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Monday, December 24, 2012

Guns and Violence in the USA

In the wake of the school killings in Connecticut a week ago, there has been much discussion about how to prevent similar events in the future.  I've been thinking about this myself, naturally.  I teach in a school, care about my students and their safety, I'm conservative, and I believe that the Second Amendment helps prevent the government from becoming tyrannical.

In my opinion, there are two general areas that we need to discuss and then two areas under each general topic.

First, we need to talk about the kind of people that are carrying out this violence.
  • We need fewer evil people in society.  We, as Americans need to be better people.  We also need fewer mentally/emotionally disturbed people who are willing to be violent.  
    • First, how do we reduce the number of evil people?  
      • By evil I mean people who are normal mentally/emotionally but who choose to carry out acts of violence against others who are not threatening them.  We live in a society that romanticizes violence in games, movies, and literature.  We also live in a culture that promotes coarseness towards other people and that promotes nastiness toward other people.  The last fifty years have seen the deliberate dismantling of the structures in society that promote goodness and kindness in people.  Religion is being pushed out of the public square into people's private lives.  (Yes, people individually can be good and moral (in a social sense) and not be religious, but as a culture and society the lack of religion seems to bring about moral decay.)  Certainly it doesn't help when religious values and individuals are excluded from public interaction through censorship or mocking.  Nor does it help when the media and other forms of entertainment (and the government itself at times) deliberately pursue attitudes and actions that are eventually destructive of lives and societies.  These attitudes and actions include violence, unkindness, drug use, sexual promiscuity to just name a few.
      • We need instead to discourage violence and nastiness in language and actions wherever they occur.  This includes games, movies, TV shows, internet interactions (have you read the comments on youtube?) and encourage polite, kind interactions and disagreements.  Let's show each other that we can disagree - severely, loudly, angrily, but still not threaten other's lives, property or value as humans.  Let's also address gang and similar violence.  Maybe we should send in the National Guard and simply wipe out the gangs as if they were foreign intruders on our soil.  (In some cases they are.)
      • We need to encourage religion and its social value.  We need to encourage civic organizations - Boy and Girl Scouts, Big Brothers, Elks, Rotary etc.  Some won't like their stance towards homosexuals or whatever.  So?  The good that they do in training people to be socially good and virtuous outweighs any discrimination.
    • Second, how do we reduce the number of fewer mentally/emotionally disturbed people who are willing to be violent?
      • I don't know.  This is one area where we need to be willing to spend more money.  I've had students who were inexplicably angry.  Some were angry enough to become violent.  Such young people need help and their families are not always able to recognize it or obtain help for them.  So we as a society need to be willing to pay for this.  We need to be less stigmatizing about people who are receiving help for mental/emotional issues.  If we don't take care of this issue, there will probably be more deaths in the future.  On the other hand we can't simply refer every troubled person or have them branded as a potential killer.  
Second, we need to talk about how the violence is carried out.  In this area we need to distinguish between reducing the deaths in any violent episode and also how to reduce the number of episodes.
  • How to reduce deaths in any episode   I think that we need to recognize that there will always be violence in this world, and that some of it will be awful.  Even Europe has mass shootings.
    • Nevertheless, at this point those in favor of gun rights must realize that guns kill more than baseball bats and knives and that guns that shoot more bullets and guns with bigger magazines will probably kill more people in the same amount of time than guns that shoot more slowly or must be reloaded more often.  So these two areas need to be addressed.  Do ordinary citizens really need large magazine semi-automatic weapons?
    • Our society needs to really look at the statistics related to gun ownership.  If there are more guns in society are we ordinary citizens safer or less safe?  I've read articles on both sides that cite statistics that claim the opposite from each other.  To me at the present time it seems that either there should be no guns at all for anyone, or ordinary people should be allowed to possess and bear arms at (nearly) all times.  Since the former isn't going to happen, it makes more sense that ordinary people be encouraged to own and use firearms safely and responsibly.
  • How to reduce the number of episodes of mass shootings
    • Bad guys intent on killing must be kept away from innocents.  But gun-free zones are usually a misnomer.  If there are to be gun free zones, then they must constructed so that absolutely no one can get inside with a gun.  A sign won't work.  The bad guys won't pay attention, and then he has an open field on the unarmed innocents inside.  True gun free zones must be sealed and guarded.  Schools either need one guarded entrance with a metal detector, or they need some sort of armed presence in the school or both.  This was actually proposed by Clinton over a decade ago.  We do it in airports, don't we?
    • Or the innocents need to be able to shoot back and defend themselves.  By now it should be obvious that even the most dedicated and alert police force can't usually stop these incidents, but can only mitigate them and help clean up afterwards.  Trained, responsible people need to be able to defend themselves and others.  These people in schools need to be willing to die, either at the hands of the bad guys or through law enforcement who don't know that the person is a school employee.
    • In most times of British history until more recent times and during Viking times slaves were not allowed to carry weapons, let alone use them.  Only freemen were allowed to.  A disarmed population is the sign of either an immature population or a population of effective slaves, living at their masters' mercy and whim.  And an immature population that refuses to grow up will soon be an enslaved one for the safety of everyone.
So, can we grow up and use firearms responsibly, take care of the ill among ourselves and become a more virtuous nation?  Or will we stay immature in our love of violence and ignoring those who need help while we continue to insist that merely limiting guns (or magazine size) will solve all the problems?  No, it's more complicated than that latter approach and it's time that we realized it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Fiscal Cliff, what should we do?

It's coming!  Not Christmas, or New Years.  Taxes and the Fiscal Cliff!  It seems that with the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans but the White House and the Senate by Democrats that we are headed for gridlock and disaster through sequestration and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts enacted a decade ago.

What should Conservatives do?  I think that Republicans and Conservatives should give in.  I do think, however, that we should fight for a higher limit on taxable income such as $500,000 or $750,000 rather than the $250,000 that the White House wants.

Why?  Elections, we are told, have consequences.  So let's permit the Democrats to have their own way with the economy.  Then THEY OWN IT.  If their ideas and efforts succeed, we are wrong and the county is better off.  Hurrah!  If it fails, then we can legitimately say "We told you so!"  (Not that the media or the Democrats will listen.  They will still find a way to blame Conservatives.)

But, we should insist on a few things ourselves.

  • a movie excise tax.  Since Obamacare placed a 2.3% excise tax on medical devises, we should insist that a similar tax be placed on movies.  and DVDs, and music, and video games.  It used to be a 20% excise tax.  2.3% doesn't seem so bad.
  • and sports  All of it
  • and a 75% tax on actors and sports figures who make over $1,000,000 a year.  After all, let them pay their fair share, since they don't do anything really important like the police, firefighters, nurses and teachers, right?  Or plumbers, and electricians, and everyone else who has real jobs.

Here are some more great tax the rich (friends of the Left) ideas:

Contact your conservative congress people with the message above and the link as well.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Elections: Your side won, now what?

So, the election is just around the corner - mere days away.  In a week or less you will (we hope) go to bed knowing who won, or you will wake up the next day and find out.  (Unless it's really close.  I sure hope that doesn't happen!)

So  - your side won!  Congratulations!  (Maybe!)  Now what?

