Four Bad Teachers

I’ve criticized lazy, ineffective parents on this blog with embarrassing little stories about them plenty of times (here and here are the best examples), but it’s been much more rare for me to call out the unqualified and dangerous among my teaching colleagues.  Here are four favorites that come to mind.

1.  Back at the first high school where I worked, there was a guy who was legendary across the campus for being a disaster.  One day, a few girls in a class asked if they could use my computer to finish typing up and printing a paper due that day.  I knew and trusted them, so I agreed.  Later, they told me that after doing their work they had checked my browsing history online, and congratulated me for not having any porn on my computer.  I was a little shocked (and resolved not to let kids near my computer anymore), but asked what they had expected.

“Oh, we’ve checked a lot of teachers around here.  Usually they’re clean, but Mr. ________ must be a real pervert; his computer’s full of porn!” 

I didn’t comment further, but I definitely believed them.  A friend of mine who worked in this guy’s department told me once that he’d come into their office on a Monday morning to find that the copier had recorded making 10,000 copies over the weekend, using this questionable employee’s sign in number.  We both scratched out heads.  We knew that he hadn’t been copying worksheets, because he never used any–he didn’t do anything with his classes, not that anyone would ever need 10,000 copies, anyway.  We never found out what he’d been copying. 

He was one of the few teachers I’ve ever heard of who was placed on probation two years in a row, quitting shortly thereafter. 

2.  Continue reading

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The Brown Herring

I haven’t yet commented on the kerfuffle over Arizona’s illegal alien law because it was so fractious that I wanted to let the dust settle, and I wanted to collect my thoughts before writing.  Sadly, the first isn’t even close to happening yet, so neither is the second.  But especially since so many in my own community–Latter-day Saints–are voicing opposition to this online, I need to contribute.

Almost all of the argument against the Arizona law amounts to one paltry thing: they’re racist!  They’re doing it because they hate Hispanics

Haven’t we lived with political correctness long enough to see it for the desperate, transparent attempt to stifle freedom and restrict discussion that it is?  Individual racists still exist, but are few and far between, and certainly any broad social consensus on a policy issue such as this is based on the honest good intentions of the citizenry, not some sudden massive throwback to the Jim Crow era. 

I’m happy to debate the pros and cons of this law, but people who base their position on the idea that those who disagree–regardless of what they say, no matter what other information they bring to the table–are really doing it because their black evil hearts are just filled with hate, are indulging in the worst possible vices of civic discourse: lying, stereotyping, refusing to listen to others with the benefit of the doubt.  They’re changing the subject, sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting, “La la la!  I can’t hear you and I don’t have to because you’re just a dumb meanie!  La la la!”  No constructive conversation can come from such an intellectual disconnect. 

I encourage anyone who supports Arizona to engage in discussions with those who disagree with us, but to present this understanding to them up front: if you’re going to insult millions of people and boil our principles down to ugly slurs, this conversation is over and I will walk away. 

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Spring Self-Improvement Report

Last year, I started breaking down my list of lifetime goals into smaller steps and making those my resolutions.  Instead of just starting at New Year’s, though, I split the calendar up into the three major divisions that my life as a father and teacher naturally fall into: a Spring semester, summer, and a Fall semester.  To keep my summer at a useful three months, I schedule those goals to be done in the three months before I report back to school for the new year, which means that this year my “summer” is defined as May 22-August 24 (even though I still have two weeks left this school year). 

That also means that my Spring semester for self-improvement–January 1 through May 21–just ended.  I had set ten goals for myself to achieve during this time, each correlated to the larger “bucket list,” and it went surprisingly well.  For comparison, out of the ten goals I set for last Fall, I only accomplished…two.  A poor, piddling, puny little two.  This time around, out of these first ten goals for 2010 (including the eight I rolled over from last year), I finished seven.  Not bad. 

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Heal the Waters

Hopefully, Barack Obama’s infamous nomination acceptance speech from two years ago will start proving prophetic any minute now:

“Generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

They sure could use those magic, restorative powers in the gulf coast states right now. 

Questions: Does the “we” in that speech now include British Petroleum?  And was this foretold resurrection of the environment what the administration meant when they said that they’d had a plan and been working on fixing the oil spill “from day one?”

Clark County Primary Election Endorsements

I’ve long considered myself primarily a libertarian politically, but several years ago I registered as a Republican in order to vote in primary elections for offices I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.  For instance, in November, I’ll probably vote for whichever Republican makes it through the primary to oppose Harry Reid in the Senate.  But which contender will it be?  Unless I’m registered as a Republican, I wouldn’t have a say.  So that’s pretty much why I’m a Republican. 

