Saturday, September 08, 2007

Getting Edjacated

Although my kids (and my wife, who is a teacher, and even me, who is again teaching this semester at Southeast Technical Institute) have been back in school for three weeks now, most school districts, it seems drag their feet until after Labor Day, meaning that we are now inundated with after-the-fact back-to-school stuff--"news," ads, helpful tips, etc.

What always strikes me about these items is their negative tenor. Here's a recent opening line from an e-mail newsletter I subscribe to: "By now, most kids have (begrudgingly) headed back to the classroom to begin a new year of learning. Most parents have begun their silent celebrations for reclaiming their homes."

You see that sort of attitude repeated all over: Kids hate school, going back to school is a chore; parents hate their kids, getting the kids out from underfoot is a blessing.

As they say--what sort of message does this send?

Truth is, my kids have always looked forward to the start of school. I remember a few summers ago, heading toward the swimming pool at a park in our neighborhood, when the kids got to the corner where we crossed on the way to their elementary school...and they turned to head toward school. We pointed out to them that we were in fact heading the other direction, toward the pool. And they both expressed a lament that school was out, and began calculating the days left before it started.

(My wife is sometimes less enthusiastic. I have occasionally said that we need to find a way to get the kids back in school a week or two before the teachers. Still working on that one.)

The negativity expressed by the various media toward schooling undermines, I think, the importance of education. It teaches kids--and parents--that kids should dislike school, that parents should dislike having their kids around, that school is a chore, a drudgery, a drag. It erodes respect for the institution, it signals that kids who like school (a majority, in my unscientific observation) are abnormal ("weird")--and since the last thing school-age kids want is to be "weird," they quickly adopt that I-hate-school attitude. And the whole thing spirals downward.

Much the same can be said of the resolutely unfunny "comic" strip Mallard Fillmore, with its constant denigration of public education. Sure, some public schools are in bad shape. But in slavish lock-step with the right-wingnut philosophy seeks to dismantle the education system that, in large measure, has made America great, the strip's "creator" (in quotation marks because I've yet to see any creativity evinced in the strip: the guy is simply a shill, a dittohead) tars all public education with the "bad" brush, spreading the message that, by definition, all public schools are inept, corrupt, and a waste of money.

That's the point, of course: Wealthy white right-wingnuts object to having to spend tax dollars to educate unwealthy nonwhite kids. (Well, they object to having to pay any taxes at all, but that's another issue.) So they seek to undermine the system, convince everybody--most important, those who benefit from the system!--that it's "bad" and must be "fixed," i.e., done away with. Witness ye No Child Left Behind: You set artificial test standards for schools to pass--which means some schools will not pass--and then you take money away from those schools if they fail to meet the artificial standard. penalize schools that are already hurting.

And then you come back and say, "See? We always told you that public education is a crock."

And then a bunch of kids say, "Yeah, what do we need this crappy school for, anyway?"

And then they drop out, and take a down-spiraling minimum-wage job, and live unexamined lives in which they never, ever think critically about--well, anything, but certainly not the private-school elitists who run things.

It is the modern equivalent of ancient Roman rulers' bread-and-circuses philosophy.

And look what happened to Rome.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How True

By Tony Auth. ©2007 The Philadelphia Inquirer

More Anti-Catholic Bigotry

And more proof, if more proof were needed, that anti-Catholicism remains the last great acceptable prejudice.

This letter, from a Catholic priest in a nearby community, appeared the day before yesterday in the local rag:

All authority on earth is derived from God
By Rev. Michael G. Wensing

In his Aug. 30 letter in the Argus Leader, Robin Kip Speckels used very deliberate misunderstandings of Catholic theology and tradition concerning the priesthood and other matters.

First of all, the church treasures the Bible as the word of God. In fact, the Christian Bible's canon (list of books contained as sacred) and publication were developed inside the church in the first centuries of our era. Before the printing press, which arrived about the same time as the Reformation, the Bible was copied and passed down for families and faith communities mainly by monks and religious orders that had the erudition, time, copy skills and sponsorship to ensure future ages would have Bibles in hand.

When our theology says it recognizes priests as "other Christs," we rely on Scriptures as well. In fact, we believe in seeing the image of Jesus not just in priests but in many people. In Matthew 25, the uncharitable ones questioned the Lord about not seeing him needing shelter and food, implying that if they had seen him in need, they would have ministered to him. And the Lord responded that if they did not do it to one of these least, they did not do it to him .

In the letter to the Hebrews, as Catholics believe, Jesus Christ is the one true high priest. Jesus himself instituted the New Testament priesthood whereby those he called (beginning with the Apostles) would participate in his priesthood, not substitute for it. In this sense, priests often are called "alter Christus" in Latin, or they pray and celebrate the worship of the sacraments "in persona Christi" (Latin again for "in the person of Christ").

