Interdependency

In the introduction of John C. Maxwell’s book The Power of Partnership in the Church, he presents us with a concept that we lose in most church organizations. Maxwell calls it partnership by I believe it is better termed interdependency. Although this book is aimed at pastors and renewing the life of the church, I believe the concept needs to go beyond just the walls of the pastor’s office. Too much of the church has either become a cult of personality ruled by the dynamics and charisma of a single person, an elect group (sometimes family owned and operated) or it is a one person power-play where all power sits in the hands of a central leader.

Maxwell states that we live in a society that no longer looks to the church for answers and yet purpose of the Church was and is to reach the world. The question that needs to be posed is why has that happened? It is because the church looks like every other organization in the society that the church is supposed to be counter-cultural too. Its identity has been confused and muddled into a system of hierarchy stratification where only a few participate and the rest simply follow. You see it over and over again. That is why there is so much burn-out in the church and why no one needs another social organization to pay dues too.

Maxwell concentration is in the pastor’s ability to raise up a dynamic and influential church in the society but that is not the pastor’s job. The pastor is to teach and empower the church to do the work of the kingdom.

Maxwell is right in sighting the writer of Ecclesiastes as having the answer to the dilemma.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has not one to help him up”(4:9-11 NKJV).

The ancient writer insight was about interdependency. It enables the church to meet the challenges of ministry with greater strength, tap into more resources and reap greater victory for the kingdom of God. Interdependency multiplies the potential of ministry. It enables and empowers everyone to do the work of the kingdom as the Holy Spirit leads not as one individual or organizational structure determines.

Mother Theresa is attributed with the following statement that I believe sums up how the church is to respond and do the work of the kingdom –

You can do what I cannot do, I can do what you cannot do. Together, we can do great things.

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Climate Change? Check Your Butterfly.

Climate change is a hot button issue that has many believers and as it has deniers. Both claim to have the absolute facts and will cite a huge amount of evidence with backing data to prove their positions. They will argue until they are blue in the face that their side has the truth and the other side is manipulating the truth. Each side is calling the other a liar and they have the figures to prove it. It has come to the point that no one outside of scientific circles really knows what to believe. It becomes a blur of facts and figures that all seems to contradict one another. As my grandmother had a saying – figures never lie but liars always figure.

I am writing to propose that they are both right and they are both wrong. Both sides are missing the basic element of their research analysis. The original concept of predicting climate and weather change has a history that is as old as humanity itself. As you can tell from the nightly news we have a basic indication but no absolutes. How many times have you been told that it will be a sunny day only to have it rain on your picnic?
There is a relatively recent study that occurred back in the early 1960’s that I think will shed some light on the subject matter. This research has an unfortunate name and has become a cult classic – especially in the environmental circles. It was and is called the butterfly effect. What most of us have heard is the claim is that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings has the ability to cause a hurricane thousands of miles away. This however again is only a half truth.

In the tradition of Paul Harvey here is the rest of the story. Here is the truth of climate change figures for both sides.

The story starts back in  an MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz who created an early experimental computer program that would simulate weather conditions. During the process of creating representations of atmospheric conditions, Lorenz changed one of the numbers that represented a particular condition from .506127 to .506. I know big deal so he left off a few tiny numbers. Now you would not think that such a small difference would make any significant difference at all. This is especially hard to believe given what the numbers represent.

The original and first number of the model in the computer program represents decimal values. You remember (some of us painfully) the math lessons that dealt with decimal points and their values. I have written them out so you can actually see how small of a number we are talking about. . 506127 represents: tenths = 5, hundredths = 0, thousandths = 6, ten-thousandths = 1, hundred-thousandths = 2, and millionths = 7. The second or new number in the computer program that he accidentally put in only represented the decimal up to the thousandths which is ever so slightly larger – it leaves off ten-thousands = 1, hundreds-thousands = 2 and millionths = 7. To write it out in mathematical terms it is .000127. We are talking about numbers less the number 1 and we are talking about a very small alteration of number value or so it would seem. Again it would seem no big deal. But this tiniest of alterations completely and totally transformed what was his model forecast. For almost ten years Lorenz studied this anomaly and came up with a concluding paper.

In 1972 Lorenz wrote a paper about this effect titled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” This is where the popular phrase butterfly effect came from. In this paper Lorenz made the claim that large effects of tiny atmospheric events pose both a practical problem of limiting the ability to accurately portray long-term weather forecasts, and a philosophical one by being unable to isolate the specific causes of conditions which appear later. The implications of this are that there are any number of interconnections of nature that could potentially alter, initiate, and/or cause weather conditions. So here is the question that this research poses – could the flap of a butterfly’s wings cause or for that fact prevent a tornado? From Lorenz’s way of thinking we will never know exactly what would or could have happen if the wings had not disturbed the atmosphere. It was because the tiniest alteration of any of the values alters the chain of events down the line. It becomes too complicated to sort out where we can re-create the original conditions. It becomes impossible for us to measure anything accurately especially in the long-term because of the complexity of the amount of or lack of influence from a multitude of sources.

We can somewhat be in the general area of what might potentially happen but not able to nail it down exactly. That is why your local weather person has such a difficult time accurately predicting several days of weather let alone weeks, months or years. They basically average out several predictions and hope for the best. If we are only the slightest bit off in the calculations of our models the outcome can be completely off either positively or negatively. Thus small imprecisions matter greatly and the world becomes radically unpredictable. We can at best give our best guess based upon the best data that we have at the moment but that can change in the next instant based upon the addition or deletion of any cause or effect in the equations.

This has several important implications that cover a wide range of elements. First it means that what we would call insignificant actually has an important factor in determining the outcome of any given condition. It has the potential to be either right for the climate change people or the climate change deniers. They are both right and wrong only in as much as the numbers that they punch in are absolutely positively accurate to the slightest variable without exception.

The question then is what does this all mean? That we absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt have no idea how any of this will turn out scientifically given the enormous amount of variable data and influence all of us as inhabitants (animal, mineral and vegetable) of this earth and the earth itself has upon the climate.

So with all the unpredictability there is the other question. Shouldn’t we consider what we are doing so that it has the absolute least amount of negative impact upon the planet and has the most positive impact upon the planet? Don’t we owe it to the next generation to leave them with something better that what we had? Or do we continue with the attitude of we got ours’ let them figure it out for themselves?

We may not know all of the factors but we can make the world a better place – for ourselves and for our children, and for our children’s children. Wouldn’t that be a tremendous inheritance to leave – true wealth?

For more of the story about Lorenz check out:

[1] The meaning of the butterfly Why pop culture loves the ‘butterfly effect,’ and gets it totally wrong By Peter Dizikes June 8, 2008 http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/06/08/the_meaning_of_the_butterfly/?page=full

11/03/2015

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The Creative Dilemma

Creativity is a difficult area for discussion because it involves many myths and legends about its purpose, its origins, and its place in our world. It is a subject matter that is a contradiction in that it causes both tremendous awe and respect in as much as it is not valued and trivialized. Companies are calling for more creative solutions yet our educational system busy removing it from access. Our public and educational institutions prize conformity demanding that those within it meet a set of artificial test standards yet our society demands rugged individuality. It is not a battle of right or left political thinking. It really is a battle for life and meaning.

With that kind of friction taking place, it becomes a constant battle of hype, and misunderstanding by all involved. There has been study upon studies all done on creativity by the economic sectors, religious institutions, governmental agencies, and academic centers. They are available for the asking but little is done with this mountain of data that virtually sits unused. Why?

