Monthly Archives: June 2014

Three Stops and Starts for #Education #Reform

The education reform conversation seems heated at times, and mired very much in partisan politics. Considering all of the various arguments and counterarguments, I’m finding three major issues that come up on a regular basis. From my perspective I think there are three things we need to stop doing in the reform conversation/actions and shift to some different actions.

  1. Stop blaming teachers. By some counts, less than 30% of student learning is because of what the teacher does. Furthermore, in this high-stakes testing environment teachers have less and less control over what they teach in the classroom and instead implement the policies as set forth by their principals, superintendents, and policy-makers. If you’re going to hold teachers accountable, then hold them accountable for that which they are responsible to do. Instead of putting all responsibility for student learning on the teacher, we should (a) evaluate teachers on student growth and (b) evaluate how well teachers implement the policies handed to them by their administration. On the same token, we should (c) hold the administration accountable for the effectiveness of policy. In fact, we should hold administration accountable before looking to the teachers. If we are willing to give the administration credit when the scores are favorable, then we should also give them blame when the scores are unfavorable.
  2. Stop making it about school choice. The narrative goes something like this: the teachers unions are protecting lazy teachers and prevent students from learning (even though 8797% of teachers are rated as effective). Therefore if we create a different system where we can get rid of unions and then allow parents to make choices it will improve the system because the best schools will succeed and the worst schools will fail (sort of an educational Darwinism). This assumes that the “consumer” (the parents) (a) have the wherewithal to evaluate good education models, (b) have the resources to reach all of those choices, and the (c) choices the “consumer” makes is based on the quality of the model. I think all of those assumptions are false. School choice, however, has roots in the civil rights movement of the post-civil war era. Instead, school choice should be a means for parents to exercise options for students who don’t fit within the normative mold that public education necessitates.
  3. Stop making it about charter schools. As one example (and from the Texas Department of Education website), “According to the Texas Education Code, the purposes of charter schools are to (1) improve student learning; (2) increase the choice of learning opportunities within the public school system; (3) create professional opportunities that will attract new teachers to the public school system; (4) establish a new form of accountability for public schools; and (5) encourage different and innovative learning methods. Out of five reasons, only one of those is really about school choice (and even that choice is within the context of a public school system). The rest of the reasons are about innovation. Charter schools were designed to use public funds to assess innovation and best practices, and then see how to scale those practices for a larger school system. Instead, we should use charter schools for their intended purposes: innovation.

I think that America is on the precipice, and if we were to apply some of the “know-how” that we have been known to produce, we could create one of the best educational systems in the world.

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Reinventing Theologcial Education

When in a conversation with a good friend (who also happens to be an attorney) I commented that I felt that seminaries (theological higher education) are more similar to law schools and medical schools than other kinds of schools. He replied that the original four professions in higher education were clergy, lawyers, doctors, and teachers. While I don’t have a citation for that (there’s more data for the four occupations in ancient China) that “feels” right. The medieval university came into existence in order to train (Roman Catholic) priests, and law and philosophy were secondary pursuits. Later, during the enlightenment, we see the rise of the liberal arts university as we know and experience it in North America. First and foremost, it was professional training.[*]

Certainly, the history of the Historically Black College/University gives credence to this. Many of the HBCU’s opened to give degrees in Divinity (clergy) and Education (teachers), and soon afterwards opened law schools (lawyers) and medical schools (doctors). Also, the history of the seminary is that as the enlightenment brought about the rise of the university, the study of theology (and the training of clergy, because the academic study of theology was linked to the practice and profession of the priesthood) increasingly segregated and separated from the university. The counter-reformation gives birth to the official creation of the seminary as the vessel for training priests, but the enlightenment planted the seeds.

The larger point here is that seminaries really are more like professional schools, in that they train people for a profession rather than liberal arts schools that teach general knowledge. When you examine the curriculum of the average seminary degree, you find that it resembles what you might see in the study of the liberal arts, however. Consider the “average” Master of Divinity degree, usually 90 hour broken down as follows:

  • 18 hours of Greek, Hebrew, and Interpretation (tools for study)
  • 18 hours of Bible, including surveys of the Old and New Testaments (subject matter)
  • 18 hours of Theology, both Historical and Systematic (subject matter)
  • 24 hours of Ministry Practice (professional study)
  • 12 hours of electives (specialization)

Somewhere in those 90 hours, there’s usually a 3-hour internship wherein the student gains academic credit for “practicing” the profession. Sadly, as a “professional” degree, only 25% of it is dedicated to professional study.

Contrast this with the “average” law school (law schools have a generally common core but wildly vary after the first year and especially in the third year), which breaks down as:

  • 30 hours of core concepts like contracts, torts, property, criminal law, and civil procedure. Usually includes an integrative class and/or a writing class (tools and professional study)
  • 30 hours of specialization courses involving in-depth study of areas of particular interest (knowledge and professional study)
  • Clinical courses involving actual work in projects of interest (professional study).

Note that the study of the practice of the profession is integrated throughout the curriculum. What might it mean for our churches if the schools that trained our pastors actually trained them well for the profession they are entering? What might it mean if the emphasis was not the knowledge, but the character and formation of the individual? Here’s a call for those of use in theological education to consider the best way to serve God through training.


[*] I understand the concept of the priesthood of all believers, and the legitimate resistance to create a special class of believers who have the education to do ministry. That discussion, while relevant, is a bit out of the scope of this particular blog.

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Why I’ve Chosen to #banbossy

I have a confession (and apology) to make.

When I first saw the ban bossy add and campaign, I scoffed and rolled my eyes. In truth, I believe my exact words were, “That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve watched in a very long time.” I really didn’t get it. By my understanding, bossy was a word used to describe a person who not only has an opinion on something (usually a task), but is also inclined to (a) tell you about it, (b) give you directives regarding it, (c) and/or supervise you while you do it. My son is bossy. My wife is bossy. My (older) brother, at times was bossy. I’ve known many bossy people. Bossy was not a bad word. It’s a neutral observation of behavior.

My first negative experience with the word bossy came when I gave a talk to some high school students regarding career choices. I said, in describing a particular personality type, “Your friends probably call you bossy.” One of the ladies in the class said that was a bad word; I insisted it was not. I asserted that it was okay to be bossy because it was just their way and that they should embrace that quality. “Somebody’s got to be in charge, it might as well be you.” She graciously dropped the issue.

I finally had the chance to speak to one of my good friends about this issue. This particular friend thinks well about these sorts of issues, both through academic study and through personal experience as a black woman. She pointed out to me that bossy is typically a word assigned to women who do what men do, and are encouraged to do on a regular basis (similar to another 5-letter word that begins with ‘b’). In other words, a woman is “bossy”, while a man doing the same thing is being a decisive leader. I’d never thought of it as such (I, personally, thought of anyone exhibiting these behaviors as bossy). As she mentioned, however, I am not the norm. Iconoclast was the word she used.

Her husband suggested that maybe women and kids are capable of being bossy, but as we thought about it we realized that might actually make it worse since now women are in the same category as children. I had to conclude then, that no matter what my personal views on the word, the best practice might be for me to remove the word from my vocabulary.

The originator of this campaign got blasted pretty bad for coming up with it. Admittedly, I still don’t think it’s a bad word. But what I think doesn’t matter in this particular case. So I owe an apology to that high school young woman who was offended at my use of bossy. Instead of justifying my actions (and possibly bullying you into acquiescing) I should have demonstrated some humility and stopped. From the bottom of my heart, I ask for your forgiveness.

As proof of my repentance, I plan to ban bossy.

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