Thursday, March 8, 2018

Read Across America at Burney Elementary School: A Seussian Story

First grade teacher Ginny Casaurang leads her students
in an exercise to sort real and imaginary words
into two lists as they await their readers
from Burney High School’s Leadership Class.
On one recent Friday, our Miss Casaurang,
to her first-grade students so many words brang.
Now, some were quite “real” and some were quite “wacky,”
to stick to two lists with glue very tacky.
But why would her kids wacky words need to know?
Some Burney High students would very soon show!

Reading to Miss Casaurang’s first-graders:
Bailey Turner and Levi Perkins.
They came at ten-thirty with books in their hand,
in Burney, Fall River, and throughout the land.
An annual joy, since two decades ago,
on Dr. Seuss’ birthday his stories would go
to all of our classrooms, each boy and each girl,
to brighten kids’ minds, to broaden their world.

In Mrs. Spainhower’s room, Fabiola Perez and Noah Bishop
share their experiences with the third-grade class.
The older ones did more than read them a book,
they asked for some questions, they gave kids a look
at fun facts to know about good Dr. Seuss,
and where they would go when their school turned them loose.
From High School, the Leadership students had come,
saying: “Here’s where you’ll go when elementary’s done.”

Here, Hannah Pearson has just finished reading
to Mrs. Noack’s fourth-graders
as Favian Jimenez prepares to field questions.

No child appeared sad to hear “Six. Years. More!”
This “high school” described was surely no bore!
Their elders spoke clear: “Core classes galore,”
yet promised “electives, clubs, sports-teams, and more!”
So ‘twasn’t just books celebrated from yore,
‘twas examples of hope that their lives hold in store.

Pulling double-duty, Fabiola Perez and Noah Bishop
found Mrs. Bower’s fifth-graders eager to ask very specifically
about the high school experience they would enter
within the next eighteen months.

It may seem too brief, or too little, this day.
Will it change children’s lives? It seems hard to say.
But on this day in March, the second, each year,
from children to children a message rings clear:
That “We care enough to take time, to come read.
And we hope you’ll see, sometimes, that’s all that you need.”

-Wm. Darius Myers

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Embryos Are Human Lives—And So Are Five-Year-Olds

Hypothetically weighing the same as
a five-year-old child. 
My attempts to maintain my Christian integrity include regularly asking myself two questions. “What do I believe?” and “Do I do it?” These apply to a wide range subjects and are important applications of the overall question, “What would Jesus have me do?”

Why This Came Up Recently
Those two questions are at the heart of an exercise in ethics put forth on October 18 by “author” and “comic” Patrick S. Tomlinson in a series of tweets. (For other middle-aged white guys and our elders, that means short, 140-word-or-fewer posts to the social media platform called Twitter.)

Why bother with Tomlinson’s hypothetical? Two reasons. First, the question he asks has value in forcing me to consider those two questions again, this time with regard to my belief in the sanctity of life from conception through natural death. The second reason is that, with over twenty-five thousand followers, and friends of mine reposting commentaries on the discussions he has sparked, it seemed appropriate to answer his question, even for my significantly fewer friends and followers.

I admit. I would save the five-year-old.
And not just because I hope
he'll be mowing my lawn before long.
His hypothetical (You can find it here: pits the life of a five-year-old child against “a frozen container labeled ‘1000 Viable Human Embryos’” in the midst of a choking cloud of smoke in a burning fertility clinic. The question is, “Which do you save?”

Tomlinson claims that he has never received an honest answer to his question. He supposes that my choice of the one child over the other 1000 human lives in the container either makes me a monster, or proves that I do not really consider the embryos to be human lives. I disagree with his conclusion for several reasons—some of which I am going to subject you to here.

The Shifting Scenario
If you read even the comments Tomlinson allows to be posted, every time he does get someone’s honest answer, he adds another qualifier to the question. And it's a hypothetical question to begin with, which has no basis in objective reality. Still, be that as it may, it's a provocative-enough exercise to have value for examining one's integrity. But the examination should consider the integrity in his logic, at least as much as a Christian’s ethics or morality.

Logically speaking, his question can be compared to asking whether you would risk your own life to rush into a burning building to save your worst enemy. Most followers of Christ's teachings would know what the answer is supposed to be and say, "Yes." Whether they would actually do it...well, that's why we like that it's a hypothetical.