Early voting for our primary election started today, and I’ve spent the last week doing my homework.  Two lessons here:

  1. If you’re running for office and someone googles you just days before voting starts, and nothing comes up about you–not an interview, not a newspaper article, not a web ste, nothing, as if you aren’t even running, as if you don’t even exist–I will assume you’re not serious and will not consider you. 
  2. If you flout endorsements, make sure the organizations themselves have a useful online presence.  One seemingly worthy group giving endorsements in this primary also brings up nothing via google, and when I called the office number given on the letter reproduced on the web site of some candidates, a secretary told me there was no material to send me, and no regular meetings of their group.  Also, it looks bad if you advertise inconsistent endorsements: so a constitutional conservative group endorses you, and the SEIU?  I’m not sure what to make of that.

And here is the final list of offices open and candidates to be voted on in my county.

And here are the people I recommend:

UNITED STATES SENATE

I just wrote a post recently defending Sue Lowden, and I definitely do like her, but one person in this race definitely stands head and shoulders above the rest.  Sharron Angle’s experience, the long list of quality endorsements she can credit herself with, and the fact that her ideas are the most consistently conservative all convinced me to go with her.  Even after that, yesterday on the way home from work I heard her on the Jerry Doyle show when he asked how she would bring to Nevada the kind of influence and special favors that Harry Reid can get with his authority.

“I won’t,” Angle said in effect, explaining that Nevadans don’t want pork and earmarks for themselves; they just want to keep their money, and have the laws enforced and borders protected.  Awesome. 

Vote for: Sharron Angle

REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS, DISTRICT 1

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Census Follies

So my wife and I just got a phone call.  Here’s the gist of it:

“We’re calling from the U.S. Census.  May I speak to the person who completed the census form?”

“Speaking.”

“We just need to confirm the accuracy of the information you submitted to make sure that everyone is only counted once.  [He then rattled off some gobbledygook about how this is required by law.]  On April 1, 2010, were the following people residing at your address?  [He names off each member of our family.]”

“Yes.”

“Was [one certain family member] residing there on April 1, 2010?”

“Yes.”

“Was he overseas serving in the military?”

“What?  No.  He was here.”

“Was he living in a group home or drug treatment facility?”

“You mean in addition to also living here at the exact same time?  No.  He was still here.”

“Was he living in a homeless shelter?”

“Dude, no!”

“Are there any children who lived anywhere else during March and April?”

“Yes.  We share custody of two of our children with their mom.  One child’s time is split 50/50; we each see him half of the week.”

“In March and April, did he live with you most of the time or at the other address most of the time?”

“Um, like we said, it’s 50/50, so it was half at each.”

“Would you say the time he spent at each house was equal, then?”

“Why, yes.  Yes we would.”

“Was anybody other than who is listed on the form living with you on April 1, 2010?”

“No.”

“Anybody at all?”

“Nope.”

“Any foster children?”

“Well, of course.  It goes without saying that when we said nobody else was living here, that the foster kids didn’t count.”

“Really?”

“Dude, no.  Like we said before, nobody else was living here.”

“Any friend living with you for a while?”

“No.”

“OK.  Were any extended family living with you?”

“*sigh* No.”

“That concludes our interview.  Do you have any questions?”

“Yes.  Is everybody getting one of these calls?”

“Yes, we’re making these follow-up calls to everybody.”

“If everyone’s going to get one of these follow-up calls anyway, then what’s the point of even filling out the paper form?  Why not just do the phone calls?”

“I really couldn’t tell you.”

 Your tax dollars at work!

The Law of Consecration, As Contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants

During a recent session in the temple, I was hit with particular force that we are to study the law of consecration not in general, not in a vacuum, but specifically as it is taught in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Besides the factual and motivational information I’ve found in this brief project so far, I’ve been impressed that this aspect of the gospel agrees so well with our growing emphasis on charity and service, as per President Monson (best exemplified in adding “care for the poor and needy” to the mission of the Church). 

So I’ve been trying to read up on this basic celestial law, from sources that focus on its development in the D&C.  First, not surprisingly, I looked it up in the index to the scriptures.  This list includes all those in the Topical Guide, plus several others:

See also Common; Devote; Equal; Inheritance; Order; Poor; Property; Substance; United Order; Zion

D&C 42: 30-39 (D&C 51: 2-19; D&C 58: 35-37) principles of consecration explained.

D&C 42: 30, 39 consecrate of thy properties for support of the poor.

D&C 42: 32 consecrated properties not to be taken from church.

