Saturday, May 21, 2011


The Vision of the Cross - assistants of Raphael

Though it would only become apparent later, the battle of Milvian Bridge was a major turning point in history. By wielding the cross and sword, Constantine had done more than defeat a rival - he had fused the church and the state together. It would be both a blessing and a curse to both institutions, and neither the Christian church nor the Roman Empire would ever be the same again.

Lars Brownworth, Lost to the West, (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009), 14.
What really happened the night Constantine prayed before his battle with Maxentius? What words did he say? What god did he pray to? Did the God of Christianity truly reveal Himself in the sign of a cross? Did Jesus actually encourage him to proceed behind the cross as a means of protection and, dare I say, guidance? Did God want Constantine in charge and did God really want church & state together? These are questions that swirl in my head as I think about that fateful event in history that would catapult Constantine to leader of the Eastern Roman Empire and, as Lars Brownworth pointed out, fuse the church and state together. The reality, as best as I can tell, is that Constantine simply saw the advantages of Christianity against paganism for the growth of his power and empire. Whether or not he ever truly understood the faith or believed in the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus is hard to tell or prove. But he understood the power and prestige he stood to gain and throughout the rest of his life he would exploit the church & state relationship.

Uniquely, I think we see that continued today within the United States. Much like the emperor of antiquity, leaders in the United States see the sign of the cross as a means to "conquer" the political, social and spiritual realms of power. The cross/church have become a base of power & foundation to build upon in order to accomplish the goals of the individual. Republicans, Democrats, and a variety of groups such as Focus on the Family truly believe in the power and authority they can receive through the use of the cross. Political leaders, megachurch pastors, social leaders, and even media powers use the cross as a method to gain access or publicity to their cause. I wonder if the idea of divine leadership has gotten lost, though, in the search for human authority. Conquering continues - but does so at the loss of anything resembling that of Jesus. Boasting of church allegiance, sacrificial giving, and good morality become tossed around like useless trivia. When one accomplishes their goal - an "honorary" call out to God is given as if divine favor truly rested upon their accomplishment. But what does it all mean?

In the end, it seems as if our boasts of in hoc signo vinces are much like Constantine's. We may or may not conquer our goals...but our focus, much like his, is simply upon our own glorification.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Great Book!

Education is one of the most valuable aspects of American society. It plays a critical role in the foundation of our country. There are not many people who would argue against the need and value of solid education. Despite this, though, there are many problems plaguing the education system with a variety of beliefs on how to fix them. Diane Ravitch has written a masterpiece on the problems and issues of today's American education system. She writes like a good historian and explores issues with a simple candor & straight-forward approach. For anyone interested in exploring the issues of the American school system as it stands today, I highly recommend getting your hands on this book. It was a very enjoyable read & one that has made its mark on my thinking & philosophy.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What is accountability?

One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students' academic performance. NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic peformance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers' influence. Nowhere in the federal accountability scheme are there measures or indicators of students' diligence, effort, and motivation. Do they attend school regularly? Do they do their homework? Do they pay attention in class? Are they motivated to succeed? These factors affect their school performance as much as or more than their teachers' skill.

Similarly, the authors of the law forgot that parents are primarily responsible for the children's behavior and attitudes. It is families that do or do not ensure that their children attend school regularly, that they are in good health, that they do their homework, and that they are encouraged to read and learn. But in the eyes of the law, the responsibility of the family disappears. Something is wrong with that. Something is fundamentally wrong with an accountability system that disregards the many factors that influence students' performance on an annual test - including the students' own efforts - except for what teachers do in the classroom for forty-five minutes or an hour a day.
Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 162-163.

Only lazy people argue against accountability. Accountability is the single most important factor in a person's life. It is what makes a person work hard, do their best, accept responsibility, learn from mistakes, grow in knowledge/ability, and become a better overall person. It can be painful and at times the exact opposite of fun. However, in the right framework and with the right prodding, it can be the difference between mediocrity and excellence. All of that being said, accountability must be in place to help people and systems improve. The goal of it should not be for punishment but for profit. Excellence is not achieved by tearing people or systems to shreds over mistakes, errors or lack of top level talent.

The issue in education is that teachers are getting held to high standards based upon faulty logic and tests. The mistake the general public falls for is that high test scores equate to solid education. Of course the mistake teachers make is that accountability is evil and should be left outside the school. Both sides take stances on either side of the fence which encourages mistrust and a major lack of cooperation. As a result, education gets stalled and society as a whole does not benefit. In addition, students are left out of the picture as talking heads argue back and forth about who is responsible for the broken system. The primary goal of education must be the preparation of younger generations for leadership and contribution to society. What has to happen is the development of a system of accountability to ensure that primary goal.

So how do we get back to focusing on the right goal? The first step is developing the right way to hold teachers accountable. Stop worrying about test scores and what looks good "on paper". Both of those can have meaning, but they fail to tell us whether or not our students are actually getting well educated and developed as young men and women. What we need is solid evaluations of teachers with the goal of pushing educators towards maximizing their ability to impact students in their subject knowledge, responsibility level, and critical thinking. Next, we need to figure out a way to get parents back involved in the education field. I strongly believe that parents are the most important ingredient to academic success. Teachers, schools, and communities must push strongly for parent involvement in the classroom. If parents are not involved, they will be hard pressed to actually hold their own children responsible. Finally, students need to be held accountable for themselves. Educators need to be able to effectively challenge students for their lack of initiative, effort and focus. Students need to learn that taking responsibility for themselves and their learning process is the single most important lesson in academics.

It is only when all three of these groups in the academic process are held to a higher standard that education will start to thrive. As of right now, society is content with looking at test scores and punishing teachers and schools as the key to academic improvement. As a result, we continue to flounder about with no real achievement or goals being grasped.