Art of Persistence

"The art of love ... is largely the art of persistence." -Albert Ellis

Friday, May 25, 2007

Grading Tests

Arrggghhhh!!!!! I hate grading papers!

Every Summer my course load drops. So this year I decided to pick up some extra income by grading papers at the University where I'm pursuing my Master's degree in Math. What was I thinking?

It's the first test of the second semester calculus class, so many of the questions are review from Calc I. Not just some, but most of the students have no idea what they're doing. On the simple, point-for-the-taking questions, they have no clue. Why are they even in this class? They don't seem to care about learning the material. They don't seem to care about developing good work or study habits. They just want their degrees and their good paying jobs.

I see this same attitude in some of my students at the community college where I teach. But the math department at the CC has a strict grading scale; if students want to pass they have to learn the material. The same is not the case at the U. Students know that all they have to do is get higher scores than half the class and they'll get a C. It's common knowledge that any professor who flunks more than half of their class will draw the ire of parents desperate to protect their children from the consequences of their inactions. So the kids aren't stupid. It's socially acceptable, even cool, to hate math. They'd rather do something besides study. So they slack off and cross their fingers that half the class is more clueless than they are.

I talk to the old-timers and see that this trend has been going on for a while (I'll post the paper with the hard data as soon as I find it). The schools lower their standards to avoid parental complaints, and the students respond by lowering their standards even further. This should have been predictable when you've got a large percentage of students who are only interested in squeaking by with a C. How bad will it get before anything is done about it? If we take the public school system for an example, pretty bad.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Axe That Felled Frosty the First

If you've been missing an ax since '67, we want to talk to you.

What happened to the first Mr. Snowman? How did Cousin Jimmy come to be in position of the felonious ax? Click on the Snowman label below the photo to see all posts related to the story of Mr. Snowman and the second Mr. Snowman.

My Imaginary Friend (IF) tells me that he's tired of this story. I've asked him to start his own blog and show me the right way to do it. I'll link to his blog IF he ever starts one.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Emperor Claudius on Immigration

Well, not really. I found this passage in I, Claudius by Robert Graves and my mind immediately went to some of the complaints I hear about all of the illegal immigrants coming here with their Spanish and Papism.

Augustus did all he could by legislation to encourage marriage among men of family. The Empire was very big and needed more officials and senior army officers than the nobility and gentry were able to supply, in spite of constant recruiting to their ranks from the populace. When there were complaints from men of family about the vulgarity of these newcomers, Augustus used to answer testily that he chose the least vulgar he could find. The remedy was in their own hands, he said: every man and woman of rank should marry young and breed as large a family as possible.

The importance of birth-rates is not very often addressed in history books, but it should be. One of the major reasons for the fall of Rome was the low birth rate. One of the reasons that American Independence was inevitable was the high birth rate in the colonies. Examples can be found from the fall of the Mycenaean civilization to the coming Islamic takeover of Europe. Democracy, Freedom of Religion, Peaceful Transfer of Power.... Say, "Goodbye to All That."

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Monday, May 14, 2007

The Mormons Again

My Imaginary Friend (who refuses to post comments) says that my post on that PBS documentary on Mormonism makes it sound as if I've gone all relativist on him. "Not at all, IF," I reply. "I believe that the Orthodox Christian Faith is objectively true. But most people in this world have no experience of Orthodox Christianity or Orthodox Christians. How, then, can we say they've rejected that Faith? How can we say that God refuses to shed even a sliver of his grace on them? Calm down, IF, and live your faith, rather than getting all worked up about which label to attach to Mormons. Focus on what you are, sinner-boy."

I read a forgettable article over at beliefNet about whether Mormons are a cult or Christian or what-not. The replies saddened me. They were either of the venomous kind, or the sappy, sentimentalist, as-long-as-we-mean-well-aren't-we-all-Christians variety. It's abundantly clear that without grounding in a tradition that consists of something more than just protesting your Daddy's Christianity, those who claim to be Christians are lost when it comes to matters of doctrine. Those who say that doctrine isn't relevant really mean that it isn't fun.

Then I found this post from somebody who knows what's what and expressed it quite concisely. Nicely said, Grace.

BTW, I'd have no problem voting for a Mormon for President if I could find one that I could trust to be consistently Pro-Life (among other things).

