Education Feed

Ken Harvey

Ken Harvey has died.  Ken was my high school chemistry and physics teacher and also one of the coaches of the quiz bowl team.  The team often traveled out of town for matches and tournaments, so I spent many hours riding in the school Suburban as Mr. Harvey drove and we debated every topic imaginable.

But Mr. Harvey was more than one of my old high school teachers.  He was also one of the most influential persons in my life.

In high school I was a rather conservative Republican and Southern Baptist who, like most kids, thought he knew more than he actually did.  Harvey was one of those people who revealed a wider world.  He espoused no religion but was the most ethical person I knew. When I'd state an opinion, he might offer a different way of looking at the topic.   My many hours in conversation with Harvey both inside and outside the classroom opened my mind to new possibilities. 

While home from college one break Juan Penalosa and I once took Ken and Kay Boman, the other quiz bowl coach, out to dinner to say thank you for their roles in our lives and educations.  Years later when Ken and Kay married, Michael and I were able to be there.  Last year they visited us in order to meet Sebastian.  I told my son that these people helped make me who I am.

That I'm a more open-minded person, a more inclusive person, a more peaceful and just person is partly Ken Harvey's contribution to my life.  A gift so great that though I tried I never could adequately thank him for.  And so I grieve the loss of this teacher I deeply admired and respected, such a good and wise man.

Dr. Bob Clarke

Dr. Bob Clarke was one of my two undergraduate philosophy professors.  He died on December 16.  You can read his obituary here

The best class I ever had with Dr. Clarke was "Evil and Suffering."  I have had an abiding interesting in the problem of evil and suffering since my father died when I was sixteen.  Dr. Clarke's class was my first thorough introductwion to the intellectual problem and the various theodicies.  We read Hume and Augustine, Plantinga and Camus, Hick and Wiesel, and more.  I was intellectually, spiritually, personally fascinated.

I'll never forget reading and discussing Wiesel's Night in that course.  Dr. Clarke was himself, obviously, deeply moved by the story and its implications for Christian thought.  If God is hanging upon the scaffold does that mean that God is dead as a concept of meaning or that God is present in human suffering?

Though Dr. Wester had the previous year introduced me to Whitehead, Dr. Clarke played a role in my growing love for process thought when he lectured on process theodicies.  His discussion of Whitehead's lure for feeling awakened me to creative theological possibilities, an adventure that continues 22 years later.

Dr. Clarke had studied with the great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and spoke admiringly of him.  In one of our classes Dr. Clarke said that clearly Dr. Heschel was in heaven and that any Christian theology that said otherwise was wrong.  Still developing my own views on such things, Dr. Clarke's statement was transformational.

He enriched my understanding of ancient and medieval thought and introduced me to the mystics.

My favourite Dr. Clarke classroom moment was in our History of Religions course.  He was lecturing on Zoroastrianism and had listed a number of things on the board before class that were the influences of Zoroastrianism upon Judaism, things like a Messiah, angels, heaven and hell, etc.  As he began discussing this influence of the Persian religion upon the Jewish faith, I could see my mostly conservative Baptist classmates growing nervous (I had encountered this fact already and had already adjusted my worldview accordingly).  A student raised a hand and Dr. Clarke called upon him.  The student asked, "Dr. Clarke, I think I misunderstand you, you're saying that these are ways that Judaism influenced Zoroastrianism?"  Dr. Clarke looked puzzled.  "No, I'm not saying that.  These are influences of Zoroastrianism upon Judaism."  He then turned back to the board and his lecture and you could see an anxious panic spreading across the faces in the classroom and multiple hands went up.  Dr. Clarke turned and saw all the hands and called on someone else who asked, "Dr. Clarke, you're saying that all these ideas come from Zoroastrianism and aren't there originally in Judaism?"

Somewhat exasperated Dr. Clarke said, "Yes.  These are influences of Zoroastrianism upon Judaism.  These ideas came from the Persians.  That's what I've been talking about since class began."  He then turned back to his lecture.  I've never seen crises of faith occur simultaneously across a room of normally rather confident people.  And Dr. Clarke never seemed to notice the impact his presentation was having.

Of course, what I fondly remember of him, was that the sides of his body were usually covered in chalk, as he had a tendency to stand sideways against the chalkboard while writing, which meant he accidentally erased much of what he had already written.

A good teacher and a good man.


"The Humanities Crisis"

Gary Gutting writes about the crisis facing the humanities; it is an economic one:

This talk of “a subject they love” brings us to the real crisis, which is both economic and cultural (or even moral). The point of work should not be just to provide the material goods we need to survive. Since work typically takes the largest part of our time, it should also be an important part of what gives our life meaning. Our economic system works well for those who find meaning in economic competition and the material rewards it brings. To a lesser but still significant extent, our system provides meaningful work in service professions (like health and social work) for those fulfilled by helping people in great need. But for those with humanistic and artistic life interests, our economic system has almost nothing to offer.

He then offers some ideas for helping to solve this--a K-12 education system which attracts the brightest from the humanities and pays them well, ending the reliance on adjuncts in the university system, and investing more of societies funds on the humanities, in the way we currently do with athletics.  On this final point:

Fair treatment for writers and artists is an even more difficult matter, which will ultimately require a major change in how we think about support for the arts. Fortunately, however, we already have an excellent model, in our support of athletics. Despite our general preference for capitalism, our support for sports is essentially socialist, with local and state governments providing enormous support for professional teams. To cite just one striking example, the Minnesota State Legislature recently appropriated over $500 million to help build the Vikings a new stadium. At the same time,the Minnesota Orchestra is close to financial disaster because it can’t erase a $6 million deficit. If the Legislature had diverted only 10 percent of its support for football, it would have covered that deficit for the next eight years.

