Church and State

Jon Stewart interviews David Barton about church/State

This was a fascinating interview. Stewart is a smart guy, and he is typically very fair minded, so I was surprised at how much he insisted on towing the line his writers prefabbed for him. He struck me as so invested that he had a hard time coming to the sharp edge of the issues and formulating really good questions. His dismissal of “anecdote here, anecdote there” was incredibly frustrating, because those anecdotes were either historical examples or ongoing court cases that are the only way to substantiate an argument. It’s like Barton said X, Stewart said, “How can you say X?” Barton said, “Let me give you an example that demonstrates X,” and Stewart replied, “You’re just giving me examples.” Yes. That’s how case law is done (so I hear).

I was planning to begin working through the tensions in my thoughts on religion and government, and now is as good a time as any.

We can’t look at “just the Constitution” in this discussion, because it has to be interpreted like every other document, and context determines meaning. We may be willing to move beyond the authors’ intent given nearly two and a half centuries of experience, but let’s not expect to have a real conversation about “what it says” without reference to other historical information.

The Constitution is worded intentionally. I haven’t read them myself, but my political science professor asserted that if one reads the minutes of the constitutional convention, it is clear that the language about religion was made intentionally neutral through a long process of revision. This can be read two ways. One might say that those minutes are evidence of the framer’s assumptions and preferences—they were clearly intending a Christian nation, even though they chose not to be heavy handed with the language of the founding document. I tend to think the more important point is that the Enlightenment won through that revision process. Despite the fact that many (maybe nearly all) in the room probably did intend a Christian nation in a substantive sense—how could they have imagined anything else from within their worldview?—the language ended up where it did specifically in order to humanize and generalize to the extent possible. There were limits, as references to God indicate, for quite logically, to have gone all the way would have been to cut out theism completely. They did not; likely could not. Yet, we may note the trajectory is there, and that is significant for interpretation.

There is a huge difference between making a historical observation about the intentions of the founders and agreeing with them. There is also a huge difference between agreeing with them and acting to codify those intentions legally in way the founders didn’t need to and/or chose not to. Part of what muddies the conversation is that if a person is known to agree with the founders’ intentions to form a Christian nation, they are automatically suspect as having an agenda to act to codify those intentions, and if they make historical observations they are implicitly discredited as biased and skewed. That is absurd, and it’s what kills real, productive discussion.

The basic impulse of the First Amendment is to protect rights and freedoms. This means that, in regard to certain matters, the majority rule does not matter; the minority is protected. What those certain matters are is very important, because other matters are determined by majority rule, to the extent that the legislative process actually represents the majority. That is what “making law” is about, and that is why it is important that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” When it comes to the diversity of religion conceivable to the framers, then, the point was to refuse to take sides. They would not favor one (Establishment Clause) or pick on one (Free Exercise Clause). This doesn’t mean there weren’t assumptions about the limits of conceivable diversity or influence (the very ability to make amendments to the Constitution is a tacit admission by the framers that there were things they weren’t saying at the moment that might need saying later; they knew they couldn’t see beyond their own assumptions and situations). And it doesn’t mean that a given law might not conflict with the practices or beliefs of a religion. It just means that the federal government can’t make laws for the purpose of playing religious favorites. This is Jefferson’s “wall of separation.”

The Constitution does not speak to the influence of elected officials’ convictions upon legislation outside of the establishment or prohibition of religion—or mere voters’ for that matter. And this is where the rubber meets the road, because as a citizen an official is granted the same freedom to practice whatever religion—values, ethics, and all—and there is no wall that can separate that from their governance. And this is why the founders’ assumptions are so important; everyone sitting in the room was at least a Christian deist. Even Jefferson, with his famous chopped up New Testament, got his moral compass from an essentially Judeo-Christian worldview. Everyone gets their values from somewhere. No one can check this at the door. And we have nothing in the Constitution that requires it even if it were possible. So, just as voters vote their conscience—and they should—elected officials must govern by conscience. No reasonable person expects a voter, in order to participate in the political process, to divest herself of her worldview and become a secular humanist. (Besides, the idea that secular humanism is somehow neutral and areligious is simply wrong to begin with.) Likewise, there is no reason to expect a given official to divest herself of her worldview in order to participate in the process on another level. It’s impossible and it’s clearly unreasonable. And the possession of a particular worldview by an official obviously does not constitute “establishment.” It creates fear in those with a different worldview; it may be perceived in a dangerous step in that direction if the Constitution is assumed to be inadequate for maintaining the wall of separation; but it must always be a step in some direction, since no official is a blank slate.

