Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Should Christians Follow the Bible or Jesus?

I used to think that the whole Bible was put together to be a complete guide for us. I taught this same view to many others over the years. Sure, I still highly value all Scripture. In particular, the Old Testament has significant insights into God and human nature, tremendous and rich history, a huge volume of examples and "non-examples" of what to say and do, and foundational context to understand the New Testament. But I simply don't think I can support seeing it as a source of direction and authority for how Christians are to live.

With some simple church friends, we recently took a journey through the Old Testament, tracing the story of the Hebrews throughout the centuries. My daughter is working on a website that chronicles some of the lessons from this time that we all spent together. To say that the Old Testament is not important to me or my family would be grossly mischaracterizing what I am saying about Scripture. It is an essential narrative to His-story. is not essential for salvation. It is not essential to know how to follow Jesus. It is not essential for obedience to Christ, nor is it a pathway for life for the believer. The genuine follower today needs only to be obsessed with one thing - Jesus of Nazareth!

If I had to choose between my daughter knowing all the laws and commands of Moses and Israelite history inside and out, or knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, it would be a no-brainer! (1 Corinthians 2)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Grades Gotta Go! (part 1)

All right, here we go!

Not much has changed about grading over the decades since this observation was made by Paul Dressel

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post listing some of the fundamental shifts in public education that could make dramatic improvements for children. One of them was:

  • From Giving grades (that generally offer no information on how to improve) to Providing feedback (that feeds forward to further learning)

In the next series of posts that come out on Mondays (my day for focusing on Education reform), I will unpack this idea of transitioning from Grades to Feedback.

Concepts we will address include:
  • Purpose of Grades
  • Problem with the 100-point Scale
  • Student Choice and Assessments
  • Connection Between Grades and Learning Targets
  • Problems with Grading 'Practice'
  • Benefits of Specific, Actionable Feedback

Here are some experts and educational reformers that have influenced me when it comes to this topic:  (not an exhaustive list)

There are few topics in education that are more controversial and more volatile than this one. I invite you to read with an open mind and I welcome your comments of support and challenge, of agreement and disagreement. We may have more questions than answers when we are done (as if we will ever be done with this discussion!), but it is worth discussing as we pursue to make the world of school a much greater place for all children.

To introduce this topic, I will leave you today with this video:

Here is an interesting blog post on this topic.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Baby Step: In Case You Ever Have to Make That Call

Admittedly, this post is not all that romantic for being posted right after Valentine's Day. But hey, just be glad I am not writing about all the forced labor that was probably used to produce most of the chocolate we ate on Valentine's Day!

What I do want to share quickly is one of the "baby steps" anyone can take to help make a difference. Simply enter the National Human Trafficking Hotline phone number into your contacts. That way you will always have it if you ever need it. Then, hope you will never need it.

It only takes a few seconds. Above is a screen shot of my phone. 

The number is 888-373-7888.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kids in the Kingdom

Since the point of this blog is to explore ways to impact the next generation by radically reforming the institutions of public education and the organized church, the main question that I hope to keep always before me is, What is best for kids?

To answer this question, we need to consider children as whole people that have spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and social dimensions. You can check out my "Faith Like a Child" series on this blog to see what the Bible says about the spiritual capacity of children.

Here are those posts:
Faith Like a Child (part 1)
Faith Like a Child (part 2)
Faith Like a Child (part 3)
Faith Like a Child (part 4)
Faith Like a Child (part 5)
Faith Like a Child (part 6)
Faith Like a Child (part 7)

It is important to us that disciples of all ages can fully participate in the mission. Therefore, it is critical that children understand the essentials of our practices without "watering down" their meaning and power.

A child does not receive a "junior-sized" Holy Spirit, but the Bible teaches that children have tremendous spiritual insight and often receive profound Kingdom truths more easily than adults. Simultaneously, a child's human development requires that the gospel is presented in its simplest form in terms of the language and imagery we use. Therefore, we process our core practices in "kid-friendly" terms because we want to pass on essential truths to the next generation form the earliest moments possible.

Here are the child-friendly, essential truths of our mission (what we call our "Cores for Kids"):

  • Jesus teaches us that praying helps us get close to God!
  • Jesus teaches us that we can worship God by doing good everywhere we go!
  • Jesus teaches us that baptism is a way we can show we want to follow Him with our whole heart!
  • Jesus teaches us to obey Him and be like Him by loving God and others!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Did I Forget to Remind Myself?