A lot I believe has to do with the way in which our society functions. It is historically verifiable. What brought this all about starts with the industrial revolution. It is the major influence of our age but not in a completely positive way that you might think. Yes it did make more products available to more people by being able to centralize means of production for easy replication. It made goods more affordable but at the same time it did something to how we see each other. What it did unfortunately was to make us think that we could apply the same production line problem solving logic to all aspects of life. Because of this it changed the psychology of how we see the individual – not as human beings, but as parts of a human machine. It took us from being individual craftsman and workers who depend upon each other to being parts of a flesh colored assembly line where parts are easily and cheaply replace. That perspective needed parts that could be easily replaced and replicated. This was just not what was being produced but who was producing them. We no longer needed individuals who could think and make things. Thinking was unnecessary on the production line. All you had to do was perform a desired task to produce a desired result. Thinking was not needed or encouraged. The cry became just do your job because we could replace you with someone who was willing to do just that – easily. Basic skills of reading, writing, and math were all that were required to track and report what you produced. No advance patterns of thought were needed because it was no longer required to the task at hand. Memorization and then regurgitation of production information was all that was needed. You do this to get that. You didn’t have to assimilate it or figure it out – you were told what to do and what was required.

We went from skilled craftsman who designed and made a complete product, to someone who placed a part on a product and performed a job – a task. You went from artisans who included a portion of themselves in what they did to being a part that placed or replaced a part on a product. These ideas are even now present in farming which has evolved into agribusiness and commodities producers.

If you look up the word job in the Webster’s Dictionary, it is not a very positive item. The origin of the word comes from the old English word that meant lump.  A lump is not a noble beginning. A lump by definition is “1: a piece or mass of indefinite size and shape 2 a. aggregate, totality <taken in the lump> b: majority3: protuberance: an abnormal swelling 4: a person who is heavy and awkward; also : one who is stupid or dull”.  This is not a positive image to start with. Yet it is the origin of the word that we have become focused on.

The definition of job doesn’t get much better but takes a distinctive nose dive into the abyss from there. The first is “a piece of work; especially: a small piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate”.  There is nothing to indicate that this is a creative effort. You are not giving order, purpose or function to anything (the very soul of the creative effort) – you are taking orders, you are given its purpose and told its function.  No creative action needed. You are just there to get the job done as is stated in the second part of that definition “the object or material on which is being done.”

This is not something that we would normally want to aspire to, yet here it is. This is what we do. We go to our jobs every day. Most of us do not go to work we go to a job. We have made the words work and job interchangeable.

When we actually went to work it was different. Even the definition is different: “1:activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something: a: sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result b :the labor, task, or duty that is one’s accustomed means of livelihood c: a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity”.  This shows the involvement of the total being – not only physically but mentally. The word job was a part of the definition but not its total meaning. Work involves the body, mind and spirit – the total being and cannot be defined as a machine. On the other hand a job is something to get done. It is the effect of some undefined effort to get an order done. It is the attitude of a machine. It is dehumanizing and places you into machine like status. No morals needed just do whatever it takes to get the job done.

This eventually went from the factory floor, to the office complex and then into our educational systems. Thought was unnecessary, production and results had taken its place so that we could simply get it done. It is not what you know it is what you produce. It is not what you could apply it was what were the results. Grades went from being an indicator as to what you might possibly know to an indicator of how you might succeed in getting a job.

You can see it in the schools today were the individual is really not valued outside of what the student can produce. It is the test score a student produces that is valued – not the student. Teachers are no longer teachers but managers of collected data. Teachers are not really allowed to educate but rather are required to manage a standard that all must attain to be deemed competent to get a job. Teachers are required to teach to the test (as much as everyone says they do not – they do). This is what you do when you produce parts for any machine. You test them so that they meet a standard so that they can be easily placed to do a job that has been ordered.

Teachers teach to the test so that the students can be measured to make sure that the desired outcome is achieved – the ability for the students to do and to get a job. It is job training.  It is a system where you can replicate the results to produce students ready to enter the work force. Teachers do not educate. They are production line managers who must obtain a desired output or be replaced to insure the quality of the products of the assembly line meet standards. The direction of education is no longer to help the individual attain a better understanding so that they might improve the world in which they live. The direction of education has become a check list of requirements that will produce something with the ability to fill a position.  That position is within an organization for the purpose of producing goods that are taken on order – a job. It becomes just another thing to be done.

Creativity is not valued. It has a minor role in society as that society becomes more mechanized and industrialized. Now that we have gone beyond the industrial revolution we find ourselves in an age of information. We are now faced with the fact that the principles the industrial age are also no longer of value. What you now have is a large bloated, series of mega-industrial corporations who no longer add value but consume it. They have become obstinate, refusing to change and watch as their world slowly crumbles in front of them. They moan the lack of creativity of the workers but foster a system that demands duplication, replication, and conformity. They are in fact the cause of their own demise. They have created a system of support that cannot flex either in goods or in those responsible for the production of their goods – because it was not a part of their culture to do so – it is not their job to do so.

You can see this type of thinking in government as well. People are not considered – bottom line production results are what are valued. Government programs are assessed based upon a cost to value. The same type of thinking that produced exploding gas tanks. It was cheaper to keep the car in production and pay off the few people who were hurt, maimed, or killed rather than spend the money to do the right thing to correct the design flaw in production.  Why because the results of doing what was right had an adverse effect on the cost of production lin which in turn had an adverse effect on the profit margin.

The industrial model in Government is being pushed in much the same way as it had been to education. Government model now is industrial which means that the government no longer serves the people but rather provides goods and services at a cost. That leads to a government that no longer solves problems but produce budgetary guidelines to offset the cost. This has led to the trickle down economy which has not worked in as much as the welfare state has not worked. We have seen time and time again that throwing money indiscriminately at things does not solve problems. It may in fact produce them.

We have entered a new age and that age requires creativity, the very creativity that had been and is legislated out of education. Creativity is the very thing that will meet the needs of the future. The old industrialized ways do not work and have not worked for a long time. They have produced an imbalance.

If you look at the beginnings of the rise to mega-industrial giant – the very thing that fueled that incredulous growth is creativity. It is the very thing that they do not presently value in their culture. They have confused the machine and tools of production with the means of the existence. They have reduced man to machine rather than elevating the position of man above machine. They have reversed the roles. That is why these institutions buy innovation rather than make it – then make it conform to their production models destroying any thought of innovation. Once creative innovation is destroyed, they continue the model of conformity and do more of the same.  When they crush the competition they crush the very spirit of innovation that would have kept them alive. They no longer provide services but tell the consumer what they will buy and what they will like. People are consumers that are told what they need, when they need it, and in the amounts that they need to buy.

Once you have crossed that line and make man a machine, you dehumanize society. You remove creativity and thus the ability to think. It is a cascading process of dehumanization.  You just react to a set of stimulus/inducement/incitement that is controlled by outside agencies and institutions controlled by a few that tell you what to consume. You are told that it is the amount of things you accumulate that adds value to your existence rather than the truth that it is you who adds value to things. The ability to think, and reason beyond a reactionary mentality is the ability to be creative. It is the ability to transform the environment that you call life. Uniformity is the very antithesis/opposite of human existence which is by nature diverse.

What in fact does this all have to do with a belief in God? It has quite a lot in fact. The very basis of our concept of god is starts with our belief that the god is in fact – creative. In that act of creativity, according to the Judaeo-Christian take on things, you take on a part of the image and likeness of God in whom we are supposedly made. It is the very first thing that you learn if you open the first book of either a Christian or Jewish Bible. The opening line is that at the beginning of all existence God created. If you read just a little further down it states that humanity is made in the image of God. All that we know at this point is that God is creative and we are made in that creative image. It doesn’t take a deep theological understanding, or for you to have an incredibly logical mind or to fully understand what the definition of creative is or to be able to understand that we are in fact creative by nature. Therefore by the same logic – to remove creativity from any portion of humanity is to reduce humanity to a machine like status. The logic continues that if we are not creative then we have removed the image of God from ourselves. We no longer see God in ourselves or others. This causes another set of issues that I will not go into here but this will continue in an ever deeper and darker spiraling dehumanization of people. To paraphrase the line from the no longer published political cartoon Pogo – we have met the enemy and it is us.