The sharp point of this conversation is whether my rights can be violated by someone else’s freedoms. Some feel that one group’s freedom to exercise religion—because the Constitution will not allow law forbidding it qua religion—infringes up on their right not to be socially “coerced” by that group. We must keep context in mind. The Constitution remains religiously neutral on the federal level in order to protect rights on the individual and minority group level, not just to pass the buck and allow state and local government to be the establishmentarians. The ambiguity is (1) whether the point is to protect individuals and minorities from social coercion or from something more concrete like persecution (damages) and injustice (lack of equal opportunity and resources where law and subsidy is concerned) and (2) whether it is even possible to legislate against social influence dynamics—because if it is truly a right not to be coerced by those around us, then we must legislate against it in principle, not just in schools or other state-funded settings. Because I believe the Constitution is interested in safeguarding against persecution and injustice, it seems to me that talking about coercion is to frame the problem wrongly. Rather, the problem is that state and local governments, in deciding how to use federal funding—and, in principle, how to use state and local funding in a constitutional way—can create real injustice if their advocacy or even permissiveness is viewed as a resource granted. Thus, if a local school is 90% Hasidic Jewish and decides by vote to institute Hasidic practices in the school (but not requiring the 10% to comply), the problem is still the advocacy of a particular religion within a government institution. The same is true if it’s a 51% vote, and the same is true if it’s a 100% vote and no minority is actually marginalized. Because in any case, the message is “be a majority and you too can have a government-funded religious education.” That is the spirit of what disestablishmentarianism is about preventing.

But what about the teacher’s right? Does the “spirit” of the Establishment Clause (because we’re patently not talking about “making law” but rather considering the intention of the Clause in order to interpret) overrule the explicit statement of the Free Exercise Clause where a government employee is concerned? Can a teacher as a teacher even mention her beliefs? Or can a principal hold a prayer breakfast once a year? The President does, and apparently that isn’t considered unfair advocacy of Christianity or faith over, say, Buddhism or atheism. It certainly doesn’t infringe anyone else’s rights or constitute coercion, even though that is the usual argument of disestablishmentarians. No, the issue must be whether an official as an official practicing a religion is in some way using the weight of office to show preference to one belief system other another. And even if so, a narrow interpretation of the First Amendment must conclude that this is only a problem if a relevant law is passed.

Because the First Amendment is not about the erasure of religion but rather the equality of religion, the logical answer to the problem of inequity is equal representation of all religions—as the IRS does with tax exemption, for example. Since that is practically impossible in many circumstances (not least public schools), the logical answer is equal non-representation. The real bind comes here, because to be areligious is in fact to advocate a particular religious belief system. The philosophical question behind the conversation comes in at this point: must an ideology remain non-religious in order to avoid the immanent threat of tyranny? Many postmoderns seem to believe that America was intended to be a totally relativist society and that religion is contradictory to that vision. The expectation is that there are universal ethical and moral norms accessible to all humanity apart from religious constructs, which is a basis for our legal code that is not tainted with the narrowness of religious zealotry. Here the point people like David Barton are trying to make is very important, because as a matter of historical fact, that is not the basis for our society. At the very least we have to talk about Enlightenment deism as the basis for our social mores, and Barton is right to talk far more broadly about the cultural influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview. The takeaway is that the truly secular society, where just being reasonable and nice leads to liberty and justice for all, is as much a religious myth as anything else, and it is a late invention where American politics is concerned. There is no pristine, objective, relativist system into which religious zealots are trying to inject their agenda. Rather, the more fair-minded advocates of a “Christian nation” are saying, in so many words, “If it was good to work off of points A, B, and C of our belief system, why not D, E, and F?” There may be good reasons, depending on what D, E, and F are, but it’s worth noting that the premise is fair.

On the other hand, returning to that humanist trajectory mentioned earlier, the Bill of Rights is about Locke’s idea of natural, inherent rights, so we are intended to work on the level of an ethics perceivable just by virtue of being human. Consider the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident” and “unalienable Rights.” This is what America is on about at root. Moreover, given the fact that biblical Christianity is patently non-coercive, Christians too are compelled in the direction of a social order that operates on a universally acceptable basis rather than an imposed faith basis. For this, we have a great deal of direction in both creation theology (which is where the founders tended to stay) and the Wisdom literature. Another way of saying this is that A, B, and C were both Judeo-Christian and perceived to be self-evidently right. At this point it is clear that epistemology is a major issue, as we must have debates about what is self-evident—and perhaps the majority will have its way. So, I reiterate, what is codified as a right regardless of majority vote is very important, because the codification predetermines for us the boundaries of the discussion about epistemology. That is the document’s essential function for those who acquiesce to it.

