Sickness and the School

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I set out to write a post every day this year. Then I got a nasty flu bug. For a couple of weeks I have been foggy, tired, and unwilling to probe my mind for an idea worth writing about. That’s because whatever resources I might normally use to think and write have been sucked up by resting and exhaustion. As a result, I’ve missed a few weeks already.

If there is one theme on my mind these days it is what it looks like if I understand the primary function of my body and brain as survival. How I learn, love, and relate to others is rooted in my primary instinct to survive in this world. If sickness does anything, it sends one’s focus inward. I become less observant and less aware of the things around me. This is partially out of a conscious choice. I need to do things like rest to get my body well. But I also think it is more of an automatic defense mechanism that sets in motion. When I’m sick, I’m less aware of the world outside of my body.

The self as an idea our brains create as part of the most complex set of mechanisms that work for the survival of an animal species becomes most clear when the human system is in danger. Whether it’s a flu, a home invader, losing a job, or breaking up with a lover, the shift of focus inward is both automatic and sudden. Maslow understood this in his famous hierarchy of needs.

If we are considering learning, until we meet the basic survival needs of a student, we cannot expect much in the way of mastery of much of anything. The same goes for the general health and progress of a society. We cannot expect hungry and insecure people to make much progress because all of their resources are being used to see that they will simply stay alive. If we are to make progress as a society, we must feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and heal the sick. To expect more out of people such as these is to demand that they go against their nature which is an affordance the privileged never have to imagine in their lives.

Winning is Not the Only Thing

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” – Vince Lombardi

America is addicted to winning.

Competition is king in the United States and fear is a tool used to gain advantage over another. It is symptomatic from news broadcasts to advertising to politics to healthcare. It’s keeping up with the Joneses or a getting a better deal on a product than someone else. Sports are only the obvious venue for the relentless drive to “be the best.” If you are not the best you are a loser or a second class citizen. You are entitled or desperate for handouts. You are merely siphoning the wealth of winners rather than pulling yourself up and “getting a job” as if that is the one solution to all of society’s ills. Just shut up and compete.

The pressure to be perfect and the shame of being left on the bench or on the losing team is intense and exhausting.

One McLean elementary school recently asked for a presentation on whether its students should take the SAT or ACT, college admissions tests at least seven years away. Bowers’s husband, Bruce, almost stopped coaching girls’ soccer because of the win-at-all-costs attitude. Some other parent-coaches, he says, would spend weekends going to games to identify the top players so they could try to recruit them. “It really meant something to them to have the cream of the crop and win,” he says. “And this wasn’t travel soccer. This was when the girls were 7 or 8.”

There are always losers and the left behind because we live in a society that values the zero sum game. We don’t value the tie game or the appreciation of a good match. If there is no winner then the game isn’t worth much. But even that’s not enough.

As much as we love winners, we also like to watch others lose. If we can’t root for someone we can always root against someone. We create celebrities only to tear them down; we absorb an endless stream of negative political ads and have a sick pleasure in watching those with plenty lose it all.

There is a serious disconnect. Schools and companies require people to work in teams and to have the social skills to be effective with others. We know that cooperation guarantees a better outcome for all parties involved. A little bit of sacrifice for the good of the community and the state goes a long way towards balancing the scales of justice. But it means either not being at the top of the pecking order or at the very least delaying it.

Having less means more happiness and more time to be with each other rather than fearing someone stealing our stuff or our freedom. Cooperation requires discipline, patience, prudence, and all of the basic virtues of working hard for our own happiness and the happiness of others. Wouldn’t it be great to live not in fear but with a little more faith in humanity?

Maybe Howard Beale was right. Maybe all of us have to get mad as hell, together, and not sit by, idly accepting the toll of human life and dignity that the unfettered drive to win exacts on our society.

Tom Corbett’s Insult to Public Education

The development of an educated public must never be allowed to take a back seat to making short-term profits. With a longer view, it is clear that education is a source of economic growth and so much more. “What people know matters” (Hanushek & Woessmann, 2010, p. 251).

Sadly, despite the impact of education and libraries on society and the economy, states continue to cut their funding. The conservative cry for less government and more local control could not be a more hollow sentiment given the lack of attention to local control itself.

In Pennsylvania, education is simply not a high priority. Overall, education funding will be increased a mere 3.22% and not in areas that suggest lasting improvement. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has increased funding for “Ready to Learn Block Grants” that are designed to stimulate student outcomes at the elementary level. These grants would also support teacher training in order meet grant objectives. However, that is only one data point among many in a budget that either decreases or flattens funding on numerous other programs.

  • Community college funding is set to go down .38%
  • Higher education funding will remain flat for the third year in a row.
  • Job training programs are being cut out of the budget – that is 8.5 million in funding towards these programs!
  • Library access funding is set to decrease by more than 8%.
  • Public library subsidies are only getting a paltry .93% increase after no increases in three years.

This is like leaving an $.80 tip for a $25 dinner. If you ask any server, that’s an insult.

