Because life is a series of edits

Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

Providence Hall’s Dickens Symposium

In Books, Education, Family, Oklahoma City, Thought, Young Ones on October 29, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Our friends at Providence Hall Classical Christian School have put together an exciting celebration of author Charles Dickens and "his inimitable legacy." Mark your calendars!

Dickens Poster Small

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Sacramental Science

In Educators, Pedagogy, Teachers, Veritas on October 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm


Bill Smiling


Bill Fix is a retired science teacher who taught 26 years at Norman High. But it wasn't until he attended our Constructing the Vision banquet this past March that he finally had the language to name his classical education tendencies.

"A Veritas staff member invited me to attend the banquet and I was so glad I did," he recalls. "I was blown away listening to Susan Wise Bauer describe classical education's grammar, logic, and rhetoric progression, as it was exactly the way I always tried to think about and teach science. I was inspired."


Janet and Bill

So inspired, in fact, that he agreed to sit in with me (Craig) in the spring as I interviewed applicants for our vacant Upper School science positions. We also got together periodically during the summer to discuss longer-term plans for more solidly developing our entire school science curriculum in conjunction with Academic Dean Todd Wedel and our curriculum mapping team.

A member at Wildwood Community Church in Norman, Bill gets what we're trying to do through classical Christian education, and he has the expertise and experience to help us do it across the sciences.


Bill Explaining

"The way to learn science is to do science," says Bill. "The experiment
is the focus at the beginning, not the tag-along at the end. If we're
going to get students talking about science, they have to have
content to talk about. The experiments are the database from which they
can draw."

This lines up well with our desire at Veritas to do what one of our board members has called "sacramental science" – a hands-on approach to the study of the general, physical, and earth sciences, as well as to our biology, chemistry, and physics courses.


To that end, just yesterday Bill stopped by to drop off nine boxes – nine boxes! – of
scientific instruments and glassware he had rounded up free of charge
for Veritas. He also sat in on two of our science classes before joining
our juniors and co-teaching Chemistry. I'm honestly not sure who had
more fun – our Veritas students or Bill.


Science Toys 1


Science Toys 2

In a conversation about deeper goals for our Pre-K through 12th grade curriculum, I asked Bill for his perspective as to what a student and teacher of the sciences should look like. As he is wont to do, he paused before answering, then offered this:

"I want to see students learn and demonstrate good
observational skills and ways of going about, sorting, and synthesizing
data and systems. The science teacher's job is not to be the source
of information, but the guide through the unknown."

Which is why I've asked Bill to serve as a mentor for us in the area of the sciences. I'm excited to see where he guides our students and teachers as they explore God's world.

Guest Post: Believing That We May Understand

In Educators, Teachers on October 16, 2012 at 9:39 am


Spears, Josh(Veritas Classical Academy Upper School teacher Josh Spears is a trained philosopher and logician, adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, husband to Kirsten, and father to three boys. His guest post is a great example of how he helps his boys think critically about the supposed dichotomy between knowledge and faith.)

"Man
shall not live by bread alone,
but
by every word that proceeds
from the mouth of God
."
Jesus, Matthew 4:3

"I've seen it done, but I'd like to have a little more
scientific backing before I risk my own feet."
Grant Imahara, Mythbuster

Veritas is
committed to helping students understand God’s world and His Word. This commitment to education involves
affording opportunities to students for growth in knowledge, understanding and
wisdom and faith, hope and love. 

This desire to
combine faith and knowledge makes Veritas unique in a culture that attempts to
drive a wedge between those two. Richard
Dawkins
, for example, carelessly defines faith as "believing what you know
ain’t so." In a slight improvement, faith
is sometimes taken to be what’s left over when knowledge goes as far as it
can. Still another definition of faith takes
it to be a blind leap in the dark.

In each of these
definitions, faith and knowledge are taken to be distinct. So distinct, in fact, that having both at the
same time is impossible. Thus, the
believer faces a choice: it’s either knowledge or faith. Unfortunately, many Christians have accepted
(and initiated) definitions of faith like those above. They have bought in to the false choice and
opted to pit faith against knowledge. Christians,
however, ought to reject this choice between faith and knowledge is a false one. We needn’t choose between having faith and
having knowledge. In fact, true knowledge
involves true faith, a point that came home on a recent foray into one of my family's
favorite shows. 

My family and I
often re-watch Mythbusters and we
found in the "Fire Walking" episode a powerful example of true faith’s relation
to true knowledge. If you’re unfamiliar with Mythbusters, it’s a Discovery
Channel
show that applies the scientific method to various myths in an attempt
to determine whether the myth is true or false (I’ll flee the temptation
to digress into a discussion of true nature of myth).

