Saturday, September 24, 2011

Who Should Set Education Standards?

In a rare moment this morning, I read a newspaper article in which I found myself agreeing with President Barack Obama.  Today’s newspaper article notes how the President wants to give each individual state the ability to override the “No Child Left Behind” laws.  These laws, in place since President Bush signed them in 2002, mandate a federal requirement for individual student testing at the state level.  The standards are left (somewhat) to the states to create.  In essence, they require “bubble tests and dumbed-down standards that are based on arbitrary standards of proficiency” (not my words, but actual words from  A great deal of time is spent getting every student up to the same basic level of proficiency, often at the expense of exceptional students, who are not allowed to progress at a rate which matches their ability.  Said more succinctly, the system “dumbs down” education standards to a lower level, in the hope that every student will be deemed “successful”.  I have often called “No Child Left Behind” a misnomer for “No Child Allowed to Get Ahead”.

Without a doubt, every student is different.  And let’s face the fact that some students are more proficient than others.  A system should be tailored both to help the lagging, and simultaneously allow the proficient to advance at an accelerated rate.

”No Child” is one of the reasons that our family has been homeschooling for these past eight years.  At a time when our second child was going into first grade in public school, we consulted with the school principal and teachers, who told us that their goal was to get the other twenty-four students in his class to an identical level by the end of the school year – a level that our child had already achieved before classes had even begun.  Consequently, they proposed that our child would likely be put out in the hall during class time, armed with some “advanced” worksheets to work by himself (a story I love to recall when people tell me that public school is so much better for socialization than homeschooling!).  It’s just one more example of godly, well-intentioned public schoolteachers trying to do the right thing, but whose hands are tied by a federal mandate over which they have no control.  Our elementary school principal, in a God-ordained moment, actually recommended that we home educate all of our children.  In a leap of faith, we did just that, and we have looked on that day as a watershed moment in our family history.

I have attempted to find an exact measure of where the United States high-school ranking stood among developed countries in 2002 versus today, in an effort to see exactly how “No Child Left Behind” affected the relative quality of education.  I’m unable to find the comparison (so far).  I wonder if it is because no one wants to talk about it.  To be sure, US education in science and reading was scored as average this last year, and we received a “below average” in mathematics.  All of these are far worse than we were ranked when I was in public school.  Bottom line – the relative quality of US education is getting worse, not better.  Federal and state oversight is not succeeding.

Moving from a federal mandate on schooling to a state viewpoint is one thing.  I’m very much in favor of the idea of increased power at the state level on certain freedoms, and less from the federal viewpoint.  It invokes a spirit of creativity and competition – no state wants to be ranked “number 50” in any category.  But in my opinion, it still does not go far enough.  I am fully of the opinion that family-based education is the best way to ensure children receive the best and most directed method of instruction.  Wherever possible (and I realize that it is not an option for every family), homeschooling succeeds because it permits the low student-to-teacher-ratio, individual tailoring, and creative student adjustment required to bring students along at a pace that matches their abilities.  Moreover, as a Christian homeschooler, it allows my wife and I to positively teach God’s laws and ways as the fundamental underpinning, just as He commands in Deuteronomy 6:7-9, when we are told to “Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

In our eight-year journey, we have come more and more to the conclusion that neither the federal government nor the state government will have any influence over our children’s education.  Though our children are learning math, science and history, it is through the worldview lens that my wife and I choose for them, and the one that we believe God would have for their education.  Again, put in very simple terms, it is the parents who ultimately should have that authority.  And fortunately for us in the United States, we still do have that authority over our children, as homeschooling is still legal (and a growing movement) in this nation!  But I worry about the day when this option might be removed from us, and the concept of state-led or federal-led education are our only options.  Some countries have already adopted the stance that parents cannot determine what their children learn, and so have outlawed home education in favor of a state-led platform only.  Were that to ever happen in this country, I would fight it with all my being, to the point of leaving our country, if necessary.  The state will never have my children.  Again, fortunately, home education is on the rise in this nation, and the results have been nothing short of excellent.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

I haven’t subscribed to cable television since 1987. That is nearly twenty-five years of avoiding such programs as The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and…..well, I don’t know what, because I never watch cable (except when our family is traveling, and the kids like to watch Iron Chef in the hotel room). Part of the reason I’ve avoided cable is that I can’t bring myself to pay for television. But the biggest motive is that I can’t bring cable programming into my house with a clear conscience. I know this opinion is not shared by everyone, but I am grateful for the time it has given me to pursue other interests. And I am deeply thankful that my children are largely unfamiliar with what is presented by cable or satellite.