First, no gloating.  I'm writing this first draft about three weeks before the election, but I'm betting that at least 40% of the population will vote for the loser in the presidential election.  That means that four out of every ten people you might meet are delusional idiots - right?!  Hopefully not.  They may have different values than you, or be less informed, but their hopes are being dashed.  They are fellow Americans.  They are people you should care about.  Some of them even hold their views as a result of intelligent thought.  (Imagine that!)

Second, your candidate(s) won't solve all (or perhaps any) of the problems we're facing in this country.  Our problems are huge.  Support your candidate(s), but be aware that given the need to get laws through legislative bodies, special interests, changing circumstances and so on, that many of those hopes and promises will be modified or left unfulfilled.

Third, be humble.  Your ideas and values may be wrong.  You may be able to learn from those on the other side of the political spectrum.

Fourth, be loving toward those who lost.  Your turn to lose will come; I can guarantee it.

Fifth, don't forget to continue to support those who are newly elected.  Let them know when you support them and disagree with them.  Let them know why.  They are our servants, not our bosses.  Pray for them.

Sixth, don't write off your side if your candidates have to go against what they said they would do when they ran for office.  Sometimes politicians change their points of view or actions because they want to get political favors.  But sometimes the necessities of governing mean that they must do things they didn't want to do at one point.

Lastly, we must decrease the amount of distrust we Americans have for people who hold other political views.  "We must all strive for unity, peace, and a re-examination of how we can learn to live with each other better at both a national and international level."  (

As we pray for our leaders, let's also actively work toward being understanding and kind toward others.

Elections: Your side lost, now what?

So, the election is just around the corner - mere days away  (Won't you be glad when it's over!).  In a week or less you will (we hope) go to bed knowing who won, or you will wake up the next day and find out.  (Unless it's really close.  I sure hope that doesn't happen!)

So  - your side lost!  I'm sorry!  (Maybe!  Depends on whether I won, right?!)  Now what?

First, no nastiness toward the winners.  I'm writing the first draft of this about three weeks before the election, but I'm betting that at least 40% of the population will vote for the loser in the presidential election.  That means that four out of every ten people you might meet are delusional idiots - right?!  Hopefully not.  They may have different values than you, or be less informed, but they are fellow Americans.  They are people you should care about and treat with kindness and dignity.  Some of them even hold their views as a result of intelligent thought.  (Imagine that!)  Also, about four out of every ten people agree with you (more or less)!  Maybe next time your side will do better!

Second, your candidate(s) wouldn't have solved all (or perhaps any) of the problems we're facing in this country.  Our problems are huge.  Some, perhaps much, of what the winning side wants may not get done.

Third, be humble.  Your ideas and values may be wrong.  You may be able to learn from those on the other side of the political spectrum.

Fourth, be loving toward those who won.  Your turn to win will come; I can guarantee it, even if I don't like it.

Fifth, don't forget to continue to support those who are newly elected.  Let them know when you support them and disagree with them.  Let them know why.  They are our servants, not our bosses.  Pray for them.  Governing well is difficult.

Sixth, be glad that we live in a land where rulers and governors at all levels come and go and no one has to go into exile or is shot or imprisoned because they were on the losing side.

May that long continue.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Political Concept Group

Recently I've been having several discussions on Facebook with different people about politics, truth in politics, public policy and social issues.  Some of the people agree pretty closely with me, others are very (almost uncomfortably for me) liberal.  Once we get past the sloganeering that many (most?) of us are at times prone to do, we have some interesting discussions.  I learn a lot about how others think, and why they value what they do.  I learn that many of them share my concerns and that we could work together.  And then some idiot politician says something stupid, and I feel like we're back to square one.  So, I’ve been thinking about forming a new group on Facebook.

What I have in mind for this group is that we discuss truth and facts in the political and social realm and their implications for public policy.

I don’t want posts straight from either of the major parties.  I don’t want sloganeering, but rather questions and discussions about what is true and what isn’t true about what the candidates and parties claim.  I want us to discuss the implications of these truths and falsehoods related to such issues as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the debt, the deficit, defense spending, cultural values, (abortion, homosexual marriage) and so on.  I hope that even though we may disagree with each other we will at least understand where people we disagree with are coming from.  Most Conservatives and Republicans aren't evil or stupid.  Neither are most Liberals and Democrats.

I’m hoping that we can call out politicians on either side when they make stupid claims, statements, or utter falsehoods.  Or when they stretch the truth.  I hope that we can do it in such as a way that we aren’t playing “gotcha” with each other.  I would like us to link to articles that are thoughtful and fair.  We will try and present others’ views as fairly and accurately as possible and then discuss them.

One of my online Facebook friends/debaters suggested that we call such a group as this the “Concept Party”.  I ended up with “Political Concept Group - A Via Media.”

You may still believe that your party is better than mine, your candidates more ethical and better than mine.  Fine.  But let’s realize that we have many of the same goals for ourselves and for the country (for those in the USA.  For those who aren't there are still lots of common areas such as debt, poverty, abortion, homosexual marriage and so on).  We’ll treat each other with respect, and not be nasty about each other as people.  And we’ll try to not be nasty about positions that we disagree with.  We won’t call each other racists, Nazis, fundamentalists etc unless it’s really warranted.  If you think a policy has racist implications, then spell out those implications without assuming that the person is a racist.  Maybe the person who holds that view is a racist.  Maybe you see something he’s missed.  Maybe you’re missing something.

Some of us will be Christians, some not.  Let's all remember to treat each other as we would like to be treated.  Let's be up front about our own biases and positions.

Interested?  Know someone else who holds some of these same values?  Let me know.  I’ll moderate and control the group for a while at least.  People who engage in name calling or simple sloganeering will be gently admonished and given a chance to moderate their statements and/or apologize and interact with the group before being blocked.  Those who persist in acting this way will be blocked at some point.

Here’s an article that got me to sort of wanting to do something.

VSL Learners: Summary

Some last thoughts on the topic, right at the end of the grading period and before the elections!  It will be a relief to be done with the class, the elections, and getting grades in!  I will almost feel carefree!

The biggest thing I've learned is that there are people out there who really do think, learn, and store information in a very different way than I do.  Although, to be honest, I've been doing some self-reflection lately and I realize that I do store more information in pictures than I though.  People, maps to name a couple.  I also find myself moving more in the VSL direction as I age.  Is this a function of aging, or of the increasingly visual society that I am part of?  I don't enjoy reading as much (this could be because I've read all of the good books, though) as I used to.  My attention span isn't what it was.  and so on.  And my typing is getting worse and wlsrs.  or worse  or something.  slepping too.  I mean spelling.

The last few weeks as I teach I've come to realize how much I rely on speaking.  At times I can see my class   s  l  i  p  p  i  n  g  away from me.  I'm not always sure what to do to get them back, but I'm working on it!  Twenty-five years of teaching don't change over night!  I also wonder how much of middle school students' inability to follow verbal directions is because of their visual nature.  Their auditory learning ability isn't as well developed.  Anyway, I'm going to keep working on this area.  I play to use even more visuals, writing things down so they can see them.  I already have the students get up and move around after about 30 minutes of sitting, especially when they are taking notes.

I am, of course, fortunate that my students can move around so much because I don't have a very crowded room.  I also plan so that many days the students are actively doing things and after a few introductory minutes they are not sitting as much.  This teaching style is almost natural for me.