Finally, the literal words of Jesus in Matthew 23:9 did not affirm or deny calling a biological "dad" by the name of "father." In fact, St. Paul himself understood the nature of spiritual fatherhood and how he possessed it and appealed to it in his own writing such as in 1 Corinthians 4:15 "... you have only one father. It was I who begot you in Christ Jesus through my preaching of the Gospel."

Jesus said to call no one on earth "leader" or "rabbi," either. Thus, a true understanding of his meaning must be ascertained, or Speckels would have trouble with many others in society and in our education and political systems who are leaders or teachers.

Jesus was pointing to the one absolute authority over all: our Father in heaven. And as Paul reflected (Ephesians 3:14-19 and Romans 13:1-5), all other authority is derivative from God, who is the final authority, whether it be a teacher, a biological or spiritual father or a leader.

Published: September 04. 2007 1:55AM

Nicely put. Here's the bizarre letter that set off the Father Wensing:

Earthly priesthood came to end
Robin Kip Speckels
Sioux Falls

After reading Elizabeth Strabawa's Aug. 24 letter to the Argus Leader, I was compelled to respond.

In her letter Strabawa states that Catholics are taught that a priest is "another Christ" when offering Mass and hearing confessions. Another Christ? Paul warned the Corinthian church about those who would come teaching this very same doctrine (2 Corinthians 11:4).

Furthermore, the earthly priesthood was done away with at the cross when the veil of the temple was torn in half from top to bottom, symbolizing that all may enter in (Mark 15:38). Christians now have direct access to God through Jesus Christ, who is himself the high priest and makes intercession for them in heaven (Hebrews 7:25). They need no other intermediary. And nowhere is mandatory celibacy taught in the New Testament. In fact, the opposite is true (Hebrews 13:4). Timothy warned about those who would forbid marriage in the end times (1 Timothy 4:3).

Catholics address the Pope as "Holy Father" and their clergy as "Fathers." Yet Jesus commanded his followers not to call any man on earth "Father" because they have only one Father who is in heaven (Matthew 23:9). It's important to understand that he wasn't referring to biological fathers but rather spiritual authorities within the church. Catholic hierarchy, however, doesn't hold the Bible as the final authority, and consequently they develop their own extra-Biblical dogma, a practice forbidden by God (Proverbs 30:6).

Christians today need to be more like the noble people of Berea, who searched the Scriptures daily to make sure Paul was preaching the truth to them (Acts 17:11).

You know, every so often I fall into the lazy habit of thinking that we as a people have progressed to a certain level, that we've figured some things out, that we've gained some understanding and maturity. And then someone like the above-quoted Speckels comes along to remind me that, no, people are just as stupid and ignorant and prejudiced and hate-filled as ever.

This business about Catholics being in opposition to Jesus because we call our clergy "father" has been bandied about for at least the past 50 years that I can attest to. And for much of that half-century, I have asked myself:

1. If no one is supposed to call anyone but God "father," what do people like Speckels call their biological parent of the Y-chromosome persuasion?

2. Why is it that the likes of Speckels, et al., single out the Roman Catholic Church for condemnation? I believe that members of the Episcopal Church refer to their ministers as "priests" and as "Father"; and I think that many if not most if not all of the Orthodox churches do so as well. So why is the Roman church always singled out?

Well, here's why: Prejudice. Anti-Catholic bigotry. Hatred. And general stupidity.

And here, tracing the thread all the way back, is the letter that seems to have started the hubbub in the first place:

Catholic church helps abused
By Elizabeth L. Strabawa
Published: August 24, 2007

It is courageous for any victim of abuse to come forward, whether the perpetrator of the abuse be a priest, minister, counselor, teacher, Scout leader or family member. All of the aforementioned hold power over those who are vulnerable and reach out to them.

Catholic priests (the more than 98 percent who are faithful to their vow of celibacy), however, have been victimized by poorly informed people such as Barbara Dorris of SNAP.

Catholics are not taught that "a priest represents God on earth and holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven." Catholics are taught that a priest is "another Christ" when he offers Mass and when he hears confessions.

Our Holy Father, the pope and successor of Peter, was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. When speaking in union with the bishops, offering Mass and hearing confessions are the only times that he is not speaking simply as a human being - albeit a holy human being.

The Catholic church has opened its arms to the abused and provided many ways for the victimized to begin the healing process. It is the hope of the church that all in that category will come forward to seek that help.

That's about as far as I'm willing to take things; I'm not about to ferret out whatever "poorly informed people such as Barbara Dorris of SNAP" might have had to say. I imagine it was something against priests who have demonstrated themselves to be sexual predators, and their fellow priests, bishops, cardinals who have helped them hide--all of whom belong behind bars, by the way--which seems to have prompted Strabawa to mount a more-or-less uncritical defense of all priests.

(Disclaimer: I have known a great many priests in my time. Several of them have been great men, true exemplars. Many have been jerks. None, to my knowledge, has been a sexual deviant. I hate to see all of them tarred with the same brush because I personally know priests who certainly don't deserve it...but I'm equally unwilling to give them all a free pass just because they claim to be "doing God's work." Indeed, I take great comfort in my belief that there is an extra-special little corner of hell reserved for people who, metaphorically and otherwise, fuck people over in God's name.)

