An uncommon defense of common core: We need a standard

IMG_1559The news and my social media feed, not to mention various conversations, filled up with discussion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Discussion, particularly from a ‘conservative’ perspective go against CCSS. The viewpoint declares CCSS is a Federal take over of education. Given our fractured society, CCSS became a figurehead for fear of Federal intrusion. Where do I stand?

I support CCSS for three key reasons. First, I believe national standards are a prudent measure in an increasingly mobile society. Second, I believe that such standards should put local districts and teachers in control of curriculum decisions. Third, I believe that the main problem in education is a lack of parental engagement, understanding, and effective support. If opponents are successful in stopping CCSS, the three issues are still in play. I often ask my proverbial question: You get rid of CCSS, then what do you do? This post will deal with the need to national standards.

I drive therefore I can build a car…
In researching this issue as well as becoming a cheerleader for my local school district, one thing became clear: As a society we are woefully uninformed about education. I hope in reading this more grace and understanding is offered to our educator neighbors. For those who are parents reading this: we hold the trump card to radically improving education. We must not consider ourselves consumers of schools, but rather as engaged participants. Too many think they understand how education should work by virtue of being a student. This would be like saying we know how to design and build a car after driving it and doing standard maintenance.

National Standards are prudent
The first question to think through is: should there be national standards? An entire discussion could start and end right there. Our society is increasingly mobile. People growing up and staying in a certain geographical region is dropping. Society is becoming increasingly more urban. A key demographic in mobility is our military community. Having a national set of standards for education makes sense. If I move from one part of the country to another, it would be nice to have consistency. Also, a national set of standards helps benchmark our educational system to that of other countries.

Who should make the decision in developing national standards is a difficult one. My preference would be for states to collaborate together as well as with private enterprise. CCSS fits this model. While there is concern with some involved, such as Bill Gates, I prefer a state & private enterprise approach than a Federally controlled or mandated one. If Federal government started CCSS, I would not favor CCSS even though I do favor national standards.

We’ve been here before
The discussion is not new. An educator friend handed me the report of the Council of Ten, dated July 9th, 1892. The report deals with the matter of uniformity in education. It details standards for certain areas, and delegates others, such as the arts. A criticism often leveled at educational standards is that it diminishes the arts. Given this, there has always been a tension in education over should and what should be uniformed in education. Page 48 under the heading “Explanation of the Sample Programmes” it states this:

“The omission of music, drawing, and elocution from the programmes offered by the committee was not intended to imply that these subjects ought to receive no systemic attention. It was merely thought best to leave it to local school authorities to determine, without suggestions from the committee, how these subjects should be introduced into the programmes in addition to the subjects reported on by the Conferences.”

Standards vs Standardization
Things such as the arts have often taken the back seat in education. The highly viewed TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson attest to this fact. The challenge with any semblance of uniforimity is standards vs. standardization. Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Mary E. Dietz discuss this danger of CCSS. They explicitly state that the standards are not the issue, but that “the initiative conflate standards with standardization.” (Educational Leadership Dec ’12/Jan ’13, p.65) Much criticism of CCSS seems more an issue of assumed standardization vs the standards themselves.

For example:
There are standards for english literature. News reports came out that “CCSS” are forcing students to read a book some disagreed with. While the book might be on a list of examples, we should note that “the only reading explicitly required in the CCSS is the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, a Shakespeare play and one play by an American dramatist.” (CCSS Introduction, Aspen Institute) Timothy Shanahan illustrates how people took recommendations as standardization in his article “The CC Ate My Baby. (Educational leadership, Dec’12/Jan’13)

Curriculum choice is the real issue
Common Core is to education what HTML5 is to Web browsers. HTML5 is a web standard. There are multiple web browsers that interface with HTML5. Some do not interact well with HTML5- Internet Explorer. Some do a suburb job, like Safari. (I’m a mac.) Some curriculum and districts will interact well with the CCSS and some will not. Many of the criticisms of CCSS seem to be curriculum decisions, not necessarily the standards themselves. CCSS is not a curriculum. It is a set of standards.

The bottom line:
I believe we need national standards. Such is helpful to educating our children. These standards should be established by states, educators and private enterprise- the world which most will work. Common Core does this. There are things that can and need to be improved upon, as the issue of standards vs standardization illustrates. However, media punditry is making that needed interaction difficult. Rather than attacking CCSS, partner with your educator neighbors to do what’s best for kids. Why? The standards are not as much an issue as the curriculum choices are. Part two will deal with curriculum.

