Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What's on your shelf?

“To George F. Babbitt, as to most prosperous citizens of Zenith, his motor car
was poetry and tragedy, love and heroism. The office was his pirate ship but the
car his perilous excursion ashore.”

I love this excerpt from Sinclair Lewis’s novel, Babbitt. In two sentences the reader is rich with insight into George Babbitt’s character. The same can be said about someone’s bookshelf. A bookshelf is personality soup. Because restraint is not often used to describe my personality, I have more than one bookshelf. However, the books lining my desk are the ones I use most. Here is a literary portrait of my personality.

Moving from left to right, let's start with Reverend Senkbeil's indispensable text, Where in the World is God. The devotions are clear, strong and clearly reveal Christ as Savior and Healer. We are saved by God's grace through His Son's sacrifice. That's more than personality; it's the truth that guides life.

  • Subjects Matter: This is the best text for all teachers. The subtitle reveals everything you need to know: Every Teacher's Guide to Content-Area Reading. As a high school English teacher I know many students struggle with reading. If we can model, teach and allow our students to experience various reading strategies they will become better students. My mantra is that since all teachers require students to read we all need to help them. This text is succinct and offers strategies that don't take weeks to figure out. If you teach or if you want to help your children read, buy this text. Better yet, borrow it from me.

  • The Book Thief: This is certainly the best fiction I have read in years. It's marketed as a young adult novel but I used it as my summer reading assignment for both of my AP classes. How could a novel narrated by Death who describes a story of a young girl abandoned by her mother shortly after her brother dies and then hides a Jew in Nazi Germany be engaging, riveting and endearing? By page 20 you'll understand. Compassion. Welcome to my world.

  • The Trivium: This is a fascinating discussion of language and the arts of logic, grammar and rhetoric. The original copyright date is 1937 and it has not lost it's intrigue. I'm intrigued with our use of language. Texting, technology and other evils are eroding the power and use of our language and that's disconcerting. However, this book is a challenging read that offers hope for users and students aware enough to care about the English language.

  • Why I am a Lutheran by Daniel Preus. I have used, studied, read and recommended this book so often, I feel like a forgetful grandfather. "Franky, did I tell you about this book that you must read?" "Yes, Gramps...plenty of times." Preus' text focuses on and shares the hub of our Lutheran faith: Christ at the center. The forgiveness of sins, salvation and our eternal hope we have in this life is clearly revealed in Preus' text.

  • Luther's Small Catechism: I've consulted this book with every chapel I've given. I'm not one to simply get up in front of the school and speak from the top of my head. Sharing God's Word is more important than that.

  • Expository Composition: Discovering Your Voice - teacher's edition. I'm not one to blindly follow teacher's editions. I rely more on my 24 years of experience than a teacher's edition. However, this is an intriguing text. It offers plenty of interesting approaches to each unit. It's important to keep learning, even in my archaic state, and this text helps me out.

  • God's Word: AAT - I like this translation. It's clear and my wife is related to the translator, Dr. William Beck.

  • The Fire and The Staff: by Klemet Preus. A church's practice reflects its doctrine. Preus proffers an engaging discussion on why this is important. What a church practices it believes and vice versa. That's not bad, however, sometimes it is. Read it and find out why.
  • Walther's Law and Gospel: The clearest book that discusses the important distinction between Law and Gospel. This impacts our faith, life, chapel messages, child rearing. This isn't simply a fascinating one-time read. Walther's clarity is a new blessing with every read. Every Lutheran teacher, principal and parent should read this book. A faculty study would be an even great idea.
  • Linking Teacher Evaluation and Student Learning: This is the thin blue book. Too often we toss young or ineffective teachers into classrooms and let them figure it out on their own. There must be something we can do to accelerate the learning curve. This text goes beyond the stop in and drop in teacher evaluation that occurs in most schools. It provides concrete methods and ideas to help young and ineffective teachers learn how to effectively challenge and educate students.

