Weekly Meanderings

Paul Simms is Mark Twain 2.0.

K. Rex Butts on a Bible reading motto: “The motto was “speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent.”  Its has a long history in my church tradition.  It became a rule for interpreting the New Testament which was viewed as though it was a legislative law establishing a once-for-all fixed pattern for the way the church was to worship and be organized. I don’t know about you but I find it a bit ironic that this motto–which can be found no where in scripture and yet calls for silence where the Bible is silent–has held such sway over the way the Bible was read.”

Robert Crosby’s three trends in Pentecostalism: “Ministry practitioners, denominational leaders, and scholars whom I have talked to have noted three prominent trends in North American Pentecostalism: a marked decrease in speaking in tongues in public worship; fresh developments in Pentecostal eschatology; and a broader engagement in compassionate ministry and social concern.”

I tire of Bart Ehrman’s relentless attempts to live down his past, but one person who tirelessly examines Ehrman’s manifestos is Dan Wallace. And Jeremy Bouma tackles universalism in Romans 5. The Virtual Abbess takes a look at M. Scott Peck.

Tim Dalrymple: “So make no mistake: the Budget Control Act doesn’t put a dent in the mountain of debt our government has accrued.  If the commitments of the BCA are fulfilled, then we will add to that mountain at a slightly-less-manic pace than before, but the very purpose of the act was to enable the big Beltway spenders to make the mountain bigger.  Worse, the BCA leaves completely unchanged the social and political dynamics that have led to this debt in the first place.  Our political elite are addicted to spending.  It’s how they curry favor, it’s how they win elections, and it’s how they exercise and enjoy their power.  They’re perfectly willing to borrow money to feed the addiction, because they have a credit card.  The name on the credit card is: You and Your Children.”

I came upon a few pieces about education and bundle them together here. Matt Damon made waves when he complained about how low public school teachers are, and that led Nick Gillespie into some research with this: “According to Department of Education statistics for 2007-2008 (the most recent year listed), the average public school teacher brought in a bit over $53,000 in “total school-year and summer earned income.” That figure, which is about $13,000 more than what the average private-school teacher gets in straight salary, does not include health and retirement benefits, places where teachers almost always get better deals and bigger employer contributions than the typical private-sector worker. For more on teacher compensation, go here. An average salary of $53,000 may not be much for a movie star such as Damon, but it’s a pretty good wage when compared to U.S. averages. Indeed, the Census Bureau reports that median householdincome in 2008 was $52,000. Teaching in most public schools requires a bachelor’s degree and here teachers fare less well on first glance, though still not awful. The median income for a man with a B.A. was $82,000; for a woman, it was $54,000. About three-quarters of teachers are women, so the average salaries when gender comes into play hew closely to one another.

And Virginia Postel asks if teachers are not as smart as they used to be: “PUBLIC-SCHOOL teachers just aren’t as smart as they used to be. After all, women have more job opportunities. Bright women who once would have taught school today become doctors and lawyers. The gain for individual women is a loss for education.Or so many people believe. The story is plausible, but is it true?”

From Murtaza, with some serious computerese: “Are students’ teaching evaluations influenced by instructors’ looks? ggplot2 may help find the answer.”

And by Liz Dwyer: “Another sign that the college lecture might be dying: Harvard University physics professor Eric Mazur is championing the “flipped classroom,” a model where information traditionally transferred during lectures is learned on a student’s own time, and classroom time is spent discussing and applying knowledge to real-world situations. To make it easy for professors to transition out of lecture mode, Mazur has developedLearning Catalytics, an interactive software that enables them to make the most of student interactions and maximize the retention of knowledge.”

Meanderings in the News

C. Christine Fair is pushing back hard against The New Yorker’s “report” by Nicholas Schmidle about the bin Laden attack: “Whether Americans and our allies like it or not, Pakistan and Pakistan’s populations are critical to U.S. interests.  This will be true for the foreseeable future.  Journalists have an important function: informing our publics.  Journalists’ reportage shapes how Americans see their country abroad and understand the countries with which the United States engages. It shapes our support for war, for foreign aid, for particular bilateral relations. The U.S. experience with the Iraq war illustrates the extreme limits of how a supine and incompetent press became the vehicle to mobilize an angry public for an ill-conceived and unjustifiable war of choice.  The United States will long pay the price for strategic error. Journalists have an equally important, if less appreciated, role in shaping how the outside world sees us. With the internet, the entire world reads our press, watches our television and hears our radio broadcasts.  Media hype and hysteria, xenophobia, Islamophobia and more quotidian issues of inaccuracy and incaution with handling sensitive pieces of information are for the whole world to see and to judge us. With stakes this high, should not the standards of journalistic integrity be even higher? I should think yes. The New Yorker should immediately right this wrong by publishing an editor’s note disclosing the simple fact that he never interviewed the SEALS in involved in the raid.”