My last education-related post dealt with memory. 

Dr. Judy Willis
This week I want to quickly recommend another expert in the area of learning and the brain: Dr. Judy WillisI encourage you to check out her "Top 10" list on "How to be Your Child's Memory Coach". Her book, Learning to Love Math, was a terrific resource that impacted my teaching when I was in the classroom. I explicitly taught my students some of the concepts I learned in the book. You can read the Introduction and first chapter here.

Last time I wrote about the fact that the brain looks for patterns or relationships among the bits of information coming in to the brain. The truth is that so much stimuli is bombarding the human brain every second. The only way we can function is for the brain to instantly be able to filter all this incoming data. Dr. Willis talks about the parts of the brain responsible for that filtering process. Again, I want to stress that this is a part of normal human functioning. The brain must filter out boring, non-essential, un-emotional, irrelevant pieces of information for survival and thriving. The brain cannot and will not pay attention to such things.

It probably wouldn't hurt for us to slow down in our schools and reflect on that simple truth. How does this reality affect our practice? How do we get beyond theory?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

One Step at a Time

I have to confess that I am totally overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem of human trafficking in our world. There are enough statistics and stories to make my head spin. On top of that, the organizations and efforts to fight against it are too numerous to keep up with, as well. How in the world can I know which is most effective? Most efficient? Operating with the most integrity?

In the early stages of learning about the human tragedy of modern day slavery, I have encountered new vocabulary and acronyms, data I don't even know how to process, and places I didn't even know existed. 

It is easy to feel like there is just too much out there. It is easy to throw my hands up and believe I cannot make a difference. I mean, really, this vile practice of enslaving humans is more prevalent now than at any time in our recent history, possibly ever. 

Who am I to change that?

To call this discouraging is the understatement of the century. It is unfathomable that we find ourselves facing this mess.

So I am left confronted with the reality that I don't know the best way to overcome it, which leads to a question. If I don't know the best way to fix a problem, do I ignore the problem? 

Justin Dillon
Founder of "Made in a Free World"
Fortunately, I attended the Free Austin Summit last October and heard Justin Dillon speak. Dillon reminded me (and everyone there) to not get misled into allowing "perfect" to be the enemy of good. Just because I cannot do something perfectly does not prohibit me from doing good, no matter how small.

Thank God! Because I need manageable, realistic steps that I can take. 

A step like writing a blog post. 

A step like attending an Allies meeting.

A step like using an App. (and then telling others about it)

A step like reading an article online. 

A step like making a donation.

A step like sharing a hotline number.

A step like buying a Fair Trade product.

And I am writing this because I am betting that there is someone who will read this that is just like me. Someone who does better taking baby steps in the right direction then trying to run as fast as you can in every direction. And I feel like this is a cause in which direction is more important than pace.

Don't get me wrong. If there is any issue that demands a sense of urgency, it is this one! 
Still, I don't want to get so caught up with trying to move so fast that I don't move at all.

So, for now, I will work on little steps. More importantly, I will share those little steps with others because I can't help but think that many of us taking little steps in the same direction is much more powerful than one person trying to take a leap by himself.

It is with this perspective that I invite you to read (even subscribe!) and share these blog posts that are associated with this topic. They usually come out on my blog on the weekends. (Mondays and Wednesdays tend to focus on reform in education and reform in the church, respectively.)

In these weekend posts, I will share some of the simple steps I am learning about.

Maybe we can walk together.

(Be ready for a simple step next week.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Teaching (Core Practice #4)

Intro Note: I have already written about our Plan on a Page, which lays out the four core practices that we consider the marks of discipleship according to the New Testament. In that document, we try to capture the "irreducible minimum standards" of our mission. 

Basically, I contend that there are many things you could not do and still be a Christian, or follower of Jesus. For example, you could not "go to church" or participate in a youth group or listen to Christian radio stations or become a missionary in a foreign land or tithe or...okay, you get it...and yet still be an authentic, sincere, passionate follower of Jesus. These examples may all be good things, but they are not the marks of true discipleship that Jesus gives us in the Bible. They are not the "make-or-break", non-negotiables of the Christian faith used to identify people as real believers.

Then, what are the non-negotiables?

The fourth and final one is TEACHING.

