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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Texas Education and My Broken Heart

I've just started working as a lab instructor at McLennan Community College's Mathematics Lab. That means I assist MCC students with a wide range of mathematics, from remedial arithmetic all the way to differential equations and statistics. The most difficult transition that I have had to make has been to understand and function within the realm of public education. The last time I attended or was connected to a state-sponsored school was in May of 2000 when I graduated from West Feliciana High School. Since then I have been well protected within the Baptist Bubbles of Mississippi College and Baylor University.
Now, however, things are entirely different. Instead of the Mercedes commercial that is the Baylor parking garage, I leave my little Honda in a lot full of older makes and models, many looking like they might not last the semester. The people I assist are not trust fund babies, nor do they have parents footing the relatively affordable bill of Texas public education. Instead these students are paying their own way, usually with families in tow. This is far, far away from the security and homogeneity of the Baptist Bubble, where most of the students are white, Christian, affluent people with careers well mapped out before them. Here the future is not so secure; here the gleaming halls and polished floors are tarnished with the realities of life in America.
The education is more for me, I think. I understand that I am now a resource for the Mathematics Department, and that I am participating in the overall goal of MCC to educate all who come, preparing them for work and life. I also understand, however, that these students are educating me in the ways of life outside the Bubble.
These students share some common characteristics, though, and one such trait is especially troubling to me. It is no small thing that many are in remedial mathematics, nor is it a laughable thing that many do not possess the prerequisite skills for higher education and training. However, I have found in my years in Texas and in my days at MCC that this school is not filled with lazy, complaining, and less-intelligent students. Instead, this lab is filled with students who are living the consequences of a broken public education system in this state and nation at large. I have neither the time now, nor have I done the appropriate research to argue my opinion yet, however, I think it is painfully obvious that many many children in Texas are being left behind. How ironic given the Act's author.
My heart aches for these bright, hard-working students who have underachieved because they have not had achievement placed before them. They have been given up on because of race, class, or perhaps even geography. Such is a damnable and detestable offense from any perspective except that of a racist and segregationist society. This must change, and it must change soon. Regardless of Acts of Congress or national achievement standards, too many are being cast aside as failures. Would it take more compassionate teachers? Yes, says Marvin Olasky. Would it take civil engineering and city planning? Yes, says Susan Eaton. The solution to the problem of Texas education is great and daunting, perhaps only outweighed by the mountain of humanity who do not even know that they have been cheated out of a necessary commodity; knowledge.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Riesel is a wonderful community, demonstrating small-town characteristics while being driven to growth and prosperity by its larger neighbors. These characteristics are considered old-world or passé by some, but it is apparent that there is something different about the people of our town. In days long passed the two central institutions in the community were the schools and the church. Although this is no longer the case in many cities across our land, I believe that Riesel still retains something of this duo-centric nature, and that nature makes our home all the more valuable.
A case in point occurred last Friday night amongst the Homecoming festivities. While at the football game the church had an opportunity to participate in one of the most important social events of the year; it was a time when members of every congregation and no congregation could stand side by side and support the young people of our community. I had the great pleasure of cheering next to Mr. Ackley, who has demonstrated remarkable leadership and report among the students. In no time he had organized a cheering section and united students of disparate ages and attitudes into one unit. Immediately after the game our church hosted 5th quarter for all Junior High and High School students. Just like the student section at the game, youth from all traditions gathered together under one roof and worshipped God together.
There was no need in all of this for an orientation or a transition; the people of this community easily made the shift from one cultural center to another. The students and adults alike retain the sure knowledge that at the heart of this town stand the schools and the church, the two most necessary institutions of our day.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

“’I desire mercy rather than sacrifice’ declares the Lord.” I have a hard time understanding what exactly that means sometimes. So often in Scripture we see the Lord acting in such a merciful way, demonstrating that the manner in which we act toward one another is at least as important as the manner in which we act toward God. However, rarely do we live that teaching out. It is much easier to ‘sacrifice’ to the Lord than to show genuine mercy to one another. Instead of reaching out to those people around us we would rather reach our hands up to God. Instead of becoming a blessing to one another we have our hands out looking for a blessing from God. Such is not the heart of the Gospel; we are to be purveyors of mercy.
Recently I have been increasingly disheartened by the conflict surrounding Southwestern Seminary’s new “Homemaking” degree. The press is having a heyday making Baptists out to be backward, ultra-conservative oppressors who see a woman’s role (especially that of a preacher’s wife) as being in the home exclusively. Whoever is right in this matter is irrelevant at this point. Instead of the vitriolic commentary being offered up by preachers and pundits alike, what the church needs to demonstrate is mercy. Yes, I understand that this is a hot-button issue for some in our churches, but consider its importance next to our imperative to live merciful lives!
Whether it is some exclusively Baptist issue or a local disagreement between two people, let us, the people of God, be known for living lives full of mercy toward one another. Then, and only then, can we understand what our Lord meant in his call for mercy over sacrifice.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Grace has been on my mind a lot lately. Random acts of a gracious nature abound when we look for them, especially when the people of God are in step with His plan. But I was wondering about the connection between acts of Grace and acts of Kindness. Both are certainly virtues of the human spirit, but I have to think that there is something fundamentally distinct about each one. For instance, does it mean the same thing to say that God’s kindness is what saves us from our destiny of sin? I think not. Rather, there is something peculiar about grace; it is not kindness but something else. Whereas kindness is thought of in terms of common human decency, grace seems to be more powerful, more intimate and more authentic than some random act of kindness.
Grace is indeed a two-edged sword. As the classic hymn goes “twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” Grace causes fear and trembling? Yes, because it is grace that makes us aware of our sins, and it is grace that demonstrates just how unholy we are in the presence of a holy God. At the moment that grace enters our minds and hearts it does two things: it first convicts us of the depraved lives that we have been living apart from God’s grace, and also extends a most precious forgiveness to us on account of that sin. Thus, in one instant, grace causes us to shudder in fear and quiver in joy.
Now, does that sound like kindness to you? Nah, kindness has nothing on grace. Kindness is not the mark of the believer – any random person can commit an act of kindness. Rather, it takes a born-again believer to demonstrate grace in their life, for only they have shuddered at its arrival.