1. A good story on the Amish witness to Gelassenheit: “WOODHULL, N.Y. — Between hashing out funeral arrangements in a hushed Pennsylvania German dialect and relaying messages hundreds of miles away to family in Ohio through “English” couriers, eight elders of the Jasper-Woodhull Amish settlement paused to ponder a question from an outsider: Is there anger or resentment in the community over the traffic accident that killed five of its members and injured seven others? Standing in long sleeves and slacks, their broad-brimmed hats providing the only respite from the blazing sun, the men folded their arms and tugged their beards as they contemplated an answer. Then the oldest among them spoke up. “That’s not the way we were brought up,” said the man, who, like the others, asked that his name not be published. “God’s ways are not our ways.”

2. From Windows Magazine editor to Apple Fanboy, you know what I’m saying! “I’ve been in denial for a while, but it hit me so hard yesterday that I finally have to admit it: I’m an Apple fanboy. Once you hear my story, you’ll agree that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”

3. Internet rage and deindividuation: “The psychologists call it “deindividuation”. It’s what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed…. Deindividuation is what happens when we get behind the wheel of a car and feel moved to scream abuse at the woman in front who is slow in turning right. It is what motivates a responsible father in a football crowd to yell crude sexual hatred at the opposition or the referee. And it’s why under the cover of an alias or an avatar on a website or a blog – surrounded by virtual strangers – conventionally restrained individuals might be moved to suggest a comedian should suffer all manner of violent torture because they don’t like his jokes, or his face. Digital media allow almost unlimited opportunity for wilful deindividuation. They almost require it. The implications of those liberties, of the ubiquity of anonymity and the language of the crowd, are only beginning to be felt.”

4. Paul Boghossian contends it’s either moral absolutes or nihilism (not moral relativism), a piece that makes quite the admission: “Is it plausible to respond to the rejection of absolute moral facts with a relativistic view of morality?  Why should our response not be a more extreme, nihilistic one, according to which we stop using normative terms like “right” and “wrong” altogether, be it in their absolutist or relativist guises?”

5. OK, I’ll say it then: this one sounds fishy! “VANCOUVER — Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off the B.C. coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.”

6. Good piece on teaching writing: “Trouble is, no matter how detailed and incisive the feedback, by the time it gets back to you it’s already too late — and, in a way, too early. Too late because your paper has already been written, and what you really needed help with was its composition, with the micromechanics of style, with all the small decisions that led you to say whatever it is you said. And too early because even if the professor’s ex post pointers make every bit of sense, a whole month might go by before you next get to use them….Professors will sometimes gesture toward a better approach — they’ll share an example of good writing in class and walk through the specific reasons it works; they’ll hold office hours or encourage one-on-one sessions to work on drafts — but still that leaves the central problem: that their guidance, however individuated, isn’t fast enough. That it’s too much of a loping catechism, not enough the snappy dialogue of master and apprentice. Or as John Whittier-Ferguson puts it, “It’s moving at a pace that’s not at all like the pace of someone actually working on a piece of writing…. But then came electronic mail. The instant transmission of text. With e-mail, Whittier-Ferguson didn’t have to so much invent a wonderfully responsive critical machine as become one: sit at his computer; encourage students to send him work in progress; respond to it quickly. That’s all it had to be. And yet that simple practice would incubate “a whole new order of engagement and exchange with their writing that just wasn’t there” when he started teaching in the late seventies.”

7. Speaking of writing, Wendy Warris on the LA Times cut of freelancers: “In a move as significant for its breadth as its implications for the future of book coverage, the Los Angeles Times book review laid off all of its freelance book reviewers and columnists on July 21. Susan Salter Reynolds was with the Times for 23 years as both a staffer and freelancer and wrote the “Discoveries” column that appeared each week in the Sunday book review. She was told that her column was cancelled and will not be replaced by another writer. “I don’t know where these layoffs fit into the long-storied failure at the Times,” she said yesterday, “but these are not smart business decisions. This is shabby treatment.”

8. Christie Aschwanden on coffee and health: “Coffee is one of those things that make curmudgeons like Andy Rooney throw up their hands. They used to tell us coffee is bad for us, he complains. Now they say it’s good. Why should we believe any of it?”

9. William Pannapacker: “I can only recommend graduate school in the humanities—and, increasingly, the social sciences and sciences—if you are independently wealthy, well-connected in the field you plan to enter (e.g., your mom is the president of an Ivy League university), or earning a credential to advance in a position you already hold, such as a high-school teacher, and even then, a master’s degree is enough. But this is not the place to remind undergraduates that most of them are out of their freaking minds if they are considering graduate school. I’ve done that elsewhere, and so have severalothers in the last few years. Now I’d like to suggest a plan for reforming higher education in the humanities that could, someday, make graduate education a responsible, ethical option for the students I advise, and students everywhere.”