Continuing in that same path of logic we would then say that to deny our creativity – or narrow it down – is to in fact deny God and deny our very nature. In as much as God is love and we are then supposed to be a representation of that love so we can love – God is creative and we are to be creative. That is what our scriptures tell us to be true. If we then believe our scriptures to be true then to deny creativity is to say that scripture is not true which is an extreme correlation but one that can and should be drawn. We become a godless amoral society.

We have been given the ability by the very divine nature within us to affect the world creatively in love for love. We are not to lord it over the world but in love become creative forces so that the very kingdom of God will be on earth exactly as it is in heaven. If this then is the case then Christians have an absolute obligation to be creative and imaginative. The theologian Francis A. Schaeffer in the beginning of his collection of two essays “Art and the Bible” states that – “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Unfortunately this is not what we find. Instead we have our noses to the grindstone and do not see beyond the job. This is the problem. Christians have abandoned creativity and imagination and in doing so have abandoned the driving force of the universe. We have abandoned God.

There is a phrase that is used in Latin. It is deus ex machina which has the literal translation of “desperate or contrived solution”. We are more familiar with it as god from the machine. We have made a god of the machine – the product of a checklist. It drives our lives, our language, our education, our governments and our existence. We are reaping what we have sown. We have become a product and not a creation. We are the ones who must give order, purpose and function to life. We are not supposed to conform to the musing of an assembly line check list of product development. We are not a product – we are created to be creative and offer solutions to the world.

 

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Back At It.

I have not written in a while being pre-occupied with the task of going back to school to further my education, some unforeseen health issues and two jobs that were just not helpful. Finally this has passed and it is time for me to resume writing about things I find interesting. During all of this time I have been re-assessing my viewpoints and trying to put things in perspective. There have been a few eye-opening events that have re-enforced what I have always believed and changed others that needed revamping.

There are many times that no matter how hard you try, people just will not understand what you are trying to say or what you are trying to do. This had been a source of frustration and discouragement for me for a long time. Some things that I thought were obvious are not that clear-cut for others because they do not have the same experience, culture or background. This last go round involved several people, institutions, and circumstances where I thought I was being perfectly clear only to find out that wasn’t the case. In a group setting I was not able to have the majority of those involved see what it was that I was doing or saying. No matter how hard I tried it just did not happen. I just plain missed the boat on trying to assimilate my culture with theirs. It was a total fail on my part. I did not recognize that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time – mentally, physically, and spiritually. I really thought they wanted what I wanted and that was just not the case. I assumed too much and you know what happens when you assume. Preparation H and a good spiritual enema are in order. I take full responsibility for this.

Another instance was we just did not see eye to eye. It is a situation where we just needed to agree to disagree. Culture and experience played a major factor.

Difference in culture and experience is the heart of most issues in communication. This should be the launching points that are a part of the individual’s evaluation of how things fit into their world. The unfortunate thing is that many people are chained to the launching pad and are constantly burned by their refusal to move beyond a basic understanding of their world. It becomes a painful repeat experience that they perceive as validation of their limited point of view. It becomes the rallying cry of “see I was right” when pain is inflicted or self-inflicted upon them. Like the premise of the book Who Moved the Cheese or a paraphrase the saying attributed to Albert Einstein on insanity – people will stay in the same position over and over again expecting different results from the same set of circumstances.

This calls for close examination of what you are doing and trying to accomplish. There are times when you are doing the right thing and no matter what you do you are harpooned needlessly. This just calls for you to remove yourself from the situation altogether. There are other times you are doing something wrong and you need to assess the situation and make the needed corrections. It could also be a combination of the two.

What did I learn from all of this? Simple, if you can – choose your audience. In other words target the audience you are seeking. You wouldn’t try to sell cat food in a dog food convention or the proverbial snowball to an Eskimo. In either case they either flat-out don’t want what you are offering or have way too much of it already. This is a sticking point for some things. There are times when you do not have the luxury of choosing your audience but you may be able to adjust the message to fit the situation. An example would be selling cat food in a dog food convention stating that this could help expand their market and bottom line. The other would be to sell a novelty snowball launcher. Either might be difficult but more do-able and potentially profitable for all.

No matter how you look at it – the audience has to be open to the message. If they are then the lines of communication have already been open. They may disagree with what you initially say or do but at least there is an open dialog between the parties involved. Most importantly there is willingness between the two parties to discuss matters for clarification and a better understanding. There are times when you just don’t connect – no matter what you do. It is better to leave before you caused harm or are lynched.

I also learned that it is inevitable to tick people off – even if the audience was handpicked and initially receptive to the message. It may be just the fact of your presence at an inopportune time; you remind them of someone or something that was hurtful or otherwise disagreeable. You may have unknowingly said something inappropriate. You may never really know. They may never tell you. You try the best you can but there are never any guarantees that you will be received well. There is also the possibility that you are just plain obstinate, conceded, and full of yourself – all of which I have been guilty of. No matter what, it is always a time for self-examination and consulting with others to get a better picture. Sometime you can mend bridges and other times you cannot. Continue to grow, push forward and make progress. Retreat is not an option.

So in the course of re-establishing the blog, please understand that I am trying to open dialogues. This is a place of discussion – civilized and godly discussion. This is a place for an exchange of ideas and concepts. If we do disagree – let it be peacefully, with dignity, and consideration for each other. If we cannot find peace – let us part ways until such a time when we can work together.

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Beginning To Discuss Creativity

Creativity is a difficult area for discussion to say the very least. It involves too many myths and legends about its purpose, its origins, and its place in our world. It is a subject matter that is a constant contradiction. It can be both awe inspiring and respected in as much as it is unvalued and trivialized. Companies are calling for more creative solutions yet our educational system is busy removing it from access. Our institutions prize conformity yet will hire persons on the fringe socially who are highly creative to spur profitability. Our society demands being “just like everyone else” but then celebrates the creative, the unusual, and inventive if they can make money from it .

So with that kind of friction taking place, creativity is a scene of constant battle, hype, and misunderstanding by all involved. There has been study upon studies all done on creativity by the economic sectors, religious institutions, governmental agencies, and academic centers. They are available for the asking, but little is done with this mountain of data that virtually sits unused. Why?

I believe this has to do with the way in which our society functions. You really have to take a look at what brought this all about. (Now before we start this journey let me first state that this is not a blame game but rather a quest to find the source of influence(s) that started the ball rolling.) You see with any problem there is a point at which an error was made. When you find the source of the error, you then can begin to unravel the series of events that have led you to the particular situation that you are in. It is then a matter of the old axiom of keeping what works and then getting rid of what does not. We are all a part of the problem so with that we all need to be a part of the solution. None of us has a corner on the market for being absolutely right, partially right or even close to be nearly right. If we look at it in the proper light, it will tell us that we are all interconnected and are a part of the bigger picture.

The major influence of our age has been the industrial revolution. It has changed the way we look at everything in our lives. This has shifted our focus from the achievement of producing one quality object to being able to produce goods inexpensively for mass consumption. It has taken uniqueness out of the equation and put in its place the readily replaceable. This has had a tremendous influence on our way of thinking. It has changed the way we measure ourselves and others. It has changed the context of the individual in society. It has affected all the aspects of human existence from the arts, the sciences, philosophy, politics, ethics, religion and education.

The Industrial Revolution did make more products available to more people by being able to centralize means of production for easy replication. It made goods more affordable to a broader base and has led to great advancements in health and the standard of living for some. But there is a price to pay for this because at the same time it did something to how we see each other. It changed the psychology of how we see the individual – not as human beings, but as parts of a human machine. It took us from being individual craftsman and workers to become part of a flesh colored assembly line.

With that new perspective parts were needed that could be easily replaced and replicated. You did not need a host of individuals who could think and make. Thinking was un-necessary or extremely limited on the production line. All you had to do was perform a desired task to produce a desired result. Thinking beyond the immediate task at hand was not needed nor encouraged. Basic skills of reading, writing, and math were all that were required to track and report what you produced. Thought was not valued, welcomed or required. Regurgitation of production information was all that was required.  We went from skilled craftsman who designed and made a complete product, to someone who placed a part on a product and performed a job – a task. These ideas are even present in farming which has become an agri-business and commodities producers.