Snap a photo of your bookshelf, send it to my LHSA e-mail address, craft a short explanation if you like and share your personality with Blog Nation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What is truth?

* Author’s note: If you believe this post is too long to read, you are proving Neil Postman’s premise.

What is truth?
It’s not an original question. Socrates, Plato and even Pilate pondered truth, where it could be found and how it could be obtained.

My inclination is to believe truth is currently clouded over by human reason. I use examples from my world and compare it to what I know of history. It seems that truth is being assaulted more than ever.

  • Bill Clinton’s White House escapades assaulted truth.
  • Kwami assaulted truth by denying and then lying under oath.
  • Denying that life begins at conception and abortion kills humans murders the truth.
  • Believing there is always next year for the Detroit Lions assails NFL truth and common sense

    It seems human reason and logic trample truth like never before. It seems that way until I read John 18: 37 - 38

    “Then you are a king?” Pilate asked Him.
    “Yes, I am a king!” Jesus answered. “I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who lives in the truth listens to Me.”
    Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

    Even Pilate questioned truth. So it’s not a new phenomenon just as yo-yos, long hair, side burns and texting are not new. Well, maybe that last one is but I’m sure even Plato had some shortened code he could quickly chisel into a rock tablet.

    And so it puzzles me that when faced with false prophets and scriptural lies, people overlook the truths of scripture and cling to what is false, despite God’s warnings. Honestly, I don’t get it.

    People will read food labels searching for toxins like gluten, polysorbate 60, red dye 2, cereal fillers and pork lips but they will not scrutinize the words of false prophets.
    “Dear Friends, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God. Many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize God’s Spirit: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. Any spirit who doesn’t confess this Jesus, isn’t from God.”
    I John 4:1-3a

    People will go out of their way to make sure they buy products that have not been tested on animals but they will not be as adamant about making sure God’s Word is taught in all its truth and purity.
    “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”
    Revelation 22:18-19

    People would rather eat shards of glass than a chunk of animal flesh but they will lap up spiritual toxins without any discernment.
    “Before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, I solemnly call on you – in view of his coming and ruling over us – preach the Word, keep at it at the right time and the wrong time, correct, rebuke encourage, being very patient and thorough in your teaching.
    A time will come when people will not listen to sound teaching but, craving to hear something different will get more and more teachers whom they like. They will refuse to listen to the truth and will turn to fictions.”
    II Timothy 4: 1- 5

    “Be careful or somebody will capture you by his philosophy, tricking you with meaningless words, as he follows the traditions of men and the elements of the world but not Christ.”
    Colossians 2:8

    Oh, Mr. Brandt you’re just a cynic who always looks for something negative. You just want to be right so everyone else is wrong. Sure, that’s an easy, although delusional, argument to make. It doesn’t take thought. It jumps to conclusions and ignores my purpose. Common sense dictates that concern for scriptural truth is not focused on winning arguments. Concern for scriptural accuracy is so that God’s grace may abound. We are called to test the spirits. I John 4:1-3, Acts 17:11 We are called to be discerning and use God’s inerrant Word , not human reason, as our guide. I defer to Reverend Daniel Preus as explains the grace-driven need for truth in his book, Why I am a Lutheran: Jesus at the Center:
    We do not need to live in uncertainty regarding what is true about God and our
    faith in Him. God does not give us truth simply so we can be correct in
    what we believe. God does not give us truth so we can know that we are right and
    those who disagree are wrong. God does not give us truth so we can ‘win
    the argument.’ Jesus, the Son of God, did not take on human flesh, did not
    become one of us, simply so we can know what is true. John tells us in his
    Gospel that when Jesus came into the world, He was full of truth and grace (John 1:14). Jesus brings truth for the sake of grace, that is, for the sake of
    God’s undeserved kindness (23).