D&C 49: 20 one man should not possess above another.

D&C 51: 3 every man equal according to his family.

D&C 51: 5 transgressor not to have claim upon portion consecrated to bishop.

D&C 58: 36 (D&C 85: 3) a law for inheritance in Zion.

D&C 78: 5 order established that saints may be equal in bonds of heavenly and earthly things.

D&C 83: 6 storehouse kept by consecrations.

D&C 105: 5 Zion can only be built up by principles of celestial law.

D&C 105: 29 lands to be purchased according to laws of consecration.

D&C 105: 34 let commandments concerning Zion’s law be executed and fulfilled.

D&C 124: 21 bishop to receive consecrations of the Lord’s house.

The next source I thought of was the CES manual for the D&C.  It has an essay in the appendix which is entirely devoted to teaching the law of consecration.  This may have been the best single source for what I was studying.  One of the many useful things in this section of the text was this series of self-analysis questions:

1. Are you contributing to or detracting from a spirit of unity in your home? in your ward or branch? in the Church as a whole?

2. Is your life in harmony with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost so that you will contribute to a unity of thought and action in the kingdom?

3. Do you truly have an attitude of consecration? Is your primary concern in life to consecrate everything you have or with which you will be blessed to the building up of Zion and the Church on the earth?

4. Do you have enough confidence in your commitment to truly say, “I am willing to sacrifice anything and everything for God”?

The third of the official sources I used for this study was BYU’s Scripture Citation Index, where I looked up the references given in the index, to see how they had been used in general conferences.  Continue reading

Sunset Boulevard

Las Vegas at dusk, courtesy of Airship Solutions: http://www.airship.com.au/news/LasVegas.html

Although I often complain about how hot and dry my desert is, and how much I’ve always wanted to live somewhere green and

Las Vegas sunset, courtesy of Flikr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hallublin/4232636644/

 rainy, there is one thing that I truly love about living here: sunsets in the Spring.

There’s something about the atmosphere here.  I don’t know if it’s related to the wide landscape, or to the jagged layers of mountains to our west.  Maybe it’s all the air pollution.  Whatever causes it, we have the most colorful, evocative, pristine sunsets I can imagine.  For some reason, they’re especially brilliant this time of year: a hundred hues of the palette bleed in and out of each other from the rocky horizon out across the sky far back into the darkening east. 

I think it would be great to find a scenic spot on the east side of town (maybe around the temple?) and take a picture of the sunset from that same spot, every day for a year.  The range of effects would be impressive over that span of time, the surprising array of variations on the same simple background would be sublime.  It would make a fantastic book. 

Even better than the sunsets themselves is the longer dusk: that magic hour after the sun sets until it starts getting really dark.  It’s already fairly warm by this time of year, and the moment the sun retires, everything instantly gets much cooler.  You can almost feel steam rising off the world.  Two years ago, I went camping out in the desert and had to sit with my back to the sun to get any kind of relief.  I knew without even facing west that the sun had gone down because the pressure on my back was suddenly ten degrees lighter.  I turned around for the physical confirmation: the glowing, liquid gold outline along the top of the mountain ranges; sharp, bold streaks of grade-school art sunlight shooting through the few clouds that squatted near the edge of the sky. 

That dusk hour in the Spring is truly a heaven, a pleasant oasis of perfect proportion: the temperature is like floating in clear, cool bathwater, the light still visible enough to be day, but subdued as if a silk shade had been drawn over the blaring, garish sun.  For about sixty minutes between the fierce heat of day and the dark nothingness of night, we float in a peaceful dreamland of celestial comfort. 

In my heaven, the weather would be like that all the time.

Open Season On Sue Lowden

There’s large field of Republican candidates in Nevada looking to take on Harry Reid in November, but the consistent frontrunner has been Sue Lowden.  This has led to a flurry of vitriol against her, and it’s really disgusting.

Reid supporters and Democratic operatives have run wild with all kinds of mischief about Lowden supposedly having an idea about bartering with chickens to pay doctors.  Then, the typical anti-conservative meme comes out: this candidate is stupid (just like they said about George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle, etc.) and she’s just a pretty face who isn’t qualified for politics (just like they said about Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, etc.).  This attack is cheap, petty, degrading, and sexist.  Note to liberal critics: if a claim that appears to substantiate a Republican’s alleged stupidity seems too perfect, it is

Lowden didn’t say that we should try trading chickens for health care, she just pointed out that generations ago people used to do that kind of thing, and the new health care bill might lead to new rounds of bartering today (which many doctors have said they absolutely have had to).  That’s all.  Please stop all the Sue Lowden chicken jokes. 