10. Good point.

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  • Jeremy Bouma’s piece a good one. Yes on Washington. What a mess!

  • Wow. What if we did church / discipleship classes more like “flipped classrooms?”

  • Jason Lee

    Who in the world is Nick Gillespie and why is he comparing AVERAGE teacher salary to MEDIAN US salary? The average (I assume he’s talking about MEAN) can be significantly driven upward or downward by outliers. Why not report the MEDIAN US salary Nick? Also, this is exactly the wrong point anyway Nick. Culturally, we need to value education more in the US, not less (unless you don’t care about the life chances children). Part of valuing education more is valuing the profession of teaching more. Culturally, we need to de-value the ethics-free make-money-any-way-you-can-get-away-with-IT professions less. If we did, wouldn’t we be complaining about their stunningly obscene salaries (which by the way have exploded in recent years). Don’t tell me they “earned” their obscene “compensation.” Why do we permit this kind of white-collar crime. For a sickening trend:

    “Compensation Benchmarking, Leapfrogs, and the Surge in Executive Pay”
    -DiPrete, Eirich, and, Pittinsky

    Scholars frequently argue whether the sharp rise in chief executive officer (CEO) pay in recent years is “efficient” or is a consequence of “rent extraction” because of the failure of corporate governance in individual firms. This article argues that governance failure must be conceptualized at the market rather than the firm level because excessive pay increases for even relatively few CEOs a year spread to other firms through the cognitively and rhetorically constructed compensation networks of “peer groups,” which are used in the benchmarking process to negotiate the compensation of CEOs. Counterfactual simulation based on Standard and Poor’s ExecuComp data demonstrates that the effects of CEO “leapfrogging” potentially explain a considerable fraction of the overall upward movement of executive compensation since the early 1990s.

    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/652297

  • DLS

    Teachers are, by definition, overpaid. Any salary that is not set by the market, or needs to be negotiated and protected through organization is unquestionably artificially inflated.

    Add to these stats both Postel’s (correct) points and the fact that teaching is among the vocations where the students with the lowest ACT/SAT scores flock (journalism being one of the others, iirc) and it makes the fact that they generally fall in the middle in terms of salary all that more indefensible.

    The best thing that could happen to teaching would be to get rid of unions altogether. I think then it could make real strides towards being viewed as a profession again, attracting better students, and thereby making a better case for increased compensation. Until then, most will view them as labor.

    Also, terrific piece by Dalrymple.

  • Joe Canner

    DLS #4: I’m not sure I am following your logic: how will getting rid of teacher unions attract better students? According to your first paragraph, by the laws of supply and demand if we want better teachers we need to pay them more. This is especially true for math and science teachers and for teachers willing to work in difficult areas. Although it is difficult to pay them more, there are often incentives provided to entice such teachers into the profession.

    All that said, I am in favor of performance-based incentives as a way of retaining good teachers. One reason that unions resist this is that it is hard to come up with a good objective measure of performance. Good teaching is neither about good SAT scores nor about student test scores.

  • Thanks for the link, Scot 8) The piece on deindividuation is terrific and flows into the whole “laziness” issue. I am thinking that I will have to do a series on Peck’s thoughts on laziness as I work through his book again.

    The piece on writing was interesting … I have always worked with my son (now 16 years) on his writing. Fortunately, his 9th grade English teacher told the class that if their father or mother is willing/able to read and critique their writing before they turn it in, it will pay amazing dividends. She was wise in this and Alexander’s results are proof. Now, when I read/critique my son’s essays (AP classes have lots of them!), the later feedback from the teacher is usually confirming what we have already worked on and builds on that. We also go over the comments and suggestions from the teacher to be sure that he understands them. I was thrilled to see that he got 100% on the state testing for writing. It is possible for our kids to be better writers, but don’t leave it all at the feet of the teachers.

    I was glad to see the terrific article by Dan Wallace on Bart Ehrman. This is a gift … I want to print it out and put it in my copy of Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus.

    Be blessed.

  • Richard

    I’m amazed at the continued assertion by many that unions are to blame for everything despite the concrete evidence that times of greatest social uplift and economic growth in United States at all levels (not just top tier and GDP) coincide with the times when our society was most unionized and tax rates were much higher on the upper crust and corporations.

    I must have missed the part where Bouma “took on Universalism in Romans 5,” I’m still waiting on an explanation for a hermeneutic principle that allows (and even necessitates) us to change the meaning of a word midsentence with nothing in the text to force it that way.