I can’t seem to escape from cable at the workplace, though. Our office installed television monitors in various locations a couple of years ago and leaves them tuned all day to news stations. Non-stop talking heads. Seemingly ignorant, arrogant, opinionated “newscasters” who scare up stories, state falsehoods without reservation, and give their mostly liberal opinions as if they were reporting fact. Chris Matthews is my least favorite. He can accuse George Bush of something with obvious venom and hatred, and two years later praise Barack Obama for his leadership when he does the very same thing. I sit there and wonder – “Does anybody else notice what I just saw? Does anybody care? What happened to the desire for truth and unbiased reporting?”

Over the last week, I’ve been amazed at the coverage of the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan. I know a little bit about nuclear power, and I did some study on the Japanese reactor design shortly after the accident. But what I saw from the newscasters and their guests was often incorrect, and there were several cases where two non-related facts were juxtaposed in order to make the situation appear much more dangerous than it really was - such as discussing the hydrogen explosions directly in conjunction with the need for a twenty-mile evacuation radius. These events are only loosely related – the hydrogen explosion was non-nuclear, and was largely expected when the engineers vented a buildup of gas in the reactor core, while the twenty-mile evacuation had to do with a future, possible safety zone in the event of a core meltdown. Though these items are unrelated in time and causality, the news channels made it seem as if they were directly related.

It was clear to me this week that the news channels and websites are not attempting to promote awareness or to disseminate facts. They have one major intent in mind – to promote fear and intrigue in the hearts of people who are watching or reading. And they do this so that ignorant people will come back blindly for more. No big revelation, I know, but the daily news is not about truth.

Here’s an example, with some basic questions. I refer to this article, written by the Associated Press. Some extracts:

1) The article opens with these words – “Japan tried high-pressure water cannons, fire trucks and even helicopters that dropped batches of seawater in increasingly frantic attempts Thursday to cool an overheated nuclear complex as U.S. officials warned the situation was deteriorating.” I have to point out the use of the phrase “increasingly frantic”. How exactly do the authors measure this? Aren’t Japanese officials just using every practical means at their disposal to be sure to get coolant to the core? Have the authors witnessed real panic in someone’s behavior? Is the dispatch of a helicopter made for transporting and dumping water on forest fires a “frantic” move? In this instance, shouldn’t those in charge be making quick decisions that more than compensate for the need? Is that frantic or overreactive? No, they should be doing everything possible – and I believe they are.

2) “Defense Minister Toshifumi Kitazawa told reporters that emergency workers had no choice but to try the water dumps before it was too late”. Okay, taken as-is, this sentence is probably true, but it is stated in such a way that it again implies desperation. If I were to drink a gallon of iced tea, I would have “no choice” but to go to the bathroom within an hour. But I go because it is a wise move and a natural result – I don’t say, “After drinking too much liquid, I had no choice but to go to the bathroom before it was too late.” Do you see the difference? The news sentence is written in the most distressed method possible, while still touching on the truth. It makes the reader worry and want to read more about the juicy details.

3) To restart the cooling pumps on-site, engineers were working to install a power cable over a mile-long. The article says this – “The interim power line would be a temporary but "reliable" way to cool down the reactors and storage pools, said Teruaki Kobayashi, a facilities management official at Tepco.” I ask – why is the single word “reliable” placed in quotes in this sentence? One reason – it casts doubt on the statement made – it’s as if the author is saying – “Yeah, right – reliable. Just like the generators were reliable when they shut down after the tsunami overtopped the containment wall.” Again, there are a couple of reasons to write this sentence in this odd way – to promote fear in the reader, and to cast doubt on those who are working “frantically” to prevent a worse situation.

4) “But experts said that anyone working close to the reactors was almost certainly being exposed to radiation levels that could, at least, give them much higher cancer risks. "I don't know any other way to say it, but this is like suicide fighters in a war," said Keiichi Nakagawa, associate professor of the Department of Radiology at University of Tokyo Hospital.” I don’t give a lot of credibility to most professors anyway, but Mr. Nakagawa’s statements border on irresponsibility. Everything I have read indicates that they are only sending in people when they will get a slightly elevated dose of radiation over the norm – absolutely nothing like what happened at Chernobyl, by the way, so please ignore those comparisons when you hear them. “Suicide fighters in a war?” – I think he needs to stick to facts. And why are they asking a professor sitting comfortably in Tokyo about the radiation levels at a plant two-hundred miles away? Doesn’t anyone question the veracity of his statement?

