Monday, January 23, 2012

Shaping a Culture in Education

"There are many initiatives, policies, and programs that come and go in education, and to be honest, I have found most of them to be thoroughly uninspiring." This is the sentiment I conveyed to a crowd of parents (mostly dads) and students at a school event last year, and I still stand by it. The objective of adding a program or tweaking a policy is just too shallow for what is needed in schools. My purpose is to shape a culture.

For example, my vision for bringing WatchD.O.G.S. to my campus was not to add another program or give us another feather to stick in our hat. No, I wanted to observe a day when dads talk to one another differently at our school football games, and when people associated with our school see each other in the marketplace and have conversations they never had before. Thankfully, that is what happened. When stakeholders have conversations about volunteering, engagement, and campus culture in a way that no one talked before, then it is a sign that something is changing, of a "culture shift."

As a program, I will admit that we have not maintained WatchD.O.G.S. as well as we could have. However, the effects on our school culture are still evident. Some fathers are more engaged (both at our campus and with their high schoolers that have moved on). Our PTA President is a man, which bucks a stereotype at the middle school level. The site-based team has more parental involvement, including men. (Now, if we could just get the PTA at my daughter's school to stop "bedazzling" all their school shirts with sequins, jewels, and all that other stuff!) 

Important questions remain. Currently, our campus leadership is left pondering how much we really value parental engagement. Is it something we really want, or just something we say we want? Even that single question represents a culture-shift because administrators and teachers are left wrestling with what is best for students in ways they weren't before.

So am I. I love that our mantra in Leander ISD is "continuous improvement" because it is exactly what I need in my personal and professional life. As an educator, I want to find creative ways to engage the community in our children's education. As a dad, I want the same thing!

I am working to be more open to "out of the box" ideas in this area. WatchD.O.G.S. was a good step for me, and I am excited to see what this challenge evolves into next.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Even a Wrong Ron Paul is Right for America (part 4 - conclusion)

(The final point about Ron Paul...for now.)
·         He inspires because he knows how to agitate.
There comes a time when a person taking on the negative effects of monstrous institutionalism must "make waves" enough to rock the boat so everyone on its deck can feel the effect. There is simply no way around it. Paul, himself, is aware of this role. "The purpose of the agitator is to change people's opinion so that great and significant social change can be achieved" (page 263, LD). In the spirit of John Wycliffe1, Anne Hutchinson2, Jeremiah Moore3, and Martin Luther King, Jr.4, we find Ron Paul carrying a banner for individual liberties – our freedoms, our unalienable rights.

History recognizes truth about great agitators that many of their contemporaries missed at the time. In fact, the common and necessary prerequisite for bringing about revolution is being dismissed (or suffering a worse fate) by the established hierarchy of the day. I believe this will be so for Ron Paul, as well. Despite the ridicule and name-calling from the professional political insiders, the future will unveil a movement riding the momentum championed by this one Congressman. (This reality is already coming to light in the polling of 18-29 year-old voters.)

I am reminded of an observation made by William James, "A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous and then dismissed as trivial, until finally, it becomes what everybody knows." To me, it is a fascinating exercise to wonder if Ron Paul's Liberterian principles could progress in this way. Take the most villified positions that Paul has, and consider what a world would look like if they were to come to fruition.

Can you imagine an America with legalized marijuana?
Can you picture closed military bases scattered throughout the world with most of our soldiers at home?
Can you think of the Federal Reserve only existing in American history textbooks?