Socialist athletics!  What a great point.

Life & Labors: On the founding of Grinnell College

Mrs. Gaylord reports that though the original band of young ministers who came west to Iowa intended to form a college, their missionary labors had not yet allowed time to establish one.  When a new cohort of ministers arrived, then the group was able to move forward.  On March 12, 1844 they held an organizing meeting, and on April 15 formed the "Iowa College Association."  It was two years later before a first board of  twelve trustees was elected, and Rev. Gaylord was included; he was also on the Committee on Charter.  He served on the college board until 1855, when he moved to Omaha.  She writes, "He was always careful to attend the meetings of the Board, often taking the trip on horseback, a distance of eighty miles."

The first building was erected in Davenport in 1847-8.  The college was later moved to Grinnell, Iowa.  She writes,

It made slow progress at first, but in a few years entered upon a career of sure and steady growth, which continued until its buildings were hurled to destruction by the terrible cyclone of June, 1882.  But the munificent gifts of a generous public soon restored it to more than its former completeness and beauty, and it is now a noble institution doing a great and noble work.

Adolescents mastering philosophy

It is so very French, but philosophy is an important part of adolescent education in France.  It is nearly absent in American public schools.  The only teaching in philosophy I received was a quick survey of the ancient Greeks in a Humanities course our senior year.  It was enough, because it made me want to take philosophy courses in college.  I can't imagine, as a high schooler, writing on the topics listed in the article.

Here is the well-stated reason for teaching philosophy:

So the purpose of teaching philosophy was - and remains, in theory - to complete the education of young men and women and permit them to think.

To see the universal arguments about the individual and society, God and reason, good and bad and so on, and thus escape from the binding imperatives of the now - by which I mean the dictatorship of whatever ideas are most pressingly forced on us in the day-to-day by government, media, fashion, political correctness and so on.

I like that phrase "the binding imperatives of the now."

Texas Board of Education loses much of its power

Michael sent me this article of great news this week.  Very long time (really original) readers of this blog will remember my advocating before the Texas School Board, when I lived in Dallas, on behalf of accurate health textbooks.  In 2004 only one textbook even mentioned condoms in the chapter on sex education.  It was a travesty.  This lower body of government had great power, and fundamentalists had realized it.  At the time they were trying to pack the board (they only had three sure votes at that point, but were able to persuade others), which they were eventually able to do.  Now, the power over textbooks has been removed from them.  This has national implications, as any textbook marketed nationally had to be able to be sold in Texas.  If it couldn't be sold there, it wouldn't make any money.  

The Courage to Teach - Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's LifeThe Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life by Parker J. Palmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite this book being written for educators, it was first recommended to me almost a decade ago by a Christian educator in the congregation I was serving. A few years ago a ministry colleague loaned me her copy (and I'll finally be getting it returned to her).

There is good material that I can apply to the church and ministry and specifically to the teaching function of the pastor. Reading the book opened my eyes to some things I was doing incorrectly while also giving me insight into how to do some things better. Palmer is a Quaker and there are significant touchstones with theology and spiritual practice in this book which is not directly religious.

Of course there was much I skimmed over as not being completely relevant to why I was reading it.

For Palmer teaching is a pursuit of truth that the teacher and student engage in together. It is not about conveying a lot of information, but opening up horizons for students to discover things on their own. The teacher must develop the inner strength and trust to allow for exploration.

I would highly recommend it to all the teachers I know and think it is worth skimming for all the clergy I know.

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Not my best teaching

Last Sunday was the first of a series of three Sunday morning adult education classes here at First Central on the atonement.  Last year some folk from the class asked me to teach a class on the atonement.  I spent six months preparing, reading lots of books, and developing a study guide.  Then I set it aside for a few months between my preparations and when the class was scheduled.  I've been looking forward to it, but on Sunday I did a poor job of presenting.

Now, there is an explanation.  I came to the office early that morning to prepare for the day.  I came so early I set off the alarm (I've never figured out how to disarm it here).  Then, I got to work looking back over my sermon, as I usually do first every Sunday morning.  It was not a long sermon, and I thought I'd be done quickly.  I ended up revising it over three more drafts, which took the entirety of my prep time.  I was running late for the class when I grabbed my things and headed that way, with no chance to review the lesson I had prepared earlier in the week.

My mind was distracted and quickly I realized that even my presentation was not laid out in the most engaging or interesting way.  And I was fielding a wide variety of questions, which is normally the case here, but I wasn't as centered in answering them as I normally am.  

One person asked a logical question of concern about the ancient notion of divinization and whether it was "new age."  I responded more defensively than I should have.  On afterthought I should have used that moment to play with the idea and open up dialogue about what this idea might mean.  Instead, that would have been a tangent from my plans, so I answered hurriedly and inadequately and moved on.

I've already prepared my lesson for the class this week and think that I've done a better job of structuring it around the concerns and questions that might be raised.  But the inadequate job I did last week led me back to some basics and thinking intentionally about some things that I often just assume, so I learned a lesson.