If you look up the word job it is not a very positive item. Webster’s Dictionary tells us the origin of the word comes from the old English word that meant lump.   A lump by definition is “1: a piece or mass of indefinite size and shape 2 a. aggregate, totality <taken in the lump> b: majority 3: protuberance: an abnormal swelling 4: a person who is heavy and awkward ; also : one who is stupid or dull”.  This is the root of the meaning of the word job. Yet we have turned this word job into the definition of our lives. .

When you look at what evolved into the word job the definition doesn’t get much better. It takes a distinctive nose dive into the abyss from there. The first is “a piece of work; especially: a small piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate”.  There is nothing to indicate that this is a creative effort. It is something that is simply done without thought but mere reaction to an order. This is not something that we would normally want (when given thought to) to aspire to, yet here it is. This is what we do. We go to our jobs everyday. Most of us do not go to work we go to a job. Work and job have become interchangeable in our society. This is not the truth of what work is supposed to be or mean.  

When we went to work it was different. Even the definition is different: “1:activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something: a: sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result b: the labor, task, or duty that is one’s accustomed means of livelihood c :a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity”.  This shows the involvement of the total being – not only physically but mentally. This is in sharp contrast to what a job is. A job is something to get done not necessarily to be involved in. It is the effect of some undefined effort to get an order done. It then becomes an issue of not what you are doing but how much you have done. Quality has become interchangeable with quantity. This is evident in our fast food society where “super-sizing” is the key.  It is the attitude of a person who is little more than a machine and therefore the job is de-humanizing.

This de-humanization is widespread. It has become apart of our language, and our thought patterns, as well as our reactions. We are no longer human beings but human doings. Thus our lives become a series of events and patterns that we no longer have control over.

“The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots. True enough, robots do not rebel. But given man’s nature, robots cannot live and remain sane, they become “Golems,” they will destroy their world and themselves because they cannot stand any longer the boredom of a meaningless life.” Erich Fromm – The Sane Society

(A Golem is a being that is created from the mud that has just enough mind to follow instructions exactly as they are stated.)  

To further illustrate the point, take a look at the concept of the assembly line, a major portion of the industrial revolution. Previously a series of workers would put together a product growing in skills and capabilities. As you arose through the skill levels of apprentice, to journeyman, to craftsman, you assumed more and more responsibility for the product and its eventual outcome. You were involved with the total aspect of what was being produced. The skill that was acquired had a reciprocating value. The individual added value to the skill in as much as the skill added value to the individual.

With the assembly line this is no longer the case. You may never get to assemble the entire product or know what the product is. Your task is to place one part or series of parts on something that is passed along to another to add their parts to the product. What is required of you is not necessarily your skill but your ability to rapidly put parts on the product. Your position on the line is to function exactly the same way throughout your day. It is a mindless routine. Numbers are the outcome – not quality for each individual. Just as a machine functions you are to function. Just like a machine that becomes too expensive to maintain or no longer functions rapidly, you are replaceable. You are reduced to a machine like function.

Production methods went from the factory floor, to the office complex, health care systems and then into our educational systems. Thought was unnecessary, production and results had taken its place so that we could simply get it done. It is not what you know or how skillfully you made the product, it is what you produce. It is not what you could apply but the results.

Grades were an indicator as to what you might possibly have learned and have become an indicator of how you could succeed in getting a job to produce.  This is evident in the schools today. The individual is really not valued. What is valued is the test scores that students produce. Teachers are not really allowed to educate but rather are required to teach to a standard that all must attain to be deemed competent to get a job to produce. These are industrial testing terms to insure that each part is identically functional to a particular purpose.

Teachers are required to teach to the test (as much as everyone says they do not – they do) so that the results can be measured and replicated to produce the desired results for the students to enter the work force. The direction of education is no longer to help the individual attain better understanding to improve the world in which they live. The direction of education is to check off a list of requirements that will produce someone with the ability to fill a position within a large organization for the purpose of producing goods (whether intellectual or physical) – a job. It becomes just another thing to be done.  So creativity is not valued. It has a minor role in modern society as that society becomes more mechanized and industrialized.

Now that we have gone beyond the industrial revolution we find ourselves in an age of information where those principles no longer hold value. Therefore, you have large bloated mega-industrial corporations who no longer add value but consume it. They have become obstinate, refusing to change and watch as their world slowly crumbles in front of them. Corporate leaders moan at the lack of creativity of the workers but foster a system that demands duplication, replication, and conformity. These are the very leaders that are in fact the cause of their own demise. Industrialists have created a system of support that can not flex either in goods or in those responsible for the production of their goods – because it was not a part of their culture to do so – it is not their job to do so. 

But if you look at the beginnings of corporate rise to mega-industrial giants – the very thing that fueled that incredulous growth – is the very thing that they do not value in their culture. They have confused the machine and tools of production with the means of the existence of those items. They have reduced man to machine rather than elevating the position of man above machine as its causation. They have reversed the roles. That is why these institutions buy innovation rather than make it – then make it conform to their production models. They not only crush the competition in doing so but they crush the very spirit of innovation that would have kept them alive. Their mantra and religion is production at all costs – even to self. 

Once you have reversed the roles you negate the very thing that makes all of humanity different from the other creatures of the earth; the ability to be creative; the ability to think, and reason beyond a herd mentality. Uniformity is the very antithesis of human existence which is by nature diverse. Remove diversity and you have extinction. Nature shows us this at every turn. When you limit the gene pool, that part of nature becomes diseased, distorted, and weak. It can no longer produce so it dies out completely. 

“Have you ever met an unimaginative five-year old? Probably not. And when you were five, you probably had a dream. Maybe in the still of the night you thought you heard God speaking to you – calling you to a certain type of life and a special kind of work.

So what happened? Well, life happened. Along the way, in our desire to be responsible, practical, and realistic adults, too many of us wildly imaginative kids lost touch with our creative abilities and gave up a commitment to translating our dreams into enjoyable and fulfilling work.” (From the introduction of No More Dreaded Mondays – pages 2-3)

What in fact does this all have to do with creativity? It points us in a direction that begs the questions: what is our purpose and why where we created? This is the elementary question that all humans ask. For most, this leads most to a belief in God.

The very basis of our formative conception of a god is that the god is in fact – creative. In that act of creativity, according to the Judeo Christian take on things, is a part of the image and likeness of God in whom we are supposedly made. Therefore, as logic and definition would have it – we are in fact creative by our very nature. We are by creation to be diverse and creative. The problem is that we do not see God as an active creative being in our world. We no longer see God because we have negated the creative image of God in our lives by destroying our own creativity.

We have created a god in our own image and likeness – void of all creativity, and we have created the means of our own destruction by the elimination of creativity in all of the aspects of our lives. This contradiction is the outcome of trying to put a human being onto an assembly line process for replication. The problem is that a human is not programmable to function in exactly the same way. It is by nature diverse within itself. It learns and considers experience differently from the human next to it. Humanity relates differently to all of its experience not only from position but from influence of that position. Even to continue in the insistence that humanity is nothing more than a high functioning machine is to deny the fact that humanity has all of the aspects of individual thought and assimilation of knowledge according to the design. Therefore, it is impossible, though we continually try, to deny that humanity is creative and must be so

Continuing in that same path of logic and reasoning would then be to say that to deny our creativity – or narrow it down – is to in fact deny God and deny our very nature. In as much as God is love and we are then supposed to be love – God is creative and we are supposed to be creative. This is if we believe in what our scriptures tell us to be true. To deny that is to say the scripture is therefore not true. 