 If we are going to call ourselves disciples, then we must respond to the Great Commission, which calls us to teach new disciples everything that Jesus has commanded us. Discipleship is holding to these teachings. There is a long list of things we could teach each other that would be helpful in our faith, but Jesus has a special way of boiling it all down to the absolute most important teachings. He also makes it clear in Scripture how the world will be able to tell if we are truly His disciples.

Ultimately, everything comes down to obeying Jesus' command to love. This is the greatest command for us to obey. Obedience is expressed through the fruit of the Spirit and leads to freedom.

What is critical to teach children is that being a disciple means obeying and acting like Jesus, especially by loving God and loving others

The guiding question for a disciple or church could be, Are people being set free and becoming more like Jesus?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Remember How to Remember

Let's face an obvious truth in education.
You can't learn what you can't remember
You can't reflect on what you can't remember
You can't apply what you can't remember

The prerequisite to being able to comprehend, analyze, evaluate, categorize, debate, or carry out any kind of higher-order thinking process is to first simply recall the information. 

Therefore, one of the critical pieces to learning is memory.

Fortunately, we now have an entire field devoted to the neuroscience of memory. We are able to identify practices that improve memory and those that hinder, or even prevent, it.
In fact, a great example of what we are learning on this topic can be found in a webinar from EdWeb, presented by Sandra Aamodt.

One of the discoveries about memory that makes a lot of sense is the realization that teaching concepts in isolation of other concepts is a sure fire way to keep kids from remembering them. The brain naturally looks for patterns and relationships among pieces of information. Retention always increases when facts are learned in context and when they are connected to one another.

In fact, according to Dr. Aamodt, all learning is "re-learning" in a way because of how the brain organizes information each time it processes it. When the brain does not see the relevance to future activity or a connection to previous learning, it does not see the value in retaining the new teaching despite how fabulous a presentation might have been given in introducing the concept. The brain will simply dump the information.

This is not a matter of weak willpower, negative attitudes, poor classroom management, student irresponsibility, or any other fault of the teacher or student. It is neuroscience. It is how our brains work! 

It is, therefore, problematic that we often teach a ridiculously overwhelming amount of content in our schools and don't allow the time and space for the brain to make connections and organize the information properly for later retention. It is also disturbing when we then blame students' lack of studying and label them as "not caring" when they cannot recall all this information on tests and assignments.

Are some students irresponsible? 
Do some students refuse to study, which leads to poor academic achievement? 
Of course. 

However, if we are going to be professionally honest, then we have to face the fact that it is equally irresponsible on our part as educators to ignore the reality of brain functioning when it comes to academic performance!

Perhaps our starting point should be to focus on the teaching/learning process itself. How do the things we have control over in our system affect memory?

If we know that what we do makes a difference in what and how children remember, then at what point does it become a form of systemic, professionally endorsed "child neglect" if it does not change our scope and sequence, assessment practices, and instruction?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Problems with Comments?

I am sorry, but I have heard that some people are having trouble leaving comments on my blog. I have two quick favors to ask anyone who is willing.

One, if you have tried to comment on my blog and it has not worked, then will you e-mail me at Tell me what happened. Did you get a confirmation? Did it say it was awaiting moderation? Anything?

Two, if you have never tried to comment on my blog, then will you take a moment to try commenting in response to this post? It can be anything, even just saying "hi".

I would like to get these kinks worked out, and I apologize for the glitches.

Thanks so much,

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why the Golden Rule is Key to Freedom

I could pretend to be really smart and try to write about the topics to which I am going to refer here, but it is much better and easier to just defer to people who can articulate it better. That being said, for those interested, check out these two articles.

In short, the Iron Rule is about might. Bigger and stronger rules over smaller and weaker. The Silver Rule is a negative principle. It says, "Do not do unto others what you would not want them to do to you." It operates on the principle of reciprocity, and is the basis for much of the law in our society.

The Iron Rule can keep people in bondage. The Silver Rule is a step up because it at least says that we should not enslave others. However, neither of these rules prompt us to "set the captives free" if there is no harm to us.

The Golden Rule is set apart as a positively stated directive. It tells each of us to do to/for others what we would want done to/for us. Jesus issues the Golden Rule to dictate how we live because it is the rule of Love, not the rule of law. Ultimately, it requires His divine love to set people free, spiritually and physically. 

This concept of the "three rules" ties in directly with the issues related to modern day slavery because it is hard to see that we are in any way complicit in the problem. We are distanced from the anguish of human trafficking and forced labor by supply chains, business practices, policies, underground activities (even in our own backyard), and other factors. 

