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Category: leadership

The Creative Power of Forgiveness

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The irreversibility of action is one of the most profound truths of life. When we act, we interact with others from our position of human plurality to accomplish something more creative and powerful than we could ever accomplish on our own. Action is always an inter-action with others, and action is always resulting in an outcome that exceeds our own creativity and personal power. When we act, the consequences of our actions out live our selves. However, forgiveness can reverse the power of destructive action.

The inter-active, inter-personal reality of action is remarkable to consider. Because of our fallen nature and our lack of foreknowledge of future events, our actions can be creatively productive or creatively destructive. For example, we routinely see the creative power of action at work in politics. When DeRay McKesson asserts that #BlackLivesMatter, his actions are multiplied beyond his own power because others subject their personal will to the ideal that other Americans are willing to productively confront the structural devaluing of minority lives in our justice system. When President Donald J. Trump asserts that only he can #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, i.e., #MAGA, his actions are multiplied beyond his own power because others subject their personal will to the creative destruction of the American-dominated world order in favor of re-creating another domestic future.

We saw the irreversibility of action this past week in profoundly destructive and profoundly redeeming ways in Las Vegas. While the shooter may have had (yet unknown) plans effected in his own actions, the destructive power of his actions has been greatly multiplied beyond anything beyond his own power as the losses of life and health ripple through all of the families and communities affected. At the same time, his actions released the creatively redeeming actions of others who sacrificed themselves to protect others, risked their lives to keep the company of the dying, and provide immediate physical and spiritual relief to those who were suffering in the moment. While on the one hand, there was one irreversibly destructive act, on the other hand there were many irreversibly redeeming acts that negated the power of one’s rebellion against the sanctity of life.

In fact, action is so powerful that the only thing that can reverse or undo destructive acts is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the sole personal action that can release the actor and the one who is acted upon from the irreversible consequences of action. This is because forgiveness is so unexpected in the wake of actions with creatively destructive actions. Most of the time, when the circumstance demands forgiveness, it is because the hurt and pain caused by the original action is so deep that it creates a cycle of retribution in which the one acted upon is obligated to reciprocate the original action. Thus, the original action attains its destructive power. But forgiveness can have redemptive power, because it destroys the cycle of retribution while re-configuring the relation between the actor and the one acted upon. Ideally, forgiveness re-configures this relationship so that both parties can proceed as if the original act had never happened. In our human world, this is obviously not true since some of the artifacts of originally destructive acts cannot be reversed or restored (e.g., a man is paralyzed because he was struck by a drunk driver). However, future actions are no longer predetermined by the original act of destruction.

Have the events of the past week made you reconsider the meaning of life? The meaning of our actions? The power of forgiveness?

Peace and Blessings.

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Engineering is an Identity

Society is reliant on our ability to harness technological advances in order to facilitate economic, social, and political activities that make us “human.” Our ability to do so has advanced to a point where now the boundaries between policy and engineering design are no longer clear. This is especially true if you have the same training I do, undergraduate and master’s training in civil and environmental engineering. As engineers, you must develop a professional identity that transcends disciplinary boundaries and common obstacles to develop responsible and appropriate technologies.

There are three key ideas this entails:

  1. Engineering, especially civil and environmental engineering, requires a spiritual commitment;
  2. Engineering, especially civil and environmental engineering, is politically charged; and,
  3. Engineering is always changing, in all disciplines.

It should be obvious that engineering requires a spiritual commitment, but perhaps what makes this less obvious is the possibility that the definition of spiritual is contested. For the purpose of this note, let us define spiritual as the unseen metaphysical or religious reality that defines what it means to be human. Spiritual certainly implies consciousness and cognition, but it also implies soul and identity. Man’s spiritual nature leads them to faithfully discharge their fiduciary responsibilities to others altruistically. This is the basic motive behind risk analysis and civil infrastructure design. As engineers, we take the problems created as we become aware of the needs our dreams and aspirations introduce, and solve those problems without intentionally imperiling those dreams and aspirations. While engineers’ work is clearly valuable from a commercial perspective, engineers discharge these responsibilities without primary regard for their own welfare, but for the welfare of others.