But if you deny those believers' ethical and moral claims by changing the logic of the situation you present, that's disingenuous. It's like asking whether you would rush in to save your enemy, getting the "right" answer, and then adding "but that means you'd have to stop doing CPR on his child that you just rescued from that same burning building."

"Who would burn down
a fertility clinic?"
Answering the Question as the Monster I Am
Tomlinson says he has never once received an honest answer to his initial question. He later redefines “honest” to include a willingness “to accept responsibility for their answer,” but I hope I do both. Still, my honest answer is based on several important distinctions, some of which have to do with the “facts” presented in the hypothetical scenario he presents.

The environment in which an embryo is "viable" and may potentially survive beyond the fire, and beyond the misfortune of having been conceived artificially in a laboratory, is to be implanted inside a uterus. To my knowledge, suggesting otherwise, even hypothetically, currently works only in science fiction stories (author Tomlinson’s chosen genre). Therefore, on the basis of correcting the “viable” terminology of the hypothetical, the five-year-old will always get the nod. Tomlinson counters this argument, already made by others in comments tweeted back to him, by claiming the right to create whatever reality he chooses in his hypothetical. Even granting him that right, accepting that “viable” applies with the standard definition, “capable of surviving or living successfully, especially under particular environmental conditions,” I will still save the five-year-old.

My decision to save the five-year-old does not negate the fact that each embryo is still a human life, even as frozen in a stainless-steel container. So, why save one life and leave 1000 to die? Am I a monster?

During my stint in law-enforcement chaplaincy I was trained for first-responder rescues. In Professional-Rescuer CPR/Basic Life-Support—nothing really fancy—I was taught to apply a severe and arguably “monstrous” logic to situations such as what Tomlinson describes. (When I had opportunity to apply that logic, and made what I am convinced was “the right choice,” I did ask myself, “How did I end up here?” But that’s another story for another time. I survived, and so did the victim.)

You might want to ask the man holding the flame.
(Yes, that's really Patrick S. Tomlinson's
current profile picture.)
The key concept that applies even in Tomlinson’s fanciful hypothetical is called "triage." You save the save-able, even over the more severely injured; you choose those whose survival is most assured, even over larger numbers whose survival is questionable. The same equation applies to the embryos and the five-year-old. The child who has survived to age five also has greater odds (1:1) than the thousands of embryos that were already destined (with only a handful of potential exceptions) to be disposed of by the fertility clinic in which this is supposed to be occurring, and to which, presumably, they would be returned once the fire is extinguished.

(I will add here that believing in the sanctity of life from conception through natural death means that I also oppose the creation of so many lives that are destined for destruction in the process of this particular means of treating infertility. Again, though, another discussion for another time.)

Who Will You Save?
In either case, the surviving child gets prioritized over the already-condemned embryos, the successfully developing child gets prioritized above even the potentially developing embryos, and certainly reality gets prioritized above the hypothetical (especially when the hypothetical has no corollary in the real world).

So, who wants to apply these arguments to the life of the mother who will die without an abortion? Because while those cases occur far more rarely than most would imagine, that circumstance actually exists.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Minding Your Own Business: Why Our Opposition to Others Says So Much about Us

So many. So angry. So often.

The people who need this most are least likely to read it. I accept that. Sadly. But it may be that you have some influence with them. If so, then that makes two (or more) of us trying to replace diatribe with dialogue. In fact, though, “diatribe” is too kind a word. Defined by Oxford Living Dictionaries, a diatribe is “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.”

Enmity’s litany has become liturgy on social media. It is not just that hateful name-calling is so endlessly repeated. There is a predictable order of claims and counterclaims following every new development. And periodically, just as with liturgical churches’ adherence to the three-year rotation of the lectionary, we complete a cycle of all the cardinal doctrines on each side, only to begin again.

The attacks are forceful and bitter. But are these forceful and bitter verbal attacks truly against someone or something? This is where I think the Oxford definition fails us. Because the attacks are against hollow shells, mere emblems of underlying hatred. In logic class they call it “the straw-man argument” when we misrepresent another’s position in order to more easily defeat it. The “ad-hominem” argument goes a step further and misrepresents other human persons as being so inherently wrong that any statement they present must be impossible to support.