I will deal with specific issues next in order to flesh out these tensions.

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Church and State

Memoirs of an Education

I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat in preparation for the next issue of Missio Dei, which is on globalization and mission. Friedman’s concerns are far more global economy oriented than the journal issue will be, but everything he writes about shapes our missional context in some way (see last issue’s article by Steve Greek, “The World Is Flat? Not Yet!). In any event, Friedman deals with the American education system quite a bit, and I just happen to be following the discussion on Scot McKnight’s blog as well, so education is on my mind. I’ve decided to write some reminiscences of my primary and secondary schooling, which might reflect anecdotally on the value of teachers in the American school system and their potential impact on a student.

We moved around a lot. Kindergarten in rural texas, 1-2 in rural Oklahoma, 3-4 in suburban Alaska, 5-7 in rural Oklahoma, 8-12 in suburban Texas.

Kindergarten

I remember being a slow starter (a recurring theme, really). I didn’t know how to spell my name on the first day, which resulted in an embarrassing failure to identify my cubby hole. I don’t know how many kids have a head start, but I’m really proud of Megan for her work with Ana. I have few other memories, most of which are playground time, show and tell, making green eggs and ham, and nap time (stole my first kiss, resulting in the loss of terrible imitation Oreos at snack time; totally worth it).

First Grade

My teacher was like a Nazi. A bitter old bitty. At least that’s how my first grade mind saw things. In any event, I don’t remember anything from that year other than making a Christmas ornament and playing with centimeter blocks (a tactile learning experience prepping us for the immanent switch [1988] no doubt). I don’t think the classroom should be a bitter environment for a six year old.

Second Grade

My teacher was like a primary education muse. I have vibrant, colorful memories from her classroom. She had a whole stable of puppets that taught various subjects each day (which, as an adult, I consider a superhuman feat). This is when I remember my first book fair (there may have been one the year before, but it’s suppressed). I don’t know if every child experiences raw wonder in a room of wall-to-wall stories, but I certainly did (hmmm, my Barnes & Noble fixation suddenly makes sense). At this point I made a career decision (I’ve always been decisive, apparently). Having acquired some slim volumes on dinosaurs and digging up their bones, I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist (it was some years before I could spell my intended profession and some years more before I realized I actually meant paleontology). Nonetheless, my imagination for the ancient was born, as was a fledgling reading habit. I remember being very proud to bump into my teacher at Pizza Hut as I was devouring my hard-earned BOOK IT! personal pan (thanks to Hank the Cow Dog—remember, rural Oklahoma). Making her proud was important. At this point, I note, all subjects seemed equal.

Third and Fourth Grade

I actually started third grade in a Texas city, but it wasn’t long until the parents’ separation landed me at Fire Lake Elementary in Eagle River Alaska. This was more about culture shock than anything else. I had to learn to sing “I did, I did, I did, the Iditerod Trail” in class and how to sled the steep hill in style during recess. Yes, those were the best recesses ever. But here is where learning took a turn for the worse. I started having a really hard time with multiplication tables. The solution was to bring in a high school student to tutor me with flash cards (never heard of this since). It actually worked, but I think in retrospect it was strange to pull me out of regular math period to do so. I don’t remember feeling singled out, but maybe that’s because I had a crush on my tutor and thought the other students were getting the shaft by comparison. In any event, aside from the portent of mathematical hardship to come, there were no real developments. I enjoyed art class a lot and won the class spelling bee in fourth grade (a true red herring where my brain chemistry is concerned). But these two years (and I emphasize, only these two years) were marred by being a popular kid. It was a matter of association that doesn’t warrant spelling out, but I have to note that this unequivocally affected my education. Are we uncool because we’re nerds, or are we nerds because we’re uncool? Probably both. I think the social location of a nerdy student can greatly reinforce the intellectual substance of nerdiness. In short, if your kid is barely cool enough for school, rejoice and buy them more books.