Once we begin to include the welfare of others, the engineer is placed at the interface between conflicting factions–the firm and the profession. As a result, it is very difficult to establish what “welfare of others” requires, and this introduces political deliberation into their calculations. The technical challenges we face often are the least difficult aspects of the problem. Technology is not deterministic, and often is not the limiting factor for technological achievements. Instead, technologies take up momentum as competing interests negotiate to establish the contextually appropriate definition of “welfare.”

Moreover, since the definition of “welfare” is constantly changing in response to the political changes in society, engineering must constantly change as both technology and politics evolve. Engineering is always changing, in all disciplines. We think of this most often in computer science, believing that computer science, math, and physics are the apex of technological developments. We often think the main reason that our disciplines change is because computers change. We must realize, though, we are part of a conversation. Everything, including the basic rules, are up for re-negotiation if we see that society requires the profession change its approach.

But how should the profession change its approach? This is addressed through the collective identity of engineers within their sub-disciplines. As engineers become core members of their communities of practice, they help to negotiate the meaning of that practice with respect to collective welfare, and they shape the artifacts of that practice with welfare and collective memory in mind.

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false humility

So, last night we had prayer meeting and I was so excited to attend and lead it, although I knew I’d not been going to the church long enough to command a following of most of the members and that I didn’t know how things happened here. I remember being frustrated that everyone weren’t participating and that there was not more silence during the meeting. Now, looking back even only 8 weeks or so ago, I feel my frustrations and concerns were fully unjustified. However, any heartache could have been avoided if I’d just had a discussion with the other leaders about what the plan was and how it’d be worked out. Instead, I just allowed stuff to go with the flow because I didn’t feel I had the social capital to raise my concerns. This was a case of what my wife calls “false humility.”

False humility says that we don’t speak our concerns in love because we don’t feel we have the position, or we don’t trust the gift God has given us. I think this is rooted in unbelief and that if it were rooted in belief, I’d speak if I think I have something that will build up the community, and give folks the freedom to respond, whether or not they are okay with what I have to say.

Most of the reason I’m upset is that I had a plan and we didn’t use it. Now, looking back, I think it’s better that we never use the plan, and transition more to a “prayer letter” model. I also pray that God will use this to humble me since prayer was not a spiritual gift of mine, and I’m just excited to be helping my new church in a meaningful way.

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Count Not Just the Cost, But Also The Worth

We have been writing Lenten devotionals in our church’s Foreign Missions Ministry. This post was originally written to be published on our minstry’s blog, but it was not required. I think that I’d like to share it with you all on my personal blog, so here goes…

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 14:28-33

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?    For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,    saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?    If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.    In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

During my discipleship class this week, we were discussing this passage. If you turn to Luke 14 in your Bible, and start reading from verse 25, you will see that Jesus had been followed by very large crowds. Seeing the condition of their (and our) hearts, He says to them “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.    And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” These are probably among the most famous words in the Bible. Jesus is clearly telling us that it will cost us everything to follow Him.

But this time, reading this passage, I couldn’t help feeling that we were missing something.

I think that Jesus knew we’d miss the point, so He uses a parable to explain why it is that it is worth giving up everything.  This pair of parables is our Scripture focus today.  First, Jesus compares to a builder who “estimates the cost” of his building and evaluates the plans that have been established. Second, Jesus compares to a king who is about to go to war and considers “whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand.” This is strikingly different than what Jesus says above in that we must “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…” How does the “hate” meet up with “estimate the cost.”

I believe Jesus uses these parables to show us that our focus should not be on what we are losing, but what we are gaining! The point is not to fail to build the house, but to make sure your secure the mortgage before you start! The point is not to stay home from war, but to make sure you have 20,000 troops or alliances that will protect you!