People don’t have enough cheerleaders…

DSC_0527People don’t have enough cheerleaders, but they have plenty of critics. I’ve found the difference is really a choice a person makes. We can choose act as a cheerleader or we can choose act as a critic. In our hyper-critical church world, the choice is often to be a critic.

Biblical love is HARD!
Practicing 1 Corinthians 13 love, or Philippians 4:8-9 is HARD! How hard is it to trust and believe all things? Just by saying that the ‘Yeah, but’ crowd starts bubbling up about discernment or sin. Truth does not trump love nor love truth. How can I assume the best knowing that many are [insert the worst possible stereotype you can think of here]? Because that is what the Bible instructs me to do. After all, love is the more excellent way. Excellence is hard, messy and an intentional choice.

Act don’t react
Cheerleading is an intentional act, criticism is a reaction. Cheerleaders promote what they are FOR. Critics promote what they are AGAINST. Cheerleaders see what’s wrong, but push for what’s best. Critics see what is wrong, and push what is wrong. Cheerleaders praise in public and criticize in private. Critics criticize in public and (maybe) praise in private, hedged with said criticism. Cheerleading is hard because there are things seen that are frustrating. Criticism is easy because it is easier to destroy instead of build up. Cheerleaders trust God. Critics play God. What are you FOR?

Yeah, but the truth must be stated, right?
Promoting what you are for is stating truth. The statement “telling the truth is the most loving thing you can do” often puts truth above love. Think of it this way: out of the heart the mouth speaks. If I speak truth critically instead of lovingly, there is a theological error in my heart. We act based on what we believe. The ‘Yeah, but’ Crowd often speaks truth out of theological error.

God is God and we’re not
Paul didn’t mind his critics judging him or his motives. Why? Because God does. In fact, Paul didn’t even bother to judge himself for the same reason. Paul didn’t mind preachers making a name for themselves. Why? Because the Gospel was still being proclaimed. Paul didn’t go nuclear on false teaching in the Ephesian church. WHAT!? Paul sent Timothy to to instruct false teachers and bring them inline with the Bible. Cheerleading is a patient, long-suffering work that “GOD may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…”

The bottom line:
I choose to be a cheerleader rather than a critic. Praise in public, criticize in in private. Cheerleading is about building up. It is not being naive about faults. Cheerleading is recognizing the value of one’s strengths that we can learn from. The Holy Spirit is really good at his job. He will accomplish his task of making people Christlike. Keep what you are for as the main thing. Promoting such naturally and patiently deals with the things you are critical of.

Proverbial Thoughts: Eating Elephants

elephant2How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time ~Dad

I’m sitting in a seminary class with the normal heart palpitations you get when the evil syllabus is handed to you. Dr. Engle, barely looking over the lectern with his coke rim glasses, quotes this proverb with a slight Hebraic accent. Often proverbial sayings of a parent are echoed by others. When I banged my head on the desk, the prof smiled and stated “So, you’ve heard this often, have you?”

Big projects are made of small steps
The point of the proverb is you need to break big things into its smaller steps. Right now as you’re starting a new year, new project or a new semester you have what I call syllabus shock. This is where you feel the rush of emotion at all that needs to get done. (For those newer in their academic career, this doesn’t go away, you just learn to manage it better.) ASAP, look to break the big elephant into bites.

There’s not way to get this done
I’ve said that a few times. And a few times dad stated the elephant thing. There is a difference between being simple and being a simpleton. We often confuse proverbial statements as being a simpleton, but really the most profound truths and answers are simple. Let’s face it, you’re not the first person to face a large task.

Big 3
The hardest part of a project is getting started. I learned that sometimes the best thing is to focus immediately on the first 3 tasks that need to be accomplished. This helps get the ball rolling. What are the first three bites you need to take? Often meats taste better with condiments, so is there a resource or a person who can help you name the big 3?

Hamburger, steak or roast
Some things can be done quick, others take some more art & finesse and others need to be on the back burner for a while. As you look at the different tasks, which can be done quick, which need time and attention, and what needs to be started early so they can roast in the back of your mind for a while? If someone says you don’t need to worry about something right away, good chances it’s a roast. If the reason for not worrying is it can be done quickly, schedule it for later. If it needs attention and detail, turn on the grill, tis time for steak!