Fifth Grade

Total disorientation. We moved back to the Oklahoma school, and their class structure involved three different teachers in three different classrooms. It took a few days for me to get to the right place at the right time, and tardiness was not a good thing. This too passed, and I eventually settled in. I don’t know if story time is common in fifth grade, but we had story time, and I loved it. I especially remember the teacher reading Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (prompting me to read Let the Circle Be Unbroken on my own—very tricky). This was the epoch of Summer of the Monkeys and Where the Red Fern Grows, The Indian in the Cupboard, and My Teacher Is An Alien. I played a lot. I was an outside kid, on a bike, fishing, or playing sports. But I loved to read, and I don’t think I would have known how much without story time. My strongest teacher memories are of Math/Science, though, because this is where I struggled. Science was just . . . boring, and math continued to be a challenge, though I did fine grades-wise. But my teacher bothered to pull me out of a group science activity and tell me that I could be a leader and needed to stop being a follower. This was something I had never actually considered, and the teacher’s decision to yank it brusquely to consciousness impacted me. I had never considered whether I might do more than go with the flow and get the assignment done. This is the year band started, and I consider music as important as any aspect of intellectual formation.

Sixth and Seventh Grade

It’s hard to distinguish between these two, because I had the same teachers for various classes both years. Fortunately, some of them were really good. Science was phenomenally interesting, as it involved a classroom filled with animals (ferrets, snakes, various local species), building rockets, and learning about geology (germane to “archaeology”—I’m not only decisive, I’m also persistent). I also really enjoyed learning about genes and working Punnett squares. My social studies teacher was a very kind, Christian man who encouraged integrity in his students. I remember learning about the feudal system, the Three-Fifths Compromise, and the difference between manslaughter and murder. Strange what sticks. My English teacher was a complete hippy (he had us listen to Nilsson’s The Point! on vinyl, which I assume can only be fully enjoyed on an acid trip), and he was an amazing teacher. He was good on grammar, as eighth grade will indicate, but I remember him especially emphasizing creative writing. And, fatefully, a new classmate moved in from Philadelphia. He introduced me to Redwall, forever changing my life. If I had liked reading before, I was now a voracious pleasure reader. Fantasy has remained my essential outlet. I don’t know if it’s the escape an extreme introvert needs or if fantasy just stimulates a part of my brain that nothing else does, but nothing rejuvenates me more than a few chapters of good fantasy. If I start to get bogged down in a project or feel stymied, I read fantasy. Subsequently, I think better, write better, and work better. It sounds crazy, but it’s just cause and effect in my life. Anyway, Redwall was my gateway drug, and I eventually found kinship with Father Tolkien’s whole genre. But I do not underestimate the influence of a teacher that encouraged us to read and write creatively. And again, books fairs were the occasion for buying the Redwall series economically. Lastly, my math teacher was my hero. Since I was still making good grades in math by sixth grade—the flash cards had helped—I started pre-algebra in seventh. Enter cognitive dissonance. I did okay until negative numbers. They were, for my poor, slow-developing brain, impossible to conceive. I can still remember the absolute sense of lostness. How could something be less than nothing? It just didn’t compute. My teacher was patient and compassionate, and we struggled through the year. And I did win first place in the geometric line art drawing competition (tactile and concrete—I’m a study getting geometry not algebra). Unfortunately, the basic abstraction of negative numbers is the basis for virtually every algebraic equation, so I was in for frustration. During this time I began watching Discovery channel shows about the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas, and keeping note cards (What? Mom worked late). I was taking a turn for the archaeological after all.

Eighth Grade

We moved in time to start eight grade in a 4A Texas school district, which is where I would finish out high school. I remember them asking at registration whether I should be placed in honors classes. We had not had honors classes in Oklahoma, so mom and I figured not. After a few days of regular English class, though, my teacher had repeatedly asked, “Are you sure you’re not supposed to be in the honors class?” It was a good year for English, and that did more to boost my confidence in school than probably anything else. It was also encouraging to try out and be placed directly into second chair trombone in the band (behind a certain Kyle Smith). I redid pre-algebra and, given repetition from the previous year, did okay. It was not a great learning experience, as the teacher was due to retire at the end of the year after like forty years of teaching, so she had basically put it on autopilot and already checked out. A good amount of time in that class was spent on developing a very sellable comic character that was, sadly, subsequently lost. Science was taught by a tennis coach going through a divorce and a midlife crisis, who relied heavily on scantrons and going over the answers before the test. Teaching to the test defined. I was in advanced reading, which was very strange: we constantly copied words from the dictionary, including phonetic spellings. But the good news was that the reading incentive had multiplied exponentially. Enough points landed one a trip to the water park in Dallas. Even better, I was able to retake the tests for the whole Redwall series since Texas was on a different database than Oklahoma, which gave me almost all my points for the year in one sitting. Only a couple more program-approved books and I was free to focus on the good stuff (although I did end up really enjoying The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown for points). Mostly, good stuff included the Xanth series and the Dragonriders of Pern series. This is when I learned that reading until 3:00 in the morning is not only incredibly productive but totally worth it. Sleep is for people who don’t care what happens in the next chapter. The pinnacle of eighth grade, however, was history class. This was the first time a teacher ever inspired me. I wrote my first “research” paper in her class, on North American Indian tribes. And I cared more than ever about what I was learning. She was very careful to nurture my interest. On the last day of school she pulled me out of last period (pre-algebra, fittingly enough) and gifted me her Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, explaining that it had been very helpful in her college studies. I still have that book as one of my treasured possessions.