So, what am I saying. Why does God tell us count the cost? Because we are to clearly see that God’s life, and life with God is much more valuable than anything that we currently have.  This is the goal. And anything less than life with God is like building on a foundation without securing the mortgage. Living this life without rebirth in Jesus is like us in our will and wisdom (10,000 men) going up against God and His holiness in eternity (20,000 men).  The foolishness of this task is just as clear as the folly shown by the foolish builder or the foolish king. This foolishness is compounded by the fact that the solution is simple in both cases.  Consider buying a home: very few of us have the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars required to build a home. However, the value of home ownership for building wealth is worth so much to many people in our culture that we see clearly the advantage of committing to a debt greater than a substantial part of our financial worth in order to pursue the vision of homeownership. While many of us will spend the majority of our working adult lives paying down our mortgages, it is not seen as a sacrifice at all.  Consider the king going to war. If one can’t defeat his adversary, he goes to him and makes terms of peace. One will have to give up his autonomy and live under the King’s authority, but it is infinitely worth it. If we make peace with God, we will be part of His Kingdom!

Of course, to make peace with God, we must give up everything that we have (v. 33). But, in view of the alternatives, this is not a sacrifice at all! We are the opposing king who has just been made an ally in the most powerful kingdom in all eternity!

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stories of 2013

each year as new year’s day approaches, billions of us instinctively reflect on our lives and appraise ourselves.   in that appraisal, we often find ourselves wanting.  for some of us, this conclusion is certainly borne out by the evidence; for most of us, this conclusion is an exaggeration intended as self-motivation; for some of us we are  attempting to reclaim our lives from the grasp of the vanity of fulfilled goals and dreams. the one universal notion, whatever day of the year new year’s falls on in your culture, is that we select certain things to emphasize in the new year, align those things with some desirable trait or objective we hope to attain, then set to the work. we call them resolutions, and unlike most words we use collectively as a society, i believe that resolution is the correct word for the new year’s day intentions we set.

at the start of 2013, i’d come across an article written in the NYT about a woman who’d read one fiction book every day for 2012 (or was it 2011?). while reading her account, it occurred to me that i’d probably never willingly read a work of fiction since my years of high school.  [no, my memory just failed me. make that “only read a handful of fiction works since high school.”] the last fiction books i can remember having willingly read were breath, eyes, memory by edwidge danticat, the farming of bones by edwidge danticat, black boy  and native son by richard wright, and parable of the sower by octavia butler. i also distinctly remember reading the blacker the berry in high school because i couldn’t understand what anyone meant by that metaphor.  the book didn’t help me understanding the metaphor, but it did help in understanding the american prism that refracts racial diversity into its constituent colors.  as an aside, i can’t wait to teach my son his history through the tales we collectively share as black americans and haitian americans. these were some of my favorite books and i look forward to seeing them through father’s and husband’s eyes…

these were the last fiction works i’d willingly read, up until 2013, of course. at the end of 2012, i was tired of reading things just to understand equations or to make some esoteric technical point to students or other scholars. it was as if i was gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but still couldn’t articulate shared social values. i found myself at a loss for words when i’d want to discuss some self reflection with my wife or someone else intending for the self reflection to reveal to her something about my soul while also edifying her as my partner. in short, i think it is appropriate to say that life was becoming in some important ways both dumb and boring.

when i’d read that account of the journey through one book per day, i couldn’t help at least a momentary reflection on the role fiction and stories play in my own life.  while one book per day of any kind (except perhaps a few Bible books) is completely out of reach for me at this season of my life, i felt then, and still feel now, that one work of fiction per month, on average, is a reasonable and worthy investment of my time. i’ve written about some of the benefits indirectly in short reflections on some of the books i read this year, but a short summary statement is probably worth it.

the most important benefits of reading fiction are two. they both involve awareness. awareness of my own voice, and awareness of democratic ownership of the human narrative.

my professional life has benefitted greatly from this resolution, and i’m hoping to make such an effort a regular part of my life.  reading fiction has awakened me to my own voice.  it sounds counter intuitive–reading so many others’ voices, sometimes for 800 or so pages at a time, awakens one to their own voice. i’ve found this to be true in my experience.  reading fiction has made me very much aware of the words inside of me, the person and image i’ve become, and even sometimes helps me to imagine how i must appear to others. because of this, it has also made me more creative as a professor. i have begun to think about decision analysis and risk in ways that were not possible for me, personally, before 2013.