What about a world in which individuals are expected to actually take responsibility for their own actions as they live in freedom?
It is hard imagining these things in place when, right now, it is difficult to even see a day when the federal government actually means cut in the phrase "spending cut."
In the end, I find Ron Paul intriguing. He has caused me to think more than any other candidate. That may not be as much of an indictment against other candidates as it is a glimpse into where I am in my life now. I am at a point where I see that unanswered questions are often much less dangerous than unquestioned answers. Paul's book drove home this point with brief factual, verifiable accounts of how some of our governmental policies and programs came into being. When one is able to look at the historical record of how something was done, it becomes much easier to see how the world would go on just fine if it was undone.
Before reading Liberty Defined, I took certain parts of our U. S. "system" for granted and assumed "that's the way it has to be." Now, I realize that is just not so. The most incredible revelation for me is that it really isn't all that complicated. It does require educated, informed citizens, a relentless, consistent effort, and the will of the people to improve our current state. And one more thing, a truck load of common sense.
I still have much to learn. There are beliefs and positions of all the candidates left to explore. Politics is an ugly mess, and while I've painted a positive picture of Ron Paul in these posts, I admit that he is a politician. I wouldn't characterize him as an "insider," but his campaign participates in its share of negative ads and mudslinging. In my humble opinion, the more he stays above that kind of behavior, the better.
I wouldn't quite say that I have drunk the Ron Paul kool-aid yet, but I have definitely poured a cup and even snuck a sip or two. Honestly, it tastes better than I expected; surprisingly so. The simple and undeniable truth is that he is bringing up issues that need to be discussed. He is shining the light on things that remain hidden by those in power for too long. His absence from this primary process would create a vacuum that would not be beneficial for all of us.
Even if you, like my friend, label Ron Paul as wrong, for the place we find ourselves economically, socially, internationally, and historically, even a wrong Ron Paul is right for America!

1 Wycliffe was called “wretched” and “son of the old serpent” by Catholic church leadership for his efforts in translating the Bible into the common language of his people.
2 Early 17th century Puritan who was put on trial and punished without ever getting a sufficient answer to her question, “What have I done wrong?”
3 Moore was arrested and told to “lie in jail until you rot” for converting to become a Baptist only a few years before the American war for indiependence.
4 Criticized by fellow clergy for actions that were labeled "unwise and untimely" while leading the change for social justice.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Being Discipled by a Dead Man

I am going to do with this post what pastors and Christians are usually so guilty of doing. I am going to share some thoughts that I found very profound in the writings of Oswald Chambers. Rather than allow them to keep penetrating my own heart and renew my mind, I will now carry out that respected and popular practice of using that information to hopefully change other people. These come from Daily Thoughts for Disciples (a compilation of excerpts from some of his works).

(from Jan. 5) "The things that keep us back from God's best are not sin and imperfection, but the things that are right and good and noble from the natural standpoint."

(from Jan. 8) "The sign that the Holy Spirit is in us is that we realize, not that we are full, but that we are empty; there is a sense of absolute need."

(from Jan. 9) "If we say, 'I am going to believe He will put things right,' we shall lose our confidence when we see things go wrong."..."Our Lord's word believe does not refer to an intellectual act, but to a moral act; with our Lord to believe means to commit."

Wow! Lots of hard-hitting things to think about. If I ponder them too long, I end up questioning my own beliefs and level of commitment. So, it is easier to just throw them out there for others to reflect on.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What a Great Day!

My nephew was born just a few hours ago, and today is my wife's birthday. What an amazing reminder today is of God's grace and creativity in our world! It is also a powerful motivator to keep this call alive to see HOW MUCH GREATER we can make the world for our children.

Lord, thank You for life. Thank You for Your incredible design and beauty. Despite what we have done to waste and ruin so much, You still shine brightly in Your brilliance! Use the new beginnings of today to radically reform Your creation. Amen.

Happy birthday Sweetheart!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Even a Wrong Ron Paul is Right for America (part 3)

Another way that Ron Paul has challenged me, for which I am grateful...

  • I have courage to question my own beliefs.
Besides teaching me lessons, listening to Ron Paul has caused me to reflect on my own beliefs. It is interesting to hear conservatives evaluate this man, often praising his economic policy and dismissing, or mocking, his foreign policy. Actually, to be precise, the praise for his economic policy is often only lip service since I have not heard any other Republicans proposing real spending cuts anywhere close to his. They may want to reduce potential increases in the future, but Paul argues for actual cuts to current spending levels and dramatic shrinking of the federal government. Nonetheless, at least GOP folks give him a nod for his conservative ideals when it comes to the economy.