In this episode, three Mythbusters – Carie,
Grant, and Tori – explore whether it takes being in a trance to master walking
barefoot on hot coals heated to more than 1,000 degrees. To test the myth, the three travel to meet a fire walking guru who trains others to walk across glowing
coals and, having spent time with him, they then spend an entire evening
watching a dozen men and women make the walk unscathed. 

With the
evidence of an authoritative instructor, the evidence of the testimony of the
coal-walkers, and the evidence of senses, Grant has a fascinating reaction. Watch this two-minute summary to see what I mean:


Despite having that evidence, he won’t step
out onto the coals.What more could he
want? Grant says that he wants to see
the science. He won’t believe until he
sees. So, he and the others spend time
making life-like feet out of rubber, running experiments on the physics of heat
transfer, and covering all their scientific bases.

So, now Grant
has the evidence of science to go with the previous evidence gained at the fire
walking demonstration. But it’s here
that things truly get interesting. It’s
most interesting that even after he has the science, Grant still doesn’t have
knowledge. Grant is looking for a
certainty – a certainty that fire walking is safe. He looks for this certainty in science, or
better, he thinks he’s looking for
certainty in science.

The trouble is
that science cannot provide the certainty necessary to drive the wedge between
knowledge and faith. Having the date is not the same thing as actually
stepping out on the coals. It is not
knowledge until feet touch heat. Grant
must literally step out in faith. Science and senses, testimony and training can only go so far. In the end, it takes that first step and that
first step is nothing less than faith. So, science and knowledge require action and acting requires faith. Grant lives by faith as much as any believer
does.

What all this
gives us is a beautiful picture of biblical faith. Faith is another way of
knowing that which is built on solid evidence. God does not call us to follow him without knowledge; he doesn’t ask us
to fling ourselves off a cliff in a desperate hope that something is there on
the other side. Faith is essentially
trust – trust that God will continue to
keep his promises, trust that the
promise-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be my promise-keeping God. I
see and study his work in His world and Word and step out with him in trust on that basis. He’s given me all the reason I need to trust
him, but until I actually live that out, I have neither faith nor
knowledge. 

We must
continue to combine faith and knowledge at Veritas and remain committed to training students
to live out Augustine’s maxim, "I believe
that I may understand."
There need not be a dichotomy between knowledge and faith; God has provided each to lead to the other…and both to lead to Him.

Tech Talk

In Internet, Technology, Thought on October 15, 2012 at 9:25 am

I haven't watched Saturday Night Live in probably 12 years, but I came across this clip and was surprised by both how funny and sociologically spot on it is.

Reunion Blogging

In Marriage, Places, Pop Culture, Thought on October 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm

So last night was the twentieth-year reunion for Megan's high school class of 1992. Seeing as how I grew up in a town where a good percentage of the class gets together every weekend at The Bucket anyway, I'm not much for the whole reunion gig. Still, I went and ended up posting these updates for anyone who enjoys such things more than I.

6:43 pm: In Owasso for @MeganDunham's twenty year high school reunion. I'll be the one spiking the punch and dancing on tables.

7:40 pm: Arrived at reunion w/ worst of rain – clothes
drenched. Good news: someone just turned on disco ball by flipping
"atmosphere" switch. #phew

7:42 pm: Third Bryan Adams song in 25 minutes. Long live 1992. #reunionliveblogging

7:48 pm: Can't handle pressure of accompanying former Miss Owasso High School (@MeganDunham) to reunion. Room spinning; must sit down.

8:05 pm: Food disappointment: promised "heavy hors
d'oeuvres" turns out to be something in crock pot, plate of Ritz
crackers. #reunionliveblogging

8:08 pm: Still dripping from deluge outside. Hoping party pic gal has "Anti-Wet Rat" filter in Photoshop. #reunionliveblogging

8:16 pm: That awkward moment when the reunion emcee
tries to yell over the crowd and forgets that the Best of the Early 90s
CD is still playing.

8:21 pm: That awkward moment when emcee instructs everyone in attendance to vote for sexiest male/female present. #reunionliveblogging

Soiree
8:33 pm:
The scene of the crime…a step up from The Bucket in Griggsville (but only a step).

8:49 pm: Can't remember the last time I was around this many 38-year-olds all in one room. #reunionliveblogging

8:58 pm: Almost two hours into inane conversation. Bring on Wayne's World imitations, Kurt Cobain lip sync contest. #reunionliveblogging

Queen and Court
9:02 pm: Former Miss Owasso High School and her court (actually these were just people at our table – I have no idea who they are).

9:12 pm: Program highlight of evening so far: 1992
yearbook. I honestly can't remember the last time I had this kind of
fun. #reunionliveblogging

9:16 pm: Finally: someone remembered an hour-and-a-half after turning it off for the drunk emcee that there had been music in 1992.