since my personal and professional lives are inseparable, all of that is true for my personal life as well. yet, personally i feel enriched in ways that are difficult to describe in words. fiction allows one to place oneself. one becomes a true citizen or steward of some small piece of our collective heritage. and fiction allows one to find his place in their corner of humanity. this must be why it has been illegal for marginalized peoples throughout history to learn to read and write. the principalities and powers of this world stand to lose too much if this ownership of the human narrative is democratized. [i wish i had time to really dig into this, but my toddler is awake now…]

i am now aware of my place as an american, african diasporan, christian, engineer, and husband and father in new ways. while i may or may not make a literary contribution, my ownership of the piece of the narrative i occupy is expressed through my role as a professor, instructor, father, and husband. in all of those roles, i can redefine and reshape in small ways what it means to be all of those things because of the stories shared with me this year.

if you’ve read this far, bless your soul. may God also bless you and your family in the New Year. may your community and family, and indeed the cosmos, be blessed by the resolution God will place on your heart for 2014.

(p.s. so, what books did i read last year?)

  • Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
  • L’Etranger [The Stranger] (Albert Camus)
  • Kindred (Octavia Butler)
  • Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
  • Fledgling (Octavia Butler)
  • Ishmael (Daniel Quinn)
  • An Outline of the Republic (Siddhartha Deb)
  • Fallen Land (Patrick Flanery)
  • The Dark Road (Ma Jian)
  • The Pale King (David Foster Wallace)
  • Untouchables (Mulk Raj Anand)
  • El Enamoramientos [The Infatuations] (Javier Marías)
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Reflections on “The Pale King”

Given the size of the book and the immensity of its author, this will be a brief reflection.  The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace, was an adventure.  It was a book that reminded me why I read fiction.

Not necessarily to be entertained, because this book was not entertaining.

I determined to read more fiction this year, because fiction has made me more self-aware. In what ways?

  1. Self-image: This book made me much more cognizant of the influence of multiple motives and concealed objectives on the social structure of the workplace. As a result, I am considering becoming more intentional and reflective in my contribution to my work’s social space.
  2. Writing: While TPK is not a book that presents a technical truth, it is a masterful lesson in using words judiciously and economically.  Wallace, although his books are quite long, uses words parsimoniously.  He says exactly what he means, or creates the feeling he wants, by using exactly the number of words required and no more.  This is the most important contribution he has made to my personal and professional life. Now, when I am writing, I write for clarity and simplicity–aiming to say no more than what is needed. If you are a David Foster Wallace reader and fan, you understand exactly what I mean.
  3. Citizenship: As a citizen, I am more aware of my obligation to my community.  This is especially true locally–the book is, in fact about the IRS, the enforcement agency of an area of law that is perhaps the principal embodiment of our obligation to shared sacrifice for each other.
  4. Purpose: Clarity of purpose and acceptance of one’s limits is a source of life.  Crushing complexity and systemic inertia is a source of death.  This book has made me sit, multiple times even this week, to take a renewed look at my personal and professional objectives.  This process is still evolving, but I am re-committed to clarifying them and making them specific as a result of TPK.

TPK was clearly unfinished, but it has been a watershed moment in my life. To me, the book shows us very clearly the deadly weight of tedium and boredom. It shows us very clearly the ephemeral nature of life. And, that this very ephemeral life is slipping from many of us in the most soul-numbing, invisible ways possible.

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Water for the soul

Those who may have followed this blog for some time may be predicting that I am about to jump into some Christian reflection. At this point, I am sorry to disappoint your expectations. Instead, I’d like to share with you a goal I have for myself during the upcoming year: to read 12 fiction books during 2013.

For some of you, that is no goal at all, but let me explain. My job depends on reading and writing mathematical nonfiction work. I want to continue my running, and with a young family and church, I’ve no time left for much else. So, 12 books is both challenging and achievable.