The other side of the coin is what I want to focus on here, though. Ron Paul's foreign policy, commonly described as "isolationism" by the pundits, is what one debate moderator called his "Achilles' heel." Personally, I have a good friend who uses words like "buffoon" and "idiot" when referring to the Texas Congressman because of his position on international conflicts and U.S. involvement. Most recently, Newt Gingrich called Paul's views "stunningly dangerous." Rick Santorum highlighted what he thinks Ron Paul would do on day one as Commander-in-chief in an attempt to sway voters away from him. Most roundtable discussions that I have seen on political talk shows simply dismiss Ron Paul by stating that no one takes him seriously.

Well, for a minute, let me risk being obnoxious enough to take him seriously. When I give Ron Paul's philosophy a chance, it raises many questions for me. For instance, when he contends, "We must recapture what it means to be free" (page 324, LD), I can't help but ponder the meaning of freedom. What does it mean to be free? Is freedom absolute? Does it mean one thing to be free in America and another thing to be free in Syria? Namibia? Venezuela? Norway? If it is something different, should it be? What does it mean for any man, woman, or child to be free? Who determines if a person is free? Who defines freedom?

Perhaps that concept is too abstract. Let's narrow the focus to foreign policy and national defense. Allow me to approach it from a significantly different angle than most people do. Instead of asking for the most strategic, or most secure, foreign policy, what if I, as a follower of Jesus, posed this provocative question: What is the most Christ-honoring foreign policy? It almost instantly reframes the entire concept, doesn't it? 

I have to be honest. Ron Paul's stance does scare me a little bit. He would claim that is because of the demagoguing and scare tactics of the media and politicians, and he could very well be right. They painted him as naive and out-of-touch, and I accepted that portrait. But now, I wrestle with these issues. He has given me courage, at least with myself for now, to ask tough questions in light of my faith.

Is a Spirit-ual approach that expresses love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to international relations possible? What does it look like in practice?

Who created the Israelis? Who created the Iranians? Who created the Palestinians? Who created the Libyans? And just whose side is that Creator on?

I am still of the opinion that there is a time for war. I am left with more questions than answers on this subject, and I am all right with that. Abraham Lincoln wrestled with the impossible challenge of figuring out whose side God was on in a time of war. He concluded that of two opposing sides, both may be wrong and one must be wrong. When it comes to claiming divine favor, I don't know that we have advanced much beyond that insight in the past 150 years.

(to be continued…)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In the Beginning...God Created

Last Sunday, our simple church group met at our house. The person facilitating our discussion and study was my 9 year-old daughter. She created a PowerPoint about creation. She asked us to read Scripture, showed pictures that she felt were good images to correspond with Genesis, and asked what questions we had. Her presentation led into much further conversation.

Sometimes, we mistakenly think that things in the church need to be so complicated that children can't understand them for them to be right. I think it must make us feel more "spiritual" or something. (I confess that we had that moment on Sunday as the adults immediately got into a discussion about creation versus evolution, as adults usually do. It wasn't until I realized that my daughter had left the room that it dawned on me that we had gotten off track. She wanted to remember and celebrate the awesomeness of God, but we wanted to debate "academic matters." More on that in another post??)

The truth found in Scripture, though, paints a vividly different picture. It is the children that hold the wisdom of God. It is the children who give praise to the Father even from infancy. On occasion, we are blessed when we simply let children lead the way to our Savior. After all, His kingdom belongs to them.

Developmentally, there are age-appropriate considerations to factor in when serving aside children in God's church. Spiritually, they might be light years ahead of us, but humanly speaking, they do have limitations in understanding and ability to communicate. However, even while taking this fact into account, it is still worth asking what the children can do to impact the world now. I have a hard time believing Jesus would have ever used the phrase, "church of tomorrow."