Many of the other suggestions I already do, but could do more of.  We have a cell rap - music for the parts of a cell - and I could have the students make their own in different content areas such as atomic makeup.  I try and give the students different options on how they present their knowledge.

Some criticisms of the class and the readings
My biggest criticism is that the bulk of the thoughts we interacted with came from Dr. Silverman either directly or indirectly.  This makes me wonder about its validity.  Is this VSL stuff just a fringe idea, or is it one that is new enough there isn't enough work and research?  Or were we not exposed to other scholars in the field?

Some of the suggestions of Dr. Silverman are over the top.  VS people aren't going to bring in a utopia, merely new combinations of strengths and weaknesses, good and evil.  And since people are on a continuum that describes how they learn, most people would be helped by the techniques we've studied, but it wouldn't be a revolution in society or education.  Nor does the workplace require a new set of skills, it probably requires additional skills on top of the old ones.

I've enjoyed reading all the notes and discussion from my colleagues at the school where I teach.  I wish I could share them all with you.  I hope that if you've read all of the other entries that you found them useful and interesting.  In case you haven't read them:

Part one:
Education post: Visual-Spatial Learners: Identification

Part two:
Education post: Visual-Spatial Learners: Gender Differences

Part three:
Education Post: VSL, Reading and Writing

Part four:
VSL Learners, Part 4 Handwriting difficulties

Part four: (second part)
This week we look at handwriting, spelling, and taking notes.

Part five:
VSL Learners Part 5, Math!

Part six:
VSL Learners: Part six  Using Visual-Spatial Strengths to Learn New Material

Part seven:
VSL Learners: Part seven Organization!!  Yikes!

Part eight:
VSL Learners: Part eight: Creating a visual-spatial classroom

Sunday, October 21, 2012

VSL Learners: Part eight: Creating a visual-spatial classroom

Here's the assignment:
Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
We have come to our last lesson in the class.  I plan to write one more blog entry after this one, sort of  a summary of the class.

Use a variety of evaluation methods.

    a prezi
  • Allow students to show their learning in a variety of ways.  Papers, posters, prezis, powerpoints, movies, skits, oral tests and quizzes, and interviews are all methods of testing and evaluating.  All have their advantages and disadvantages.
Use a variety of teaching methods
  • Lectures have only one major advantage.  A large amount of information can be disseminated in a short period of time.  When used, lectures should be accompanied by short quizzes (whether graded or not) that test what the students have just covered (clicker questions).  This allows for a change of pace and for a quick check on whether or not the students understand the material.  Lectures should incorporate discussion, pictures, sound and movies when possible.  Students should be allowed to stand up and move around periodically.  As a colleague says, "The mind cannot absorb what the butt cannot endure."
Keep the room comfortable and well lit and interesting.

  • I enjoy my room.  I try and keep the room at 70 F give or take two degrees.  If the temperature gets much over 72 F I start to feel sick.  Golon claims that this (70 F) is the optimal temperature for learning.

    • Golon also claims that posting new items in the room is necessary to help retain interest.  I don't do so well  here.  I put up some posters and leave them.  Two of them (sequoia trees) have been up for years!  Golon also gives recommendations for wall colors and carpet color (p. 160).
    • Natural light is preferable to artificial light.  My school was designed fairly well in this respect.  We have a lot of natural light.
    • Although Golon claims that students do better listening to music, I disagree with letting students listen to ipods etc. in class.  I am listening to music now as I write this, and I have no problem in principle to students listening to music.  Many students, however, spend so much time playing with their music device that they get little work done.  
    • Golon cites research as showing that certain smells such as peppermint help students learn and improve mental ability. (p. 161)

    Other teaching ideas
    • Present material visually as well as orally.
    • Use maps, diagrams, charts, photos, etc.
    • Use hands-on activities whenever possible.
    • Give students enough time.
    • Encourage color coding notes
    • Venn diagrams
    • Using fantasy  (I want to do this with my students this year by having them visualize the journey to the center of an atom.  I could do something similar as they explore a cell.)
    • Use metaphors - How is a car/factory like a cell?  How is the body like a car/factory?  
    • I've been thinking about having my Physical Science student create sentences, words and puns with the element symbols and names.  I usually just have them memorize the name and symbol, but results have been going down in the last few years compared to ten years ago.  Can you find He3 below?

    Sources for images

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    VSL Learners: Part seven Organization!! Yikes!

    VSL Learners: Part Seven Organization!!  Yikes!

    Here's the assignment:
    Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
    We begin with an article by Dr. Silverman, "Why All Students Need Visual-Spatial Methods."  In the article she points out that as the economy shifts to an information age and then a conceptual age, the needs of the marketplace will change and employers will require different skills.  She quotes
    Tom West (1991), author of In the Mind’s Eye, suggests that in the 21st century employees will require strong visual skills: “ready recognition of larger patterns, intuition, a sense of proportion, imaginative vision, the original and unexpected approach, and the apt connection between apparently unrelated things” (p. 88).
    Daniel H. Pink (2005), author of A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, proposes that, now that information is readily available on the Internet, success in today's world is dependent on empathy, intuition, spirituality and right hemispheric-directed abilities.
    "In the United States, the number of graphic designers has increased tenfold in a decade; graphic designers outnumber chemical engineers by four to one. Since 1970, the United States has 30% more people earning a living as writers and 50% more earning a living by composing or performing music. ... More Americans today work in arts, entertainment and design than work as lawyers, accountants and auditors." (p. 55)
    Silverman continues,
    Success in school still depends upon:
    • Following directions
    • Turning in assigned work on time
    • Memorization of facts
    • Fast recall
    • Showing steps of work
    • Neat, legible handwriting
    • Accurate spelling
    • Punctuality
    • Good organization; tidiness
    What positions require the skills so heavily prized in school? These auditory-sequential skills are actually limiting the potential of all students to gain employment in today's world. Citizens of the 21st century are rewarded beyond school for:
    • Ability to predict trends
    • Grasping the big picture
    • Thinking outside the box
    • Risk-taking
    • Problem-finding and problem-solving skills
    • Combining one's strengths with others' to build a strong team
    • Computer literacy
    • Dealing with complexity
    • Ability to read people well
    So what do we make of this?

    First, I don't think that it's a question of either/or.  We shouldn't get rid of following directions.  Society depends on people who can follow traffic and other laws.  And to employer's directions.  Besides, most young people won't start out in jobs where the second set of skills are valued.  They will work in fast food places, or retail and those requirements haven't changed in the years since the articles above were written.  These entry level job employers value the first set much more than the second (with the exception of the people skills). Eventually many of the young people (if they have the discipline and get the training) may go on to acquire or invent jobs that involve the second set as well.  The first set of skills are unlikely to go out of style.

    So how do we help our VSL students acquire more of the first set of skills which many of them find difficult?
    First, I would like to say that in my experience many, many students have organization problems.  I think that lack of organization is due to several factors including personality type and bent (including how one best learns), immaturity (a huge factor), lack of practice, and poor parenting.  I think that the last is a factor that is often ignored.  Parents don't have the energy or discipline themselves to help train their children.  I realize of course that certain personalities reinforce certain traits and habits, but could it also be that certain habits reinforce certain personalities?  I'm also amazed at how many nationalities don't seem to have trouble with organization and study skills.  Generally, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, and European students are very organized.  American students not so much.  Are there fewer VSL students from those other nationalities?  It would be interesting to see the research if there is any.  Or could it be that those other cultures value and stress good study habits and organization?