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Book Recommendation

It proved impossible to select quotes from Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather, to give a feel for the book. Indeed, the first half of the book was interesting enough for me to keep reading, never paced slowly enough for me to even consider quitting it or call it boring. Yet a few times I wondered why it made Al Kresta's list of edifying literature, or why it was considered a masterpiece of American literature. But, in the second half of the book, I came across a passage that would move me so much that I thought, "Wow! I've got to put this passage in my post." Then I'd go back and re-read the section and realize that I'd have to write a lot of background to put the passage in context enough so that my intrepid readers would be able to see what made that quote noteworthy. Then the same thing happened with the next passage that I wanted to quote, and the next, and the next.

After I read the last line I closed the book and just sat still basking in it, "Wow! That was beautiful."

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Behr on Scripture and Tradition

Father Stephen over at Glory to God for All Things pointed out this article, so I thought I would too as it's very good. Also interesting to note the different things that will jump out at two individuals when they read the same text. These are the quotes that popped out at me.

"It is not that the bishops, instituted by the apostles (who are not thought of as the first bishops, as they would be by Cyprian), automatically preserved the tradition of the apostles -- the Gospel which the apostles delivered -- but that they are bishops of the Church only to the extent that they do so, for the Church is founded upon the Gospel."


"If tradition is essentially the right interpretation of Scripture, then it cannot change -- and this means, it can neither grow nor develop. A tradition with a potential for growth ultimately undermines the Gospel itself -- it leaves open the possibility for further revelation, and therefore the Gospel would no longer be sure and certain. If our faith is one and the same as that of the apostles, then, as Irenaeus claimed, it is equally immune from improvement by articulate or speculative thinkers as well as from diminution by inarticulate believers...."

"From an Orthodox perspective, there simply is, therefore, no such thing as dogmatic development. What there is, of course, is ever new, more detailed and comprehensive explanations elaborated in defense of one and the same faith -- responding, each time, to a particular context, a particular controversy etc. But it is one and the same faith that has been believed from the beginning -- the continuity of the correct interpretation of Scripture. And for this reason, the Councils, as Fr. John Meyendorff pointed out [2], never formally endorsed any aspect of theology as dogma which is not a direct (and correct) interpretation of the history of God described in Scripture: only those aspects were defined as dogma which pertain directly to the Gospel. So, for instance, the only aspect pertaining to the Virgin Mary that was ever recognized as dogma is that she is Theotokos -- "Mother of God" -- for she gave birth to our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ -- it is something which pertains to the Incarnation, rather than to Mary herself. Whilst individual theologians have speculated about other aspects concerning the Virgin herself, and her glorification, items not directly pertaining to the Gospel of Christ's work of salvation, such as the Assumption and the Immaculate conception, have never been held to have the status of dogma in the Orthodox Church."

You can find the whole article here. Let me know what pops out at you.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Like Me

I've just spent most of a week hanging out with my 5 year old nephew, aka The Boy. And he taught me something about my relationship with God. Well, not so much taught, let's say he provided the raw material for an epiphany.
  • "Was I good? Do I get a treat?"
  • "You're strong, but I'm stronger than you."
  • "You're smart, but I'm smarter than you."
  • "Things aren't going the way I want, so I'll just cry until you give in."
No, these aren't things the boy said this week. They're what I tell God a hundred times a day in my own nuanced, adult way. I've realized that I haven't really grown up; I've just learned to hide my childishness and selfishness, to put a veneer on it, to make it socially acceptable.

If I were really mature, spiritually mature, I would find enough joy in doing the will of God that I wouldn't always be looking for the adult version of a Shetland pony as a reward. If I were really mature, I would rest in the knowledge that God knows what's best for me and that he has the power to bring it about. Instead, I make myself sick with worry then get angry at God for allowing my illness. And how many of my tears are from legitimate pain as opposed to tears as a means of manipulating the All-Mighty? I suspect I would be dismayed if I knew the answer to that question.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Response to a Friend (3)

I found an article that says some of the things that I've only begun to think about in my two previous Responses to a Friend. It's David B. Hart's review of Daniel Dennet's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. It seemed to be a good next step in this series.