    As Reverend Preus so eloquently points out, we have truth for the sake of grace. The devil smiles as seemingly small skirmishes for our souls are at stake. However, there is nothing small about resting on man’s reason and shunning the efficacy of God’s enduring, endearing, eternal and final Word.

    “I am not concerned with life but with doctrines. Evil life does no great harm except to itself. But evil teaching is the most pernicious thing on earth, for it leads hosts of sold to hell. Whether you are good or bad does not concern me. But I will attack your poisonous and lying teaching, which contradicts God’s Word; and with God’s help I will oppose it vigorously.” -Martin Luther

    So if you read books like The Shack, or Forty Days of Purpose, or Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith or Your Best Life Now or if you listen to authors at winter youth retreats, listen with a discerning ear - an ear that is grounded in God’s Word and God’s truth. My hope is that youth leaders and pastors would help clarify the inherent dangers of books that claim there are ways outside of Christ to enter heaven. My hope is that youth leaders and pastors would take the opportunity to point out the dangers of books that claim God died on the cross. My hope is that youth leaders and pastors would see what a great opportunity they have to instruct young minds and clarify any confusion that leads anyone away from the truth of God’s Word.
    Praise books, sermons, songs and hymns that clearly preach God’s Word in all its truth and purity. In the same manner, warn people of false doctrine because its ultimate purpose is to confuse, create doubt and quite honestly win your soul to the devil.
  • II Timothy 2:17
  • Finally, take great comfort from God in the words He gave to Paul to share with the Philippians:

    “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything go to God, and pray to let Him know what you want, and give thanks. Then God’s peace, better than all our thinking, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
    Finally, my fellow Christians, keep your minds on all that is true or noble, right or pure, lovely or appealing, on anything that is excellent or that deserves praise. Do what you have learned received and heard from me and what you saw me do. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
    Philippians 4:4-9

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"A book about God that gets God wrong."

The Shack: The Review

As promised I read The Shack by William Young over Christmas vacation. As promised I also read Twilight over Christmas vacation. Well, I did read Twilight…some of it. I read the first twenty pages and that was enough. It’s not my style. There are many books I never finished: I’m relieved to say Twilight is in that literary refuse heap. Before I jump into the review, here are three other sources you need to read and hear:
Issues Etc.
Tim Challie's thorough review
A concise and powerful review by Wayne Elliott
A great review by Jim Pierce.

I did read and finish The Shack, reflected on it reread some critiques I referenced in an earlier post. The Shack is also not my kind of book. That was my hunch before I started the literary journey. I’m a bit cynical of the one-fad-fits-all mentality, especially when it comes to religious books. I’m wary of any book, idea, event and/or organization that engages the masses and claims to transcend all religious denominations.