    Here's how to increase organizational skills.
    1. First, realize that this is a long process.  It will not happen in a few weeks.  It will take months or years.  Persistence is necessary.  I have found that parents often lose patience and give up.  This is hard for some parents because they also lack (for whatever reason) those organizational skills and the discipline in their own lives.  It is therefore hard to transfer these skills to another person.
    2. Second, what works for one student may or may not work for another.  This can be especially frustrating for parents who succeed with one method for an older child but who find that this method does not work for younger siblings.  Students should be encouraged to try different methods for a length of time to discover/develop what works for them.  They may change as they get older.  I used to be more of a stack person.  Now I'm more of a file/sprawl person, much to my wife's annoyance.
    3. Planners and calendars  Students need to develop some sort of calendaring method to keep track of assignments.  We as adults use them, so the kids should too!  There are lots of options for this from paper to notebooks to software.  When placing items in the planner, it is helpful to write the assignment on the due date and also on several dates before that so that I am reminded that I need to work on it during the interval.  Families may also need to have a calendar at home where activities and assignments are written.
    4. Folders  Students should be taught how to organize their material by subject and within subject by homework, completed assignments, notes, and whatever else may be important for that class.
    5. Coloring coding notes and folders is another way of helping students interact with their notes enabling them to quickly review the important words and concepts.  Color coding folders increases the chances that materials will end up in the right place.
    6. Routines  Putting one's belongings in one place helps reduce lost keys, glasses, and phones.  It also reduces the likelihood of leaving home with doors unlocked and stoves on!  In the classroom we should have routines as much as we can so that students know what to expect.  They will be more likely to deliver what we want from them.  (
    7. Modeling organization   One of the important factors for teaching students how to be organized is to show them organization.  That may mean that we go overboard to show them, because for many adults our organization is in our heads, on our phones etc. and isn't obvious to young people.  So we may have to put up assignments in several places, and repeat them often, and have the students write them down several times.  One of my colleagues at my school said that she doesn't assume that her Kindergarten students are able to pack their own backpacks before school starts. So she teaches them how to pack their backpacks!  I am so thankful for those who teach younger students these skills.  Hats off to you all!

    Sources and Resources:

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    VSL Learners: Part six Using Visual-Spatial Strengths to Learn New Material

    Here's the assignment:
    Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
    I'm finally excited to see a chapter that will help me teach science.  It's not that the other materials aren't helpful, but they don't impact my teaching my subject areas as much as I believe that this chapter and the next will.

    Suggestions and methods for teaching:
    1. Use pictures to illustrate.  This gives the learner something to see, visualize and this will help the learner to remember the material.
    2. Students should create their own pictures by learning to visualize math concepts and spelling words.  While I understand that some people can take a mental picture and remember details is that true for complicated material such as chemistry, physics, calculus?  Call me unconvinced.  Have you ever recalled exactly where on a page the information was, but you can't recall the exact information?
    3. Avoid drill, repetition and memorization.  On this point, I'm not sure that I agree.  Drill and repetition are necessary for taking knowledge and skills and making them second nature.  This is true for athletics, music, driving, foreign languages and so on.  What I think that we may need is finding ways that help VSL to drill etc. without turning them off to the material.  My guess is that coaches would find some of these claims laughable if they were applied to sports.  Why would we accept them in academics?
    4. Use technology such as keyboarding and voice recognition software.
    5. Avoid timed tests unless they are benchmarks that a student measures himself against.
    6. Content teachers (math, science, social studies etc.) should concentrate on content rather than on format, spelling, grammar and so on.
    7. Use humor and reach out personally and emotionally to VSL learners. This is good policy for reaching all students!
    8. Use music and drama to help students learn and memorize material.  Allow students to turn in assignments using these methods.
    9. Have students create stories to help them memorize new or more difficult material.  Golon gives the example of learning the 13 original American colonies by remembering a Jersey cow named Georgia on top of the Empire State building (but they have to know that New York is the Empire State) and adding all sorts of other features.  And she claims that you will remember this later.  I don't get how.  Why a Jersey and not a Guernsey or another breed?  Why not the Twin Towers?  You still have to recall all the details of the pictures later on.  Or another example Golon relates is HOMES for  the American Great Lakes.  Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.  Great, but you still have to know the Lakes and that the word "homes" ties them together.  What if you thought the word was "house"?  That could drive you batty!
    10. Tape lectures and go back over them.
    11. During lectures give students time to absorb what has been given to them and write or draw or reflect on it.  This is harder with younger students as they mostly want to get up and move around.  Which is also a good idea.  Don't make them sit too long.
    12. Teach students about how they learn and the strengths and weaknesses with each style.
    13. Use metaphors to have the students learn such as similarities between a car and the human body.  Of course somehow they have to learn what one or the other does first!  The filters are like the kidneys or vice-versa and so on.  These comparisons can be summarized in Venn diagrams.

    The following quote is interesting:
    So students who have right-hemispheric preference need a different approach for learning. The first directive for all teachers and parents is to understand that:  ALL STUDENTS MUST HAVE CURRICULUM AT THEIR CHALLENGE LEVEL so that they develop the skills they need. And it is imperative for appropriate challenge so that any problems might surface early. Far too many bright students develop coping strategies for masking learning problems – which may surface only at the time they finally reach their challenge level. All of us know people who coast through school only to “crash and burn” when that time arrives.  (
    I think that every student needs to be helped to learn how they learn.  And they should be helped to learn early.  If they don't learn how they individually function early and they mask their problems then they may not develop the strategies they need until it is too late.  Or it may make their lives more difficult as they develop their strategies later in life.

    Materials taken from:
    • From Silverman, L. K. (1993, Nov.) How to access the right hemisphere. Overhead presented at the Independent Schools Association National Conference, Indianapolis, IN. [An expanded version, under the title, "Instructional Strategies for Visual-Spatial Learners of All Ages," appears in Silverman, L.K. (2002). Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner (pp. 306-313). Denver: DeLeon.]
    • From Silverman, L.K. (1998) Personality and learning styles of gifted children. In J. VanTassel-Baska (Ed). Excellence in educating gifted & talented learners (2nd ed., pp29-65). Denver: Love.
    • "How to Reach and Teach the Visual-Spatial Learner" by Penny Choice
    •  "I Think in Pictures, You Teach in Words: The Gifted Visual Spatial Learner" By Lesley K Sword.
    Images from:

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    VSL Learners Part 5, Math!

