Real Education: Ability Varies

March 16, 2010

Reprinted from my previous and now defunct blog…

How does our society deal with controversial ideas? For too many, the first reaction (regardless of our place on the ideological spectrum) tends to be to label those with whom we disagree in order to cast them in the worst possible light. If the ideas of those we disagree with happens to have empirical backing, another successful strategy is to simply ignore their arguments. A great example of this is Charles Murray’s book Real Education. I initially hesitated to pick up this book because of memories of intellectual pressure from my college days: The Bell Curve (which he co-authored) was reportedly the work of a reactionary, and by extension anyone who read and engaged the ideas in a work by such an author was guilty by association.

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Surprised by Hope and a few other things

March 11, 2010

Over the past month in my limited free time I have been working my way through N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope. This is the first thing by Wright that I have read, and I was quite impressed. The primary theme of the book is examining the ramifications of the Christian doctrine of resurrection. Wright defends a Biblical understanding of the resurrection and debunks a lot of popular misunderstandings in the process. Given that I am currently a student in the academy, I found these arguments particularly pressing. There is a great deal of concern and consternation amongst post-modern thinkers regarding living “embodied” lives, or recognizing that as human beings our lives are situated within our physical bodies living in a physical reality. In many ways this aspect of post-modernism is a reaction against a dualistic split between a disembodied soul and physical body which is more characteristic of Platonic thought than orthodox Christianity. In this sense, Christians have something real to say to our culture on this issue: material reality and physicality are not evil (as Gnostics would claim), but are at the center of our vision of eternity, which will be both embodied and physical. I would agree with Wright that having a proper view of the Resurrection of Christ is essential for living our day to day lives with balance and purpose. This world is not simply filled with cannon-fodder for Armageddon, for us to use and abuse in anticipation of the Earth’s final destruction. Instead, anything done for God in this world, to quote a popular movie, will echo in eternity…an eternity of embodied life in which heaven and earth are joined.

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Hidden Medieval Symbolism in Narnia

March 5, 2010

Recently, I discussed how in The Discarded Image, C.S. Lewis elaborates on how Medieval cosmology exerted a profound creative influence on Medieval and Renaissance literature. Lewis worried that the creative aesthetic spark of this worldview had been lost in a utilitarian modern culture. It should not be a surprise that Lewis would incorporate elements of the Medieval worldview, which was both his academic specialty and passion, into his fantasy novels. Yet as Michael Ward points out in his book Planet Narnia, this aspect of Lewis’s work went unnoticed for decades and is only now beginning to be explored.

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The Discarded Image…or is it? – Part One

February 24, 2010

In preparation for a class assignment I recently had a chance to revisit The Discarded Image, one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis.  Different in tone and substance from much of his other writings, it is a series of lectures on the Medieval worldview drawn from his lectures on Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford University.

One of my primary interests in the book is the aesthetic beauty of an outmoded view of creation, the “discarded image” of the title. Lewis’s description of the geocentric model is a stunning tour-de-force which invites the reader to truly understand how people viewed the world in a bygone culture. Drawn from classical sources such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, and passed on by early Medievals such as Lucan and particularly Boetheus, the model was appropriated by the Christian church, grafted into Biblical interpretation, and served as a foundational cosmology for nearly a millenium.  Most literate adults are most familiar with a version of this model from Dante, but Lewis presents a portait that encompasses a vast swath of literature and poetry.  This view of the universe did not only influence the imagination of the past, but has continued to provide influence for composers (such as Orff’s Carmina Burana) and writers such as Tolkein, Lewis’s own Narnia series, and even arguably for more recent fantasy writers such as Rowling. It is a universe filled with light, intelligence, and love.  It is one of the most detailed, rational, and internally coherent cosmologies ever constructed. 

And of course, it was wrong. 

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Book Review: Smart Kids, Bad Schools

January 30, 2010

Here’s a book review that I first posted on my “old” blog back in 2008 for starters.  The book has an authentic perspective on the real frustrations of attempting to maintain a sense of professionalism as an educator.

Brian Crosby has been in the “trenches” of the education system for a long time. As a twenty-year veteran of the Los Angeles school system and a National Board Certified teacher, Mr. Crosby brings a bluntly honest perspective to the topic of education reform in his latest book, Smart Kids, Bad Schools: 38 Ways to Save America’s Future.

Mr. Crosby’s book contains a little bit of something to offend everybody. This is a good thing when dealing with a system as entrenched and archaic as the public education system. His book is literally packed with ideas on ways to make the school system work better, such as creating career ladders for teachers, curtailing the power of teachers unions, modeling administration training on MBA programs, increasing vocational education, and near and dear to my heart, mandating arts education.

Smart Kids is at its best, however, when Mr. Crosby tackles all the little indignities which pile up on teachers to destroy their sense of professionalism. His blood truly boils as he describes the “Sweatshop Schoolhouse”. Anyone who has ever worked in a public school will immediately sympathize with his description of buildings and schedules which are nearly indistinguishable from prisons, teachers denied keys to their own offices (classrooms…as if most teachers had an office!), and administrators who take meticulous roll at faculty meetings but never visit classrooms. In what other profession do adults with masters degrees need to ask permission to use the bathroom? What other profession asks employees to put in countless hours of overtime without financial remuneration? Mr. Crosby hits the nail on the head as he describes the lack of trust afforded classroom teachers by administrators, and the lack of respect given by parents and communities.

Those who have never taught yet think that teaching is an “easy” job with great perks and benefits owe it to themselves to read books such as Mr. Crosby’s Smart Kids, or his first book, The $100,000 Teacher. The stark reality of what teachers face every day can truly be a shock for those who have never stood on the teacher’s end of the desk. If we are ever to truly reform our educational system to provide students with the opportunities they deserve, we need more brave educators like Brian Crosby to stand up and be honest about the failings of our system.