The library in my own community of State College, PA is closed this week. It is closed to save money. I wrote a letter to our legislators who are in support of these cuts. I have copied that letter below. To write your own letter, please visit the Schlow Library website.

Expect more closings of public services and cuts to education programs. To say that Tom Corbett and his supporters undervalue the public trust of education is a sad understatement.

Tell our state government to wake up and fund public libraries!

Public and civic education used to be a unique element of American liberty. The library has been at the center of American life with the college and the religious community. Yet funding education in all of its forms seems to be an afterthought in this state government.

While industry is important in many respects, once the gas is used up, the jobs will disappear again and towns will shut down all over Pennsylvania. The rich will take their money and run. Companies investing in Pennsylvania will go back to Houston and overseas fat and happy. It has happened before; it will happen again.

Freedom is not built on global industry; it is built on public knowledge and trust. When we stop funding public education and community development, of which libraries are a central resource, our liberty is clipped at the root. This begs the question: What kind of liberty do our representatives espouse? Shall we defend carrying guns rather than books? True freedom begins in the mind and not in the holster or the bank account.

I cannot count the number of kids I see with books at the library. People like reading and learning. It is empowering and baptizes the imaginations to push thinking and doing. The library is a place where communities can thrive. My kids love that place. We go and there to read, then walk in town grabbing some water ice at Rita’s, or walk up to the Creamery. It is part of our culture. We represent one family along many others in this town who enjoy that outlet on a regular basis.

Stop defunding education in all of its forms. Stop defunding community development and civic engagement. Give us back our libraries and support our schools. It is these investments that will build deeper roots into the economic and community soil of this state.

Not supporting the collective education of the community is a disgrace to this nation and to the very notion of liberty to which all Americans are entitled. It is our right.

Sincerely,
Andrew Tatusko, Ph.D.

http://shutdown.schlowlibrary.org/

Are Natural Scientists Smarter and Therefore, Less Religious?

 

According to one study, the answer is yes.

In a survey of IQ measures in “elite” institutions, researchers argue that physical scientists (biology, physics, chemistry, etc.) have overall higher IQ’s than their social scientist counterparts. They then argue that the kind of reasoning in physical science is superior because of its reduced emotional influence.

“[Physical] scientists are overwhelmingly atheist,” Dutton said. “This is predicted by their high IQ, which allows you to rise above emotion and see through the fallacious, emotional arguments.” Arguments about God are all emotional arguments, he added.

There are very obvious problems in the research. First, it focuses on a particular sample of scholars where even if the data is true, science demands the method be tested to see if the conclusions are even valid. Second, the use of IQ as a measure of intelligence is suspect. Numerous papers have been published arguing the validity of IQ as a measure of intelligence or aptitude.

Finally, the claim that arguments about God are all emotional is made with no evidence to support it. It is hard to imagine that massive works of logic and reasoning about God such as St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, or Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, or the centuries of theological thinking are all emotional in nature. In fact, at one point theology was called “the mother of all sciences.” Therefore, this assumption perhaps reveals a hidden agenda that is ironically rooted in emotion. Similarly, Richard Dawkins likens theology to the study of leprechauns and that it has no business as a university discipline.

Research probes the truth, no matter how uncomfortable. It may be true that scholars of physical science have high IQ’s. However, it is an unscientific stretch to say that their reasoning is superior and such superior reasoning is why they are correlated with atheism. Good science means that we cannot confuse a correlation with causation. Thus, the research conducted here is unscientific and shoddy at best.

I Don’t Want Your Sex in a Religious College

No place is too sacred for sex not to be a point of controversy and contention. It is one of the most acute areas of tension among people with differing ideas about who ought to have sex, who ought to have sex with who, when and where people ought to have sex, using prophylactics, and so on. Part of this has to do with the two outcomes of unprotected sex that are likely: pregnancy and disease.

Other areas of controversy come from religious sources. Once religion enters the picture moral imperatives are not simply part of the social consequence of sex, but come from a divine source that defines the very source and purpose of human life itself. You can’t up the ante on sex any greater than eternal perfection.

Enter Pacific Union College where psychology professor Aubyn S. Fulton taught taught ideas about intercourse and homosexuality that were on the edge of, if not fully outside of, the church’s teaching. This teaching has led to discussions between Fulton and the administration about losing his job. Pacific Union is a Seventh Day Adventist sponsored college that offers “an excellent Christ-centered education.” The Seventh-Day Adventist position on same-sex unions is uncompromisingly clear: “Homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world.” The position on pre-marital sex is just as clear: “Sexual intimacy outside of marriage is immoral and harmful.” Thus, the problem stems from Fulton’s personal position as confused with making student aware of the church’s position. The church here takes precedence over the individual given the mission of the college is one that builds awareness of the Seventh-Day Adventist understanding of a “Christ-centered education.”