Perhaps that’s an extension of my cynical nature or perhaps I take God seriously when he tells us in 1 John 4: 1-3 "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world."
Now before you label me some close-minded, stubborn, German ogre who only believes Lutherans will be in heaven. You are right – and wrong. My genealogy can be traced to German descendants who made sure I attended church, learned my catechism and studied the Bible. I was also baptized and confirmed. I am also a synodically trained Lutheran high school teacher who, just like every other called Lutheran educator, vowed to uphold and defend God’s Word and The Lutheran Confessions. Never have I uttered, articulated or thought that only Lutherans will be in heaven, so get rid of that weak response immediately.
No, the reasons I don’t like The Shack are simply grounded in God’s Word: “Be careful or somebody will capture you by his philosophy, tricking you with meaningless words, as he follows the traditions of men and the elements of the world but not Christ.” Colossians 2:8.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven would bring you any other good news than
what we brought you, a curse be on him! I say again what we said before: If
anyone brings you any other good news than the one you received, a curse be on
him! Do I say this now to get the approval of men – or of God? Or am I trying to
please men? If I were still trying to please men, I wouldn’t be a servant of
Christ.” - Galatians 1:8-9
So let’s begin with the specifics. Yes, I know it’s a work of fiction. Keep works of fiction on the fiction shelf in your library and the fiction shelf in your mind. However, when The Shack falls from the fiction shelf and lands in the non-fiction, 200 section of the Dewey Decimal system, problems surface. If this is fiction, don’t treat it like truthful analysis or application of God the Father, God the Son and/or God the Holy Spirit. Don’t apply it to your understanding of God’s true nature. Don’t say it helped you better understand God’s love like no other book. (A paraphrase of one comment on the back cover.) It’s fiction, remember? I’m not one to apply the tenets of fiction to the God of my salvation and believe that’s a good idea.
Let’s begin with the most appalling quote in the book.
In fact, if the following quote would have been placed on the book jacket, my hunch is that discerning readers would have avoided it entirely. Jesus says to Mack, “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” “The best way.” Really. Now Shak apologists might believe this point is of little concern but God in John 14:6 speaks differently. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
In his inerrant Word, God clearly reveals that Jesus is the only way. If the author, William Young believes Christ is the only way to salvation, why the nebulous explanation of how to get there? The protagonist and all the readers of this book receive the lie that Christ is the “best” way. No, He’s the only way. It doesn’t take much discernment to understand the difference between truths and lies. It’s at this point that two roads diverged in a heretical wood, and it seems that I took the one less traveled. You know, the one that demands scriptural truth in books about God. I guess fans of this book discount God’s severe warnings about avoiding false prophets.
"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves." 2 Pet 2:1
I guess the admonition concerning false prophets doesn’t apply to fiction.

I also cringed when Young mocked God’s Holy Word by describing it as beliefs “reduced to paper” (65).
“Try as he might, Mack could not escape the desperate possibility that the note just might be from God after all, even if the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have then only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects” (65-66).
Young’s irreverence towards the inerrancy of God’s printed Word is obvious. “God’s voice had been reduced to paper.” Reduced? Of all the words in the English language why use reduced? Young mocks God’s medium through which He revealed Himself. So the verities of our God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have been reduced to what was found in His Word? I have more reverence for God’s Word than to minimize it like that. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” -God, as revealed in II Timothy 3:16. I’m not one to discount God’s active Word by thinking it has been reduced to paper.

The words from Tim Challies’ critique that I mentioned in an earlier post reveal my concern. “Christians hold to the belief that the Bible is the only infallible source of God’s revelation to us. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. The best place to begin with understanding the Bible is to learn what it says about itself.” William Young’s attitude toward God’s Word is irreverent, wrong and dangerous.Despite all its errors ranging from the Trinity to the redemptive work of Christ, there was something I salvaged from this literary atrocity. “Jesus ignored his question. “Mack, just like love, submission is not something that you can do, especially not on your own. Apart from my life inside of you, you can’t submit to Nan (his wife), or your children or anyone else in your life, including Papa (God.) “You mean,” Mack interjected a little sarcastically, “that I can’t just ask, ‘What Would Jesus Do’?” Jesus chuckled, “Good intentions, bad idea. Let me know how it works for you, if that’s the way you choose to go.” He passed and grew sober. “Seriously, my life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus’, it means for your independence to be killed. I came to give you life, real life, my life” (149).
Because of our sinful existence, we need Jesus Christ as our Savior, not as our example or moral guide or good deed gauge. I’ve always been wary about the Christ-as-our-ultimate-example mindset. Yes, Christ is perfect. If my focus is to be perfect like Christ, what happens when I fail? Do I try harder the next time? Do I buy another wristband? Do I buy five more wristbands. How many wristbands or actions or deeds must I do to be like Christ? Where is the forgiveness for my sins? It’s certainly not in my vain attempts to be perfect. That’s Law and it only condemns. God grants and reveals the truth in His Word: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” What we need Christ crucified, not Christ-examplified. Young seems to understand that Christ’s role as Savior, not as example, proffers believers hope. I wonder how this WWJD criticism was received.
Yes, The Shack is an emotionally gripping story. It possesses compassion and renewal with its fictional story line. But as Reverend Todd Wilken stated in his interview on Issues Etc.
“It’s a book about God that gets God wrong.”
If Young’s examples of God’s compassion and love compel you to effusively gush over this book, what is your reaction when, on page 96, God tells Mack that He did not forsake Christ while he was on the cross? What is your reaction when God shows Mack the scars on his wrist that must symbolize God’s death? God had to forsake Christ and God did not die on the cross with Christ. That’s what troubles me about treating this book as something more than fiction.
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." II Timothy 4:1-4
Why suggest or recommend a book that distorts and mocks God’s Word, obscures the Trinity, disparages Christ as the way the truth and the life?
“But even if we or an angel from heaven would bring you any other good news than what we brought you, a curse be on him! I say again what we said before: If anyone brings you any other good news than the one you received, a curse be on him! Do I say this now to get the approval of men – or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I wouldn’t be a servant of Christ.” - Galatians 1:8-9