Joe Don
9:19 pm: Had absolutely no idea that Megan had gone to school with a young Joe Don Baker. #reunionliveblogging

9:33 pm: Pseudo-theological reunion thought: glad we're
going to have work to do in new heavens, new earth. I couldn't take an
eternity of mingling.

9:43 pm: Possibly most unfortunate thing of the
evening: only being able to make out bass line (and nothing more) to
Prince's "Purple Rain." #sad

10:24 pm: Drunk emcee nowhere to be found, so party
over. Probably catch pneumonia from three hours of sitting in wet
clothes. Thanks for reading.

Desiring the Kingdom (First Quarter Review)

In Books, Educators, Teachers, Veritas on October 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

A former teaching colleague (and current friend) of mine is using Desiring the Kingdom as a key text for his Christian educational ministries degree. He asked if he could send me a few questions detailing my experience with James K.A. Smith's book and its impact on our first quarter of school (to revisit my favorite quotations from each chapter of Desiring the Kingdom, visit one of these summer posts: Intro, 1.1, 1.2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.). Here's what I wrote back:

Can
you briefly explain the format that you went about discussing Desiring the
Kingdom together?

We used Desiring the Kingdom as a framework to
work through discussions on classical education in theory and practice, as well
as across schools (i.e. Grammar and Upper). Through this lens, we processed
together thoughts and perspectives from the ACCS conference in Dallas, updated and
continued work on our Curriculum Mapping initiative, interacted over and
continued working out our trans-denominational perspective, reviewed and
renewed our commitment to each other through the relational covenant,
implemented new and creative ways to blend our classical Christian model of
education, engaged in planning first day habits and liturgies, learned about
and practiced teaching to different learning styles, discussed important
educational mechanics like workload evaluation, grading standards, lesson
planning, and school systems, and helped prepare staff for their part of our
WISE (Walking in Step Educationally) Parent Training Conferences in August.

After
discussing DTK, what did you sense was the overall response of the faculty to
what James K. A. Smith is proposing? What
aspects of Smith’s argument were most popular with the faculty? What
were the critiques and did you have any significant pushback?

Smith’s perspective on ritual and liturgy
were huge for our staff, particularly for those who had not considered either
as being more everyday than every week (i.e. Sunday at church). This emphasis
and language was important for our school as it gave the teachers both
rationale and words for why we try to do what we do, whether it be Grammar
school students walking in lines or Upper school students sitting meditatively
in RISE (our morning assembly).

The most
significant pushback had more to do with staff (particularly in the Grammar
school) feeling it was a tough read. Some of these same staff felt Smith
negatively overreacted to the ideas of capitalism, patriotism, and our nation’s Christian
heritage.


Smith’s
writing is pretty philosophical, heady. How did you go about putting hands and
feet on his proposals?

One key to this was
the assembly of a study guide by our theology/philosophy teacher. Another was allotting
plenty of time during orientation (and in more informal conversations) during
which the book and its contents were the main topic of discussion. We spent a
good amount of time in the book’s introduction (which is really sufficient in
many ways as a summary of the book).

What
parts of the book did you think spoke directly to the VCA community?

Again, the ritual
and liturgy emphasis was important, as was the Smith’s succinct statement that
true Christian education should be about shaping what students love more than
what they know. Historically, this has been the desire of the board for the
school, but I wouldn’t say the language for this was as clear in the minds and
hearts of the staff as Smith’s brief statement; however, once unleashed, there
seemed to be quite an “a-ha” moment across all grades as to what we were after
(and what we weren’t).


Which
parts were particularly meaningful or important for you as the Head of School?

For me, Smith’s book was a powerful validation of much of
what I have always believed about Christian education (classical or otherwise),
summarized with great depth. The fact that our theology/philosophy teacher
recommended the book to me with the words, “I think you’ll like this because
it’s what I hear you saying” meant a lot and unintentionally loaned me some
borrowed credibility in the eyes of the staff. As a second-year Head of School,
this has been immeasurably helpful in at least giving me confidence that, while
I’m continuing to solidify my educational philosophies and perspective, I’m
perhaps not just making this stuff up out of thin air.


In
this first quarter of the school year, where have you seen evidence of your
discussion bearing fruit in the lives/work of your faculty, parents, and
students?

As we have a good amount of new staff (some brand new to
teaching), I feel our time in Desiring
the Kingdom
has been particularly helpful in getting them off on the right
foot. While the majority of our teachers (new or veteran) wrestle on a weekly
basis with what classical Christian education looks like in their classes, I
think we’re newly aware of what it doesn’t look like as a result of our reading
the book.

