct involving children under 16, Florida
Daniel Wayman, exposing himself and soliciting sex, Florida
Karri Suzanne Olmstead, drug charges, Indiana
Todd Christensen, endangering welfare of child and drug possession, New York
Chad Denis Maughan, third-degree child rape and second-degree sexual misconduct with a minor, Washington
Rebecca Boicelli, lewd acts with a minor and unlawful intercourse, California
Robert Gang, unspecified (used computer to correspond with minor, invited her to his home), New York
Dale Monnin, public indecency, Ohio
Jeffrey Brent Baber, child molestation, Indiana

I get queasy just thinking about this. Gotta go take some Tums.

UPDATE: Reader Scooter makes the case that any one of these individuals could be someone you know, or a family member. They may attend your church, or could be a co-worker. They may be completely innocent - victims of a "witch hunt" mentality. I'm not trying to be judge and jury in this case. I merely call attention to the need for parental vigilance, no matter what age the child.

I have every confidence that justice will be served in each case. If not, there's still one tribunal where mortal mistakes can finally be sorted out.

Monday, February 07, 2005

#145 - Adaptable Christianity

Hugh Hewitt was singing the praises of what must be a progressive church at the bottom of this post (long post, and you'll have to scroll waaay down to find this passage). He makes the following interesting statement:

As with every other institution out there, Christian churches have to adapt quickly to a new culture or decline just as quickly as audience share has for old newspapers and the big networks.

That sounds great in a market-based economy, but in reality it describes the greatest weakness of modern religion.

For years now we have witnessed tremendous turmoil in churches that were previously regarded as stalwarts. Just last year we watched in fascination as the Episcopal church threatened to implode over the elevation of an openly gay bishop. Had the church paid attention to its own doctrines over the centuries, it never would have reached this point. The question of gays - or even women - in the priesthood should never even have been subject to debate.

Every so often the Pope issues statements on topics ranging from abortion to celibacy in the priesthood. Agree or disagree with him, he's been consistent on those topics from the first days of his administration. With approximately one billion members worldwide, he can ill afford to have basic tenets of the church become subjects of open debate. He lays down the law and expects Catholics everywhere to obey those laws.

Those churches who have allowed such debate have seen tremendous struggles as they have evolved through societal changes and pressures. This lack of consistency is mirrored in the struggles their members have in dealing with those same pressures. Abortion, for example, ought to be a "no brainer" for orthodox Christianity. The sanctity of human life, even developing human life, is basic to our beliefs. Abortion, therefore, becomes an option only in extreme cases. Same sex marriage would be unacceptable upon careful examination of scripture because of statements made regarding homosexuality.

One of my own earliest posts pointed out the problems with what I call "designer scriptures" that have appeared recently. Statements by the "translators" made it clear that if enough people asked for it, changes would be made to accomodate their "needs."

Call me old fashioned (or, better yet, right-wing zealot), but I suspect that if the Lord had wanted such changes made to the scriptures, He would have dictated them that way in the first place. Rather than seemingly make eternal rewards easier to obtain, we should be helped to understand that those rewards are based on a lifetime of adherence to principles that never change.

I veer sharply from Hugh's path here. Adaptability is not what we truly need in our churches today. Consistency and conformity with eternal law are what we need. A return to the teachings of the Savior in their purest form is what we need.

We need it now more than ever.

UPDATE: Cameron at Way Off Bass correctly points out that some change is desirable, even necessary. We both agree, however, that such changes can only be administrative, not doctrinal. That's why the LDS Church will never have drum kits in their services. That's also why I spend so many hours at the church building on any given Sunday, instead of spreading my time out through the entire week as in years past. Life evolves and how we use our time will certainly evolve. The central tenets of religion, on the other hand, simply cannot.

UPDATE II: Mark Hansen over at Mo' Boy Blog picks up the thread. Good reading. Does a good job of defining the different kinds of change one could (and should) expect in a religious setting.

Friday, February 04, 2005

#144 - "Toys" for Attendance

Attendance at Los Angeles Unified schools has apparently gotten so bad, they're resorting to bribery to get kids to show up.

Heard this morning on local CBS affilliate KNX newsradio, the Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to award a Toyota to a "deserving student," defined as one who either shows markedly improved or outstanding attendance this year. Toyota, smelling a public relations coup, I'm sure, donated the vehicle to this worthy cause.

Time will tell what, if any, effect this raffle will have on the kids.

There's a commercial I dearly love. This is saying something because I detest most of them, but this one never fails to get a chuckle out of me. A dad is seen trying various ways to wake up his sleepy son in an attempt to get him out there fighting for those big scholarships. You may have seen this one. Dad is shown vacuuming the kid's room at some unearthly hour of the morning, blasting an air horn, and letting a squirrel loose. He then sends the kid off to school with the squirrel clinging leech-like to the kid's back. I laugh because I can easily envision my own parents trying stunts like that when I was a kid.

It also points out - in a more or less extreme way - that motivation of kids properly begins at home. Educators can do their best to keep education exciting and fresh for their students, but it begins (and should be perpetuated) at home.

The Toyota is, of course, a very large carrot dangling off of a very short stick. Unless they've decided to take every school's valedictorians and honor students out of the running, it's very possible that the car will be awarded to someone who is already (and probably always has been) attending school at or very near 100%. What motivation would that be to someone who has an honest desire to go to school but just can't get excited about facing another dreary day in the classroom? Let's assume such a kid decides that he or she would really like a new set of wheels. They put all that effort into improving their attendance, only to have the car awarded to someone who represents the school on the academic decathlon team. Bang goes another balloon in that kid's life.

I suspect, Mr. Romer, that most of your truant students are far too jaded to let a little thing like a new Toyota put their butts in a classroom chair any time soon. In fact, those who have found imaginative outlets for their energies are probably already driving something far racier than a stock Toy off the lot.

Mr. Romer either doesn't get it or can't do anything about it. Education needs to be its own reward. If the kids aren't seeing it that way, you need to do something about the perception. Lotteries that carry with them crushing disappointment for a large number of students aren't the way to go. Find ways to help parents get their kids out of the gang mentality. Make education more interesting. Cash in that Toyota and pay for another teacher. Whatever it takes, make it a practical approach with an exciting end result. For all students, not just the one that won the door prize.

Romer's strengths need to be in quality education, not bad marketing.

UPDATE: Welcome to Joanne Jacobs readers. Joanne teases me about bullying the Woodyettes. Hopefully I set her straight. ;-)