    Here's the assignment:
    Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
    Again, continuing our discussion of VS learners, (Visual Spatial Learners) we look at math.  First, a look at what our author Alexandra Shires Golon says in chapter 9 in her book Visual-Spatial Learners.  She begins the chapter by imagining a 13 x 13 grid which students will memorize with multiplication facts.  That's pretty daunting!  She makes it a little more bearable by doing the ten x tens, and the ones and zeros which takes care of a bunch from the start!  To continue to make the process easier, cut the grid in half, because there is a corresponding fact elsewhere on the grid!  Then add the twos and the fives.  Suddenly the process seems so much easier.  This is a great way to teach facts, and, I believe, to help students overcome their fear of large projects and tasks that seem daunting at first.  The students learn the patterns, and use the patterns to fill in the grid and learn their facts!  She then advocates using humor (You have to be 16 to drive a 4 x 4) and rhymes (6 x 4 = 24) (page 100).  She continues with more patterns for the rest of the multiplication table.  Again, she encourages showing the students the numbers (such as multiples of 12) and having the students look for patterns.  This is good practice for any student, VSL or not.  Dr. Silverman claims that students can learn their multiplication facts in two weeks if they are taught in a similar manner described above.  I would think that frequent review and repetition would help the students retain the material long-term.

    For most difficult combinations she suggests using a drawing with the number of items on it.  The item should be something that the student has an emotional tie with.  They should place the drawing where they will see it last thing at night and first thing in the morning.

    When I learned multiplying multiple digits, I learned the old fashioned way.  She suggests using lattice multiplication, method I am completely unfamiliar with.  (Since I don't want to run into copyright problems, here's a link to an example.)   You still have to carry in this method, so I'm not sure that it's really any better than the old method done neatly and carefully.

    She also praises the use of math manipulatives.  Since I never taught math using manipulatives and don't need to worry about it now, I can't really comment on their use.  The math teachers at my school use them frequently and report that they are very helpful for students.

    Whitney Rapp describes in detail the on page five the steps that a VSL must go through to follow a math lesson and learn a new concept.  At nearly every step the student can get lost.  This article also gives many suggestions for the teacher to help the student learn including games, movement, manipulatives, real life problems and others.

    So in summary, I think that the aids to memorizing multiplication facts that were described above were useful for all students.  Not only are they useful for teaching the facts, but also in helping students discover, understand and remember patterns.  This is essential in science and math.  There’s no reason that VSL can’t memorize and use facts, they may take longer or need different aids in getting there.

    I think new methods, patience, and consistent review are needed until the students have ingrained those facts as part of themselves, just as athletes and musicians build their skills until they are second nature.  We need to ensure that students don’t become discouraged with their difficulties and are taught and encouraged to be persistent.  Real life applications are to be encouraged in math and related topics so that students can better enjoy math and see its relevance to real life.

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    Part 4 - second part!

    Part four:
    This week we look at handwriting, spelling, and taking notes.

    Here's the assignment:
    Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
    Part two - spelling and taking notes.

    Again, I'm so glad that I don't have to teach spelling!  Hats off to elementary teachers!

    Dr. Silverman teaches how to learn to spell visually.  Now this is a complete mystery to me.  She talks about picturing the word in your mind, placing it in front of your head, closing your eyes and spelling the word backwards.  Strange.  Anyway, if it works for you, then great!

    Most of us who know English are no doubt familiar with various spelling rules -- most of which seem to be broken fairly regularly.  (This is, in my opinion, great reason for learning German, French, Latin, Greek and a few other languages that are mostly phonetic.  Then you understand more of the history of our language and spelling makes more sense.)  Our author, Golon, also urges VSL learners to create pictures so that they will remember how to spell the words.  She advocates creating a story to go with the picture and including humor, different letter sizes, and color.  When students have created a mental image they can spell the word backwards.  Now, that's sort of cool - I guess.  I can't do it.  But what use is it?  For students who use a keyboard, she recommends typing the words in different fonts.  Each font should reflect somehow the meaning or feel of the words.  For example "elegance" would be typed in a distinctive, beautiful font.

    Note taking
    This is a skill students will need from Middle School through college.  In some form students need to learn to take notes.  I took notes, but the process of writing and listening seemed to usually get the material in my head.  I rarely went back and studied them until I was working on my PhD.

    Here are some suggestions for helping VSL to take notes.
    Doodle!  Contrary to being counterproductive, it actually helps you remember what you hear and see.  So claims Sunni Brown in a TED talk.  29% greater retention, she claims.  Doodling is effective because it helps engage the person in at least two learning modalities (visual, kinesthetic, auditory, tactile).  Sunni argues that doodling is especially necessary when information density is high and the need for its understanding is also high.  The main problem with doodling with younger children is that they don't know how to doodle and still pay attention.  Many of our students get lost in the doodle.  (The same thing happens with ipods, music online etc.  These items become distractions in and of themselves rather than aiding the student to relax.)

    Golon claims that pictures are permanent ways of remembering things (how does she know?) and that VSL should be encouraged to take notes in pictures.  This is probably a good idea if they really do remember material that way and if they can keep up with the notes.  For me drawing pictures is time-consuming and tedious.  Is it better for VSL?  For those who can't draw fast enough she suggests taping lectures.  This would probably work well for older students, but I'm skeptical of taping for younger students.  In today's busy society who will find or make the time?  She also recommends a mixture of text and pictures, using abbreviations.  This is a good idea, if you are consistent with the abbreviations!  These websites have examples.  (an online course for $121!)

    As part of the reading for this week, we are to read and interact with Dr. Silverman's article on the power of images.  (and take notes on it in pictures.  Oh dear!  That was hard and even my pictures ended up heavily text laden!)  While I understand that she is trying to help students who are more visual learn and correct the neglect that they have suffered, some of what she says is laughable.  She claims on page 1 that visual learning and society will usher in a golden age or near utopia.  Has she no idea of what the Nazis and Communists used?  Doesn't she realize that propaganda can be images as well as words?  What about pornography?  TV ads?  Images can be used, and will be used, and are used, as much for evil as words are.  That's the human condition.  She goes on to talk about how society demands more visual thinkers and fewer auditory and sequential learners and thinkers.  I disagree.  I want my doctors, dentists, rocket scientists, drug manufacturers, and bridge builders to be VERY sequential.  Airline pilots, too.  The idea of them building a structure based on intuition is scary.  And one of the first requirements of a job is SHOW UP ON TIME!  I find her arguments here to be very simplistic and lacking in documentation.  It's not an either/or situation.

    Saturday, September 22, 2012

    VSL Learners, Part 4 Handwriting difficulties

    Part four:
    This week we look at handwriting, spelling, and taking notes.

    Here's the assignment:
    Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
    Before we start, one comment that might have gone better in last week's materials and that is the following quote.  For years I have wondered why some students (or people) get puns and others don't.  Here's a significant clue.  If you are a person that thinks that a word only labels one thing, then you can't get puns.
    For writing to be interesting, the writer has to be able to express similar ideas in
    many diverse ways. For auditory-sequential wordsmiths, this is not a problem. If they
    don’t automatically come up with several different ways to express an idea, they push the
    thesaurus key (shift F7) or pull the thesaurus off the shelf. There are endless ways to say
    the same thing. This is actually a novel concept for the visual-spatial learner. I learned
    from Gerald Grow, a professor at Florida A & M University, that visual thinkers tend to
    use words as labels for pictures. Each picture bears one label. It would no more occur to
    a visual-spatial learners to use a variety of ways to express a single idea than it would be
    to go around and change the names of all the pieces of art in an art gallery.  (

    Handwriting is increasingly becoming a skill of the past.  Keyboarding is faster, and helps VSL students get their ideas down more quickly.  This article relates many events that can happen during birth that may lead to young people having hearing or writing problems and many ideas for helping to overcome difficulties in these areas.