This brings clarity to our efforts and bolsters confidence in our
attempts to train parents and students in a more character-focused,
virtues-driven education as opposed to one more competency-focused and
values-driven. Reading the book through the summer, training through its
presuppositions during staff orientation, and then implementing and applying
these ideas face-to-face by utilizing our teachers as the main presenters at
our two-day parent orientations got all of us off to as good a start as I would
have hoped. Still, there’s plenty of opportunity to revisit and review Desiring the Kingdom, as old educational
habits for all involved tend to die hard.

The Power of Observation

In Educators on October 7, 2012 at 10:13 am

A few weeks ago, Megan and I played brunch hosts to a young woman
from our church who is finishing up her education
degree at a local university. She is six weeks into her student teaching at a
local public high school and her experience has been anything but positive, not
so much because of the students, but because she feels very, very alone. Her
"mentor" teacher is anything but, and her education professor has
basically stated that this loneliness is good training for what the "real
world" of teaching is.

To make things worse, the principal at her school
doesn't know her name, and she's not even sure he knows she's there. My heart broke for her. I really don't want this to be the case
for our teachers – new or returning – at Veritas.

With this in mind (and as we do every year),
Grammar School principals Ann Taylor, Todd Wedel and I have been investing the
past few weeks in our Veritas classrooms. We started by observing our new
teachers, and are now in the process of evaluating our returning teachers by
way of a formal evaluation, during which we sit in on an entire class period to
observe and take notes. We then write a 2-3 page narrative of each teacher's
class and how he or she proceeded with students through the lesson for that day
according to our vision, mission, and teacher job description

Following the observation (sometimes immediately after), we
write up our thoughts and email them to the teacher. We then get together with
the teacher at his or her earliest convenience to walk and talk through the
narrative, share a few observations and process questions together. Then, if all seems good and right, we'll both
sign the report, make the teacher a copy, and the original goes in the
teacher's personnel file for reference. I'm happy to report (and as many of our
parents keep telling me), we're blessed to have the teachers we do! 

We'll repeat a similar process more formally in the spring, with
all three principals observing each teacher. For now, though, we're on track to
finish our fall evaluations by Fall Break (which was our goal), and from here
will continue to interact and process with teachers in conversation and as
challenges and opportunities arise, as well as in our monthly staff meetings
(one of which we had yesterday). It's always an enjoyable and important
process. 

Note: Earlier this week and at my suggestion, the young woman I
mentioned at the beginning of the story arranged for me to come observe her
teaching a class at her public school. After writing her evaluation and
processing through it with her afterward, I've got my eye on her as a possible
future Veritas teacher!

Redeeming Baseball

In Calling, Places & Spaces, Sports on October 6, 2012 at 4:08 am

Regarding the ridiculously ruled infield fly in the eighth inning of last night's MLB Wildcard game between the Braves and the Cardinals, here's what I wish would have happened:

As Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is (rightly) arguing the call with the umpires and Braves fans are (wrongly) revving up to throw whatever they can get their hands on out on the field in protest, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny calmly walks out on the field to join the discussion with the men in black.

Listening for a moment to the "discussion" (if that's what you want to call the heated dialogue that goes on between managers and umpires over a blown call), Matheny puts his hands up to quiet both sides, suggests that the call was way out of line and should be reversed, and actually argues for loading the bases for the Braves and charging an error to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (for that's what it so painfully was) before walking calmly back to the dugout to finish managing the game.

Atlanta fans are dumbfounded as they drop the bottles and trash from their hands and have a seat. Cardinal fans are proud, for any one of "the smartest fans in baseball" can recognize how horribly wrong the call is. In addition to growing his reputation for having a fine mind for baseball, Matheny demonstrates his heart for justice as well. Best of all, the game goes on without some silly twenty minute delay (and a slew of protest for days to come), and regardless of who wins, baseball comes out the winner.

Wouldn't that have been classy and inspiring? Beautiful, even?

Atlanta's retiring living legend, Chipper Jones, whose fourth-inning error on what should have been a standard 5-4-1 double-play that was really the beginning of the end for the Braves, gave his typical try at class in his post-game interview:

"Ultimately, I think that when we look back on this loss, we need to
look at ourselves in the mirror. We put ourselves in that predicament. … [So]
I'm not willing to say that that particular call cost us the ballgame.
Ultimately, three errors cost us the ballgame, mine probably being the
biggest."

Jones admirably took responsibility, but for redemption to happen, it has to cost somebody something, and the Cardinals were the only ones in the position to pay up.

I don't blame Matheny for not doing so (no other manager in baseball would have); I just wish he did. That's how baseball could have been redeemed last night.

That's what I wish would have happened.