Teachers good and bad

The California teachers’ union is calling for a boycott of the L.A. Times for publishing an expose of teacher performance.  Here are some of its findings:

• Highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year. There is a substantial gap at year’s end between students whose teachers were in the top 10% in effectiveness and the bottom 10%. The fortunate students ranked 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math.

• Some students landed in the classrooms of the poorest-performing instructors year after year — a potentially devastating setback that the district could have avoided. Over the period analyzed, more than 8,000 students got such a math or English teacher at least twice in a row.

• Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.

• Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students’ academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.

• Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers’ effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students’ performance.

Other studies of the district have found that students’ race, wealth, English proficiency or previous achievement level played little role in whether their teacher was effective.

via L.A. teacher ratings: L.A. Times analysis rates teachers’ effectiveness – latimes.com.

It seems that some people have a vocation for teaching.  Let’s focus on the positive.  What are traits of good teachers?  Tell about good teachers who were able to get through to you.

Would proof of God eliminate Christianity?

Joe Carter takes on an intriguing argument:

Would evidence for God mean the end of atheism and Christianity? Yes, says Matt J. Rossano, a professor and department head of psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University. In a peculiar article at The Huffington Post, Rossano argues that scientific evidence for the existence of God is fatal to both the faith of the atheist and the believer.

via Would Evidence for God Mean the End of Atheism and Christianity? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Rossano reasons that indisputable proof of God would violate free will, which is necessary to Christianity.  Joe shows, on behalf of Reformation theologians everywhere, that this notion of free will is NOT essential to Christianity.  Rossano would do better to argue that scientific certainty would eliminate faith, which IS essential to Christianity.

Joe does anticipate that line of thought.  He argues that faith is NOT believing without evidence, that, in fact, there is an abundance of evidence for God’s existence.  It is true that for Christians and even non-Christians in the past, the question of God’s existence was not even an issue. Even doubt was not about whether God exists, but whether God is gracious to me and whether I can trust Him to keep His promises.

But given that faith is not just “belief in whether something exists,” does faith still require the hiddenness of God (to use a Reformation concept)?  Would knowing God as we know other scientifically verified facts involve walking by sight and not by faith?  If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, that would connote a kind of certainty, but would faith be undermined if everything were seen?

Trying to make Christianity cool

Twenty-something Brett McCracken is put off by what churches are doing to attract him:

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.” For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).

“Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an “iCampus.” Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services.

But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before? . . .

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

via The Perils of Hipster Christianity and Why Young Evangelicals Reject Churches That Try To Be Cool – WSJ.com.

Superman vs. Batman

The L.A. Times did an interesting interview with comic book writer Grant Morrison.  He points out the class distinction between the superheroes:

GM: Superman is very bright and optimistic. It’s all the simple things. He’s of the day and of the sunlight, and Batman is the creature of the night. I’m interested in the fact that they both believe in the same kind of things. But Batman is better. He’s screwed up. That what makes him cool. Even though he’s solved all his problems in his own head he is — as I see him — a man with a very dark sense of humor and a very dark view of the world. He has to overcome that constantly. He’s forever fighting to make the world better, which means it’s never good for Batman. The rest of us have good days. We don’t fight everyday. Batman fights every single day. He has that dark Plutonian side.

GB: The public personalities of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent don’t seem as polarized as their alter egos.

GM: Bruce Wayne is a rich man. He’s an artistocrat. Superman grew up as Clark Kent on a farm bailing hay, and he’s got a boss that shouts at him if he’s late to work. He’s actually more human; Batman is the fetish fantasy psyche of the aristocrat overlord who can do anything he wants, and that’s fascinating. The class difference between the two of them is important.

GB: I’ve never thought much about the class distinctions between the two.

Superman by Jim Lee GM: You’re an American; you live in Los Angeles! You don’t have to think of class distinction in the same way we Brits do. But there is very much a distinction between the two. People often forget Superman is very much a put-upon guy. Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss …

GB: True, but Clark also owns real estate in the Arctic, flies for free and can crush coal into fist-sized diamonds. He doesn’t need to have a boss.

Batman by Jim Lee GM: Yeah, but he so wants to be like us. He pines after one girl while Batman has a whole host of fetish femmes fatale at his beck and call.

GB: The ladies love the car, I think.

GM: Of course. He’s got everything. I like that. He’s our kind of dream of the aristocrat. He’s even better than the Tony Stark/Iron Man thing; he’s got that as well as the dark side. That’s the difference between Superman and Batman. There both interesting to write, but Batman is the sexier one, definitely.

via Batman versus Superman as class warfare? Grant Morrison: ‘Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss’ | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times.

So which was or is your favorite, Batman or Superman?  (Me:  Superman.)  D. C. or Marvel?  (Me:  D.C.)  (Today, judging from a recent sampling of comic books today,  D.C. has become Marvel!  And both have become more so.  Everybody in the comic book world is angst-ridden, taking little pleasure in the cool things they can do.)

Germany’s economy is booming

While the rest of the world is in the economic doldrums, Germany’s economy is growing at a rate of 9%, the best it has done since unification.  What is its secret?

Germany has sparred with its European partners over how to respond to the financial crisis, argued with the United States over the benefits of stimulus versus austerity, and defiantly pursued its own vision of how to keep its economy strong.

Statistics released Friday buttress Germany’s view that it had the formula right all along. The government on Friday announced quarter-on-quarter economic growth of 2.2 percent, Germany’s best performance since reunification 20 years ago — and equivalent to a nearly 9 percent annual rate if growth were that robust all year.

The strong growth figures will also bolster the conviction here that German workers and companies in recent years made the short-term sacrifices necessary for long-term success that Germany’s European partners did not. And it will reinforce the widespread conviction among policy makers that they handled the financial crisis and the painful recession that followed it far better than the United States, which, they never hesitate to remind, brought the world into this crisis.

A vast expansion of a program paying to keep workers employed, rather than dealing with them once they lost their jobs, was the most direct step taken in the heat of the crisis. But the roots of Germany’s export-driven success reach back to the painful restructuring under the previous government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

By paring unemployment benefits, easing rules for hiring and firing, and management and labor’s working together to keep a lid on wages, Germany ensured that it could again export its way to growth with competitive, nimble companies producing the cars and machine tools the world’s economies — emerging and developed alike — demanded.

Germans steered clear of the debt-fueled consumption boom that many believe contributed to the financial crisis. During the recession, Chancellor Angela Merkel resisted the palliative of government spending that the United States and some European partners felt was crucial to restoring growth.

via Defying Others, Germany Finds Economic Success – NYTimes.com.

Operation Desert Troll

If you hear this rumor, you might welcome it, but it was planted to destablize the Afghan regime:

A new web trolling campaign to spread the rumor that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has converted to Christianity was sweeping the internet on Thursday, calling on people to “exploit Islam’s hatred of all things Christian.” Web trolling involves posting inflammatory statements online to provoke reactions.

Running with the title “Operation: Desert Troll,” the call to action urged readers to use tools such as blogs, twitter, reddit to spread the message. Internet users were also asked to search the term “Hamid Karzai converts to Christianity” to further circulate the rumor.

via ‘Exploit Islam’s hatred of Christianity’.


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