    So, what's one to do with difficulties with handwriting?  Try keyboarding, give more time when writing is essential, use other evaluation methods (oral, pictures, acting), and teach calligraphy.  Calligraphy?  How could this help?  In order to do calligraphy you need to slow down and learn consistent letter formation.  This helps you to write more carefully even when not doing deliberate calligraphy.  I've noticed improvement in my handwriting as well as in some students who have learned some calligraphy.  I've thought that an art class with calligraphy would be very helpful for many students' handwriting.  There are even books that have been written to help people, including adults, improve their handwriting!

    Back to keyboarding.  In addition to increasing the speed of getting one's ideas on paper (so to speak), it also uses the entire brain and both hands.  Voice activated software is also an option.  Susan Jones lists many accommodations for those with writing difficulties and their teachers.  Dr. Magen has more on her site.

    For those classrooms that do wish to pursue handwriting, there are methods and curriculum available.  Handwriting without tears is one of them.

    Sunday, September 16, 2012

    Education Post: VSL, Reading and Writing

    Part three:

    Here's the assignment:
    Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
    This week we look at reading and writing for the Visual-Spatial Learner.  I teach Junior High (7 and 8) grade science, so some of this material is not as relevant for me.

    Golon begins her discussion with the claim that phonics is often taught in the schools in the USA.  My wife, who teaches Special Education and is endorsed in Reading and Elementary said that most schools teach phonics as part of their teaching reading, but that isn't their entire approach.

    On a personal note, I didn't understand phonics at all until I learned German and Spanish, but that is because English is only partially phonetically based.  (Problems with phonics may be more a fault of English than any problem with learning styles.  I took to those two languages like a duck to water. and learned phonics well - for German, Spanish, and Welsh.  I then applied it to English.)

    Many VSL learn words best by sight words - recognizing an entire word at once.  They can create a picture for the word.  Students should therefore learn lots of sight words, creating pictures for themselves to help them do so.  (I don't get that - isn't it easier to remember the word as I do by its shape rather than by creating a shape and then matching it to the word and remembering the whole system?)  Apparently, however, creating images does help readers improve their reading skills.  Golon suggests reviewing the images the reader has formed whenever they reach a punctuation mark.  Once students have begun to learn words by sight they can begin to learn analytic phonics such as similar beginning or ending sounds, common roots and so on.  This is a great approach for all students.

    Speed reading is another skill that Golon encourages.  It's skipping all the words that don't create a mental image.  That keeps the basic information but allows for quick reading.  (I think that it also loses the details and the richness of the text.  Perhaps rereading more slowly should be encouraged?)

    Important textbook information is often indicated with bold, italics and other clues and supported by graphics.  We start the year in my 7 grade class with a textbook scavenger hunt that helps students understand where important information can be found.  Some of my team mates are even more intense in teaching students how to use their textbooks.  (from a posting for our course by another teacher, Mr. Paul)
    . . . scavenger hunts in the social studies texts at the beginning of the year. Map sections, appendices, glossaries, indices, heading & subheadings, table of contents... and yet they lose their way so quickly! I need to work textbook reference challenges into day-to-day work more often, maybe even just as a quick challenge: "Who can tell me the range of the Unit 4 timeline?" 
    Color coding with post its and sticky notes is also a good way of sorting information and helping students remember it.  My daughter color codes her class notes.  This approach forces her to read the material, re-read it, organize it, and gives her opportunities for quick review of important or difficult material.

    Creative Writing
    I'm so glad that I don't have to teach reading to beginning readers.  Or creative writing!

    Many VSL have vivid imaginations and great ideas for creative writing, but aren't able to get their ideas down.  This may have several causes including spelling, punctuation and grammar problems, handwriting, organizing their thoughts or using vocabulary that's below their level.  Imagine trying to capture in words the movie as it flashes through your head!  Golon offers several suggestions to help students get from brain to paper.
    • Draw pictures of what you're thinking first, then write from there.
    • Dictate and record what you're thinking.  Then go back and write and edit.
    • Learn to type.  It's faster than handwriting.
    • Alternative assignments --videotaped interviews, movies, slide shows.  Dioramas, maps, posters. 
    All of these assignments can and do show that students understand books and material and are to be encouraged as ways of evaluating what students have learned and giving them opportunities to write -- creatively or otherwise.  However, with these alternatives students do not to learn to write, so actual writing can't be eliminated.  In those times students need to be prepared and organized.  They need to start the writing process by planning what they want to say and getting down their ideas.  Then they can go back and fill in the ideas.  Outlines may not work as well as webs for VSL.  Webs can be written or drawn or some combination.  Students need practice developing and using this skill so that they will be prepared when they need to write. Want to see what a web might look like?   Or here.

    In summary, one writer described writing for the two different styles as:  "The writing of a visual thinker is like a map of all the possibilities; a verbal thinker writes like a guided tour."   The author provides a table of problems in writing that VSL as writers often encounter.  Imprecision, not communicating well with the reader, too much of the thought process tied up in the mind of the writer, lack of organization are a few of the problems that can rise.

    So, happy writing, and I hope that this helps you read and write better wherever you all on the VSL-ASL spectrum.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    Education post: Visual-Spatial Learners: Gender Differences

    Part two:

    Here's the assignment:
    Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents. Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.

    This week's topic is gender differences in VSL (Visual-Spatial Learners).  Our book, Visual-Spatial Learners by Alexandra Shires Golon discusses the topic in a very short chapter 3.  Golon makes a case for boys being more visual-spatial than girls, especially early on.  This is traditional wisdom and appears to be accurate.  However, she also points out that boys are in general not as "school ready" as girls.  This means that they are not as likely to be as good with language and communication and fine motor skills as girls are.  Boys are also more likely than girls to be disruptive if they are bored or unhappy with what is taught or how it is taught.  (So it may be that there are more VSL girls than we think, but they don't stand out as much.)  (See also the Visual Learner site.)

    Golon believes that much of the "problem" with boys isn't really with the boys, but rather with how boys are taught.  They are often taught using lectures and textbooks rather than with more engaging activities.  I remember my seventh grade history teacher.  All he did was lecture.  Every day for forty-five minutes or an hour.  I took notes, but the only time I reviewed them I didn't get an "A"!  It was boring, but I learned my American History!  The next year I repeated American History because we moved to a different school district.  We used the textbook a lot; it was mostly primary sources in the book.  In tenth grade we again did American History and I remember an activity where we had to role play the Constitutional Convention.  I remember studying in detail the reasons for the various compromises that were made.  Then we acted out the debates.  It was certainly more interesting than the other two classes!

    Recent research indicates that VSL outnumber ASL (Audio-Sequential Learners).  It would be interesting to know if this has changed as our culture moves more toward the visual, or whether it has always been this way.

    Are you curious about whether or not you are more right or left brained?  Here's an online test for it.

    Implications for teaching this are still somewhat tentative since we haven't covered that material yet in this course.  The most obvious one for me is have more hands on materials for the kids.  I tend to talk too much and have class discussions.  I enjoy the interaction and they engage me, whether at school or in other venues.  But I can see how some students' eyes glaze over and they get lost.  So I try and have demonstrations, and get them writing and sketching in their notebooks.  Plus the labs.  And the videos.  Hopefully the students understand the material and are given many opportunities to learn it and show that they understand it.