Forgotten Gifts of the Spirit

Church is team. It takes diversity for a unified church body to work, both within the local church as well as the universal church. Smoldering in the back of my head is the issue of Seminary, thanks in part to Pastor Tim Raymond. Back in May, Pastor Tim, a peer in seminary and a man of God I had the privilege to growing up with, wrote a series on the importance of seminary (Part one Part Two Part Three Part Four). Here is the opening to the series:

“For decades, seminary education has endured the slings and arrows of bad jokes, unkind mockery, and downright slander.  If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard a disillusioned preacher intentionally misspeak, recalling his years in “cemetery, I mean seminary,” I might be able to buy something edible.  It would be easy for the average Christian to think wrongly, like Nathaniel did with Nazareth, that nothing good can come out of seminary.”

Wisdom & Knowledge
Wisdom & knowledge seem to be neglected gifts. Bill Hybels mentions often how leadership is often not developed or neglected in churches. For a long time, I believe that to be true. As I look over the course of my lifetime, it seems wisdom and knowledge are largely neglected. Churches rarely promote the life of the mind. Wisdom and knowledge feeds solid leadership and solid pastoring. It gives tools to evangelism and mercy. In the fear of heresy, apathy and/or elitism, we’ve neglected two vital gifts.

Seminary is vital
The church both local and universal need places of scholarship where those gifted with wisdom and knowledge can develop and build the body of Christ. I believe it is a duty of a pastor to be a theologian. Having the gift of leadership or shepherding doesn’t give us an excuse to be lax in our theology. It does mean we need to lean on those gifted in ways we are not. I’d be lost preaching through Romans if it were not for those gifted with wisdom and knowledge. While true knowledge can puff up and love edifies, Paul also argues for the importance of the mind in 1 Corinthians 14.

Disciples were diverse
Often the argument against scholarship, like seminary, is the disciples were average men. This is partly true. They were also men who went through a rigorous three-year training program by a master teacher, Jesus. Afterwards the Holy Spirit instructed them. While peter was “blue collar” Paul was clearly an intellectual. While John spoke profound truths simply, Luke and the writer of Hebrews were academically astute. We need all gifts. The formation of God’s Word illustrates this.

The Bible
Biblical and theological literacy are at an all time low. The need for biblical counseling stands at an all time high. There is a relationship between these two things. Perhaps the church is reaping the costs of neglecting the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. What good is leadership or shepherding if it’s not on the firm foundation of God’s Word? Confusion on the Gospel, in worship and the church relationship to culture flow from not heeding wisdom and knowledge. We need to heed Hebrews 5:11-14.

The bottom line:
We need seminary and seminaries don’t need to be places where people lose their faith or passion. Like Tim, I found this to be quite the opposite. I’m immensely grateful for the discipleship Baptist Bible Seminary provided. While I understand that not all will or can attend seminary, I do think one should if at all possible. We need places where we can benefit from those gifted with wisdom and knowledge.

My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Separation or discernment?

“You have no business promoting public schools!”
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” St. Paul

First, separation is a command
The Bible teaches separation. There is no avoiding that in Scripture. Our associations, friendships, business partners, ministry partners have to be viewed through a lens of separation. I often hear from those chucking church or fundamentalism that “separation is wrong.” Oddly, they then “separate” from fundamentalists. The issue is whether separation is a core doctrine or a matter of wise discernment. I take it to be discernment.

Separation as objective idolatry
For some fundamentalists separation is a core tenet of the faith. Not always by articulation, but often by practice. This unbalanced view of separation leads this idea of a particular articulation of theology and/or method of doing ministry as being pure. Others as to be critiqued and questioned. Theological correctness becomes more like a God and not the God of correct theology.

Theological separation isn’t dead
In reading about the emerging church split that evolved into “missional” and “emergent” circles, the lines of separation were similar to the liberal/fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century. If people are going to deny the Gospel, there is an obvious line and clear expectation for separating. There are times when discerning whether to separate or not is blatantly clear.

In the world
Jesus in his priestly prayer talks about how we’re to be in the world and not of it. The great commission sends us into the world. The Gospel and the church are culturally neutral and able to contextualize the Gospel in a way that doesn’t violate Scripture or the Gospel. Still, in North America the issue of proclaiming the Gospel in a way that our culture understands gets clouded by an unbalanced view of separation. An unbalanced view of separation is a fortress mentality, not a discernment one.

Fear of man
An unbalanced view of separation focuses on one’s self and not God. Yes God is all holy and to be honored. But we shouldn’t neglect grace to fulfill the command of separation. A hard focus on separation creates an environment of distrust, is poisons grace and it often leads to an unloving culture. I often observe that it seems more about gaining approval of certain men the focusing on what God. We all love the pats on the back for standing firm in the faith by our peers or congregants. Jesus was called a friend of sinners- not always as a compliment.