I’m sure many disagree with my review. I’m sure many find comfort in the loving compassion of a fictional god that is grounded in fallacy. There is an increasing belief that truth is relative and The Shack fuels that lie. God’s truth is not relative, grounded in men or the world and it certainly can’t be found in this book, despite its secular appeal.

“Be careful or somebody will capture you by his philosophy, tricking you with meaningless words, as he follows the traditions of men and the elements of the world but not Christ.” Colossians 2:8.
The solace, comfort, hope and certainty of salvation is found in a different structure made of wood, Christ's cross. Here Christ cleanses our sins, washes us clean and brings us to God as His redeemed children.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all daylong; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered,” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creations, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:35-39

Friday, January 16, 2009

Scintillating Sportsmanship

The Fillies battled Chippewa Valley Thursday amidst the arctic tundra that is now Macomb County. In all my years of coaching basketball, softball, baseball and football I have never experienced sportsmanship like I saw Thursday.
With the game close and the Lady 'Stangs closing in on the lead, CVHS 9th grade girls' basketball coach Jim Murphy demonstrated true sportsmanship. We were down by about six points with a couple of minutes left in the game. We set up some phenomenal play, throw the ball to the wing...bobble it...throw it back on top...bobble...back to the wing...bobble...gain control and shoot. Well, as the ball was in flight I began calling for a timeout because we needed to stop the clock. If we score the clock stops and we set up our full court press. If we miss we rebound and dunk. Well, we scored and the ref on the other side of the court blew his whistle to acknowledge my timeout. However, the ref nearest the ball overturned his decision and claimed I did not call for a timeout before the CV had the ball.
If you know anything about me, I don't argue calls or get stressed over the officials' decisions. What good will it do? The official has made her decision and my yelling at her wont' help. I need to model rational, mature behavior in times of stress. I see it as a lesson all my girls can witness and hopefully apply to life outside the court. "Man, coach never yells at the refs. He just moves on and coaches."
At this point I think the decision is wrong but tell my girls to match up defensively. There is commotion and confusion on the court and I'm trying to tell my girls that we need to match up because we have to get the ball back. That's when I heard another whistle.
My first thought was, this better not be a technical on me because I'm instructing my girls and ignoring the refs. It was no technical.
Jim Murphy, CV's coach took his last timeout so I could regroup my girls and instruct them. He had the ball, the lead and no more timeouts. That is sportsmanship. He recognized the error and wanted to make it right so he sacrificed his last timeout. We ended up losing the game but only after stealing the ball twice in the last fifteen seconds and nearly sent the game into overtime. By giving me his timeout, Murph also gave me an opportunity to win the game.
Unfortunately, the athletic arena is saturated with idiots who would rather be the show than coach the sport. Unfortunately, the bleachers hold biased, uninformed fans and parents who berate officials. Unfortunately, moments after hearing the MHSAA mantra on sportsmanship, some yahoo begins mocking that night's opponents' fans, cheerleaders, the opponents' bus drivers and in what is perceived as creative license - the opponents' toothpaste. Fortunately, I have been blessed with parents who cheer their daughters and let the officials call the game. Fortunately, there are coaches like Jim Murphy who model sportsmanship to the players and fans of both teams.
At the beginning of my timeout instructions, I made sure my girls knew what Murph just did. I profusely thanked him then and after the game. Fortunately, We play CV again next week so I'm going to see if I can get him 4 full timeouts for the game and then pay CV back for our last second defeat. :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Decisions. Drinking. Death. Defiance. Denial.