As in the two prior posts in this series, I advise us to engage one another in dialogue, and determine to overcome the misunderstandings, and certain the misrepresentations. Before I tell you why I choose to pursue these dialogues, let me offer the hope I see for a remedy.

Though the Oxford definition is inadequate to describe the full extent of these hateful exchanges, it is also where I believe we may find the remedy. We readily offer diatribe against either persons for holding impossible positions on the issues (at least the way our “straw-man” misrepresents them), or against issues as being impossible to support because of those affiliated with them (at least the way our “ad-hominem” attacks choose to willfully misunderstand them).  The remedy I recommend is a renewed pursuit of relationships, indeed fellowship. Not just within the limitations of Church fellowship, but on the basis of solidarity among all human persons as created to bear the image and likeness of one God eternally existing in three Persons. (See previous posts in this series for some context.)

What the Bible teaches about fellowship is helpful to acknowledge here. True fellowship cannot help but be authentic, transparent, and vulnerable. To be authentic, I believe, means that if I say it, it should be true. To be transparent means that if it is true, I should say it. And that clearly leaves me vulnerable, since many will disparage me for the positions I hold, and attack the positions themselves merely because I am the one holding them.

Why do it, then? I choose to pursue these dialogues, primarily because of the role to which Christians are called as ambassadors. We are supposed to be representing the nature and character of Jesus Christ in a culture where He is often both misunderstood and misrepresented. I am deeply troubled by both those misunderstandings and the misrepresentations. I am even more troubled by the fact that I recognize both those misunderstandings and misrepresentations in both groups: those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, and those who do not. Worse, I see those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ willfully misrepresenting others’ positions, which suggests strongly that these “Christians” patently misunderstand the Lord they claim to serve.

And so, a secondary reason I pursue these dialogues so vigorously is this: so many others who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ are so deeply engaged in such vehement diatribe as to discourage mere contact with Christians. This means that those who may actually seek understanding and a representation of Jesus Christ are less likely to attend where such “followers” are more likely to gather (a lot of churches, mostly). As a result, all of us are effectively being excluded from environments in which the kind of fellowship I have described is most likely to occur.

So, in case I have not been clear, I will continue to pursue dialogue, even with those who continue to propagate diatribe. And when you ask, as you likely will, “Why are you sticking your nose into my business?” I will direct you to these three posts.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Inspection and Introspection: Stick Your Nose into My Business

Just where I'd invited you to put it!
In my last post, I expressed my belief that my fellowship with God through Christ is enhanced not only through fellowship with other Christians, but in the fellowship of non-Christians. Fellowship in that last category, of course, is not based on our mutual faith-decision to be followers of Jesus Christ. But I pursue it as a natural result of my belief in the solidarity of all human persons created, as I believe we are, to bear the image and likeness of one God, eternally existing in three Persons.

As I wrote before, while I have been contemplating this call to fellowship, my sense of integrity demands I do more than contemplate it. And yet I do not pursue this fellowship as consistently as I would like—even with those claiming to follow Jesus Christ. In fact, I sometimes find it easier to pursue understanding and agreement with non-Christians, where some imagine that fellowship should be less likely to occur. But I am often enlightened by those of you who disagree with me about the nature, character, and role of Jesus Christ in our history, present, and future. Why? Because I can only lead my life, make my choices, and face the consequences of the choices I make. From you and others, then, I gain greater perspective into the many lives I cannot lead, choices I cannot make, and consequences I will not face.

I admit, I do look at your life, your choices, and your consequences as cautionary rather than exemplary. That means I watch for warnings in your life that might help me avoid similar outcomes in my own. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I can be expected to consider your life, choices, and consequences as inescapably wrong. What you might not expect, however, is that I consider my own to be the same. I just hope to avoid the pit you dig, or at least recognize that I am digging a similar one, perhaps earlier, and perhaps with enough awareness to put down my shovel.

And that brings me to the repentance and confession portion of the program.

As part of our fellowship, I have not always been clear about inviting you to participate in the same kind of mutual inspection and introspection I have offered to you. To be clearer about that, here are two questions I think we each need to answer.