Ninth Grade

My final year of football. I just never loved it enough to support the self-inflicted pain. My first year of military marching (Whitehouse was one of the few holdouts in Aggie band tradition). The band nerd in me flourished even as the jock withered. And again, social location can reinforce other tendencies. I think there’s a reason a whole subculture called “band nerds” also tends toward academic excellence—that is, being just regular nerds. At any rate, I was still playing the jock role to some extent. I had two very good teachers and two very bad teachers. Honors biology was a phenomenal teacher, and although it wasn’t my favorite material ever, I respected the rigor of the class and her ability to make us learn. This was the first time I felt like I was working to keep up (math not counting, where I was working just to survive). Algebra 1 was a painful as ever, but here I had the teacher to whom I owe the most sheer gratitude. She went way beyond the call with me. I worked hard. But she worked harder. She had me to her house nights before tests for practice exams (who does that?). Once she realized I was overwhelmed by a sheet full of equations and unnerved by other students finishing quickly, she had me come in before school on test days for a special format. She put each question on an individual card, and I could only see one at a time. She had me take the test while listening to classical music with a tempo of 60 beats per minute. And she was really, really good in the classroom. Teaching math to people like me is about knowing how to explain something formulaic four different ways, and she could do that without missing a beat, every day. Then there was Spanish 1. My only C ever. As it turns out, I’m alright with languages, so my belief that this first-year teacher was terrible is somewhat substantiated. On the other hand, I wasn’t all that motivated until visiting Mexico for the first time the following summer. My how things change. In any event, she was ridiculous and wasn’t there the next year. Lastly, and worst of all, was English 1. The year started off promising, as the honors English teacher was a coach who had taken the classroom seriously (a rarity in my experience), and the first day of class made it clear this was going to be the most challenging thing all year. After about a week he ended up taking the vice principal position, and a new teacher appeared. She was a also a first-year teacher, and she was terrified. This was not good, because to high schoolers, fear in a teacher is like blood in the water to sharks. She was a slight, skittish young woman with absolutely no presence. I reckon her students gave her the worst year of her life. I mean, it really got out of hand. She was ignored, disrespected, and generally bulldozed. And this from kids that, in any other class, were well behaved in the majority. It was a study in power dynamics and mob mentality. Even the honors class just sort of lost touch when we walked into her classroom.

Tenth Grade

Solidifying identity. Youngest of marching section leaders. Spanish 2 with a vengeance. Honors world history—a fine class. My one and only theatrical appearance (shout out to my friend Cindy Flowers in NY making a life of it—thanks for making me act once) (other shout out to Bryan Tarpley, my co-star [joke, I was terrible; he was star] and subsequent lifelong friend). I had teachers neither terrible nor great. It was the TAAS (standardized testing) year, so teaching to the test was the name of the game. I did have my most entertaining teacher ever, for geometry. She was a mean little farm wife (broke her leg falling off a tractor in the course of the year). If you started a sentence with “But I thought . . . ,” she would interrupt with, “Well, look what you’ve got to think with!” Any complaint, geometry related or otherwise, would earn “Sounds like a personal problem!” And so on. I, for one, found her priceless (shout out to Tyson Kirksey, my partner in silent laughter and subsequent lifelong friend, who moved to Whitehouse that year). She did, however, make us do a geometry scavenger hunt, in which we had to find a pentagonal nut—which goes on a fire hydrant and can’t be bought at a hardware store. Cost us a letter grade. Very mean. I also took honors chemistry. Big mistake. I didn’t realize that chemistry is just algebra in disguise. More equations and a narrow escape with a B. This was the blessed period of reading the Dragonlance series and the Drizzt series.

