“Why should we have to pay school taxes when we’re a retired couple with no children or grandchildren in school?”

“Why should I have to pay for health insurance that covers prenatal care and delivery of a baby when I’m a single man?”

“Why should I have to buy health insurance when I’m young and healthy?”

“Why should we have to get our children vaccinated?  Are we not their parents, and should the decision not be ours alone?”

“We’re retired.  Why should we care if Social Security benefits are cut for the younger generations as long as we seniors get to keep all the benefits we have?”

What do all the questions above have in common?  To be continued.



Some three decades ago now, I took up photography as a hobby and even set up a darkroom in the manse in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, courtesy of my friend Merwyn Armstrong who gave me the Omega enlarger he had long since ceased using and all the accompanying equipment I needed to do my own black and white developing and printing.  Merwyn had served in World War I, and like more than a few people in the First Presbyterian Church of Tamaqua when I served as pastor, was of my grandparents’ generation.  From them as well as from many children and teenagers over my forty years of pastoral ministry, I learned to appreciate and value the interactions among the generations.

I mention photography because learning it required of me a certain amount of self-training with guidance from manuals, books, and magazine articles.  One of those articles spoke of “presets,” by which the author meant the routine adjustments to the camera’s various settings I needed to master so the picture I took would “turn out right.”  I had to load the film properly and sometimes quickly, set the exposure index to match the film speed, balance shutter speed and aperture according to priority for the shot, etc. etc.  All of this routine setting of the camera’s adjustments the author called “twaddling.”  His message was that the would-be photographer needed to make matters of twaddling into presets – routines followed without much conscious thought – so s/he could become free to learn and practice the art of photography.  Successful twaddling does not make a person a photographer but enables that person to start learning to become one.

Twaddling is neither the art of photography nor the craft.  Learning the presets of twaddling enables a person to develop the craft and, maybe in time, further develop that craft to the level, sometimes, of art.

Learning to twaddle is a matter of training, not just in photography but in any endeavor requiring repeated applications of acquired information and skill.  Presets are the mastered mechanical steps that make us practiced at what we do.  Soon I was able to set my camera for shots “without thinking about it.”  Photography requires vision and the arrangement of a two-dimensional image of three-dimensional physical realities I cannot usually rearrange myself to suit my vision.  Mountains do not move for my pictures.  For example, on one of our trips to Arizona, I took some shots of the White Dove of the Desert (Mission San Xavier del Bac).  When I saw them after they had been developed, I was not at all satisfied with my work.  Yeah, that was the place and, yes, the pictures had “come out right” in terms of framing and exposure.  I had twaddled correctly and composed properly.  But they were blah, uninteresting even to me.  Then I came across some images of San Xavier made by the great photographer Ansel Adams.  They were art, and not just because he could twaddle better than I, which he certainly could at every stage of the process of making images.  He was indeed the far superior craftsman, but his distinction as a photographer went beyond anything training can accomplish.  His visions became images that qualified as art.

We train dogs, but training is not for animals only but also for people.  Our current folly lies in thinking either that (1) training is all there is to education, at least for the masses or (2) the process of education has little or no room for training.

Conservative and neoliberal views of education would have us believe that knowledge (misunderstood as merely the mastery of “facts”) plus mastery of mechanics (twaddling) equal education.  For this reason, I think, the current juggernaut of corporate takeover of public education (called deceptively “reform”) wants to reduce teachers to the level of trainers, not only because trainers can be paid less and easily replaced, but also because a well-trained public is far easier to manage than an educated public.  Of course, the children of the financially elite and those special children who proved themselves educationally elite in their own right would still be enabled to rise above the level of being merely trained, but the managers would be able to control what could be considered elite and what could not.  Brilliance outside the metrics could be punished easily.