5) The photo above was lifted from a news article which claimed that the mannequin head was left in the streets near the nuclear plant by the retreating tsunami wave. But should I really believe that? Or is it possible that the photographer did a little bit of staging to get that shot?

You will also note the phrases “a far bleaker assessment”, “seriously at risk”, and “rapidly evolving crisis” which appear in the article. My point? Don’t believe everything you hear on television or on the web. There is a definite trend toward sensationalism in every media source I can see. Don’t fall prey to the scare-mongering anchors, who influence people in Kansas to buy potassium iodide tablets in bulk just in case the fallout from Japan comes their way. Better yet – dump your cable connection and do some real research on your own. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get interviewed by someone who thinks you’re an “expert”!

Addendum: My heart cries out for the people of Japan during this crisis. Japan is largely an un-Christian nation – 64% don’t even believe in God. I pray that they will find comfort and solace in coming to know God, even if it takes a catastrophe such as this to do so. Knowing God in any circumstance is superior to dying in relative peace without Him. While the media may be disingenuous, we can remember - only God has the truth (Soli Deo Veritas).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sex Outweighs Religion In The UK

The world is truly upside-down today. In a landmark judgment in the UK this week, a couple was denied the right to provide foster care to children – because their religious beliefs prevent them from telling a child that a homosexual lifestyle is acceptable.

The battle lines between Christianity and humanism just got a little more clearly drawn.

The UK couple in this story are Pentecostal Christians in Derby, UK. They had previously provided foster care for fifteen children in the 1990’s, and wanted to return to that work in 2011. But something changed in the UK between that time and today. In short, religious “tolerance” is no longer extended to conservative Christian views in the country which produced the Mayflower Pilgrims and C.S. Lewis. And don’t forget the praise that was once given to Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire), the famed Scottish athlete who would not run in the Olympics on Sunday due to his religious beliefs. Can it be that the world is turning from the God of the Bible as quickly as we are witnessing it?

To sum up the story line – sex is more important than religion in the UK. This trend against Christian ethics is not a far cry from the Hitler-style ethnic cleansing so reviled by the British themselves only seventy years ago. Does that seem overstated? It is not – here are some quotes from the BBC article. Read these, and ask yourself if they look eerily similar to something that might have appeared in Nazi propaganda.

‘…Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation "should take precedence" over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.’

‘They said that if children were placed with carers who objected to homosexuality and same-sex relationships, "there may well be a conflict with the local authority's duty to 'safeguard and promote the welfare' of looked-after children".’

‘The court confirmed that the local authority is properly entitled to consider a prospective foster carer's views on sexuality when considering their application to become a foster parent and in fact, failure to do so would potentially leave it in breach of its own guidance as well as the National Minimum Standards.’

Don’t miss the import of that last statement – it boldly says that government “minimum standards” outweigh any religious belief, including the belief of parents. Make no mistake, the UK is now only one small step away from telling parents that they cannot teach Christian views on sexuality to their own children. In my lifetime, I now believe that I will be reading a BBC story where that very thing will happen – the UK government will remove children from their parent’s home because of their conservative Christian views, and place them in a state-run facility. And like Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s, millions will buy the lie.

God forbid that such a thing will be imported to our United States. But, of course, there are those in the high ranks of our own government who desire for our nation to be “more European”. But if they try to bring this intolerance to our land, I hope they will get a fight from the Christian parents here. Better yet, let’s make sure that we elect and retain leaders who will never go down this path.

Though I expect to read about and witness the decline of civilization, as predicted in the Bible, I am amazed at the speed with which it is happening. This story simply could not have happened in the days of the Cleavers on Leave It To Beaver, or even as recently as my own high school graduation. Something has changed – and it is happening very rapidly. The outrage of the Christian community should be loud and ever-present over this story. But do we see that? Have we given up on publicly championing the cause of Christ and the laws of God? Am I tempted to ignore this and just assume it is the status quo? May it never be…

For the BBC article, click here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Birth Rate Swings – An Amazing Video

My regular day job involves the analysis of lots of data. I love data. I know you can spin a great tale with amazing clarity - using data. You can also lie with it (not something I recommend).

I came across an absolutely amazing visual the other day – a time-lapse look at the birth rate and average life-span of the countries of the world. You can see this graphic at this link. You can hit the “Play” button and watch the entire fifty years before your eyes. Or, better, you can grab the slider at the bottom and move it around at will.