Keep in mind that the measure for us in the simple church is reproducibility. We know something is simple if it is easily reproducible. It is an essential part of spreading the gospel. A way to determine if a practice is reproducible is by asking, "Who else could do this?" If our answer leaves out children every time, then we might need to re-think our theology and mission. It could be a sign that we have missed it on both counts. If our kingdom only delegates the "cute" or "juvenile" things to young people, then maybe it is a substitute kingdom made by our intellect rather than God's power.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Three Reformations

As I was contemplating how to organize and better utilize this blog into something worth sharing with lots of people while staying true to myself, I think I have figured out a way to capture my mission in a simple concept. So, in a nutshell, I realize that I want to carry out three reformations with my life in an attempt to shape a better world for the next generation. Below is how this blog can serve as one vehicle toward that end. This format will start in February.

Reform Education with a focus on lifelong learning.
On Mondays, I will post on topics somehow related to teaching, learning, public schools, and more.

Reform the Church with a focus on disciple making.
On Wednesdays, I will center my attention on issues related to church reformation, Christianity, following God, spirituality, discipleship, beliefs and practices.

Reform Me with a focus on being more like Jesus.
The weekends will bring posts that deal with the most difficult component of reformation: reforming myself. Through a combination of personal and miscellaneous servings of what's on my mind and heart, I will write about a variety of possibilities. Prayer. Politics. Sports. Humor. Family. Motivation. Food. Health. Media. Motivation. History. Math. Science. Writing/Publishing. Parenting. Community. Human rights. 

Let the Reformation begin!  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Even a Wrong Ron Paul is Right for America (part 2)

·     Big government is necessary when we are afraid of ourselves.
Here is another lesson from "Professor" Paul.

I guess one could make a case that "big" anything (big church, business, government, etc.) is only necessary when we are afraid of ourselves. At one point in church history, even placing the Bible in the hands and language of ordinary people was an outrage to those with the power in the religious hierarchy. When institutional authority is granted (or taken by other means) to individuals or groups, they almost always find a way to abuse it. The establishment in Washington, DC is no different, except maybe somewhat worse. The irony is that the Founders suspected that human leadership could easily be corrupted or assume too much power. Their fear was directed toward the government (why they wanted it so limited). Now, it has been flipped. The federal government fears leaving anything up to normal citizens. Promoters of government interference are, as Paul writes, "convinced that average people can't and won't do what's in their best interest" (page 162, LD). Fortunately, despite the reliance on government programs by so many in our nation, I still see a growing number of people rising up to say, "Enough is enough!"

I see why this subject is so important in my own experience as a public school teacher. In education, the full effect of this mindset becomes clear. Eventually, people begin to only look for solutions that can be provided by the organization. They see everything through an institutional lens without even knowing its effect on their vision. Ultimately, we get more of the same. We notice a problem or challenge so we create a program or policy to fix it. The result - more paperwork completed, more time lost, and more money spent, with virtually no benefits to show for it. In fact, sometimes the problem is worse.

See, an unspoken, yet palpable, notion begins to take hold in the minds of those of us "inside" the system. We (the school) must show them (parents, students, community members) the right way of doing things. After all, (and here comes the total contradiction in full) we have the resources to make it happen and see it through. Very rarely does anyone point out that the "resources" we have are individual persons and their time, talents, and money. It is not the government doing something for them. It is the government telling them what to do with themselves. Whether it is education, welfare, business, energy use, etc., it is repeatedly shown to be inefficient and ineffective. I believe Dr. Paul would add immoral to the list. It stands in contrast to his recommendation of "the path of winning hearts and minds through education, first of the individual, and then of others through every way possible" (page 323, emphasis added). Instead, it is a recipe for "hope and change" through regulation and control, and it is driven by fear.

Fear of us!