The public school
I remember an intentional “you’re not going to be invited back” conversation based on a comment I made in a workshop. “The easiest place to live a dynamic Christian life is the Public School. There you have no choice, you’re either on fire or a hypocrite.” Apparently, I violated the doctrine separation by that statement. After being instructed on separation, I was then told that nothing good comes from public schools, broken homes, etc. A good christian has no place in a public school.

By God’s grace, I was able to start a Bible study, hold a regular morning prayer meeting and witness in my public school. I remember conversations about respecting parents, not having an abortion, being a servant and others. I remember people accepting Christ and being affirmed in the faith. I came form a broken home, and again by God’s grace, I’m a minister of the Gospel pointing people to Jesus. This explanation wasn’t good enough.

The bottom line:
An unbalanced view of separation distracts from the mission of making followers of Jesus. It violates love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. It pulls us away from the world. Separation is a command in Scripture to be obeyed through wise discernment. It’s not a command to build a fortress and hide until the rapture. Don’t react out of a fear of man or protectionist ideology. Act out of wisdom, applying the Scriptures to each situation.

2012 Election Season Tips

Here comes another election year and the onslaught of all that comes with an election cycle. I wanted to give a few tips as we enter this season. Too often in churches politics becomes polarizing. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Gospel First Gospel Central
A key question to ask yourself is what is most important? In relationships with people is it more important that they follow your political persuasion or that they now Christ? For some people aiming to persuade a political opinion can close the door to the Gospel. I’m passionate about our country, but I more passionate about the Cross.

Be Informed
You have an obligation to be informed: about the process, about the people, and about their views. Not just what you believe but also other viewpoints. The big thing: think and develop discernment. It is often to get stuck on a single issue. Often that is counter productive.

Be Civil
A Democrat may be a socialist and a Republican may be a fascist, but that’s rarely true. Often they’re people just like you trying to make sense out of the world and be a part of the process. Be Civil. If you can’t be civil, take Proverbs advice and be quiet as “even a fool is consider wise when he keeps his mouth shut.” For some historical perspective, our country often sees hard times and has intense elections. As Christians, we should elevate civil discourse and model it well.

Pray
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” ~1 Tim 2:1-2

Be Involved
It’s not wrong to hold a political opinion. To act completely neutral isn’t authentic. The Bible says to submit to governing authorities and according to our constitution, that’s “we the people” in an election. Where being involved becomes a problem is when the Gospel is no longer first and central. Holding your political views doesn’t make a person saved. Knowing Jesus and the power of the resurrection does.

Vote
Vote and encourage others to vote. And when you vote: be informed, examine Scripture, pray and then vote your conscience.

The bottom line:
Elections have been nasty because “We the people…” made them nasty. Let’s set a new standard for 2012 regardless if you’re DNC, GOP or ???. As Christians let’s not forget what is most important. Don’t turn people off to the Gospel because of pushing a political opinion.

The next thing…

Fresh paint makes the old stand out. Once its done you see the next thing that needs to get done. Once that’s done you see the next. Cleaning up a house or building is like growing in Christ. Everything can’t get done at once. But, once you finish one thing, the next thing stands out. Here are a couple things to think through as you head into the new year…

Plan
Set up a growth plan. Keep it simple, doable, and big enough to stretch you. People often get scared or short-circuit with words like “review” or “evaluate.” Developing a growth plan serves the same function but has an added bonus: A growth plan focuses on where you’re going and can do, not where you’ve been and fall short. This is why Disney focuses on growth plans instead of annual reviews.

Focus
Complete a step that will push you to the next step. It’s like dominos. Focus on what’s going to propel you to the next thing when you’re done. Watching dominos fall is sweet when things are place and well executed. The big secret to focus is saying no. The power of no is a stronger yes.

Celebrate
Rest and enjoy your work. God made us to work and He made us to enjoy life as well. People who are driven would accomplish more by trying to do less. For example, many people who are big into physical fitness overwork themselves. This prevents them from achieving the goals. They’re over working. A trainer of mine said most people who are into working out would become stronger if they did less.

Do something
If you’re clueless where to start, just start. The advantage of planning is that its easier to change with a plan than without one. The big thing about just starting is humility. Ask for help. Sometimes you need someone to just say, good plan, go for it. To quote photographers, the best camera is the one in your hand. Just get started.