For one thing, it does not logically follow that, simply because religion as such is a natural phenomenon, it cannot become the vehicle of divine truth, or that it is not in some sense oriented toward a transcendent reality. To imagine that it does so follow is to fall prey to a version of the genetic fallacy, the belief that one need only determine the causal sequence by which something comes into being in order to understand its nature, meaning, content, uses, or value. For another thing, no one believes in religion. Christians, for instance, believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and is now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, present to his Church as its Lord. This claim is at once historical and spiritual, and has given rise to an immense diversity of natural expressions: moral, artistic, philosophical, social, legal, and (of course) religious. Regarding "religion" as such, though, it is in keeping with theological tradition to see it as something common to all societies, many of whose manifestations are violent, idiotic, despotic, superstitious, amoral, degrading, and false. The most one can say about religion in the abstract is that it gives ambiguous expression to what Christian tradition calls the "natural desire for God," and to a human openness to spiritual truth, revelation, or grace.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Why I Teach

This is the week I get paid. No, there have been other weeks this semester when the college where I work has deposited money in my bank account. But this is finals week, when I receive the biggest payment of intangibles; this week, more than any other, is when I'm reminded why I love teaching.

Finals week payments have included:
  • "This is the best grade I've ever gotten in a math class!"
  • "You and prime factorization been such a blessing to me." [Such august company!]
  • "I learned more this semester than I learned all through high school."
  • And the always popular, "What are you teaching next semester?"
Now, I'm not trying to convince others that they should go into teaching. It is mostly a thankless job with a lot of frustrations (even at the college level), and low pay (especially at the college level). When the next semester starts in a couple of weeks, I know I'll have full classes the first week. The second week those who are just there to meet their welfare requirements or get student aid (return the textbooks and keep the money) will stop showing up forever. Others will slowly realize that this is no longer high school, so attendance isn't compulsory and they'll slowly fade from view.

Before the first test I'll hear disappointment if I don't tell them exactly what's on the test. And that ever-present, thoughtful, oh-so-helpful test prep question will make its first appearance for the semester. "How many questions will be on the test?" Followed by my equally helpful answer: "All of 'em."

After the first test I'll get a wave of requests to take the test late because Grandma just died (always Grandma) or the kids had to be rushed to the hospital. I used to ask for documentation in these cases, which I never got. But I've found that the path of least resistance is simply to offer my sympathies and ask them to make arrangements to take the test in another class before the absolute deadline, only about one in ten will follow through. The first test also brings a drop in attendance from those students who didn't take me seriously about the amount of time needed to succeed in math. Then in math classes there are the ubiquitous whines, "Do we have to do it this way?" And my response is, "No. They'll be offering this course again next semester."

Some of my classes start out with a review that lasts a couple of weeks. There are students in these classes who complain about being bored, then don't show up again until the first test, which they barely pass. Feeling they've hit on a good plan, they disappear for four weeks until test 2, which they fail with breath-taking displays of ignorance. Then I'll never see them again.

The week before finals brings another surge of e-mails from students who've missed more classes than they've made, neglected the on-line homework and quizzes and suddenly realize that they're going to fail. Will I kindly unlock their late assignments so that they can finish them? No. "But that's not fair. After all, I decided to care at the last minute."

But, as with so many things in life, if you choose to focus on the negative, the only success you'll have is in making yourself miserable. I choose to dwell on those students who've really worked hard to succeed in class. And all of my complaints pail when compared with the joy of seeing a student who has done well in a math class for the first time since elementary school, or made great progress with math anxiety or test anxiety. When I see them around the campus next semester (whether they've got me for a teacher or not) I see them standing straighter, their heads held higher.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wright Sets Scholars Straight about the Bible

"Jesus literally staked His life on His belief that when Israel's God returned to Zion, it would be neither with a flash of lightning nor like Ezekiel's whirling wheels coming back through the desert; it would look like a young prophet riding on a donkey over the Mount of Olives in tears."

-N.T. Wright

You can find the whole article here.


PBS Documentary on the Mormons

My ol' Ball of Twine ("Ball and Chain" if 'twere an unhappy marriage) had us watching this documentary over the last couple of nights. And it got me thinking. Now, I'm not doubting my own beliefs or even wanting to call Mormons "Christians" (they have rejected too much of classical Christian teaching for that). But I found it interesting to recall that all the Mormons I've known were really nice people and good neighbors. Then I recalled my Wife's Muslim friends who are more christian than a lot of Christians I know (if you catch my drift). And I started wondering, how much of this goodness and kindness are natural results of following their religion? And how many of these desirable characteristics are the result of the graciousness of God - his willingness to meet us no matter how faulty our matrix of how to understand our experience of Him? How could somebody study the difference between the two factors?

Your input is welcome.