I have no problem shamelessly plugging my son's blog. He's my son and I'm proud of all he has accomplished. Read his latest post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Dream Deferred?

What happens to a dream deferred? I don't know but as soon as I win this bike my cycling dreams will be attained.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Valley Lutheran: My High School Alma Mater

Growing up in Saginaw had plenty of benefits. One was attending Valley Lutheran. I met so many great friends and was influenced by so many teachers.
In fact, my high school English teacher, Dan Thurber is the reason I am teaching high school English today.

Pro-Life But Don't Know What To Say?

You're pro-life. You believe life begins at conception. You believe life is a gift from God. However, you also struggle to convince others why being pro-life is God pleasing and morally sound.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Footloose, Freelancing and Failing the Young

Word on Blogger Boulevard is that some took exception to the answers that A,B,C,D and E gave during the most recent Left Field interview. Readers of The Clem: The Blog: The Truth have made promises to post their concerns. Some apprehension may be pedagogical in nature; some may believe those previously interviewed on Left Field have been besmirched with these fictitious characters. To the latter, I'm waiting for posted comments. To the former, I ask you to read Julie Mack's recent article in the Gazette published on

"It's about teaching to a standard and if you're not teaching to a standard, then what are you doing? You're just freelancing."
Michael Rice - Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools

Newberry Award: Part Deux

Just before Christmas, I blogged on a recent controversy surrounding Newbery Award-winning literature. It seems that some people believe that the award given by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year should be given to simpler, less challenging reads. Ugh.

Well, another controversy surfaced with the Newberry Award. Now some are upset that Newbery winners don't include enough stories about African Americans or other minorities. Melita Marie Garza, the author of the Detroit Free Press article, quoted Sherman Alexie, a 2007 National Book Award winner for Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, "We are going to have a black president -- literature should catch up."

Before irrational ideas that I'm a racist spring into your head, understand my perspective. The Newbery Award is given for the most distinguished novel. It's not an award based on ethnicity. This concern is analogous to the parent who's upset that Johhny didn't get a participation trophy. Jonny participated. He didn't deserve a trophy. In this everyone-deserves-a-trophy attitude, accomplishments that are true, noble and valuable are weakened. Hurry, somebody pin an I'm-Breathing ribbon to Franky's jersey. Look at what' he's accomplished! Ugh.

The criticism should not be aimed at the award: aim it at authors. Common sense would seem to dictate that an award for the most distinguishing children's book should be based on literary merit not ethnicity.

Pat Scales, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, which runs the Newbery award for the library association, offered some well-needed clarity on this recent ridiculous concern. "The Newbery is given for literary quality: Ethnicity, gender, nothing of that is necessarily taken into consideration... It's not as magic as whether there is a boy main character or a girl main character or an African-American or Latino or Asian character. We owe kids good stories that reflect their lives and give them a more global view."

Good literature always transcends ethnicity. Hurston proved that. Willy Shak proved that. Faulkner proved that. Cather proved that. Wright proved that. Twain proved that. Ellison proved that.

I just wish these Newbery critics understood that.

Monday, January 5, 2009


We chose the path less traveled for this week’s guests on Left Field. They never graduated from high school but are found in almost every classroom in high schools across the country. Recently they have been quite active in classrooms and will remain active as many students settle in for final exams at the start of the New Year. Today’s guests are the multiple-choice quintuplets A, B, C, D and E. We welcome these m/c answers to Left Field.