Much of the American public, I’m afraid, thinks knowledge of the accepted facts plus mastery of the needed mechanics does indeed equal being educated.  No, it equals being trained for use, and the nature of that training is determined by the users, for people just as it is for dogs, and codified in the training manuals.  The more this training mentality takes over our educational systems, the more our children will become efficient under the metrics imposed upon them and the more American life will become SOP (standard operating procedure).

Training is necessary in human education, but good training enables and supports a process of curiosity and learning that never ends as long as we live.  Poor, suppressive use of training restricts students to the past with its authoritarian determinations of what is to be known, what is to be believed, and what is to be done.  Facts plus skills.  Never ask, “Why?”

I believe training needs to be part of public education because (1) current knowledge needs to acquired so curiosity has basis and direction for going forward, (2) disciplined skills need to be developed so the student can become free to use them without undue focus upon their mechanics, and (3) the feeling of mastery is enabling and encouraging (I need to know I am capable of handling the situation and striving for creativity), and the reality of mastery is necessary for teaching, leadership, and development.

Education without training can become pretentious self-indulgence, self-expression without knowledge, skill, or discipline.  Training without education stifles our humanity and becomes enslavement.  If teachers are reduced to mere trainers who follow the manuals using the scripts they are given, our children will be trained like dogs but not educated.

How Bad the High Stakes Testing Is


Some day (soon), I’ll get back to looking at the relationship between justice and equality, but I’m interrupting myself again to offer something I consider very important as articulated by Diane Ravitch.  Here’s the part of her interview I want to highlight:

Here’s what I said to them this morning, for better or worse. I had a revolutionary moment and spontaneously, off my script, said that if I could recommend one thing to them, it would be that entire districts say, “We’re not giving the tests. We’re not giving the tests.”
The tests are flawed, they have all kinds of errors: They have statistical errors, random errors, measurement errors. Some of the questions are really stupid. And they are being used in ways they are not designed to be used. The first rule in the testing world is tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. They are being misused. They were not designed to measure teachers or to measure schools or to fire teachers or to close schools. So we need to stop all these punitive uses and to stop the labeling of children, which I think is the worst message of testing.


The fundamental thing to understand about testing is that all these tests are normed on a bell curve. And the bell curve by its very nature has a bottom half and a top half. You can never close the gap between the bottom half and the top half. It is impossible. The top half is populated overwhelmingly by children from affluent homes. The bottom half is populated overwhelmingly by children of poverty. So you have chosen to use the one instrument that reinforces inequity and made that the state policy. So the way to drive the stake through the heart of the vampire is for a district to say, as an entire district, “We’re not giving the test this year.” And if 100 districts say this, if 200 districts say it, that sends a pretty powerful message to the legislature. That we’re trying to find a better way to be held accountable, be accountable to our parents, be accountable to our students, and to figure out a better way to educate kids so they actually have an education instead of a test score.

Here’s the whole piece:

Created Equal?


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . .

We repeat these great words as though we believe them, and most of us probably think we do, as long as we don’t have to explain what we mean by them, including what we do not mean by them. Like justice, equality is a noble concept, a grand idea, a truth more easily held as ideal than applied to life’s choices. Just how radical and how difficult a thought equality becomes when taken seriously enough to influence our choices and challenge our prejudices may not occur to us.

Needless to say, all people are not equal in wealth, education, measured intelligence, influence, or social standing. In the United States, we like to perpetuate the fantasy of equal opportunity, even as powerful forces in American society do their best to make sure it never becomes the nation’s reality. Indeed, those who feel themselves entitled to superiority and who enjoy far greater privilege than most Americans are the very ones who insist most loudly and steadfastly that opportunity and only opportunity should be equal for all Americans. Make it if you can, but don’t expect help! Thereby, we perpetuate the delusion that people get what they earn and no more or less than they deserve, even as those with influence make sure hard work does not pay off for most of the disadvantaged and there is never a level playing field of opportunity.

In what sense, then, are all people equal? Since equal opportunity is a lie, does any truth remain to the profession of equality among human beings?

