Monthly Archives: February 2011

Do colleges grow kids into adults?

My own experience with college was somewhat unfocused. I had almost no guidance whatsoever in preparing for, choosing, and stumbling my way through college. I picked the school I went to myself, I picked my majors, I figured out on my own how to study, and did only a fair job of completing my degrees. And I paid for almost all of it myself. The one thing that kept me even slightly focused was my belief that an education should not be primarily vocational. I knew that I wanted and needed a liberal education. Still I was rather unfocused and a poor student. As I look back on that time I know that the university I attended could have done a better job at preparing me for adulthood (and high school for college). Truth is, that university (which is also where the movie was filmed from which the picture above was taken) is terrible at creating adults, and probably has been for many decades, though I did have a handful of great professors. But is creating adults the job of colleges anyway?

In the following audio clip, Harry R. Lewis, author of Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education, was interviewed by Ken Meyers of Mars Hill Audio on how colleges and universities can help students grow into adulthood:

http://www.marshillaudio.org/resources/mp3/MHAJ-84-Lewis.mp3

It seems to me that Lewis places the emphasis on being able to think for oneself as the end goal of a college education. On one hand I agree. On the other hand I think the better goal is virtue. Of course, the two go together. To think for oneself without virtue is what we already get from modern education, though it is debatable just how good that thinking is regardless of the lack of virtue. One thing seems clear, college today more often is about pursuing the postponement rather than the embracing of adulthood.

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a pageant

1.
if this were gingham blankets and carafes of wine I’d still wonder
but I know it’s more
more than a day of graceful postures
more than cool shadows, lounging
it’s all of it
it’s Nineveh and fear and the piercing of the turbulent surface
it’s china horses buried in second century clay
it’s fish idling gently in clear green streaked riffles
it’s the tense and trembling fist clenching Abraham’s knife
and it’s really simply your heart
creating and receiving the wounds of the world
like apples hitting the ground
beautiful hues bruised and bruising
Sunday’s souls Monday to Monday

2.
turning slowly in the quiet stillness I see
on that bedroom wall a barn
in August hanging peacefully;
a Vermeer poster in a second-hand frame;
a black and white café; and suitcases
painted by someone we’ve known,
and beyond that wall
the great wheel turns like a millstone

when the sky is blue
it is the gleaming face of destruction
and down among the roots
in the tangles of soil an ancient vine
threatens our hedges
tangling our hopes with darkness
calling to us from the tomb of this world

some set up stones
some sacrificed
some spilled blood
and when night descended
the sun fought its way through hell

this is the ancient of days
the ever coming of the storm
the swelling of the tender buds

3.
we create beauty to fight death
circling the wagons against the beast of nature

in the beginning
we did not think of cities;
seeking arcadia along the rivers
and in the fertile valleys
collecting goats
corroborating stars
wearing our dreams on our skins

and quickly our sons grew up
and killed each other
oh heavens!
the pyramids never reached you,
not really
and all this is more like a parking lot
than an orchard
but still I see the leaves kicked up

4.
(I am a trunk
hewn and mobile
bone and blood
a serpent and a god
I am viscera
I am pouring forth
I am crawling through
and you
the world
a treachery
a beautiful death
an angel and a sword
a streaming light
can only cast your voice
in the stillness of my desires
like leaves falling in the shadows
of their trees)

Postscript
so finally
your sorrows never leave you
not even when you’ve left them
not even when you’ve crossed the Alps with elephants
and threatened Rome’s weathered gates
for every move you make is ancient
every step is already dead and still to come
and you can spread that blanket to the corners of the world
until a better feast arrives.

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Mary

 

Lately I have been thinking a lot about Mary, the mother of our lord. I grew up a Protestant, a conservative Baptist actually. Traditionally Baptists tend to define themselves, in part, by being vehemently not Catholic. This includes a serious downgrading of any attention that might otherwise be placed on Mary (God forbid that even a hint of Catholicism be associated with a Baptist). I think, I hope, that times have changed since my youth and that Baptists have eased up on battling as Protestants. I don’t believe in ecumenism merely for ecumenism’s sake, but entrenchment in dogma is not a good thing. Clinging to what one believes is the Truth is good, and necessary, but one should always be willing to change if true Truth warrants. With this in mind, I am wondering if my traditional Baptist thinking on Mary, which I swallowed wholly and uncritically, needs to change. My dogma in this area seems less sound than it once did. So I’m doing some searching and researching.

I welcome any suggestions or ideas for my research.

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Chasing Rain

This is one of my older poems, but I still love it. It was born out of a summer spent in Palm Springs, CA. Being from Oregon, I deeply missed the rain. On a day drip a storm passed by us and we raced to catch it.

Chasing Rain

From Palomar we raced lighting;
Thunderhead pounding summer heat,
Electric thrust of pure chaos
Striping the blasted plateau.

With the wind we bolted,
Chasing the rain,
Urgent, irrational intentions;
Our heads out the windows,
Dashes swerving beneath us,
Birds absent from charged ether,
Dark sheets in the distance.