  • JST

    “Teachers are, by definition, overpaid. Any salary that is not set by the market, or needs to be negotiated and protected through organization is unquestionably artificially inflated.”

    Really? I know church staffers who would make a lot more if their salaries were based on the market. Please explain how being underpaid in relation to the market is actually unquestionably overpaid because the pay is not market-based.

    Having worked in HR a lot, your goal is not to pay market. Your goal is to set salaries below the market and figure out how to make it stick. It is very easy right now.

  • David M.

    Timothy Dalrymple’s post is, in several ways, misleading. His assertion that “By any measure, federal spending has skyrocketed, from $2.9 trillion in 2008 to $3.8 trillion in 2011” fails to mention that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not included in the federal budget in 2008 – they were instead funded through special appropriations, which, for 2008, was $190 billion. Another expenditure not included in the federal budget in 2008 was the Medicare Part D Benefit, with an estimated cost of $5 billion per year.

    It might also be intellectually honest to note that the unemployment rate averaged around 5 percent for a good portion of 2008, which means the federal budget for that year didn’t have to cover a massive uptick in unemployment benefits. I’d like to see Mr. Dalrymple address the issue of which is more morally hazardous: leaving a debt to the next generation or providing a relatively small amount of money to people whose jobs have gone away but whose bills haven’t.

    In general, I’m in favor of the government being financially responsible. It troubles me, though, that many current deficit hawks only became concerned about the deficit after the 2008 election. Was Timothy Dalrymple writing posts about financial responsibility when the previous administration was cutting taxes, entering into expensive foreign wars, providing free medication for seniors, and reportedly making the case that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” (http://www.ontheissues.org/2004/Dick_Cheney_Budget_+_Economy.htm)? If so, he has all my admiration and gratitude. If not, I might be slightly suspicious that his commitment could be based a little more on party than on conviction.

  • Jeff L

    “Teachers are, by definition, overpaid. Any salary that is not set by the market, or needs to be negotiated and protected through organization is unquestionably artificially inflated.”

    Yet another example of market idolatry in today’s society.

  • Fish

    “Yet another example of market idolatry in today’s society.”

    That is a great point. We assume the market is God-like in being always perfectly right — when in fact it is nothing but psychology.

    Today a stock is worth X and tomorrow it is worth Y, with absolutely nothing changing but a speculator’s goal or view.

    Many times, the invisible hand is invisible because it doesn’t exist.

  • DLS

    It’s neither “market idolatry” nor assuming the market is “God-like” or “always perfectly right”.

    It’s neither of those; it’s just basic economics. We should start teaching it again.

  • DLS

    “I’m amazed at the continued assertion by many that unions are to blame for everything…

    – They aren’t to blame for everything. They are, however, to blame for teachers not being viewed by most (public pronouncements aside) as ‘professionals’. Professionals do not ‘strike’. Professionals do not shut down capitals by protesting. Professionals do not have protections against firing. Labor does that.

  • Thank you for the pinkback.

  • DRT

    DLS, my brain does not do the tricks you ask, it hurts.

    My pet theory is that we should do teacher incentives much more based on team performance, because that is what counts in the schools. But to really make that work, the teachers need to be able to vote someone off the island. Our schools would improve.

  • DRT

    JST, glad you don’t work for the company I work for. I only work with companies that are willing to pay more than market so they get good people. There is a synergy with good people, but the culture has to support it and that is quite difficult to do. Paying less is what you do when the management team sucks.

  • Diane Reynolds


    Professionals strike– journalists would strike back in the day, professional athletes strike, and Hollywood screenwriters strike. Teaching has lost stature because the so-called best and brightest people (one might question if they really are, given our economic disaster) have tended to choose more lucrative professions.

  • DLS


    If professional athletes and Hollywood screenwriters are your modern day examples, I’m just suggesting that you’ve made my point.

  • JST

    Nah, the big wheel of capitalism just hasn’t turned on you yet. Your employers at some point will realize that cuts in labor costs create more earnings than revenue synergies. This is 2011. The market is what your employer says it is, and your answer will either be Yes Sir or you’ll be one of the millions of former-professionals wishing they could land a $12/hr job. Get real.

  • JST

    Teachers have been casualties of our society’s war on the free market for labor. Being in unions, they must be shown as bad or the narrative collapses. I would not teach for any amount of money simply because of how teachers and public schools are vilified by conservatives. The latest comparisons to Nazi Germany are just way way way over the top.

  • Richard

    By professional, do you mean “white collar”? Last I checked the only thing that made someone a professional is that they got paid to do something, I.em plumbing and auto repair as professions instead of hobbies. You still haven’t demonstrated why unions are a negative.