I was beginning to look at my reading over the past couple years, and I realized I didn’t read enough fiction. Why should that matter?

Consider the nonfiction you have read recently. Very likely, the author was appealing to your reason with facts you could objectively verify. Although your interpretation was free for you to shape, you were probably looking at things as an outsider or a judge. Now, think about a fiction book you have read. Although the author may or may not have been doing the same thing-appealing to your reason-you were probably much more likely to see yourself as a character in the story. At the very least, you could empathize with the characters and take on their perspectives as they developed. As a result, what happened in the story also feels like it happens to you as well.

Perhaps this also happens to some extent in biography. But the point I’m trying to make is that the fiction method of teaching, if you will, is much more effective because fiction is processed by the heart first, while nonfiction is processed by the mind. Thus, you will have forgotten the story well before the lesson stops working in your soul. To remember important truths communicated as stories is much simpler because you can remember the feeling. Whereas facts require you to master the prose.

So, although I started my goal thinking I’d travel in my mind and learn about cultures, I now am continuing because I want truth in my innermost parts more than I want the appearance of intellectual power.

And I also don’t have much free time to waste.

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the meaning is in the madness

Today’s sermon was about Samson, Delilah, Samson’s downfall, and his triumphant death. I couldn’t help but reflect on the sadness of this account, and the way this sadness gives birth to such victory.

I started to reflect on the fact that we can live for so long being confused and frustrated by those we love and are so close to. Our lives are intertwined with theirs but they seem completely ambivalent to the way our fate is linked into theirs. Yet, when they fail colossally, even as a result of their deliberate choices, even when their failures ruin our lives, we almost unfailingly rejoice in their redemption. This is one of the great mysteries of life.

To realize how much of an enigma this is, contrast the person who cultivates up hard work, obedience, creativity, industry, entrepreneurship, discipline, and exudes success. Their faithful attention to life’s details is rarely celebrated: they are relied upon, but not hailed as triumphant. If they are not lucky enough to make it to the very highest echelons of their endeavors, they disappear into the backdrop of our lives.

These faithful ones are in great danger if they have not found purpose larger than their work and reputation. But for those who seem to be children of madness, meaning is their constant companion–it is always near their hands waiting to be grasped; just a few steps behind waiting to be embraced. One might think this is weird, but it becomes apparent after a moment of reflection. For those of us who  observe madness, we see the meaning clearly: “Imagine what this person could really be if they recognized who they are in God.” The meaning is in their escaping blindness and being liberated into a new identity.

There is something irresistible about witnessing redemption. No matter in whom, when, or where we observe this liberation, we celebrate it just as intensely as we do the most amazing accomplishments of man (and woman). To us who despise indiscretion, we see the purpose in others clearly, but despair in the vanity of the ordered life we believe we live.

In our despair, we indicate we don’t acknowledge the madness in our own lives. I’ve always thought that the most radically transformed people make the best witnesses because they have no room in their hearts for pretense or outward appearances. Their outward appearance is a high fidelity image of their heart’s condition, so the transformation is vividly apparent. But those who have always valued faithfulness are in danger of self-righteousness: our sense of duty may possibly lead to a need to preserve outward appearances does not give us the space we need to realize and renovate the madness within our own hearts. Because we don’t recognize the madness in our lives, we don’t see our lives’ meaning.

Ask God to give you a clear view of the madness in your heart. Then ask Him to empower you to fight the battle in your heart and mind. While your mind is being transformed, my hope is that you will be energized by the new meaning you find in your inner life.

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why are we asking the wrong questions about education?!?

[I’m warning you now, this is probably the longest blog post I’ve ever written, but my passion on the issue requires it…]

The Chicago Teachers’ strike is compelling news to me for a number of reasons. [For example, why did the union not give parents and students more lead time that a strike might be authorized? Why did they authorize the strike for the SECOND WEEK OF CLASS and not start at the beginning of the year?] Some of the items of contention include lengthening the school day, introducing student performance on standardized tests as a principal indicator of teacher performance or effectiveness, and improving teacher job security by giving laid-off teachers first right of refusal to new positions opened up in the school district.