    In conclusion, here's a young mother's take on a VSL daughter and how she's handling it.  My students are a bit older, so it's not as useful for me.  Wish I had read it when our girl was young!

    Saturday, September 1, 2012

    Education post: Visual-Spatial Learners: Identification

    As part of a class that I am taking, I am writing a series of blog entries related to visual-spatial learners (VSL).  I need to:
    Create a blog with at least 8 entries to share resources and/or strategies with other educators, administrators, and/or parents.  Be sure to include pictures, links, etc. in your blog. Make sure to describe how the resource or strategy might be useful to you and how it would impact VSLs.
    So, here goes.  For the class we are reading the book, Visual-Spatial Learners by Alexandra Shires Golon.    I'm only about forty-one pages into it so far, but it reads easily.  So far the book (and the class) are concentrating on identifying VSL students and individuals.

    VSL students are to be contrasted with Audio-Sequential Learners (ASL).  There are also Kinesthetic Learners, but Golon groups them with the VSL students for her book.  

    Golon likens learning in a style that's not yours to writing with your non-dominant hand.  You may be able to write legibly, but you will never be as comfortable writing with that hand, nor will it look as good.  So too, for VSL learners, you can learn to learn sequentially, be more "organized", and learn auditorially, but it won't ever be as easy for you as learning visually and spatially or kinesthetically.  

    How do these people learn?  They think and store information in pictures!  I must say that I find this notion rather peculiar, as I certainly don't (except for maps).  In fact I don't even think in words - I guess I must think in ideas, because words and pictures slow me down.  I guess there is one other area where I store information spatially.  I know where passages are in my Bible by which page and what part of the page they're on.  That's one of the reasons I don't want to switch to a new volume, even as my old one gets worn!

    VSL also don't learn well by repetition and drill, so math and foreign language taught that way can be deadly.  They are often more intuitive; they see an idea or a solution all at once, and showing how they got there is difficult for them.  They have trouble sequencing and organizing ideas (and themselves!).  They are often very creative artistically - and they often "think outside of the box".  Or they don't even know that there is a box!

    For further information on the characteristics of these learners, check out Linda Kreger Silverman's Introduction to VSL or Starjump.  Here's a good graphic that helps describes these students, taken from the Starjump site.

    So, future sessions will address how to give these learners the tools they need to do well in school, especially for teachers.  Hopefully we'll also find resources on how to enable students to use their strengths to learn better, and how to overcome their "disadvantages" with their own learning style without forcing them to be  someone that they aren't.  Most authors on this topic that I've read stress that methods that help VSL, will also help reinforce and teach the ideas for ASL students as well.

    Thursday, August 23, 2012

    Fiddler on the Roof

    Last Sunday Irene and I went to a dinner theater.  It was a late anniversary celebration (March - 31 years).  We went to the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse near Johnson's Corner near Loveland, Colorado.  (I have only been to a few theater plays, and even fewer dinner theaters, so bear with my review!)

    First a review.
    The food was better than last year.  We both had the cabbage rolls this year.  We had to wait nearly an hour for the food and it arrived ten minutes before the play started.  I give the food a B, the service a B+/A-.  The cost of the ticket does not include dessert or drinks.  You may also upgrade the entree for an additional cost.  The background music level was not loud, which I appreciated.

    The play itself was well acted.  The play was not abbreviated - we got home around 5:30; the play started at 2:00.  The singers did well, the props were not lavish, but they supported the theme of the play and were easily moved.  I give the play an A.

    I love the Lord of the Rings, but I think that in many ways Fiddler on the Roof hits me even closer.  FotR has within it so much of the human condition.  In it we find joy, sorrow, loss, aging, prejudice, persecution, doubt, faith, testing and much more.  We see how God works in people's lives (those who made it to America were saved the Holocaust, but those who settled in Poland were not) and how decisions affect people for generations and in places far away.

    I was struck in the play by a new thought.  The Bible was so much a part of the people's daily lives that they saw themselves as a continuation of the stories of the Bible.  The tailor sang of the heroes of the Old Testament and used them as an inspiration for himself.  Do modern Jews and Christians see themselves in that light?

    But perhaps my favorite part is that Tevye talks to God.  He actually believes that God cares about him and will respond.  His theology isn't always great, and his knowledge of the "good book" isn't great either, but he knows God in a way that many with more learning do not.

    The saddest part is when Tevye turns away his daughter Chava because she has married outside of the faith.  How far will you bend for your faith?  For your family?  Which do you value more?  I always cry at that part of the movie/play.  My children are now the age when they could make decisions to live away from their faith or marry outside of it.  How will I react?  What will I do?

    What would you do?  Where do your ultimate loyalties lie?

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Is God working in your church?

    How do you know (if God is working in your church)?  Maybe your church isn't really growing numerically  or isn't evangelistic enough.  But are those the only measures, or even the most important?

    I just finished reading an article about stress on pastors.  One of the major factors in pastoral stress the author mentioned was the strife and discord in churches, much of it directed toward pastors.

    I've had the privilege of teaching the same (or similar) Introduction to New Testament courses at various institutions in Illinois and Colorado.  One of the joys of teaching such a class is reading large amounts of the Bible in a short time.  Recurring themes tend to stick out.  One of these themes is that of unity and lack of conflict.

    Dr. Robert Alden shared some thoughts on Psalm 133 once in class.  The psalm begins "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!"  David then continues these thoughts by likening unity to the dew from the mountains falling on dry Jerusalem and to the performed oil poured on Aaron.

    This theme of unity continues in the New Testament.  Paul tells his readers to be devoted to each other in brotherly love (Romans 12:10).   Hebrews 13:1 exhorts the readers to continue in brotherly love.  Paul prays for a spirit of unity among the Romans (15:5ff).  Paul commands his readers (Ephesians 4:3) "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."   Paul isn't saying that we should only try to keep the unity if we feel like it or to make a small effort, but rather make every effort.

    If you are in a church that acts mostly in unity, where there is little gossip, where people actually listen to each other and care about each other, where decisions are made after thought, prayer, and consideration, and dissenters are seriously listened to, might it be a sign that God is at work?  That people are being shaped by God's word and prayer and the Holy Spirit?

    We often think that if God is at work our attendance will increase, and that may be true.  But God is at work in other ways as well, just as powerfully, but perhaps more quietly.

    Sunday, August 5, 2012


    Let's throw the pollsters, media, and the political candidates a curve ball.  When you are called by a pollster to answer questions about your political views, simply (but politely) tell the caller that you only do one poll - the one on November 6.

    If enough people do this, it will frustrate the whole process.  Maybe the candidates will concentrate on persuading us rather than pandering to us.  And the media will lose a news story.  And the media can't use the "momentum" to skew the election in the way they think it should go.  And that would be good.

    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Book Reviews: Still the Best Hope & The Brief Against Obama

    I'm getting a bunch of reading done this summer!  Some of it's fiction, but I'm also doing some political reading.  Specifically, I'm reading The Brief Against Obama by Hugh Hewitt and Still the Best Hope by Dennis Prager.

    Product DetailsProduct Details

    I've listened to both men for years on their radio programs and read several of Dennis Prager's books.  Nothing against Hugh, but I really like Dennis.  Both write well.  If you are interested in knowing more about why you should support Conservatives rather than Liberals, read one or both of these books.