The very act of creation is an act of love. If we deny this then the only recourse for us is to have been created by a vindictive and harsh god. Since we believe that God is love, an unconditional love, this can’t be true. But yet we have rendered all scripture contradictory and invalid by removing the very elementary proof that God is love – creativity.

We have been given all the ability by the very divine nature within us to affect the world creatively in love for love. We are not to lord it over the world but in love become creative forces so that the very kingdom of God will be on earth exactly as it is in heaven. If this then is the case, then Christians have an absolute obligation to be creative and imaginative. In the words of Francis A. Schaeffer used in the beginning of his collection of two essays in one volume called “Art and the Bible” – “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Unfortunately this is not what we find.

The question is “why not?” and is not easily answered because it is one that has many sources. It would be too easy to point fingers at doctrinal admonitions against musical styles, worship patterns, dance, and ornamentations. But really that has little to do with the totality of creativity.  The problem is that we have narrowed down the creative to a small segment of the population. We have intentionally made it a fringe element concerned with what we would call leisure activities and non-essential elements. This has happened over many years and many generations. Historically there have been  significant changes that have aided in the marginalizing the creative. My point of experience and reference is from the Christian perspective so that is where I will focus. I will at times refer to other religious, societal and economic factors as I have become aware of some of them.

Christians have abandoned creativity and imagination and in doing so have abandoned the driving force of the universe. Much like the parable of the prodigal son, Christianity has asked for its’ inheritance and has abused and misused it. Christians have become (for the most part) creatively bankrupt. As a whole we have yet to recognize we are feeding ourselves with far less than the animals we tend. Christians do not realize that everything that we do in some shape or another is creative. It is dismissed as nothing special. That is the other problem – failing to recognize the precious gift of creativity in the muck and slop of life. We are the ones that have devalued ourselves (with the help of others who have passed down the wrong thinking). We have thrown away the very thing that was given to us so that we could make life better for ourselves and others.

Creativity is the spark of life. It is how we were created to be. The key to this is revealed in the biblical account of the creation of man. It found in Genesis chapter 1, verse 28 states that God finished creating humanity by giving them specific instructions. God said to be fruitful and multiply. God said to fill the earth and take responsibility for all of the living things of the earth. With that, God gave us the power of creativity. Creativity is a multifaceted tool that enables us to shape the things of earth for all of our benefit. You can’t make use of anything without being creative in some way, shape or form. You have to interact with it in some way. You act upon it and it reacts. That is creativity!

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Talking about Education as a commodity

Education as a commodity

Walking along the hallways one morning, where I was gainfully, I came upon a group of people engaged in an emphatic conversation about their children’s education. Hearing the subject matter I slowed down my pace to eavesdrop. I have a particular passion for education so anything I hear or see about the subject matter peaks my interest. It centered about a third grader’s academic prowess or lack there of. The parent was contesting the teacher’s view that socialization was an integral part of the overall success of the student. The parent argued that there will be plenty of time for the student to make friends and that it is more important that the student be “where they need to be”, meaning performing at what the parent decided was the appropriate level (compared to others of high academic standard and peer group of the parents).

The conversation never got to what was best for the student but was suspended around what the expectations of the parent’s perception. The parent was more concerned with the status of the student in comparison with “where the others were and where they need to be”, rather than what was the capability and need of the individual child. They wanted a measurable result that was being equated with a cost per value added comparison. Much like you would do when comparing one product against another.

This is not unusual stance. Unfortunately it has become the normal parental expectation. The attitude expressed was one that you can encounter on a daily basis. It was consumer oriented. What I mean by that is that the education was something that was purchased and they expected to get something for the price.

This conversation made me sad. It has come to the point where the needs of the complete individual are no longer considered. The individual is devalued and valued only in terms of a commodity in the midst of similar commodities. The intent of education should be how to help the individual become the best individual that they can be. It can help make a person a better citizen, one willing to serve the greater good in being able to bring to the table a mind ripened through the ability to think, render opinion and contribute, in service, to the rest of humanity. As a by product of this ability, the individual will have the ability to obtain a rewarding life through their creative effort to produce one. It is based hopefully upon an education that acts as a launching pad allowing them to discover the fields of knowledge that will promote their talents. The above parental conversation is proof that we have strayed far away from this noble path. Notice that even within my conversation – I am using industrial production terms to describe the learning process. This is how much it has infected our way of thinking. It has become routine to view how we learn in the same terms we watch an assembly line.

In defense of what we do call education, we have forged ahead with all the newest teaching techniques, based programs upon Bloom’s taxonomy, and trained our educators to a higher degree. This is a very good because we have at last recognized that people approach problems, inquiry and knowledge from different perspectives. This will help enrich the individual by allowing them to see the other perspectives while enabling then to grasp the concept from their own. We have recognized that all should be given equal opportunity to the foundations of education so that they can make informed decisions. We hold schools accountable for the content of their teachings and involve the community at a deeper level.

However here is where I and the praise must part company because we have perpetrated a great disservice upon the educational system. We have crippled it by making it into something that it can not be. It is not a commodities manufacturer that can turn out product of a desired nature. It can not take an amount of; flesh, bone, muscle, blood, nerves, and brain, and then mold it into a preconceived standardized person. You can form opinion and you can direct thought, but you can not stamp out exact replicas of a particular model year as you would a car, refrigerator, or piece of military equipment. As hard as you might try, sooner or later the individual appears.

Unfortunately the state of education has been reduced to an industrialized manufacturing ground where by all are held to an artificial system of measurement and standardization that is doomed to failure. We can not accept the present state of education. The standards to which they aspire are not attainable because they are not based on the human condition but rather manufacturing and consumerist philosophies. We make the basic assumption that testing will allow us to continually tweak and adjust the assembly line process to insure quality performance in all fields. That through this continual testing that the individual with come up to a predetermined rate of performance based upon an idealized set expectations of development. This is, of course, done under the mistaken assumption that each individual’s life can be placed on a pre-plotted graph of development. That each individual without question can achieve the exact same level of presupposed development and ranking and assumes an idealized equality in everything that defines the individual. It assumes that each individual wants the same things, has the same desires, has the same advantages, has the same talents and capabilities, and has the same ability to learn at a predetermined rate of speed.

This negates the truth of the individual and corrupts the truth of what equality is. This also puts an artificial definition of talent, intelligence, and capability on the individual that promotes the very elitism it tries to eradicate.  Not all individuals have the same experience, social status, capabilities, aspirations, needs, wants, and/or desires. What for ever reason our system has emphatically stated that they do and must. Testing of an individual should be nothing more than a gauge to measure an individual’s assimilation of knowledge against the material presented. Did they get all, part or some? It should not be a measure of that individual’s life expectation, aspirations, and ability to obtain that.

We design cars to meet average generalized needs. They do not all perform well in all areas however they do rate well enough as to be transportation in general. They just are better suited to specific situations and needs. A sports model does not perform to peak in the conditions of grid locked commuting. Yet when presented with the open road it meets or exceeds expectations. Put the commuter car and sports car in the mud and both perform poorly. No one expects them to because they were not designed to. Put a four wheel drive vehicle there and it performs well. Yet we do not call them poor vehicles when they can not perform well in other areas. Yet when a student can only do well in one subject matter and not in all, we call them failures. Not only do we call them failures but we call the system a failure. Instead of recognizing them for their abilities, celebrating their capabilities, and fostering those attributes, we place them into a forced march of you must reach this level of performance. And to add insult to injury we add the or else clause to the proceedings.

So to compensate for the supposed failure of the student, we place the blame upon the education system. Before we continue, let me say that there are many instances where inadequate educational experiences are unavailable and that needs to be addressed. However the purposes of this piece are to address the general condition and assumptions that drive the overall state of education. We have arbitrarily placed exorbitantly high expectations for the education of our society. They are standards and practices that are placed on no other sector of our society. We must remember that we are dealing with unique individuals possessing free will. It can not be predetermined exactly what an individual might do with what they have been given. For that fact the question arises whether or not they will find anything they have been given worth using.