Here’s the actual quote, by the way:  “You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor, they would say I’ll paint your house.  I mean, that’s the old days of what people would do to get health care with your doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system.”

But far worse than this is the attack ads coming from GOP second place candidate Danny Tarkanian.  I liked him, too, until these ads started running.  Continue reading

Recommended Reading: The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

I recently finished reading this to my younger children.  I’ve presented them with some challenging stories before, but I was outright flabbergasted at how intellectually mature this classic was.

Published in 1908, this British classic tells tales of four country friends–a rat, a mole, a badger, and (most famously) a rich, pompous, adventuresome toad.  These are no flat, stock children’s book characters.  They have enough neurotic vinegar in them to make the cast of Toy Story seem like The Waltons by comparison.  Not only do they have strikingly realistic personalities, but they behave in the ways that our grandparents did, ways that make us blush today.  They don’t hesitate to insult someone, calling a spade a spade when needed, they acknowledge violence as a normal way to deal with thugs, and differences between social classes aren’t treated at all as anything unusual–just another natural part of life. 

And yet, this world that often seems rough to our “modern sensibilities” is also markedly refined compared to most of our daily ditherings.  The Wind in the Willows is so thoroughly pastoral that it practically strives to be scripture on the subject, vying perhaps to sit next to Walden and The Boy Scout Handbook on my shelf.  One chapter, in fact, dreamily describes an episode where two lost characters in the woods encounter an ecstatic ancient spirit, whose communion is powerfully glorious.  Such seemingly pagan influences struck me as odd for a book coming from the Edwardian period, but it fits in without a ripple of real inappropriateness here, not blushing in its unabashed environmentalism. 

All this has just been prologue, though, for the thing that truly makes this masterpiece stand up and demand our attention is just how amazingly literary it is.  Continue reading

Let Us Now Praise Father Jack

In all of the commentary about the various political interpretations of ABC’s reimagining of the classic sci-fi allegory V, I’ve yet to read any appreciation for the best of its fully realized and original characters: Father Jack Landry.

We’ve all been accustomed for years to Christians being derided in the media, but Father Jack is a huge step away from all of that: a sincere, humane man of faith whose spiritually sensitive nature is undeniable.  He’s not a hypocrite, he’s not a bigot, and he’s (gasp!) not a pedophile.  Mainstream network television has now given us an honest-to-goodness hero priest. 

Father Jack has a background in the military and is comfortable fighting when he needs to (the last episode had him practicing on a punching bag, showing it who’s boss with experienced skill), but instead of abusing this aspect of the character to make him more palatable to the usual pieties (i.e., “Sure, he’s a priest, but look!  He’s also a kung-fu psycho who wears shades, chain smokes, and curses like a sailor!  He probably got dishonorably discharged after stopping some rednecks from killing peaceful natives”–all these clichés are blessedly avoided), they blend to make him even more non-traditional: now he’s a priest and a soldier–the two things Hollywood hates the most!

Though physically powerful, handsome, and comfortable everywhere, Father Jack is quiet to the point of being reserved.  He reacts with patience, only getting worked up when innocent people are in danger.  This week’s episode saw him in a furious storm of self doubt, unable to bear the idea that his revolutionary tactics (call it grass roots activism, campaigning for social justice, revolting against a corrupt establishment, or what have you) might have killed any bystanders.  His pacifism is no rote show: it comes across as a genuine commitment to the value of human life above all other priorities (another major shift in tone for normal TV!). 

We’ve only seen him with his parishioners a few times, but they’re clearly always on his mind, and when he does meet with people, he actually discusses God and faith, not just bland platitudes.  He’s  a real priest!  (Can you sense my shocked excitement?)  This is a great character.

Checking my email just now, I saw a news story saying that V is one of the shows that may be on the chopping block for the Fall.  I hope not: it’s consistently one of the most suspenseful, clever, and relevant shows on television, and has a surprisingly decent hero to boot in Father Jack, the best clergy character I can remember since Father Mulcahy in the glory days of M*A*S*H.

Jesus the Obedient Rebel

One day in high school, as a friend and I were being driven home by his mom, he and I started talking about what a rebel Jesus was.  Adolescent poseurs that we were, this was the highest compliment we could pay, and was certainly meant as such.  It was our juvenile effort at praise.  What we had in mind, of course, was that Jesus defied the authorities and conventions of the time.  This fit in very comfortably with our worldview, so we respected it.

My friend’s mom, though, then opined that Jesus was more of a conformist than a rebel, emphasizing that Jesus repeatedly explained that He was doing everything He did to be in strict obedience to the will of the Father.  We quickly countered that, while she had a point, we felt that He was more of a rebel than a  conformist, mostly because we didn’t want to be wrong. 