I know I am. 

Sometimes, it makes doing the right thing even more challenging. 

It is so uncomfortable. It is so inconvenient.

It is so Jesus

So, I pray that it will become so me.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Baptizing (Core Practice #3)

Intro Note: I have already written about our Plan on a Page, which lays out the four core practices that we consider the marks of discipleship according to the New Testament. In that document, we try to capture the "irreducible minimum standards" of our mission. 

Basically, I contend that there are many things you could not do and still be a Christian, or follower of Jesus. For example, you could not "go to church" or participate in a youth group or listen to Christian radio stations or become a missionary in a foreign land or tithe or...okay, you get it...and yet still be an authentic, sincere, passionate follower of Jesus. These examples may all be good things, but they are not the marks of true discipleship that Jesus gives us in the Bible. They are not the "make-or-break", non-negotiables of the Christian faith used to identify people as real believers.

Then, what are the non-negotiables?

The third one is BAPTIZING.

Let me start this one with what we teach children. We are baptized as a way of showing we understand that Jesus died and rose back to life to wash away our sins and give us power to live a new way of following Him. I respect that this is a topic about which parents can have strong feelings.

Baptism is one of the topics that has challenged me as I read through the New Testament objectively. It is possible to defend just about any position concerning baptism, depending on which verse people quote and what context they use it in. I am not going to dive into that debate here. Simply, we define this practice as uniting with Jesus in a new life.

Regardless of what you believe about baptism, there is no way to dismiss the significance of this act in the New Testament. The early church's immediate and automatic response to the gospel was baptism

Anyone who encountered Jesus could be baptized and baptize others.

I want to be clear that I am not saying that going into water is what "saves" a person, but I also can't dismiss the obvious importance of baptism as evidenced by the repeated emphasis on it throughout the New Testament. I just have to re-state it again: The early church's immediate and automatic response to the gospel was baptism. It was the Bible's equivalent to what the "sinner's prayer" or "altar call" has become in our part of the world over the past two centuries.

The guiding question for a disciple or church could be, Are we bringing people to salvation in Christ?

My wife baptizing me

(You can read my baptism story here.)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Project-based Learning - The Challenge to Getting There

I have become interested in the concepts behind project-based learning, or problem-based learning. Some people use the terms interchangeably, while others object to doing so. I don't want to get into that semantic debate. For me, the simple point is that anything that gets us away from the traditional model of dumping a bunch of information on kids to have them later regurgitate that information back to us on a test is a good thing.

It might be messy and imperfect. There even may be some pedagogical flaws along the way, but the need to approach instruction from a more learner-centered, discovery-oriented, critical, questioning manner is so apparent in our present day. Having kids memorize a bunch of content for their brains to recall in the short-term and then dump so it can move on to the next load of content just won't cut it anymore. (And btw, make no mistake, that is what our brains do.) Students can access that kind of information at the click of a mouse.

But what they can't do in an instant is reflect, problem-solve, manipulate data, and struggle with concepts. These things take time and interaction, and should be the focus of schooling.

The problem is that we know these things have to change, but teachers often feel trapped in an outdated system with outdated metrics. Many teachers would like to transform their classroom practices, but they don't feel they have the freedom to do something new. At least, this is my perception.

I wonder if most teachers feel this way. I would love to better understand the dilemma that teachers face as they attempt to do what is best for kids.

Teachers are left disillusioned and frustrated. 

How can we change the system to encourage, not discourage, risk-taking, innovation, and learner engagement?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What is More Romantic Than Freedom in February?

I am sorry that I really don't have a blog post about Valentine's Day at this time of year.

Truthfully, my title for this post is intentionally deceptive because I really don't have anything to say about romance at all. However, there is quite a bit to say about FREEDOM this month in the city of Austin!

And who knows? Maybe helping survivors of human trafficking can bring a sense of closeness and bonding like you've never had before with your loved one. Okay, enough of that mushy gobbley-gook. 

This month is the perfect time to check out the activities of an organization called Allies Against Slavery right here in Austin.

There is something for everyone, whether you like riding bikes, watching a movie, or learning things on a college campus. (See, these could all be romantic things. Just sayin'.)

Go to this page to find out about all the cool stuff going on in February and how you can be a part of it.

If you are interested in going to the next Allies meeting on Tuesday, February 25th, 6-7:30 pm at Space12, then let me know by commenting on this blog or sending me an e-mail at