The graph plots three things – the average life expectancy in years of each nation (x-axis), the average number of births per woman for the year in question (y-axis), and the relative population of the nation (shown as the size of the bubble). Note that you can pause play at any point and hover over any bubble to see the nation name.

Here are some interesting things to note:

• The number of births per woman in China drops remarkably – from around six in 1966, to less than two by 1996. Think about that – the family culture in China changed that dramatically in a mere thirty years, primarily because of government mandates to plan and abort.

• Drag the slider from 1966 through 1977 and then on to 1990. Watch the little blue circle which represents Cambodia – this country goes from an average life expectancy of 45 down to a mere 33 by 1977 (remember, that’s the average at that time!) and then back up to 55. What happened during that time? The rise of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, and the Cambodian-Vietnamese war.

• A similar thing happens to the little blue circle representing Rwanda – start the slider at 1983, where the average life expectancy is 47, then drag it to 1993, where the average person only lived to be 26! The speed of that little circle moving to the left is dramatic. During the genocide in Rwanda, it’s estimated that 800,000 people were murdered in under 100 days.

• Drag the entire length of the graph and watch the big orange circle (India) and the big blue circle (China) and how much bigger they get over the 50 year span. China doubles her population during this time frame, and India triples hers.

• Lest we forget things going on in our own country (the largest pink circle), my wife pointed out to me the dramatic decrease in births per woman in the United States – from 3.65 in 1960 to just 2.1 today. Drag the slider carefully around the year 1973 – what happened around that time frame? It was the passage of Roe vs. Wade in this nation.

The dramatic reduction in birth rate over this fifty year span has not “fixed” anything in our culture. Things continue to get worse. As I pointed out in my previous post, population control is not what God is about. The more people who are born with the chance to worship the Lord, the more potential for praise and glory are able to be given to Him. This graph is a sad testament to man’s attempt to “fix” what he thinks is broken with this world. But population isn’t the problem – sin is the problem. And the answer is not trees, birth control or family planning. The answer is Jesus Christ.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Which Is More Important – People, Animals, or the Earth?

Man’s desire to worship something is seen throughout history. It would be a rare thing to find a period of history that was devoid of man putting his faith and desires into something – the God of the Bible, a carved god idol, the earth, other people, animals, man himself, etc. The desire to set something up as a higher authority must be innate in mankind.

The current prevailing philosophy of our culture is to downplay the Biblical pattern and place the good of “the earth” above all else. The roots of environmentalism go back many years, but the trend seems to gain followers every year. Al Gore and the concept of global warming may be damaged goods, but our society has not replaced the radical environmental movement with anything much different than what has gone before. Indeed, whether the fear is global warming, or the coming of a new Ice Age, the environmentalist cry is still the same – mankind is messing up the earth, and should be stopped.

I was very disheartened to read the following editorial in our local paper last week. I think it is indicative of a spirit of misunderstanding that troubles our nation:

Dear God, when you told us to “be fruitful and multiply”, did you intend for this multiplying to go on, unchecked, forever?
Perhaps it’s time for new orders, like “Stop! Enough with the multiplying! I gave you brains to figure out family planning. By now you should have had the sense to use it.

“You humans are spoiling my beautiful planet. You’re using up all the resources and filling the land and seas with garbage. Your wars wreak havoc on everyone and everything in their paths. Your greed and your sheer numbers are pushing my other creatures into extinction. Enough, already!

“You could have limited your numbers humanely, but you chose not to. Now I’m turning this over to Mother Nature, who will reduce your numbers the old-fashioned way – through war, pestilence, famine and disease.”

We have seen a lot of wars, famine and disease lately, along with earthquakes, floods and tornados. The threat seemed a little light on the pestilence, but now, here come the bedbugs. (The Fort Collins Coloradoan, January 12, 2011)
All of this makes me want to ask the writer a few questions:

1) God told us to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28) He has given us no instructions to do otherwise (in fact, He appears to counsel against “family planning” in the Bible – Genesis 38:8-10). So, what makes the writer think that God now has new orders to give? Who decides when it is “time for new orders”?

2) “You humans are spoiling my beautiful planet.” To me, using natural resources to make goods and to improve our living state is exactly God’s design. What does the writer mean by “spoiling”, and by what authority do we choose “spoiling” above “stewardship”? Is drilling for oil inherently “bad” when the result of energy exploration is fuel to keep people warm and the ability to move great distances – in minutes or hours, on only a few gallons of gasoline? If, instead, the resources were to stay in the ground forever, and man decided to live in cold caves, eating uncooked vegetables – is that better for everyone? Is that what we really want?