The first question has to do with the easier task of inspection: what do I see in you that leads me to wonder about, question, or even oppose you? It may be a belief or behavior, your position on an issue, or any number of other aspects, again, into which I might stick my nose.

The second question, though, is less inviting for me to consider because it requires introspection (inspecting myself): what do I see in myself about the issue you have raised? What is it in your position that leads me to wonder about, question, or even oppose my own view? I think that my emotional reactions to some things is primarily a means of avoiding this second question. I can get so upset over what I see in others that I am effectively distracted from asking whether I am as right as I think I am. And I do think I am. But I have been wrong about that, too.

Before this sounds like I am asking permission to be judgmental of you, remember that I want you asking the same questions of yourself, with regard to what you see, wonder about, question, or even oppose in me. In this way, we might engage in a fellowship that is authentic, transparent, and vulnerable—even if we are not mutual followers of Jesus Christ. I hope we can continue to attempt it.

As for those who claim to be mutual followers of Jesus Christ, there is more to say about the nature of a fellowship that is authentic, transparent, and vulnerable, and the terrible cost of doing so…that is only exceeded by a decision not to do so. More later.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Your Business, and Why I Stick My Nose into It

You may have noticed from my social media involvement that I seek dialogue with those of you whose beliefs differ from mine. That is, I stick my nose into your business. I pray that I do so in a way that is respectful of your human personhood, even when I question the conclusions you reach or even the evidence you cite in support of your conclusions.

I do this for several reasons.

One reason is intellectual curiosity. I enjoy using my brain. Therefore, statements of belief especially pique my interest. Over the past half-century, I have come to some very definite conclusions (“dogmatic beliefs”) about certain things. About others, I am still weighing evidence, seeking to arrive at an actionable conclusion (i.e., I want to understand what the true, right, and good position is so that I can appropriately provide support, correction, and/or opposition to other positions on the subject). So, when I see the conclusions you share, I am provoked to thought on those issues and seek to engage in dialogue about them. I like the mental exercise of doing that.

Another reason for my attempts at dialogue is the joy of connection and understanding, which can result in amazing revelations. I am blessed, at times, to read and hear explanations of the logic, ethics, and/or morality that lead you to the position(s) you hold. Some of you have blessed me further by discussing with me the logic, ethics, and/or morality that leads me to the position(s) I hold. This helps deepen my understanding, not just of you and others, but of myself as well.

But the primary reason I engage in these discussions is my desire to live with integrity as a follower of Jesus Christ. (Yes, I said that. But I hope you read this last little part, too.)

I see in Jesus a calling to pursue fellowship. As expressed in I John 1:1-4, that fellowship centers on two relationships. First is the fellowship of a relationship with God through Christ, which is enhanced by the second fellowship in our relationships as the “one another” of “Christ’s body,” the Church. But there is a third fellowship, too. The universal claim of Jesus Christ also points Christians to a solidarity with all other human persons. This is found in His emphasis that we are all created to bear the image and likeness of one God, eternally existing in three Persons. As I explained above, that third fellowship regularly blesses me as well.

How is this a matter of integrity for me? My belief should find expression in what I say and do. Admittedly, sticking my nose into your business benefits me. It also fulfills a part of what I believe God is continuously building me to be, and part of what I believe Christ calls all His followers to do in representing Him authentically, transparently, and vulnerably. (More about that later.)

Is my integrity consistent on this point? No. Logic, ethics, and morality are often submerged under a deluge of emotion. My initial reaction to some issues (some of which you and I agree on) “hits a nerve.” I have been known to write impassioned responses for which “delete” would have been a more appropriate click than “send” or “post.” Therefore, I have some repenting to do. Especially since I’ve already kept you for 67 words more than I intended for this post. More later.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Priorities: First, Promote. But Also Preserve and Protect Public Education.

For those of us who lose the thread of conversations on Facebook, and because I believe these discussions apply to issues being faced by other communities outside the Intermountain Area, I am posting my response more permanently to the blog here. I will try, when time allows, to condense it further, but for now…

Many in our local area will recognize the relationships involved here. Our respect and admiration for Shannon Carnegie are tangibly demonstrated in the long and mutually beneficial relationship between The Glenburn Community Church and Small Wonders Preschool, including Shannon’s very well-regarded (and fun, even for the old pastor who gets invited to most of the more exciting events and experiments) curriculum.