How often have you heard this complaint from adults’ years later that they really have not used any of what they have been taught? The popular show “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” is comical proof that most of us will prove that we are not. Do you realize that most newspapers in this country are not written at a fifth grade reading level?

We can not predict nor dictate, through the use of any testing method, how, when or if a person will develop. We can hint at it and speculate at it, but we can not be absolutely sure what will ever come about. Yet we demand that a person chase after a paper certification that states that they have met a level of testing that insures that they are capable of achieving something. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have told and used this story many times but this time I will put a different spin on the ending. I had an English professor my freshman year of college. He was a highly educated individual having several degrees. He had all of them on his desk the first day of class. They were all neatly framed. Now at this point you would probably think that they were there to impress us with what this man had accomplished. However I assure you that wasn’t the point. He addressed us all as Ladies and Gentlemen (something that we were all far from) and held up one of his degrees. He stated that some of us in the class might just be lucky enough to survive the college experience to gain one of these, a bachelor’s degree. He then placed it back upon the desk where the others stood, but he placed it face down.

He grabbed another one and held it so that we could all see and then proclaimed that fewer still might go on to gain one of these, a master’s degree. He then placed that one back with the others and placed it and their mates gently face down. He then he reached for the last remaining framed soldier on the desk. He held it in front of him with a certain sense of peace and proclaimed that still fewer if any of us would reach this level, a doctorate. And then he placed that one back in an open brief case, wrapping each one carefully and placing it in the case.

We all looked at each other as if to say, oh yeah, so what. He then turned and addressed us, “You know ladies and gentlemen what all those pieces of paper mean? (Not giving us an opportunity for snide comments he continued) It means that I positively, absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, know absolutely nothing…..but I just might be able to begin to know where to look for an answer. And if you learn nothing else from this class but this: that a piece of paper does not mean you know it all. It does not mean that you will ever stop learning, but it does mean that you can begin the journey of where to look for the answers to the questions of your lives.” With that he began his class.

I do not remember anything from that class as it was pretty much of a blur, except for that incredible precious nugget. It truly is the defining concept of what education is supposed to be. It is a journey that involves a life time of learning and searching for answers, passing on what you have learned from what you have applied so that the next generation has a basis from which to start their journey. They do not have to re-invent the wheel but they can most certainly improve upon the existing design or perchance move beyond it with new concepts that it might inspire. It is the training of a mind to learn how to creatively approach life. A piece of paper is nothing more than a statement that you have survived a process – not that you are prepared for anything.

This ultimately is the purpose of a good education – not to provide you with the answers and not to insure that you will have a fantastic job – but to provide you with the basis upon which you can seek to gain the knowledge to help solve problems and begin to answer questions. It is the basis of creative solutions put together from a sampling of life’s present and expanding knowledge. Anything more than that is beyond the human condition. Why is that? It is because the human condition is in constant change. We are being taught by humans in the fields of human knowledge that are continually expanding, growing, restating and improving.

We once believed the world to be flat, and the earth was the center of the universe. We now know that it is complete and utterly different from what we have found out and are still finding out world to be. How then can you expect to have something give you an absolute when the absolutes are changing? The computer that once took up entire city block, shrunk through changes in knowledge that it could be place on a small space ship holding two people and land on the moon. That same computer can now be held in your hand as an advanced calculator. The fields of knowledge changed that brought about that transformation. The horse, had given way to the horseless carriage capable of amazing speeds of miles per hour to present day computer controlled machines that can recognize seat positions of individual drivers and capable of speeds of 200 mph.

The basics of how these things work are still there but the implementation has radically changed. Not because it was taught but because it was dreamt of from a basis of knowledge. It was never an absolute. Education was never an absolute be all and end all; it was and is an absolute beginning. But yet we describe aspects of it as terminal degrees, or if you have this degree or education you will be set for life. That has been negated statistically. The average job only lasts 3 to 5 years. We look at it as if it is a commodity to be bought rather than something to be aspired to. See how many people with a be all and end all superior degree are on the unemployment line or are working below the capabilities of their degrees because they bought into the lie. They thought that it would insure life long employment, success, and benefits.

A piece of paper is no more that a witness to where you have been and in some cases what you have endured. It is a badge that says you have been through it. It does not have a guarantee statement written on it. It is not redeemable at the personnel office of a major corporation. It is not an insurance policy for successful life. It is not proof of intelligence or common sense. You and I have both met incredibly ignorant people who have multiple degrees and just as many without any degree at all who are exceedingly intelligent. But yet we demand through misplaced expectation that the path to an education be issued absolute guarantees.

We put ridiculous constraints, demands, and criteria for education to achieve. We use standards of operation that it can not obtain because the human is neither a machine nor raw material to be shaped, molded, and stylized to fit a particular need in a factory, research laboratory, office or sporting event. But yet we are forcing our educational institutions to adopt criteria and standards that we do not place on the business world that we model our measuring system after.

To illustrate my point, let us look at the places that our society worships and hold them to the same standards and see how they fare. Let us take a look at the sporting world. A simple example is to look at baseball batting averages. They are based upon the system of 1000 times at bat. Your average is placed against this in percentage and given as a ranking. Thus as each time you are at bat and you are successful at getting on base, your percentage remains high. Thus a 100% would mean that you are successful at all 1000 times at bat. (this not taking into account that at each at bat you are given several attempts to connect with the ball: 3 strikes, 4 balls, and foul balls; thus if given full opportunity the potential to have multiple swings per at bat plus the additional factor that you must make it on base to count.). However we know that this is an impossible task.

If you are successful 50% of the time you would have a .500 batting average. This is still an impossibly high ranking at the professional level. Quite honestly, most of the high dollar heavy hitters have averages of 200 to 300. This means that they are only successful twenty to thirty percent of the time and yet they are earning thousands of dollars per swing of the baseball bat. Yet no one thinks them inadequate for only producing a twenty to thirty percent success rate. They are hailed as superstars. Yet if a child gets a 20 to 30 percent success rate we do not call them superstars but call them failures. The parents are questioned, the teachers are examined, and the school is scrutinized. The fact of the matter is that it takes an entire team to support these super stars so that they become a winning team. The entire team’s batting average does not come that high. The fact of the matter is that it is the team with the fewest errors that becomes the champions. In fact a team with a 50 percent success rate can become world champions. But yet schools with graduating levels of 70 percent are deemed to be substandard.

Leaping to the advertising world now let us consider the advertising campaign. Millions if not billions are spent trying to entice you to by something you really have no use for. They hold target groups, focus groups, opinion surveys, test marketing and a host of other technological tracking systems just to see how to entice you to buy. Yet with all this, if an advertising campaign reaches just one percent of its marketing audience it is considered successful. That means that of 1000 pieces of spam, junk mail, flyers, pamphlets, handbills, and telemarketing calls that are sent, handed out, or phoned in: if 10 out of the 1000 produce a sale – you are very successful.

If you do not believe me, take a look at what McDonald’s spends on its advertising budget per year just to get you to stop in and buy a happy meal. Take that and compare it to the percentage of profit which that expenditure gets. Then tell me if that would be a reasonable rate of success for a graduation rate.

If in the music business if you cut a CD with 10 songs and just one of those songs produce a hit, you stand to make millions. Of course you have to take into consider how many other CD’s are out there to make a recording company successful. Just look at the thousands of song compilations released as opposed to those that are truly successful.

If you consider how much a modern company spends to make a profit you would see that they seldom reach a standing of profitability in the double digits but yet are considered to be a really successful company if they can produce a 7% profit margin.

Here is another factor that these tests do not take into consideration. In order for someone to be educated, they must want to be educated. They must see the ultimate value in it. It is difficult to begin to imagine what use your education is when you do not have hope for your future, you do not have enough to eat or even a place to sleep. Random algebraic equations no matter how locally or culturally presented are going to convince anyone of the value of math. Getting good grades to get you into college is not a motivating factor when you can not afford food, rent, and clothing or save enough to go to college. We have removed the inspiration of education for mere function. Mere function does not inspire. It does reduce education to a series of tasks that must be accomplished to get to the next level. It becomes a check list of been there done that now what. It becomes a means to an end that says that someone is supposedly entitled to something, not that they must aspire, strive or work for it.