3) The author of the editorial seems to feel that too many people are getting in the way of some greater good – the common myth of population explosion. So, whose children does the writer propose to eliminate? Mine? The children of the person reading this article? Their own? Where would they start? Is human life really that cheap? So cheap that they would place it below the worth of creatures and the environment?

To truly answer the question about what is more important, we have to realize that someone must have authority over the decision. Mankind cannot and will not ever agree on the hierarchy of worth between man, animals, and the earth. Is the ultimate authority going to be me, my congressman, or the President?

For me, the only answer to this question is that there is one, and only one, ultimate authority – God – and His words on this question are the only ones that matter. Mankind may try to argue that someone else has the authority. For the Christian, the answer must be God. And if we choose an authority – God – we must endeavor to find out what He thinks about the value of human life versus the value of animal life or the environment.

1) God set up man to be above all creation - Genesis 1:26, Genesis 9:2 and Psalm 8:5-8 make it clear that man is above the earth, and only a little lower than the angels. If God placed us over the earth, then I have faith that He gave us ample resources to survive until He decides to send His Son back for us. He even left many “closed-loop systems” in place to compensate for our resource use – systems which are self-sustaining, such as the conversion of carbon dioxide into oxygen by trees and algae, and the obvious observation that trees and plants can spring up and grow anew from where they have been harvested. Scientists continue to “discover” and marvel at how resilient and self-repairing our ecosystem proves to be. They should – God made it that way.

2) Preserving the earth is not the ultimate goal of God - Ultimately, the earth will be destroyed. 2 Peter 3:10-11 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”. God has not intended for the earth to survive in some model, pristine way for all eternity. He has something better coming. He intends to destroy by fire all of these resources that our society holds so dear. The fact that He will destroy the earth, but take His people to live with Him for eternity, is clear evidence of God’s priorities. We do not abuse or show poor stewardship of this planet, but we keep it in perspective to God’s eternal plan.

3) The purpose of man is to honor GodRevelation 4:11 says, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” See also Psalm 86 and Psalm 16:5-11. So, it stands to reason that having more people on earth brings more opportunity to glorify God. Conversely, limiting the number of children born into this world is simply a way of removing glory from our God. That is a hard concept to swallow in today’s culture. But God told us to “fill the earth and subdue it”. He has not yet told us to do any differently. Why would we presume to know better?

The increasing population of the world is not the cause of death, destruction, famine or pestilence as our editorial author suggests. The cause is sin. God has provided us with resources to use for His glory. Bringing glory to God is the one, ultimate goal which overwhelms everything else. I wonder – would our culture like to see that concept printed in our local editorial section? We need to pray for a world that is still trying to function apart from God. Without Him, all we would have left is people, animals and the planet. Hmmm….


If you want to read more about how environmentalism has replaced God in our culture, please visit my Radical Environmentalism series.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Communion Meditation – “My Son, My Son”

The relationship between fathers and sons is very special. I pray every day for the safety and well-being of my own son, and I think I would be lost without him. I know most fathers can relate to this very feeling.

In Genesis 22, we see Abraham being tested by God. God tells Abraham in verse 2, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” And Abraham obeyed God, even though he had been made to wait until he was a hundred years old to have a son. Because Abraham was faithful, the story has a good ending. As Abraham raised the knife to slay Isaac, the angel of the Lord called out to him in verse 12 and said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy…Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

King David had many sons. His third-born was Absalom, and while Absalom made some mistakes, it is clear that David loved him deeply. Even though David had demanded protection for his son, Absalom was killed by the commander of David’s army. And when David heard the news, we see his heart-rending reaction in 2 Samuel 18:33. It says, ‘The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”’

Stories of a close son, or of an only son are abundant in the Bible. Jeremiah 6:26 says, “Put on sackcloth, my people, and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing as for an only son, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.” Amos 8:10 tells us, “I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.” And we even see Jesus involved in the story of an only son in Luke 7:11-13 – “Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.””

Losing a son is a heart-breaking experience for a father. It is perhaps the greatest sacrifice that a father can make, as history continually shows. And that is why we come together weekly to think on these things and we turn our thoughts to our Heavenly Father, who is Almighty and All-Powerful…and we ponder these words:

John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And from 1 John 4:9-10 – “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

And so, we see that though God stayed the hand of Abraham and prevented him from taking the life of his son, Isaac, He did not stop the events that led to the death of his own Son. And we remember.