Anyhow. Roman Catholic do view their clergy in a different way than most other Christian faiths seem to; likewise we see their call as something different than, say, a Protestant minister sees his or hers. But I don't believe I have ever heard this "another Christ" business that Strabawa refers to, and I doubt very much that it's doctrine. In my time, the teaching was that priests are emissaries of Christ, stand-ins, if you will--not "another Christ" in any way, the very notion of which seems heretical.

But of course that's not what Speckels objects to; instead he concocts that tired, pointless old biblical "reason" that Catholics are bad because they call their ministers "Father." That's it?? That's the worst you can come up with to say against us?? ZZZZZzzzz. See above re other churches who use the same terminology but never seem to get lambasted in letters to editors, and all one can conclude is that we're dealing with someone who hates Catholics and who seeks any opportunity to display that irrational hatred.

One does wonder, however: If Spreckels had written a similarly hateful and uninformed diatribe against, say, Jews, or Muslims, or even Presbyterians, would the local rag have published it? Or would the editors have recognized it for what it is--hate-mongering--and put it in the circular file where it belongs?

Impossible to know, obviously. But, as I say, one does wonder...

Who Owes Whom?

This appeared today on

Market Scan
Steve Jobs: iSorry
Carl Gutierrez, 09.06.07, 4:40 PM ET

They say love means having to never say you're sorry, but if so no one told Steve Jobs. On Thursday Apple's head sent a letter of apology to the iPhone's early adapters, hoping to make them feel a little less jilted after he dropped the price on 2007’s “It-product” from $599 to $399 on Wednesday, a mere two months after its release.

In the open letter Jobs wrote that after receiving hundreds of emails from customers upset about the $200 price drop he decided to offer every iPhone customer who purchased the gizmo at full price from either Apple (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ) or AT&T (nyse: T - news - people )a $100 store credit toward any product at Apple’s retail or online stores.

By turns, Jobs was both boastful and contrite in the letter, as he addressed both iPhone customers, and, by extension, Apple investors. "iPhone is a breakthrough product, and we have a chance to 'go for it' this holiday season," he wrote. "iPhone is so far ahead of the competition, and now it will be affordable by even more customers."

But, ultimately, Jobs dropped the justifications, and simply apologized. "Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust," he wrote. How he plans to do this has yet to be worked out, exactly. “Details are still being worked out and will be posted on Apple’s website next week. Stay tuned.”

After rising to $137.24 a little after 3:00pm, the shares of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company fell to $135.20, a total 1.2%, or $1.69, drop from Wednesday’s closing price.

The week has been intense for the company. On Wednesday, Jobs gave a much-publicized presentation of Apple’s new line of iPods, along with cutting the price of the 8GB iPhone, as well as ceasing sale of the 4GB model (See “Apple Introduces New iPods”).

On Tuesday, shares of the company lifted 4.1% after Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, spent 50 hours counting iPhone and Mac sales in Apple retail stores across the country and found them to be in-line with his estimate (See “Traders Take A Bite Of Apple”).

Also, Apple recently weathered a dispute with NBC over iTunes contract to sell downloads, which ultimately led to Apple announcing last Friday that it will pull NBC shows from iTunes in September, three months early (See “The Apple-NBC Battle Won’t Amount To Much”).

Ah, nostalgia: I am reminded of those idyllic days of old, the days of the "user group" and the evangelical fervor (anyone remember when Apple actually had "evangelists" on the corporate masthead?) surrounding the Macintosh...and the near-fanatical belief that some Mac owners had that Apple "owed" them something that transcended the ordinary producer-consumer relationship.

The rationale went something like this: I shelled out my hard-earned dough to buy X (hardware, software, whatever) when X first came out, and if not for early-adopters like me, X would not have been successful. Since it's thanks to me and the other early-adopters that it was successful, I should not not be expected to shell out yet again for X.2 or X Enhanced. It was as if they expected a for-life free ride because they had bought, say, the original Mac when it first came on the market.

Well, so did I...but I never figured that Apple owed me anything but a working Mac.

Granted, it's always nice when, say, a software publisher offers an attractive upgrade option, something that seems to be becoming a rarity these days. And it's good marketing, good customer relations. But it's hardly mandatory.

Ditto with the iPhone. Its early-adopters had to be the first kids on the block to have one, and they were willing--nay, eager--to pay a premium for it. Now the premium has turned into a discount and they're crying foul. Huh? How do you figure? You paid the price that it carried when you bought it; if you wanted a discount, you should have waited. Your impatience is hardly Steve Jobs's fault, or responsibility.

Even if it's "a mere two months after its release." What's the significance of two months, anyhow, that Gutierrez feels it deserves boldface emphasis? Had Apple waited three months, would that have been more acceptable? Four months? Six? And why?

Here's my advice to disgruntled early adopters: Next time, don't be in such a big freakin' hurry.