There will always be a tension regarding religious doctrine and the academic freedom of the faculty in religiously affiliated colleges and universities. I argue that if there is no tension, then there can be no religiously affiliated college. In my dissertation I examined this tension both in the history of higher education and in the correlation of religious college mission statements, faculty handbooks, student handbooks, statements of faith, social contracts, etc. The interesting finding is that in almost all cases the religious college cited the tension with secularization as part of its mission. Further, the tension is also a source of identity for these colleges. Incidents such as these continue to make this tension apparent.

A private institution can circumscribe the boundaries of academic freedom as long as it is consistent with the institutional mission and the curriculum. Hence, accreditation is not an issue. Even colleges that are more strict in doctrine and faculty contracts than Pacific Union are accredited.

Maybe the prevailing question is at what point the religious college passes delivering a quality education to forming nothing but an indoctrination program. It is evident that the latter is falling out of its usefulness if religious education is to maintain any value at all in the world.

Being a Person, Having a Voice

Personhood is social, or it is nothing: “To be myself, I need you.” – Kallistos Ware of Diokleia

James Loder was my adviser and mentor at Princeton Seminary. His life’s work was to imagine how the Spirit of God grounded and transformed the human person – the human spirit. His radical vision was that the Spirit of God and the human spirit worked in a mysterious loop. It is in the intersection of the two spirits that human creativity is present and blossoms.

To be human is to be in a relationship. It is to have a face and to look upon others not with covetousness, jealousy, envy, pride and the like – but with charity and love. As we love others, we become more human. This is a theological lens for the experience of having that voice to speak the truth to others.

So we have here a boy with a learning disability. He is a person, but has no voice. But when the creative and self-transcendent truth of who he is in community with others blossoms, the blessings on those who gaze back at him are profound.

Each of us has a spirit. Each of us has a creative self always aching to be born new every day. When we experience our selves in the midst of others, we experience the truth of who we really are.

Overcoming My Learning Disabilities

Shortbus Lick Windows Wear HelmetOctober is Learning Disability Awareness Month. This is part of my story.

It was 1983. I will never forget my five years as one among many other sequestered kids stamped with the label of learning disabled.

When I was in 3rd grade my family was hanging on by a thread my mom did everything she could in her power to hold together.Problems in the family placed undue stress on us all.  We each had our own issues and found support for better or worse from different places. Developmentally, I did not have much of a choice for what kind of support I needed. The home was it.

Third grade was my education bottom. So depressed from the immense stress in my environment, I was admitted to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, DC. That was the beginning of 5 year of placement in a restrictive education environment. There I spent three months in residential care to regain footing in my delayed cognitive and social development.

If the reactions to stress are flight and fight, I flew. But I never flew away from anything. I flew inward. Shutting the world out with the walls of my imagination worked for a while. It was a cocoon. The strange thing about cocoons is that the caterpillar literally digests itself into a soup before it develops into a butterfly. Gross. But it’s a really good metaphor for my mental state at the time.

What I learned most was how to game the system. There were specific outcomes that had the reward of a less restrictive treatment. Once you hit the highest level which was “Unaccompanied walks” off the premises, you were just a step away from discharge. I could actually walk outside of the “yard” where we got to spend time in the sunlight and play games like at recess! Once I figured out how to game the system, I knew I could get out.

When I was discharged from that program, I spent the next year at a school called the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents (R.I.C.A.). The program lumped together all of us dysfunctional kids in one place separated only by age, or at least that’s the way it felt. Even at “P.I.” everyone was tossed together. For several years, I felt like a leper quarantined from the rest of society.

R.I.C.A. “mainstreamed” me to a “regular” elementary school for a few months before I was able to join that school full-time. However, even there I was in my own little classroom that looked the same as the other places. All of us special ed kids were again lumped together. On the scale of autism and dyslexia to depression and broken homes, we were all part of the same crew. We were visibly separated from the rest of the school in that little cloistered group. Outcasts, that was where I began to hear the terms “sped,” “retard,” and “stupid” among other things. My one goal was to get out.

Eventually, I was mainstreamed into the “regular” classes. That happened through middle school. I went to a middle school in Potomac, MD where the kids were far wealthier than us, so even there I felt different from everyone else. It wasn’t until 8th grade and out of that environment that I began to feel truly “normal,” or as normal as I could be.

I had a new home, new school, new friends, and a new start. From that point on I got better and better at just “doing school.”

Despite the fact that many of the procedures made me feel like an outcast during and for long after my treatment, something must have worked. I learned how to manipulate the system and as I later found out, I learned how to manipulate people. Was I better psychologically? I doubt it. I could hide more effectively and play the role of someone healthy even though I knew deep-down I was still a hot mess. Later in life, I was able to overcome and most of the scars have healed.

I recently completed a doctoral degree in a program for which I earned a 4.0 GPA. I earned two master’s degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, one of which I received a Fellowship for thesis work and the other I received a full academic scholarship. I graduated college with a 3.0 and made the Dean’s list twice.

These were all statistically rare achievements for someone with mental and learning disabilities such as mine.

I say that not because I am special, but that it can be done.