The concept of business success is to minimize the risk factors as to increase the possibilities that what you set out to do will be close to what was intended. You have to take certain amounts of risk to place you in a position to succeed. Education’s goal is to expose you to as many fields of human knowledge and endeavor as possible. Grammar school (which is now separated into elementary and middle/junior high) was designed to allow you to obtain a basic knowledge. From here you would be able to fully participate in life with a basic understanding of how to communicate, have basic math skills, and have a basic understanding of how the society you live in works. . Take a look at an exam that I have found from 1865 given as an exit exam for 8th grade.

Now before you start the see he is relying on tests to prove his point let me explain. I had been looking for a test to make comparisons not for academic prowess but one that help explain the differences to approach of the educational systems. The test was given to the few remaining students who either had the wherewithal financially to make it to this level or whose parents sacrificed to allow them to continue. Most did not make it this far not because they were not able to academically but rather they did not because of the financial potential these children represented to the families economy. Children were a large portion of the labor force that could mean success or ruin for a family. For some as long as you could read a little, write a little and do your basic math, you could help the family succeed and not be cheated. Third grade was about the limit for a lot of people and that was mostly the male population. Girls got little if any education at all.

So you see comparison of early test scores against modern test scores is not valid. You also have to take into consideration that “formal” education was not available to large portions of the population either because of distance, race, creed, or gender. So you see score comparisons are artificial amongst the years. Publicly funded Grammar schools were few. No many towns could afford the cost of a school teacher – usually a female. High schools were a rare commodity that you had to travel great distances for and they were by no means inexpensive or free. However style and purpose of education are important factors.

You learned the basics of your language by learning to read, how to count (add, subtract, multiple and divide), learn about your culture, community, country and the world. Along with that you were hopefully exposed to the creative process of thought. Not everyone is going to be successful at everything. Some are better in theory that in practical application. Some are better at conceptualization rather than realization. Some can play a violin and make it sing while others can not make it do anything but appall. Some can throw a football with a phenomenal accuracy under pressure and others can not hold it steadily in their hands.

We belittle the ones who do not do well in a particular subject. Somehow it is believed that this will motivate them. This is not the case for most. If anything it is another factor in turning people off to the process of education. But the belief is that it is okay as long as they pass a test that tests what they have been tested on. But yet grace and forgiveness is readily given to those who succeed in life in one area or another. How about the Quarter Back who sang at the Chicago Cubs game – “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”. Did anyone think him a loser because he could not sing on key? No, if anything he was celebrated for the performance.

Education is like going to the local buffet. There are two ways to approach this amazing collection of food. The first is to get the most for your money approach. You have seen this type of person. They come to the buffet table, plate in hand and begin to pile large amounts to food on their plates. By the time they have reached the end, everything is running together in an undistinguishable collection of flavors. Their objective is to simply stuff as much as they can into their stomachs without much regard as to what it was that they had consumed. Their only objective is to get every dollar’s worth and more that can be possibly crammed into them.

Make sure you do not fill up on salad bar, leave the bread behind, don’t fill up cheap beverages, just stick to the high priced items so that you are guaranteed to get the greatest value. The concept of a balanced meal is thrown out. A balanced meal is one that the plate doesn’t have too much on one side or the other.

Plate, after plate is piled high with swirls of colors, textures, and smells without much regard to what each piece represented or was. The objective is to consume to get your money’s worth. They do not recall what it was that they ate, just that they were able to consume a lot. It wasn’t the quality, it was the quantity. The rating is given as to how much was consumed not by how much was actually used and enjoyed. The best buffets are rated by a ratio of cost versus consumption. Little consideration if any is given to quality of the food, presentation, color, surrounding atmosphere or quality of the staff.

Then there is the person who comes to the table, plate in hand and walks up and down without putting anything on their plate right away. They check things out, see what is being made available and what might look interesting. Then they go about taking small samples of what they think they might like. Their plates are not piled but carefully arranged so that flavors do not run together and may actually compliment one another. They go back to their table with what might look like nothing and taste their selections paying attention to savor the favors, textures, colors and smells. They pass judgment as to what they like and don’t by making mental note of it. Then they go back to the buffet to sample more. They even might retry something because the flavor was interesting but just did not go with what they had on their plate at the moment.

They do this, until they have exhausted the list of what they might think to be good. They sample from the bread, salad, appetizer, main course and desert tables. They might not be able to accomplish their goal in one outing until another visit to the restaurant. Then and only then will they make an informed decision as to the value of the restaurant. If they find it lacking, they move to another that might offer something more pleasing to the palate. When they come back, it is to eat a meal of what they are in the mood for that day: seafood, vegetarian, or possibly a red meat feast. Then if anything new is added they can sample that as well. They might just have several restaurants they frequent to satisfy taste, mood, and atmosphere. The complete experience is valued. Consideration is given to quality of the food, presentation, color, surrounding atmosphere or quality of the staff. They even make a note of how they might be feeling that day or what might have influenced their decisions for that day.

The pile it on your plate method seems to be the way that schools are structured and valued. The end result is measured in a consumerist tidal wave of gluttony in compiling grade point averages. There is little or no regard for actual learning. It is simply a system of we paid for this, because we believed we would get that. We seem to be sated by the awarding of test scores and not for the real value of what was supposedly learned.

If anyone was to really put all the statistical data together in a cohesive manner, they would be able to see as they have adapted these industrial standardization techniques that the cost is not in dollars but in the poor quality of life it has extracted.

What is my point? Simply we are willing to consider a thing successful if it produces a small percentage of success. We do it in industry, with inventions, with concepts and ideas but yet we do not hold the same true with education – because we hold the thing and not the individual responsible. We hold to an artificially high standard that we would not accept or expect to obtain in any other endeavor in life. We strive for a goal that is unobtainable on a personal or societal basis that is endangering the welfare of students.

In order to obtain this mythological goal we adopt industrial standards of production. The production line example of standardization is adopted. One size fits all and all must conform to this standard to work. These standards negate any true empirical data based along the observable differences in learning styles. It throws out the understanding that there are those who do not do well on standardized tests for numerous reasons from sociological factors, mental capacity, disabilities (physical or mental) and just plain trauma response to the artificial pressure to perform (translated panic attacks).

Have you ever seen the stress levels at a school during one of these infamous standardized testing forced marches? Elementary students are stressed to the point of tears; teachers and administrators are at wits end and High school students are stressed because their very futures ride high upon these supposed indicators of what has been learned. Countless hours are spent in preparation to take the test. Countless hours are spent in making sure that the conditions are favorable for the test. Countless memos are sent to staff and parents on how to prepare the students for the test. Countless hours are spent prepping students on how to take the test. And all for what? So that some bureaucrat’s career track can be elevated, and Washington and the industrialists can pat each other on the back because the statistics look good and the tax money spent on education appears to be well spent.

What does it all prove? That we have successful trained a dog and pony show. It has no real value but it looks really good. As my grandmother used to say – figures never lie, but liars always figure.

A child is no longer an individual but something that is to be managed, measured, developed, molded, controlled, and progressed along a standardized grid of acceptable performance goals so that they can find a good job. To ensure that the educational complex is running at performance standards, we apply artificial means to measure what would be considered the base line of acceptable performance models. Notice how industrial terms have even infiltrated education. We even have termed the act of being educated as the process of being educated.