The debate about these items has renewed a national dialogue about some important questions in US public education. What is an effective teacher? What is an appropriate metric for student achievement? Does standardized testing stifle creativeness and innovation in classrooms? This notwithstanding, I think these items miss the point.

All of these questions might be critical if we first answered the most important question.

Before we get to that most important question, I have to say that I am utterly confused by some of the discussions taking place. For example, the supporters of the teachers cite research saying that testing student performance does not improve student performance. This should be obvious, just like a ruler does not make a man or woman taller. However, the question remains: “What does improve student performance?” While not 100% responsible, the teacher is surely a contributor to student development. This leaves the question, how much is the instructor responsible, and how do we hold them accountable to that responsibility?

The teachers’ supporters also like to say that the research suggests that having an effective teacher and that a good classroom environment is most important to student performance, so we must attract better teachers and stop antagonizing current teachers but invest in their professional development. But again, how do we define “good” teaching? How do we define student performance? You cannot make a claim on student “performance” if you are not willing to include their actual “performance” in evaluation. Moreover, if measured student performance is off the table (whether or not this performance is based on tests, projects, or other alternative measures) to what end are teachers being developed?

I cannot wait until the teachers’ proposals are reported, because then we can have a real discussion about the relative quality of the options on the table. Right now, all we can do is bash the union’s recalcitrance or the District’s unfairness because there is only one set of options under consideration. I am interested in how the union and their supporters suggest these things be addressed. Because the schools’ students don’t perform well, the District is losing money, the City is losing money, and something has to be done. It is, after all, a NEGOTIATION!

But, like I said, these things are beside the point. The teachers and their supporters are, in fact, correct in arguing that the reforms will fail and jeopardize their job security in vain if the underlying social and economic problems are not addressed. The question is now, what problems are they talking about, and how did we get these in the first place? This lead us to the most important question in the [overall] US public education debate: WHY ARE SCHOOLS FUNDED BY LOCAL PROPERTY TAXES????? [The second most important question is: WHY ARE SEGREGATED SCHOOLS ACCEPTABLE IN THE US?????]

If the teachers’ unions were asking, and striking based on, this question, I’d be supportive of them. Because that would address the problems the students face. Because the inequities of our current public school system are entirely the product of racist housing and segregation policies promulgated in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s that are still bearing fruit today. But the types of policy advocacy I am suggesting be engaged are things done by professional societies, NGO’s, or community groups, not unions. Professional societies are in it to advance their PROFESSION; NGO’s and community groups are in it to advance SOCIETY or COMMUNITY; Unions exist to promote the interests of their MEMBERS.

Why aren’t the unions presenting statistical data correlating student achievement to local tax receipts per student? Why aren’t they presenting alongside this data per capita expenditures per student? This figure would then be broken down based on categories of receipts and expenditures. Why aren’t they showing this data displayed graphically with maps showing SES and neighborhood racial composition?

But it doesn’t even have to be this complicated. The teachers’ unions could just advocate for policy reforms that promote increased sharing of statewide property taxes for distribution to school districts through a statewide pool. They could also argue for equal salaries and benefits statewide But we all know how that might go.

The unions cannot push these policy reforms because they have nothing to do with THEIR CONTRACT and would jeopardize their goodwill with the voting public without returning any benefit to their MEMBERS. But you know who would benefit from this discussion? THE STUDENTS.

While redlining and residential segregation had the obvious “benefit” of legalized segregation, the more enduring, and in this context more important, legacy of these policies is the fact that these enclaves then made sure their taxes paid for benefits that exclude others. While this is true for many services, it is especially true for public education.

Any person who has recently home-shopped knows that I’m telling the truth, and there’s no getting around this issue. You have to answer this question to answer all of the questions raised above, and which are at the root of the teachers’ discontent. For example, why don’t teachers want their performance evaluations tied to student performance? They claim that the students’ issues are so complex that it is unfair. OK, let’s concede that for a moment. What do the teachers’ claim will improve the problem? More funding and more resources. So what mechanism has the union proposed for securing that funding while simultaneously addressing deficits?