    The Brief Against Obama is primarily presented as a legal brief against Obama.  There are twenty-five chapters.  Each chapter is a topical brief against Obama.  These briefs are reasons not to vote for Obama.
    The twenty-five chapters are divided into three areas.
    1. Domestic Policy Failures
    2. Foreign Policy Failures
    3. Leadership Failures
    Each chapter is fairly short and easily read.  Some are more interesting and compelling than others, but together they make a compelling reason not to vote for Obama.

    Still the Best Hope is longer and summarizes Prager's thoughts on America, her values and their roles in the world.  The sub-title is: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph.  Prager believes that there are only three futures for the world.  Either the world will embrace Leftist values, American values, or Islamist values.  He believes that only American values will give security, prosperity, and  freedom to the people of the world.  This book explains at length why.

    Part 1 explores Leftism, which is the most relevant to our situation in America today with the election coming this Autumn.  

    Dennis describes why Leftism is a religion and describes what Leftists believe and why they believe it.  He then describes what the consequences are of these beliefs  The Left is Utopian, believing that in this life and world we can have a perfect or nearly perfect life.  The Right realizes that the best is often the enemy of the good and that in the search for the best the Left destroys much that is good in society.  Why is the Left so successful in putting forward their ideas when their ideas are so destructive to society and so often don't match reality?  Dennis explores this at length.  The reasons include: the emotional basis for much of Leftist thought, sloganeering, pursuing self esteem rather than accomplishments, the wide-spread dissemination of Leftist thought in universities and the media, the demonization of the Right, and the creation and propagation of crises such as heterosexual AIDS, second hand smoke, swine flu, global warming and so on.  The last chapter of this section deals with the moral record of the Left.  Prager concludes that the Left does not recognize evil, and that whatever it touches, it has made worse.

    Part 2 explores Islam and Islamism.  I'll have to comment more on this part later, as I haven't read this part yet.

    Part 3 describes America and her values.  Again, more later.

    Wednesday, July 4, 2012

    NT Wright - How God became King and Simply Jesus

    Summer break from teaching!  It sounds wonderful and so it can be.  It can get a bit boring after a time though as well.  It's over 100 degrees outside today.  And I'm tired of writing political blogs.  So, I thought I would take some time and review these books that I've been reading.

    First of all, Wright writes well.  (His website)  He's very enjoyable to read and he makes his points clearly.  Second, I like his focus on the Gospels.  I agree that too often we Christians have ignored them or used them to support Paul.  But what purpose do they serve?  Why Israel?

    I read Simply Jesus first and would recommend reading it first.  It's a bit simpler.

    Simply Jesus
    Wright examines the person and role of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels.  How did the people of his own day understand him?  How should we understand Jesus?

    There are, Wright begins, three puzzles about Jesus that we need to know about.  First, Jesus' world is not ours - it is strange to us.
    Second, Jesus' God is strange to us and to the people of his day.  Jesus portrayed God in ways that his hearers found strange.
    Third, Jesus acted as if he were in charge.

    Wright criticizes what is a common understanding of Jesus and Christianity -- God sends his son to rescue people by dying in their place and take them out of this world to a place called heaven.  He also criticizes the view that Jesus was just a good teacher, a good moral man who didn't claim to be God or intend to start a church.  His followers created what we call the church and Christianity.  Do you recognize your understanding in one of these two versions?

    Wright places Jesus at the nexus of forces that created a "perfect storm" that came crashing down on Jesus.
    1. Rome, the superpower militarily, financially, politically and religiously.  The dictator of Rome (Caesar) claimed to be divine and the son of God.  One of Wright's points in both books is that we don't recognize the political implications of Jesus, his teachings, and his claims.
    2. Jews, with their understanding of God's actions in history in Passover, Exodus, and would again rescue his people from their enemies
    3. God himself of course had promised salvation and redemption for his people.  They would return from exile and be purified.
    Rome and the Jews had different agendas and were on a collision course.  And although the Jews thought that they were on God's side, Wright points out that God would do what he promised, but not necessarily the way the Jews were expecting.

    The rest of the book spells out how Jesus saw himself as the through whom God would fulfill his promises of redemption.  Jesus would do it in a way that ran counter to Roman and Jewish ideas of how God would, should, and could act.  Why did Jesus have to die?  What about the church?  What about Jesus' moral teachings (the Sermon on the Mount)?  What about sin?  What's all the "Kingdom of God" teaching that Jesus gave?  When is that kingdom coming?  What will it look like?

    I encourage you to read the book both for background to understanding the Gospels and for understanding the implications of Jesus bringing the Kingdom of God to earth in his teachings, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  If Jesus really brought God's kingdom to earth through those events, then what does that mean for Christians today?  How do we live in the light of Jesus?  I also recommend the book because Wright places the Gospels in their Old Testament context, showing how Jesus lives out the life of Israel, the king, the Suffering Servant and other themes from the Old Testament.

    How God Became King 

    In this book Wright answers the question of what purpose Jesus' life served.  As he said (p. 4), "What, in other words, about the bit between the stable and the cross?"  For many Christians, the story line of the Bible doesn't need Jesus' life.  For them, Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin and his resurrection shows God's approval on him.  Proving Jesus' divinity is for many the reason for the Gospels.  That is, the Gospels show that Jesus was both human and divine.

    Wright points out that the creeds also skip over Jesus' life.  He concludes his book by examining two ways of reading the creeds.  The first is the more traditional conservative way of reading the Bible and the Creeds which I outlined in the previous paragraph.  In the second understanding of the creeds, he invites the readers to enlarge their understanding of the creeds by exploring their Old Testament roots as relates to God as creator and as father of Israel.  We are asked to consider "Christ" as Israel's Messiah and the incarnation as when God himself comes to establish his kingdom on Earth.  And so on for the rest of the creed.

    But, Wright argues, we are missing a great deal if  proving Jesus' divinity is the only or major purpose that the stories of the Gospels of Jesus' life serves.  Instead, he argues, the Gospels record how God, through Jesus' life, death, burial, and resurrection became king on earth.  "It is by his inaugurating of God's kingdom, in his public career and on the cross, that Jesus reveals the father's glory." (p. 20)

    Along the way, Wright interacts with liberal Christianity, scholarly approaches to reading the New Testament, and more common understandings of Christianity especially in the USA.  For example, the goal of Christianity is eternal life (John 3:16, Luke 18:18), but that does not mean going to heaven when we die.  Instead, eternal life is about joining in God's kingdom now as well as inheriting the new world in new bodies when it comes.  Specifically, it means joining Jesus in his work because in Jesus we see what God is up to now.  (p. 54)

    And then Israel.  What was the point of Israel and how does Jesus fit into it?  Wright shows how Jesus is the one through whom the story of Israel and her redemption comes to its goal, even though it seems that that story has stagnated.  The story is finished (John 19:30) and now the new creation can come. (p. 79)

    The rest of the book explores these and related themes, ending with an exploration of how we should understand the creed in light of this understanding.

    I recommend reading and meditating on this book.  It will challenge your understanding of Jesus, his claims on us as his followers, and how we should understand Jesus in the light of the Old Testament.