Recently, as I will let Shannon’s words explain, a number of families have suggested that they would support an expansion of her business to include all elementary grades as well. Already, two previous private schools in the area stand vacant, one having closed shortly before we arrived fourteen years ago, and the other closing more recently. I mention this because it figures in what I have written below. At the end of this post, I will append Shannon’s Facebook post addressing this discussion so that you can read her take on the challenges faced by our public schools in general. First, here is my latest contribution to the discussion.

Profile Pic of Small Wonders Preschool of Fall River
An awesome and important resource to our community.
For the sake of focusing on a key question, let’s presume for the moment that I would stipulate two things. First, that the research demonstrates that the symptoms you list are directly attributable to the public education system and are applicable to children in the range of ages five to twelve. Second, that parents who have not invested in making improvements to their community’s local public schools would adjust their priorities, schedules, and budgets sufficiently to experiment with “an alternative to the status quo.” (In order to proceed, I’ll assume you accept these stipulations.)

What I consider to be the key question is still being left unaddressed, though. Do we choose to work together toward providing the best possible education for all of our community’s children, or do the relatively few who have the means to pursue alternatives choose to further diminish the available resources for the remaining majority of those children?

The Glenburn Community Church
Small Wonders Preschool of Fall River
meets in The Schoolhouse on our campus
I will accept, again for the moment, that no one intends these efforts to be a direct attack. But the results are clearly inflicting more than collateral damage. We agree that there is a need for improvement. But how does conscience allow any of us to push “others’ kids” further from such improvements so that “our kids” can be subjects of yet another experimental alternative?

And the damage is not limited to diminishing our schools’ attendance-based funding. Encouraging greater dissatisfaction with the efforts of our educators actively discourages the kind of investment many of us are making—and promoting as a worthy pursuit for others, especially those who are critical of what they perceive to be a static status quo. Even if this latest experiment also fails, the focus is again being shifted away from actively improving our schools to imagining that there could be a school that will
meet every expectation of every dissatisfied parent. If your conversations are like mine, you know that we face not just conflicting expectations, but many that are mutually exclusive.

Once, my favorite radio station.
But I had to stop listening to it.
("What's In It...For Me.")
The damage to the majority of our community’s children may not result from a direct attack. But please consider whether the collateral damage is conscionable. We profess, together, our respect and admiration for our educators. I also believe we can, together, refocus on how that respect and admiration should motivate more than verbal encouragement and occasional support. What if we sought to persuade more within our community to make an active investment in overcoming the challenges you’ve noted?

No one can overlook the limitations of any real school in any real community providing real education to real children from real families. But even if we accept the most impossible dreams of an imagined school, why should that idea require a resource-diminishing alternative? Imagine instead that the schools we have are being enhanced, augmented, complemented, and improved in order to benefit the whole of our community. Imagine joining those already at work to accomplish these goals, and add your ideas, energy, and supporters into those efforts.

The alternative is to harm the majority for the sake of benefitting a few. I oppose that. Instead, I propose that we envision (and work to embody, together, as some of us already do) our local schools as places where some of the improvements you suggest would help to provide the best possible education for all the children in our community.

Here is Shannon’s post, to which the above is my response.