Droplets gathered like old friends,
Dust-caked wipers turning wet;
Dry indelible desert
Melting away.

And the sage carpet,
Transmuted to blue-green
Beneath the hulking sky,
Blurred at the edges
Of our pursuit.

Wide-eyed, mouths open, we reveled.
Our desires quickening
Life into sharp relief,
Anticipation formed into
Pure emotion.

And then, at the edge
Of the long descent,
We stood at the viewpoint,
Above the arid valley,
Stretching our coats like sails,
The wind nearly uprooting us,
Rain on our faces like tears
Of ecstatic joy.

We longed for the rain,
Like wild men look for God,
Like there was nothing else.

– June 1998/May 2007

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Some words on Wordsworth

I have been reading and re-reading Wordsworth again. He is one of my favorite poets. As a kind of personal reflection on his poetry, I wrote this poem.

Wordsworth is dear, though not my own;
And yet I tarry in his lines,
and hang upon his living words.
I dare not say that he is mine;
I cannot make a claim that strong,
Nor can I say we are one mind,
And yet, perhaps, he is a friend.
For this I know in ways unsaid
A kindred soul has stirred before,
And wakes in me an earnest love
For life infused with blessed things
And all that is contingency.

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>Bill Nye believes in science

>

I like Bill Nye the Science Guy. If you have kids you probably have seen his show at one time or another. He is a great science teacher within the context of television (which has limitations, but can have a place as well). Bill Nye has a wonderful, goofy shtick that is engaging and somewhat effective. His goal, it seems to me, is to get kids excited about science. It’s possible that he succeeds in this, though real science if quite different in terms of personal experience. Regardless, it is clear that Nye loves science and is keen to promote it. So I am not surprised by his comments in a recent Popular Mechanics article. The article presents some statistics about the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools. The numbers tend to show a surprisingly low level of embracing of evolution by teachers, at least in terms of confidently teaching evolution as scientific fact. Nye responds by saying this is horrible. No surprises there. But then he goes on to say:

Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back. And it’s fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don’t believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster.

What struck me about this quote, which seems rather straightforward, is that it presupposes a naturalist/materialist philosophical position which is false. The idea that “science is the key to our future” comes out of the Enlightenment project which has both a deep power and fundamental flaws. This is even a bigger issue than whether evolution is scientific theory or fact. On the other hand, it is fair to say that “science is the key to our future,” but in a way not intended by Mr. Nye. Science has provided so much that we love and value, but it has not changed the human heart. In that sense science will bring about at least as much pain as good. Nye has forgotten that not many years ago people lived in fear of total earth annihilation from atomic bombs and radioactive fallout. The reality of that potential scenario is still with us. But that is not the real problem. If we continue to live and act as though science will solve our problems then our ultimate undoing will come from science in service of the human heart. The 20th century was the century of blood. Science made that possible. That will be our scientific future.

I support much of what Nye says. We must support science in the classroom. The problem is that science is one of the lesser subjects. The humanities, history, language, philosophy, and theology, social studies, literature, and rhetoric, are all more important subjects than science. That is a bold statement, but science must be in the service of those subjects, of that kind of education, first than put out front as something “solid” and powerful that is foundational. Physics and biology are not a foundational subjects of study. Our problems do not come from the inability to understand, manipulate, and subdue the natural world. Woe to the society that advances in subduing the earth ahead of knowing why to do so. Woe to us, for we are there.

Another way to say this is that believing in science, as Bill Nye would have us do, is fine as long as one first and foremost believes in a morality that guides that science. I would argue that that morality must over-arch all of life, including science, but also including relationships and all human action. I would also posit that morality must, necessarily, be metaphysical in origin. I am a Christian and I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I do not see another metaphysical origin to morality that can compete. On the other hand, to “believe in science” is, on the whole, laughable. That’s like saying I believe in Higher Criticism or Semiotics. One can speak of their relative value, but one cannot believe in them in the way one can believe in God. Science cannot prove or disprove God, but neither can science address what Christians really mean by believing in God. Such belief is not so much a question of existence, though that is a part of it, rather it is like saying, “I believe in you.” It is about trust and character, two necessary aspects of human existence that science cannot begin to explain or provide a satisfactory alternative.

Bill Nye, thanks for much of what you do. I love your show. But do not unwittingly lead us down a path to destruction, even in the name of something as appealing a science.

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Tolkien and language

I am reading The Lord of the Rings to my girls when I put them to bed. This reading is mostly for my ten year old. My four year old gets Little House on the Prairie, and the ten year old enjoys that as well. I have to say I love reading Tolkien out loud. His use of language is different than almost any other author I can think of, certainly different than modern authors. 

Here is a wonderful interview from Mars Hill Audio (a.k.a. Ken Meyers) with professor Ralph C. Wood on how J. R. R. Tolkien viewed the use and meaning of human language.

http://www.google.com/reader/ui/3523697345-audio-player.swf

I am particularly struck by their conversation about the roots and deeper meanings of words, and how we tend to disregard such connections today.

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