The thing that is so amazing is when you look at when these standards; the system has failed to produce any real success at all by its own criteria of success. If you look at the statistics that were produced you can see that students are in fact sliding backwards. Yet they continue to tweak the system to the point where many are now teaching to the tests (although they vehemently deny it and will produce more statistics to prove their point). And still it does not produce the desired results. So they have eliminated what was considered wasteful: programs, topics, subjects and materials in favor of re-emphasized specific learning fields of math and science. This again flies in the face of all empirical data gathered by our noble government that conclusively shows that the very classes they have eliminated are the very ones that will cause significant improvements in math and science skills. Yet the educational industrial complex insists that we continue to narrow the focus to insure productive results for their profit margins. Yet they continually move jobs off shore to lesser trained countries to make a larger profit.

To use their industrial standard of product comparison – our standing in the educational field is dropping considerably up against supposed third world entries. Yet deeper and deeper into the abyss we plumb the depths in order to see what chaos they might use to rectify the solutions to producing a better end result. The truth of the matter is painfully obvious. They choose to persistently ignore it, continually deny the facts, lie about the data, and summarily dismiss anything that does not support their failing concepts. The system is broken according to their standards yet somehow it still produces some of the finest minds in the world.

We hold schools accountable, teachers accountable, parents accountable, and societies accountable. We test, retest, test our tests, and finally test the test makers. We train our teachers to know how to increase the results of the tests. This is the same concept as teaching a parrot how to speak, repeat it long enough with the right rewards and the parrot will perform the desired task. We log statistics to be used as statistics to prove that the statistics are validating our approach. The truth of the matter is that we have a broken system. Yet like those in the book “Who Moved the Cheese?” we continually go back to the same spot expecting different sets of results. However, according to the teachings of the father of modern advertising, Bernay, repeat a lie often enough and it will become someone’s perceived truth.

We are turning our students into flesh colored vending machines. The hope is that by placing the right grouping and series of products within the numbered and ordered display, that when the right button is pushed the perfect product dumps forward onto the test page assuring not only positive testing results but insuring the ability to obtain the perfect job for life. Well guess what, vending machines jam, do not always function properly, and do not always have the perfect product lining the display. That is life.

The problem with education is our view of education not its delivery. Education is more subjective than objective. It is just as objective as it is subjective. Testing can only sample where you might be not where you actually are. Testing is not an absolute only a potential indicator of how something might perform in a theoretical setting. You can see at the grammatical level where things might need to be corrected but not how they are implemented. You can see where one and one makes two, but you can not show how that information was arrived at or how it will be used in future thinking patterns. You can not accurately measure those results no matter how you try.

Consistently, the largest and most prestigious universities have abandoned the concept that the most academically gifted will succeed. Many have abandoned sole use of the SAT as the measure of a student’s capability. They have found that it is the average student who will make and have the most impact upon their world and society. Much to their dismay, they have realized that they have squandered years of resources on the supposed academically superior. It is because these average students can assimilate the information that they are given and turn it into true knowledge that is usable. They participate in life and do not rely upon mere rote memorization, they use application. They assimilate information into productivity. This is the process of creative thinking. It is the process that we have eliminated from schools in order to produce robotic reactions in testing.

Education is not about getting a better job. This is a chance by product. Just look at today’s job market. Jobs exist that didn’t exist 5 or 10 years ago and there are jobs that existed five years ago that are no longer to be had. If you train for a specific job you will be likely out of it in five years. Information doubles at the staggering rate every six months. So how is it that our educational system is to train people for better jobs when we never know exactly what will be available for them to be trained for in 16 years of “basic” education? It can not be logically or successfully done.

Industry is waking up to the fact that their best employees are those who have come from a liberal arts background. They have been exposed to wide range of thought and possibilities rather than just a narrow set of tables, graphs, and programs. Adaptability and creativity is the new axiom. You can not build a better person but you can expose them to the limitless possibilities of human thought, concepts and idea.

With that in mind, we then have to recognize the limitations of education. It can not be all things to all people. It can not provide child rearing, social skills, sex education, moral and ethical training, recreation, and baby sitting services. That is a parent’s duty. Society is not responsible for the individual but is responsible to provide the basis on which everyone can participate in that society. It can not make those who do not wish to learn, learn. It can not magically make all people exactly the same, performing at exactly the same rate, at the same development level or gift them all with exactly the same, talents, capabilities and abilities. No standardized test can produce that or guarantee that.

It is your right to be educated. No one has the right to take it away from you. But you must want it, pursue it, and use it. It can not be stuffed into you, poured into you, beaten into you, bribed into you or in anyway tricked into you. You have to want it. The purpose of education is not to get you a better job. Its purpose is to help make you a better person by exposing you to the possibilities. You have to make yourself a better person. No teacher, school, district, state or nation can do that for you. You must do that for yourself. No standardized test will insure that – no matter how many times you take it.

 

 

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Standardized test of 1895

This is a test that was give as a final exam for eighth grade in 1865. During that time to graduate eighth grade was a major accomplishment. Not that many people did it but if you did you were considered a very educated individual, ready to tackle the world and accomplish things. Several sites where this test has been posted have stated that most modern college graduates could not pass this test. Some used it to ridicule the educational system of today. This is not my intent. Rather I use it as an example of the differences in education.

Then, as I had mentioned, most people did not have an eighth grade education. It wasn’t considered necessary. As long as you could read and write, and do basic math it was more than enough to get by. Public education was not a wide spread concept. Schools were few and far between. Most were one room and contained all grades. Older students were expected to help younger ones. Smarter students in one subject were expected to help those who were not as proficient. Those who usually made it this far were the top of the class and probably economically privileged. It was not available to all either because of race, national origin or gender. 

Education was presented as a right and a privilege. It was your right to be educated and no one could take that away from you – if you wanted it (again this was limited access and in some cases it was dangerous for you to be educated.). It was a privilege because you were honored by having the opportunity to advance yourself, your family and your community. To be educated you must learn a body of knowledge that encompassed the practical body of knowledge and the range of theoretical knowledge that was the basis of human thought. It was training and learning how to think – creatively.

I could go on but let the test speak for itself – not as an accusation against modern education, but as an inspiration to what can aspire to if you want to. The following is how it came to others attention.

(PS – The definition of orthography  specifies the correct way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Spelling is only part of orthography. Other elements of the field of orthography are hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, and punctuation. Orthography describes or defines the set of symbols ( graphemes and diacritics) used, and the rules about how to write these symbols. – from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthography )

The following is an 1895 8th-grade final exam from Salina,
Kansas. It was taken from the original
document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina,
Kansas, and reprinted by the Salina
Journal.

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.

2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that
have no modifications.

3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.

4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give
Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.

5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.

6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal
marks of Punctuation.

7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and
show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of
Arithmetic.

2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 ft. long, and 3
ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it
worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?

4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What
is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and
have $104 for incidentals?

5. Find cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.

6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18
days at 7 percent.

7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and
16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?

8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no
grace) at 10 percent.

9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per
acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?

10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a
Receipt.

U.S.
History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is
divided.

2. Give an account of the discovery of America
by Columbus.

3. Relate the causes and results of the
Revolutionary War.

4. Show the territorial growth of the United
States.

5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.

6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of
the Rebellion.

7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton,
Bell, Lincoln,
Penn, and Howe?

8. Name events connected with the following dates:
1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865?

Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet,
phonetic orthography, etymology, syllabication?

2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?

3. What are the following, and give examples of
each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?

4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u.’

5. Give two rules for spelling words with final
‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.

6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling.
Illustrate each.

7. Define the following prefixes and use in
connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.

8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the
following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir,
odd, cell, rise, blood, fare.

9. Use the following correctly in sentences, Cite,
site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.

10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and
indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?

2. How do you account for the extremes of climate
in Kansas?

3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the
ocean?

4. Describe the mountains of N.A.

5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia,
Odessa, Denver,
Manitoba, Hecla,
Yukon, St. Helena,
Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.

6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of
the U.S.

7. Name all the republics of Europe
and give capital of each.

8. Why is the Atlantic
Coast colder than the Pacific in
the same latitude?

9. Describe the process by which the water of the
ocean returns to the sources of rivers.

10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give
inclination of the earth.

 

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