I was taught to believe that people are all of equal worth – not worthiness, but worth, value. Human societies, of course, have not accepted this idea but, rather, have structured themselves upon the belief that human beings are of decidedly and measurably unequal worth. Hence, even in the land of one person, one vote (when it’s not suppressed), we have always had the lessers and the greaters, the “common people” and the aristocrats. These days, we even have an educational concept, however unworthy of the name, called “value added” – added, that is, to our children! Do parents realize their children can come home from school more valuable than when they left the house? Valuable to whom, and by what measure? The answer is that they are being trained to be of more use to the masters of the world of business and commerce whose measurements for our children are being standardized. In the face of rampant standardization, constant competition, and ceaseless faulty measurements, how can we maintain that all people are of equal worth?

Parents already know the answer. One of their sons or daughters may be better at this or that, maybe even more successful at life overall, but none is of greater worth than another. Why not? The system of valuation is relational not competitive, and the measure is love. Which child is loved more? That question is easy to answer: the one in more immediate need of the love receives it more intensely at the time. None is truly loved more. It’s just that the need of one or the other is more pressing at the moment.

In the biblical view, human life is relational, and the truth of God is relational, also. There is no such thing as “value added” to a person. There can be growth, development, improvement, forgiveness, and even redemption, but not value added. But the biblical view goes further. According to the Bible, starting with the book of Exodus, God does not simply declare equality an ideal but deliberately takes up the cause of the very lowest of human beings: slaves. The Creator of the universe enters the stage of human history as the God of slaves, thereby turning our human notions of relative worth upside down. So, it is that “the first will be last and the last first.”

I have much more to consider on the topics of equality and justice and on their relation to each other. Is justice proportional – that is, are some entitled to more in life because of the accidents of their birth (to some sort of aristocracy) or their exploitation of their advantages (financial success)? Or should there be such a thing as equal justice? Further, is justice retributive (punishing) or restorative? What does it mean to love justice?

“. . . with liberty and justice for all.” The words sound noble and eminently fair. What do we mean by them, and what do we steadfastly not mean by them?

By the Number


The manager wants a number – just one number that will tell in an arithmetic snapshot how far along the manufacturing process is and how well it is going. So, the expediter wants that number, that single number which supposedly represents the current state of a complex manufacturing process. Don’t give me details. Don’t trouble my mind and complicate my report with a variety of factors which, understood, make the single number so absurd as to be laughable. Just give me the number. The almighty number that makes me sound as though I have control of the process and all the knowledge I need to make decisions. Never mind that those decisions may damage people’s lives as well as mislead and possibly mess up in expensive ways the very manufacturing process I am supposed to be managing or expediting. Just give me the number that gives me control without knowledge or insight.

You’ve got to be kidding! He wants all of this reduced to one number? It will tell him exactly nothing. And we have to waste our time generating that number, trying to make it at least approximate something real that he won’t understand anyway so he can then use the number we give him each week to judge everybody’s work without even knowing what it is they do? What an ignoramus!

Numbers are so wonderful. They can be plotted and displayed prettily in meetings to give the appearance of factual truth. Don’t say that plotting meaningless numbers yields meaningless graphs. Those graphs are proof. Proof of what? Proof of my authority and control over processes I don’t begin to comprehend and don’t care to. Proof of my power over people’s lives. With the numbers and charts, I become a grownup He-Man: “I have the power!” That my underlings know I and my knowledge are really as cartoon-ish as the cartoon He-Man is something I work hard not to realize and will never admit. That they must still try to make the process work somehow despite my incompetent management is the truth they know but dare not speak except in whispers and curses to each other.

If the one-number to give me power and control is a sham in manufacturing, imagine how absurd it becomes in education. The complexities of design and production are nothing compared with those of leading young humans to the state of being educated enough to keep learning, growing, inventing, and benefiting society throughout their lives. And if authoritarian mismanagement can spoil a manufactured product, think of how damaging it can be to children. And it is.