To be honest and fair...over 6 of the past 7 years of teaching preschool, parents have come to me, asking me to extend what I do at Small Wonders Preschool, to the elementary school age. Essentially, what they are asking is for a choice, an alternative to what is currently offered. So finally, (last year) in response to that request, I wrote down what I thought the ideal school environment would be, one that if I'd had a choice, it's what I would have wanted my own children to attend. Last year, the idea was tossed around and discussed, parents loved it, but felt it was an overwhelming project to undertake. It is and the idea faded. This year, several new parents heard about the idea and wanted to pursue it. So once again, we are looking at it. I do not believe it's an "attack" on public schools. It's an offering of an alternative for parents. Parents are comparing the options of having almost total autonomy over the education of their children by forming a private school, or having a little bit of autonomy and still remain a public school by forming a charter school. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the teachers in both the Fall River and Burney elementary schools. It is the "system" that is driving this need for an alternative. Parents come to me saying they want more outside time, more hands-on activities, more art, more music, more science and less testing, less assessments, less homework, and less tired, cranky, frustrated children. When teachers are required to divide their days into so many minutes of math and so many minutes of language arts, there's a problem. When schools have to spend their money on new curriculum every year, because the publishing contract they bought into requires them too, there's a problem. When the curriculum focus changes every time we elect a new president and our children become guinea pigs to an untested requirement, there's a problem. When research shows a direct link to bullying and bad behaviour to excessive screen time and a lack of time in nature, at the same time that schools are pushing little kids to use computers and there's a smart board in every classroom and mis-behaving kids lose their recess time, there's a problem. When doctors are finding an increase in childhood myopia (nearsightedness) and are linking it to too much indoor time because inside a classroom a child is only looking at things between 6 inches and 30 feet under harsh lighting, and not enough outside time where a child would need to see beyond 30 feet and use all their senses at the same time, there's a problem. When research shows that children who learn to write in cursive retain more information than children who type on computers, while cursive is not taught or not continued and computer use in encouraged, there's a problem. When class sizes exceed a teachable level and add stress and pressure onto the teachers, there's a problem. I can go on forever, but I'll spare you. Rumor has it that there are over 50 children in the Intermountain Area who are not attending the local schools. Many are instead being homeschooled through homeshooling programs out of the area. Thus, between this increase in homeschooled children and the continued interest and request from parents for an alternative, it appears, that a choice is needed. So, yes, I am taking my ideas for an alternative to the status quo, and guiding parents to see if a choice is possible. Sorry to ruffle anyone's feathers, but there is always another side to every story. And I felt I needed to tell at least part of that side.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

“Prioritize Public Schools!” – How Martin Niemöller would advise Bertrand Russell’s chicken.

"Why are they feeding us this?"
I want to tell you a different kind of chicken joke, followed by a more traditional chicken joke.

Joke the First
The first chicken joke expands on an analogy drawn by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. In chapter six of The Problems of Philosophy he discusses inductive reasoning—the idea that future events will continue a pattern we have observed in the past.

For example, because the sun has appeared each of the past 20,000+ mornings, I assume that it will appear yet again tomorrow. But however sure I am of that fact, Russell points out that there are limitations, even tragic limitations to my assumptions.

Bertrand Russell laughing at some joke or other.
To show these limitations he offers the observations of a particular chicken—about which I am about to make a rather gruesome joke, with apologies and the appropriate trigger-warnings to my chicken-raising sister, Dr. Rebecca Linger.

Our friend the chicken knows two things to be universally true. First, that every morning, the farmer appears and scatters feed before the assembled chickens. Second, that from time to time the farmer also appears again in the late afternoon and, from among the assembled chickens, she selects one, chops off its head, and eventually consumes its lifeless body.

But here is where our chicken friend’s inductive reasoning fails, according the Russell. The chicken’s observation each day of her life has been this: the farmer always selects some other chicken besides me. That has been true. And it will continue to be true…until the day on which it is no longer true.

Bertrand Russell’s chicken could use some advice from Pastor Martin Niemöller.

Niemöller was arrested in 1937 and held by Nazi officials in a series of prisons and concentration camps until 1945. Nevertheless, he is often criticized for having been slow to recognize the dangers posed to some of his fellow-citizens, then to his country, to the rest of Europe and, eventually, the nations engulfed in World War II. Yet, in retrospect, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum prominently quotes this version of his famous poem:
            First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
                        Because I was not a Socialist.
            Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
                        Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
            Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
                        Because I was not a Jew.
            Then they came for me—
                        and there was no one left to speak for me.

Now that you know these things, let me tell you the joke.

What would Martin Niemöller say to Bertrand Russell’s chicken? “Ask yourself, ‘How many chickens does the farmer have left before she gets to you?’”

Why Joke the First matters:
Do we find this first joke funny? Probably not. And if not, what does that say about who and where we are in the chicken’s story?

Martin Niemoller, laughing,
probably at some other joke.
For Russell (and Niemöller), the joke is clearly on the chicken (and Niemöller)—fat and happy until the hatchet falls. Russell’s chicken and Niemöller’s advice combine to represent a mindset I am observing among the opponents of public education, primarily in the immediate context of our local community. (A similar attack is being mounted at the highest levels of our federal government, and the publicity surrounding those efforts certainly emboldens the efforts here. But so long as public education remains largely controlled by local school boards, I intend to focus on the children of the Fall River Joint Unified School District.)