Here in Left Field, we take great pride in shattering stereotypes, so let’s jump right in. Is there any truth to the generalization, that B is the best selection when students don’t know the answer? B: I’ll take that one. What kind of lame urban myth is that? When in doubt guess B? Listen, I don’t need any self-pity, but that rumor began in the basement of some procrastinators who spent incessant amounts of time concocting outlandish reasons why they wouldn’t pass a test.

With final exams before Christmas vacation, you guys were probably glad for the Christmas respite. A: You have no idea how relaxing break has been. B, C, D, E and I were subjected to three straight days of assessment. That’s a lot to endure even if everyone does use a number two pencil. Which, of course, they don’t.

E, do you ever feel left out of the equation? I mean you are the throw away answer so often. The teacher attempts to cleverly use A,B,C or D for the real answer and then tosses you in as an afterthought. Do you harbor any resentment by being the academic equivalent of a salad crouton? E: A crouton is crunchy, seasoned and adds to the diverse texture of a salad. This adds up to one tasty, tactile treat.

Don’t go Obama on us and avoid the answer. That may play in the biased halls of ABC, NBC, MSNBC and CBS but here in Left Field we demand our questions be answered. E: Then, no. I harbor no resentment. None, what…so…ever! Happy?

A, what about you. Do you think you are seriously considered as an answer? A: Of course. It all starts with me. I’m the Λlpha and every other answer isn’t.

Since your are all in the assessment business, do you like exams before Christmas vacation, knowing that two weeks of the second quarter are not included? C: Let me give you my perspective as the middle answer. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Yes, two weeks worth of material are not on the exam. So what? That doesn’t mean the students can’t or don’t learn something that isn’t assessed by a final exam. In fact, given the sheer volume of questions being asked during final exam week, the activity itself leans toward short-term recall. How many of us, answers that is, will students remember or learn? Isn’t that the goal of education? Horrors upon horrors if a unit or pages 214 – 221 don’t make it to the final exam. A class’ success does not hinge around the number of questions on the exam or pages covered in the text. Class content is not important because it “will be on the test”. Class content is important because it requires and creates critical thinking and critical application.

Some educators believe that if there is no exam at the very end of the semester, students won’t pay attention because there is nothing to hold over their heads. D: Next to the Lions 0-16 season, that’s the most pathetic garbage I’ve ever heard. That faulty logic alleges that students only learn and pay attention because they will be assessed. Students don’t learn because they fill us in on a test. They learn because they are challenged, engaged and given opportunities to apply their ideas. Students want to learn. Tragically, too many educators believe learning can only take place with tests and so they use it as behavioral leverage. Ugh. Learning occurs in debate. Learning occurs with comparing and contrasting. Learning occurs with predicting and then reevaluating. Learning occurs with analysis and synthesis. Learning occurs by error and revisiting, redoing and reassessing. Asking Johnny to match parts of speech to a list of definitions achieves very little in Learningville. A test is not the only way to determine if students have learned. It's a way, not the way. So if information doesn't surface on an exam there are other ways to assess student learning. Students will pay attention AND learn when they are challenged to think and apply those thoughts.

Are you guys fans of the multiple-answer option?
A&B: Definitely
C: It’s xenophobic.
D&E: We love it.
A,B,D,E: All of the above

Just between the six of us, does it really matter if somebody marks outside the bubble? B: If you are B, C or D it certainly does. If I’m the correct answer and li’l Matilda smudges her geometry answer beyond my barriers and into C’s realm, then grumpy King ScornTron will mark us both wrong.

You don’t acknowledge mechanical pencils? Lighten up. C: I speak for the entire answer platoon when I say we respond best to soft, number two lead pencils. Those sharp mechanical chunks of educational wizardry can rip our surface and deface us forever. Play by the rules or don’t play. Remember that because it will be on the test.