In addition, why does testing students remove creativity? Does testing on the SAT make every high school in the country throw out their curriculum so that all their students will be prepared for the college entrance exams? No. Do students attending wealthy private schools or wealthy public schools worry about not passing the standardized exams? No. Are those students being taught to the test? No. If the students’ parents are the problem in districts of concentrated poverty or racial minority population, can we conclude that teachers have nothing to do with achievement in wealthy districts? If you are not willing to accept the conclusion that teachers don’t affect student performance, then you have to make proposals to deal with one of the following: a.) How can school diversity be increased in order to remove the confounding factors of SES and race in school population so that teachers can be evaluated for competence based on student performance? OR b.) What standards of practice ensure that students learn deeply enough for the standardized tests to be what they are intended to be–measuring sticks? The union and their supporters could write their counter proposals based on their answers to these questions, while actively promoting these policy reforms.

I am very curious about solutions to the concentrated poverty problem, not just because it would make the task of evaluating teachers much easier. It should be clear by now that I think concentrated poverty hurts the most vulnerable students the most, and that some degree of meaningful interaction with a more diverse student body would unquestionably be good for all students. Solving this problem will require quite a bit of creativity and resolve, because I see no easy answers to it. One way would be to assign students randomly to schools within a certain radius of their residence. This radius could be based on travel time or distance. Under this premise, suppose teachers proposed a system in which Chicago students were assigned to schools by lottery seeded by the objective of promoting SES and achievement diversity at certain levels in all schools so that all schools in the district have approximately the same composition. Now you have a situation in which the schools are generally equal on some important contextual scores, and you can use a standardized metric across these schools to evaluate performance in the district. While this might be a problem for small districts, this could conceivably work in large urban districts. The political and logistical obstacles to a proposal like this are daunting (OK, probably insurmountable) but this idea illustrates my point quite well. Union CONTRACTS do nothing to improve the lot of STUDENTS because the contracts do nothing to address the fundamental problems confronting students.

But, more importantly, in the frame of current events, the union by definition must be about its MEMBERS, not its STUDENTS, otherwise they’d be in classrooms right now and their influence limited to that of a PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY. Don’t be confused, folks.

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don’t be ridiculous… don’t waste your life

I was listening to TD Jakes this morning with my wife while preparing for my trip to Australia. He was preaching from the story of David and Goliath, specifically the part of the account when Eliab, David’s brother, rebukes him for urging the men to fight against the undefeated Philistine champion.

Although I thought I’d heard this story before, I was totally unprepared for the sermon that followed. Bishop Jakes asked his congregation, “Is there not a cause?” I suppose this question came from his observation that, as David pointed out, Israel’s armies were the army of the Most High God and this ‘uncircumcised Philistine’ was taunting and mocking him. No matter how great a champion, God will not allow His name to be profaned, and He would protect any warrior who confronted the giant on His behalf. Clearly, this was a cause worth fighting for.

Instead, the armies of Israel considered God as one who would not look out for His name, and the soldiers decided to look out for themselves. Not even God Almighty was a cause large enough for them to seek God’s glory and not their own.

So, TD Jakes confronts us the same way. Is there not a cause that urges us to interests other than our own aggrandizement? Whom are we living for? Are we growing fat on God’s blessings? Are we calling God a liar when He assures us protection if we take risks for the Name?

It was a difficult sermon for me to hear, because even in the small things, I am living for myself. When you think about it, that is a truly ridiculous way to live, but I can’t seem to shake it. I want to live for others, but I find it difficult to discipline myself to look after the needs of others first. Lord, do I need the grace to make that transformation, before I’ve been disqualified for everything God wants me to do. I know that I’ve probably disqualified myself from some things through disobedience, but I hope I can change and be changed before my youth and my life is wasted.

I am not quite sure how to end this post. Let me do so by asking you to pray for me in this regard, and if you would like prayer from me, just let me know in the comments.

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