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Signs of the Times  •  16 August 2017  •  No. 132

Processional. “O troubled dust concealing / An undivided love / The Heart beneath is teaching / To the broken Heart above.” —Leonard Cohen, “Come Healing

Above. White light image of the solar corona during totality of a solar eclipse. For viewers in its path, “the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse will last less than two and half minutes. But for one team of NASA-funded scientists, the eclipse will last over seven minutes. Their secret? Following the shadow of the Moon in two retrofitted jet planes.” —read more in “Chasing the Total Solar Eclipse from NASA’s WB-57F Jets,” NASA

Back to school special edition

Invocation. “The human hand – this bundle of bones, flesh, and nerves – think of all it can do. It can bless or curse. It can draw blood or bind a wound. It is gentle, agitated, vicious; supplicating, ardent, tender. It can weld an iron bridge or caress a child’s head. It possesses the power to both harm and heal.—Karl Joseph Friedrich

Call to worship. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your spiritual worship.” —Romans 12:1

¶ “From the age of six to fourteen I took violin lessons but had no luck with my teachers, for whom music did not transcend mechanical practicing. I really began to learn only after I had fallen in love with Mozart’s sonatas. The attempt to reproduce their singular grace compelled me to improve my technique. I believe, on the whole, that love is a better teacher than sense of duty.—Albert Einstein

Hymn of praise. “Living below in this old sinful world / Hardly a comfort can afford / Striving alone to face temptation so / Now won't you tell me / Where could I go but to the Lord?—Elvis Presley (on the anniversary of his death), “Where Could I Go But To the Lord”

Feel free to copy and circulate any of the original artwork (the ones
with “” printed at the bottom) used on this site.

Confession. Thomas Merton rightly observed that “The least of the work of learning is done in the classroom.” Is this a disparagement of classroom teachers—or for that matter, pulpit preachers? I don’t think so. Good preachers and teachers know their job is to incite a thirst for learning and for revelation in the world beyond libraries and liturgies. —kls

Reversal of fortunes. What if schools enjoyed pork-barrel largesse and the military depended on corporate charity?

      One recent slow morning in August, the grocery stores’ circulars in the newspaper caught my attention. I began to wonder how things might be different if certain fortunes were reversed. Instead of “back-to-school” it’s “back-to-basic-training” discount offers.

      Imagine, if you will:

      •At Ingles, earn $1,000 for mops for the Navy, boots for the Army, when you use your Advantage™ Card. And keep your eyes out for our “Box Tops for Top Guns” special deals to ensure cockpit decal maintenance.

      •Harris Teeter’s brand purchases maintain a steady supply of camouflage face grease for our special forces. Don’t forget to relink for special deals at Lockheed Martin. Soldiers count!

      •Bi-Lo offers tools for troops. Every one of the more than 800 U.S. military bases outside the U.S. have benefited from this unique program, netting more than $9 million in free equipment for every branch of the service.

      Meanwhile, back in Washington, these headlines from major media outlets:

      •Fox News: “Whining base commanders grousing again about the amount of personal money they have to spend decorating barracks.”

   •NBC: “Congressional leaders unable to round up votes necessary to defeat another multi-million dollar ‘supplemental’ educational appropriation. The Speaker of the House claims Department of Education budget already ‘bloated’ with unnecessary pork.”

      •ABC: “Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee hearings underway for alleged corruption in ‘no-bid’ contracts to fulfill ‘No Child Left Behind’ spending.”

      •CBS: “Pentagon brass say ‘bake sales no way to adequately fund quality national defense.’”

      •Associated Press: “Investigative reporter uncovers widespread complaints by Marine officers that merit pay is tied to low combat injury reports and exaggerated readiness testing.”

      The above written with thanksgiving for the teachers and educational administrators who know that knowledge is more than information, that character is not subject to cost analysis, and that learning potential exceeds the boundaries of test results. Don’t just thank a teacher. Argue for a different definition of national security. —kls

One of the Latin roots of the English word education is educere, which means to bring forth, calling up the image of the midwife.
        Socrates (470-399 B.C.) preferred to describe education by comparing it with his mother’s profession. Education is Midwifery. A teacher, like a midwife, only helps the mother to give birth. The teacher is not the mother. The teacher coaxes out capacities already there.