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Even a Wrong Ron Paul is Right for America (part 1)

Never have I followed a political process more closely than the current Republican primary race. And never have I been more thankful for a politician than I am for Ron Paul. After watching all of the debates and forums up to this point, viewing countless “news” programs and biased political talk shows, listening to friends in casual conversations, visiting some candidates’ websites, and reading his book Liberty Defined, I realize that I owe a debt of gratitude to Ron Paul for his endurance in this campaign for the following reasons.

·     He is relentlessly consistent.
If one follows Ron Paul’s candidacy, it doesn’t take long to believe he or she possesses a psychic gift with the ability to predict Paul’s answer to almost any question when it is asked. His message is simple: individual liberties trump just about everything else. His positions are the same every time! One can sense a hint of reluctant awe from even his opponents and critics (conservatives and liberals alike) when it comes to his remarkably consistent record. Unlike any other popular political figure in recent years, he does not change a thing regardless of the date, location, audience, etc., even to his own detriment at times. No matter where he is, when it is, or whom he is with, everyone can expect – and get – the same Ron Paul. Without exception! (Just ask Jay Leno.)
The only way this degree of consistency is possible by being completely principle-driven, and it makes following him easy. Paul’s core convictions really do drive everything he says and does – his speeches, debates, and most importantly, votes. I am grateful for his principle-centered leadership for the obvious, refreshing reason that it is nice to see character instead of merely hearing people claim it and talk about it with superficial slogans. Furthermore, Paul uses his principles to teach. As an ordinary citizen, I am learning the following lessons (some for the second or third time, but it is good to be reminded).
·    Governments produce nothing. Solutions and goods come from people.
Sometimes I get so caught up in the debate over whether government supply is superior or inferior to private production that I lose sight of the fact tthat his is a false (not to mention misleading and dangerous) dichotomy in the first place. In reality, as Paul reiterates, “Anytime government provides a benefit, it must first steal it from someone else who is producing it” (page 70, LD). The government, or “public sector,” is an agent of re-organization and redistribution of the goods and services, including health care and education, which are actually supplied by ordinary people. Despite how anyone spins it, hard-working individuals, innovative businesses, and generous charities make up the backbone of this country. It is worth remembering that every dollar that goes to, or through, Washington, DC is someone else’s dollar, namely yours or mine. This reality does not change when a new party is in the White House or in control of Congress.
(to be continued…)

Monday, January 2, 2012

I Can't Believe I Just Said That to My Kid

Have you ever had that moment as a parent where something comes out of your mouth that you swore you would never say to your own children? You know, those things you heard from your own parents or teachers growing up, and thought to yourself, That's stupid. Why would any adult even say that?!

Mine is, "Because I said so." I committed to never say that to my own daughters because I always thought it was a cop out for a grown-up who didn't have a real reason to back up a nonsensical request. But now, sure enough, there I am in the middle of an exchange with one of my kids, and suddenly those dreaded words sneak past my lips and into that public domain where they can never be retrieved. I feel like I hear them after they come out of my mouth before I think to say them in the first place. I know that's impossible, but it is this denial that I live in until I discover another deep-rooted psychological explanation to answer why I would do that. In fact, after I catch myself exclaiming that rather immature comment that should be relegated to the same category as "I'm rubber, you're glue..." or "I know you are, but what am I?", I am momentarily paralyzed as I fear revocation of my parenting license. Not even so much because of the fear, but the awareness that I would deserve such a fate, my world moves in slow motion for a few seconds.

Then, suddenly, I regain my wits just in time to hear my daughter question again, "But, dad, why?" To which, I instantaneously search my brain for a reason - not even a good or fair one - anything that hints at rationality. When I come up empty a second time, the despicable phrase slides off my tongue again, this time with more volume and authority behind it. "Because I SAID SO!" After all, this time, I mean it!

Do you have a saying that your parent(s) used to say to you that you now catch yourself saying to your own children? Share it as a comment.

If you need some ideas, then watch this.