Why I Am This Passionate:
Let me digress for a moment to make full disclosure of my passions in this matter.

My family has been involved in public education since long before my birth. I have been involved as a volunteer and donor in many aspects of public education throughout my life. I am married to a public school teacher. I count many public school teachers among my friends. Even so, my wife and I considered carefully the expectations of some within our faith tradition that we would be educating our children in private, Christian institutions, if not homeschooling them. I have frequently considered what have been offered as the “options” and “alternatives” to public schools. These “choices” are routinely offered in opposition to perceived (and, I admit, actual) failings in our public schools. But after more than three decades of involvement in this dialogue, my hackles are raised by every advocate for homeschooling, every “alternative educational opportunity” that is offered, and even the ignorant denial of truancy’s detrimental effects on our children—both the individual truant and those children whose educational resources are diminished as a result of these others’ absence. (Schools are paid on the basis of their average daily attendance. Each child’s every absence literally costs the school money that otherwise would be invested in local public education.)

So, as some recommend that we further diminish the enrollment of our public schools, and with that lower enrollment comes the lower funding for even the most essential elements of education, I object and will oppose their efforts. They may be sufficiently funded and organized, and possibly even competent to focus on their own family to the exclusion of others’. But on behalf of those outside the small number who might reap better benefits from others’ costs, I would ask that we instead apply Niemoller’s lesson. Ask yourself, “How many more students can be subtracted from our public schools before there are not enough resources available to educate those who remain?”

Our past observations, that every day of our lives there has been public education, do not support the assumption that, no matter what we do to damage it, there will always be public education. In fact, there has not always been public education. In many places, there currently is not public education. But I am not only asking that we consider the survival of public education. I am asking that we turn our attentions away from the options and alternatives that diminish the education received by the majority of our community’s children. Instead, let us turn toward the improvements and support, or at least encouragements deserved by those whose lives are committed to providing the best possible public schools we can.

Tim Madigan, St John Fisher College
Joke the Second
Tim Madigan of St. John Fisher College wrote “Mr. Russell’s Chicken: A New Symbol for Philosophy” for The Bertrand Russell Society Bulletin. After considering various other philosophers’ probable responses, Madigan imagines that Dr. Russell is asked the most famous of chicken-joke questions. I am choosing to clean up the language for my audience. (Who knew that philosophers were allowed to cuss?!) But according to Madigan, to the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Russell would answer, “Because he finally understood induction, and got…away from the farmer!”

There is a reason that we chickens get to make decisions, locally and directly, about how we want to educate our children…together. As a community, do we need to invest in one another’s children in order to enhance our public schools? Yes, of course. But I would take it a step further.

Special Bonus: Joke the Third
Even those of us who have no school-aged children need to recognize the benefits we all receive by means of our public education system, especially through our local public schools. More than merely recognizing those benefits, we need to invest ourselves in making our schools the best they can possibly be. This means volunteering, donating, and fund-raising. But it also means supporting and encouraging those who chose a career in public education.

"Who built this road across my path?"
That decision to be professional educators means that they receive far lesser returns than others would, given the same investment in college and graduate school education. It has been said that no sane person enters a career in public education with expectations of lucrative salaries. Some teachers respond to that statement with this joke: “No sane person enters a career in public education. Period.” The fact is, sadly, that some have been so wounded in the opposition’s constant attacks on public education that their initial passion is a distant memory. Yet even for the most tired, jaded, and discouraged of my acquaintances, there clearly remains a love for and devotion to the children they serve. These educators deserve our support and encouragement. These children deserve our involvement and assistance.

Let’s Try This:
Rather than imagining the alternatives and options (which some of us may, in fact, be sufficiently privileged to pursue), what if we imagined—and acted upon—a vision of what our public schools could be, if we the public—fellow members of our local community—were to invest ourselves in all our community’s children?

Read Across America at Burney Elementary School: A Seussian Story

First grade teacher Ginny Casaurang leads her students in an exercise to sort real and imaginary words into two lists as they await their ...