¶ “There are thousands of students today in classrooms with teachers who are wholly unprepared” in the California school system, according to a new report from the Learning Policy Institute. —Fermin Leal, “Worsening teacher shortage puts more underprepared teachers in classrooms, report says,” EdSource (see graph below)

In Michigan “enrollment in teacher prep programs declined 38% from 2008-09 to 2012-13, according to the most recent federal data available. Nationally, the drop was 30% during the same time period. . . . ‘Teachers are demoralized,’ said Michelle Fecteau, a member of the State Board of Education.” Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press

¶ “Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has declined 36% nationwide since the 2009-10 academic year, and a [2016) Center for American Progress report presents several reasons for the decline, finding that state policies can have a big influence over whether students are interested in teaching careers. . . ‘The data are clear: Teacher recruitment is closely related to perceptions of job insecurity and low pay,’ said Christina Baumgardner, co-author of the report.” Center for American Progress

¶ “The teacher pay penalty is bigger than ever. In 2015, public school teachers’ weekly wages were 17.0 percent lower than those of comparable workers—compared with just 1.8 percent lower in 1994.” Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute

Yet salaries are “not the end of the story,” according to Sean Corcoran, an associate professor of educational economics at NYU who has conducted extensive research on the U.S. teaching force.
        In a “Quality of Worklife” survey of more than 30,000 educators last year, just 46% said their salaries were a major source of stress in the workplace. Testing fatigue, bloated bureaucracy, little time to reflect and decompress and develop professionally have all taken a significant toll on teachers’ job satisfaction.” Alia Wong, The Atlantic

Hymn of lamentation.Sing Me Back Home,” Merle Haggard.

¶ “Thomas Carlyle said the best effect of any book is to excite the reader to self-activity,” said Betty Lou.
        “That man clearly never ran a library. My dear, between you and me, the best effect of any book is that it be returned unmutilated to its shelf,” replied Mrs. Armstrong, her head librarian and boss. —dialogue from the 1992 comedy movie, “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag”

Words of assurance.Rock of Ages,” Fernando Ortega.

¶ “I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.” —Mark Twain, in a November 1900 speech to the Public Education Association

¶ “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.” —Vernon Law

Hymn of intercession. “Teach your children well, their father's hell did slowly go by, / And feed them on your dreams, the one they pick's the one you'll know by. / Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry, / So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.” —Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Teach Your Children

¶ “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” —source unknown

Preach it. “Something is wrong with the values of a nation that would rather spend [tens of] thousand of dollars to lock a child up after getting into trouble, but won’t invest a few thousand dollars to get kids born healthy, to give them a head start, to give them a decent education. We must changes these priorities.” —Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund

¶ “As each take your leave / now charting your own courses / I pause and ponder your absence / with dreaded joy: / joy that your wings have spread / so far so fast, / dread at the silence filling the air / which your voices once stirred.” —continue reading “On the flow of tears,” a poem on the occasion of my daughters’ transitions

¶ “The cost of imprisoning each of California's 130,000 inmates is expected to reach a record $75,560 in the next year, enough to cover the annual cost of attending Harvard University and still have plenty left over for pizza and beer.” Don Thompson, Associated Press

¶ “The greatest sign of success for a teacher . . . is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’” —Maria Montessori

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “"Do not use conditioner in your hair because it will bind radioactive material to your hair." —one of the recommendations in a two-page fact sheet issued to citizens of Guam in case of a nuclear strike by North Korea

Call to the table. “This is the mystery of the Christian life, to receive a new self, which depends not on what we can achieve but on what we are willing to receive.” —Esther de Waal

The state of our disunion. “During the 19th century, college education in the United States was offered largely for free. Colleges trained students from middle-class backgrounds as high school teachers, ministers and community leaders who, after graduation, were to serve public needs. This free tuition model had to do with perceptions about the role of higher education: College education was considered a public good. Students who received such an education would put it to use in the betterment of society. . . .
        “The perception of higher education changed dramatically around 1910. Private colleges began to attract more students from upper-class families—students who went to college for the social experience and not necessarily for learning. . . . What was once a public good designed to advance the welfare of society was becoming a private pursuit for self-aggrandizement.” —Thomas Adam, “College Was Once Free and For the Public Good—What Happened?” Yes! magazine

Best one-liner. “Your best teacher is your last mistake.” —Ralph Nader

For the beauty of the earth. “Why you should never miss a total solar eclipse.” —3:09 video [But if you have to travel, beware the traffic jams.]

Altar call. “The purpose of public education in a republic, according to Benjamin Rush, a medical doctor in Philadelphia and signer of the Declaration of Independence: ‘Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself. . . .’” —John Fea, “In Bernie Sanders’ deeply religious message, an echo of the Founding Fathers,” Religion News Service

Benediction. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that your may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” —Romans 8:2

Recessional. Lebanese Dabke dancing.

Just for fun. Ten giraffes wend their way up a spiral walkway, to the high diving board above a swimming pool, to perform some acrobatic moves. (5:27 video. Thanks David.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Fire and Fury: Reading Elijah in light of Charlottesville,” by Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “We are Charlottesville.” The fact that we are shocked about today’s news from Emancipation Park is part of our problem

• “Religious liberty, or social mischief?Understanding the "wall of separation" between church and state
• “On the flow of tears,” a poem on the occasion of my daughters’ transitions

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