Eleventh Grade

Now the real fun begins. There is a small group of us that are showing up in more and more classes together. The nerds. And yet, about now, we are realizing that we don’t care. It’s good to be the literati. We knew we would escape the social aberration that is high school and go on to college with scholarships and credits and the prospect of working smart not hard. We weren’t cool? Perfect. I joined Spanish club, since most of the group was involved there and it included a free trip to San Antonio (some of the best TexMex on the planet, and the river walk is nice). Unfortunately, I had to survive algebra 2, but I had the same teacher as in algebra 1, so it worked out. A new geology/oceanography class opened up, so I took that to avoid physical science (=physics=formulas=tears). It ended up being a fun blowoff class, and the teacher talked a few of us into doing the Ocean Sciences Bowl at A&M. So we got to miss school, hang at a cheap hotel, and stick it to a bunch of teams that cared way more (we just crammed the night before; shout out to Kris Byboth who did most of the sticking). I think we got third place. Anyway, the center of eleventh grade was AP (advanced placement) English and AP US history. AP meant you were prepping for a test at the end of the year that would count for college credit (don’t know if it still works that way). AP English was the occasion of the most memorable moment in all of high school. I’ll tell the story at length for posterity. The class had to read a bit on Bigfoot that discussed evidence for his existence, the nature of the film speed of the famous footage, the probability of hoaxes—the whole deal. There were questions that we answered individually and then went over as a class, in order to analyze what the AP test was after in terms of knowledge domains. The last question was whether the nonexistence of Bigfoot is fact or opinion. We all knew it was intending us to put “fact,” given the way it presented the information. But one girl—one of the smartest among us—put “opinion” out of integrity. Because we also all agreed that the entire piece was ill conceived and the question was essentially asking for the wrong answer. The entire class went to bat for her (remember, we lived through the milquetoast English teacher debacle of freshman year), because of our sense of justice. Okay, because we liked to argue. But we did agree that the answer to the question was in fact that the nonexistence of Bigfoot is opinion, given the definition of the word. The teacher would have none of it, and when we wouldn’t relent, she went into a nearly apoplectic rant about how we were all living in an ivory tower in our own microcosm (by which I think she meant we were all PhD candidates). We were quite satisfied, because AP class had turned out just like college (not): heated argumentation over ideas that no one cares about. I don’t think she ever loved us as well after that (or maybe just me; I might have been among the most . . . adamant). But AP history was the true Dead Poets Society experience. It was essentially the same group in that class. We came in cocky, smart-mouthed, and boisterous. A couple of us more than others. She called two of us out in the hall within the first week, told us how it was going to be, sent us back in, and proceeded to teach the mess out of US history. She didn’t overreact or get vengeful or defensive, and she didn’t punish us. She knew we were just testing her, and she took command. She was the opposite of freshman English milquetoast lady in every way, and she took possession of our respect and the full attention of our minds with an iron grip. And we learned. And read. And wrote. And read. And wrote. So, actually like college. And when she had to move to Florida in the middle of the second semester, we helped her pack her house and threw her a farewell party. And we stood on our desks her last day. Unfortunately, her replacement was an abomination that would require another post to explain.

Twelfth Grade

Another AP English class, and a whole lot of nothing otherwise. I was president of the Spanish club and did a fourth year of Spanish, which ended up being a good idea. But, I don’t think US education should actually count for a full twelve years, because I know no one who even remotely made an effort as a senior. But it was fun times. And I read a lot of the Wheel of Time series.

If you’re wondering what happened with the archaeology deal, I decided my junior year to do mission work, but I still ended up as president of the Society for Near Eastern Archaeology at Harding (Megan quips that that means I got the biggest shovel). Archaeology is still a fascination, and my outlets are the archaeological aspects of exegesis and modern anthropology, which is highly related.

There were teachers along the way—probably modestly compensated and unrecognized—without whom I would not have made it through school. And there were others without whom I would not have been inspired. There were plenty that were forgettable, essentially assembly line automatons. But they were still necessary. Then there were the counterproductive teachers. Those that made things worse than they had to be and failed the school system in a basic way. They were not the majority. And they are not to blame for the final product if it comes out bad. In every case, in fact, I would venture to say that the system failed, the administration failed, and the parents failed, when such a teacher managed to cause damage. My education was full of opportunity and a range of quality. I don’t claim to be representative. But if my own experience suggests anything about US education, it’s that the process is complex and teachers should not the be scapegoats for our fears and failures. They’re often heroic. They’re obviously human. And we need to take things one case at a time.

Memoirs of an Education