We were each right, of course, in a way.  The biggest thing that my teenage friend and I had to realize was that neither conformity nor rebellion are automatically goods in themselves.  Whichever is appropriate regarding a situation depends on the nature of that situation.  As much as our society so uncritically lauds rejection of anything mainstream (so much so that this attitude has itself long since become the mainstream), I think we’d all admit that when it comes to some things–for example, brushing our teeth–it’s actually not so desirable to be a rebel.  No, sir; when it comes to oral hygiene, I say let’s all get on board the bandwagon and drink the kool aid (metaphorically, as it were, since, you know, dental health and sugary drinks don’t really go together…*ahem*).

Followers of Christ often speak of having to live in the world but not of the world, of giving unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.  Since so much of life comes down to acting on a case by case basis, we can only truly rely on solid principles that we understand and covenant to adhere to ahead of time, at all times. 

In this, as in all things, Jesus is our perfect exemplar.  When faced with instances of others being unjustly persecuted, ignored, taunted, abused, or taken advantage of, we must act in direct contradiction to the prevailing opinions.  Regardless the norms or polls involved, we must heed the life of our Master as the pole star to guide us in thriving within unholy environments, showing mercy and tolerance, but refusing to condone or participate in wickedness, interacting with the world as the Spirit dictates. 

And as our elder brother has shown, the ultimate principle to organize our lives is that, in all things, all places, all times, we must strive to bring ourselves into agreement with the will of our Father in Heaven.  Then, and only then, will our choices to submit to some things and rebel against others be in proper balance.

Book Review: Tinkers, by Paul Harding

I was lucky enough to see the first headlines during my lunch break at work about this little novel winning the Pulitzer Prize last month.  It was lucky as I was then able to reserve a copy at the library right away, before anybody else put it on hold.  I was excited to be first in line, especially when I saw the Las Vegas Clark County Library District only has six copies of it!  (Last year’s winner, Oliver Kitteridge, has 18 copies available.)  Surely more would soon be on the way.  Checking back just now, however, shows that not to be the case.  Apparently, six of this one will do.

And so it might, as only 24 people have it on hold.  After more than two weeks?  For a Pulitzer winner?  800 people had Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol on hold last year.  Much has been made of Tinkers being from a small press.  Perhaps this is a good illustration of that obscurity. 

That was the first reason why I was excited about reading it–the news release noted that the last time a small press novel had won was with 1981’s A Confederacy of Dunces, which I loved.  Where that was a sprawling, bawdy, comic satire, however, Tinkers is a sparse, dense, somber analysis of the effect of death on the living and dying. 

Tinkers is what The Year of Magical Thinking would have looked like, had it been written by Cormac McCarthy. 

Paul Harding’s story here is not itself terribly special: he uses one man’s imminent death to catalyze a series of generational fugues, revealing perceived memories of fathers, sons, and grandfathers across a century and more.  Continue reading

Now You Get Mad?

Last week I saw a popular wall post on Facebook that caught my attention.  It’s a diatribe consisting of a list of perceived failures of George Bush, phrased to suggest that people should be angry about him, not at President Obama’s health care plan.  (The beginning and closing references to people being angry now make this look like it’s aimed at tea parties.)  All of these points needed clarification and some, frankly, were so off target that they begged for outright refutation.  My notes on each are below:

YOU WANT TO GET MAD? We had eight years of Bush and Cheney, but now you get mad!

1.       You didn’t get mad …when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount and appointed a President.  The Supreme Court did not “appoint” a president; the U.S. Supreme Court merely stopped the Florida state Supreme Court from ordering an illegal recount after they had already illegally extended the deadline for a previous recount.  Gore lost all of those recounts, anyway. 

2.       You didn’t get mad when Cheney allowed Energy company officials to dictate energy policy.  Allowing experts in a field to give input is now “dictating policy?”  When did the administration copy and paste any company’s plan into law?  Liberals are supposed to love “following the money”; where are the sudden surges in energy company profits because of these alleged shady deals? 

3.       You didn’t get mad when a covert CIA operative got ousted.   Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity was revealed by anti-Iraq war State department official Richard Armitage, who was not a member of Bush’s inner circle and who resigned when Colin Powell did, who told a reporter about it as part of a conversation about her husband’s visit to Africa.  Even the Obama administration has rejected the Wilson’s attempt to sue Armitage and others for damages. 

4.       You didn’t get mad when the Patriot Act got passed.  Continue reading