selenite0: (Looked so good on paper)
Religious conservatives don't like the theory of evolution, and if they can't get it kicked out of school they at least want some alternate theories taught with it. Then they have lots of kids and prep them to succeed in the hyper-competitive worlds of sports or business, where the unfit are wiped out quickly.

Secular liberals are devoted to the theory of evolution and fight bitterly to keep it in the forefront of education. Then they have few or no kids and lobby the government to ensure a safety net for everyone so it's a cooperative world with no winners or losers.

Can anybody explain to me what the heck is going on here?
selenite0: (couple)
Yesterday was my last day teaching UU Sunday school. I'd volunteered to cover the "helping others" unit. The curriculum material got tossed immediately. Have two students hold a third in their arms so they can understand what it's like to be oppressed? They're middleschoolers. They understand oppression. From both sides in a few cases. The prepared lecture was heavy on "Some people and countries are richer than others. This is a Bad Thing and should be stopped." I pulled together some appropriate parables and other Bible references with help from [ profile] celticdragonfly and made up a rough outline to guide me. Only had three students show up, usually it's more than a dozen, but it made for a more intimate discussion.

I started with the current church charity goal, the Heifer Project, to illustrate how you can't just help people at random, it has to be useful. The boys came up with what a family had to have to make use of the heifer--fodder, land, knowledge of what the animal needs, and enough healthy people to do the labor to take care of it. I also pointed out that they needed to be secure in their ownership of the heifer or there'd be no incentive to work hard. From there we went to a comparison of poverty in India and America, how Bill Gates became the richest man in the world ("Is that fair?" "No!" they all said. Good UU kids.), what charities he's supporting, how North America went from much poorer than India a thousand years ago to much richer now, and the moral significance of giving charity proportional to your resources. I don't know how much of it took, but I mostly held their attention and got across the points I wanted to make--charity has to be useful, not just for show, hard work has to be rewarded, and wealth is created, not just redistributed.

Then I let my fellow teacher and the RE director know I was quitting. It's not just the teaching, though trying to work with that curriculum is frustrating and I hate teaching conscripts. Usually I'm teaching professionals who want to drag as much information as possible out of me. I haven't gotten political flack at the church though that's mostly from keeping a low profile. The negatives haven't been as bad as I'd feared but that's just rubbing in the lack of positives. There's not much interest in spirituality at this church. Sometimes even worse is the lack of interest in doing things well. The classic example is whenever a gospel song comes up as a hymn. Most of the congregation will start clapping, whether they have any sense of rhythm or not, so the song's so badly screwed up that it's painful for [ profile] celticdragonfly to listen to it. Other parts of the service tend to be much more "well, I'm here to check this box" than "done well for the Glory of God." One of the things we wanted from joining the church was to have a source of guidance for our kids, figuring we'd have an easier time countering the PC junk here than a theology we don't agree with. But if they're going to teach "it doesn't matter if you do a good job or not, just do something and we'll all praise you" I don't want them inflicting that on our kids. Things worth doing are worth doing well, gorammit.

Not that we're swearing to never darken their door again, we're just looking for other options. Well, [ profile] celticdragonfly is looking for options while I watch the kids. But sometimes it seems like we won't fit in anywhere. Sigh.

Speaking of doing things well--we went to see The Incredibles last night. Whee. Great stuff. I loved it. A bit intense for Maggie I think but she didn't complain. There was one moment that truly horrified me--the wide shot of Bob's cubicle farm spreading horizon to horizon. My windowless matrix is about the same except they use a slightly lighter shade of grey. Or maybe that's the lighting. Yeah, I felt for him wanting to get out of there.

Great movie.

Oh, they had the new Star Wars trailer. "Yes . . . I can feel the nerd rising inside you." I want to see it . . . I've actually skipped #2 up to now even though the glimpses I've had of the battle scenes looked cool. But the battle scenes in this one I think I want to see on the big screen.
selenite0: (Default)
When I was asked to teach the middle-schoolers I went through the middle-school curriculum to see if there were any big ideological conflicts that would keep me from presenting the material. Turns out I should've been looking for pedagogical conflicts. My current theory for dealing with middle schoolers is to keep the material coming and not leave any "dead air", because they'll fill that with their own chatter. So with my turn as lead teacher coming up I sat down with the book to look over the material and see how much I needed to add. Turns out the plan was:

1. kids work on arts & crafts project from last week
2. teacher briefly mentions that Judaism is a religion
3. kids split into three groups with handouts, each do a little craft project, and then brief the contents of their handouts to the other two groups.
4. watch 8 minute video

So I was only supposed to talk for about 5% of the class period. Talk about giving the kids room to run wild. So the handout material became lecture. Turned out the other teacher for the day had prepared some stuff to cover part of it so I didn't have to do the whole thing.

The project (making a village diorama) went reasonably well. Only one major spill, decent painting, no huge arguments. Most of the discussion was about "Here's where we'll put the pirate fort!" and such. So I started the lecture period with a digression on pirates in the time of Jesus (summary: the Romans killed them). To illustrate how Judaism is different from other religions I polled them for what kind of missionaries they'd had knocking on their doors. One student had run into Jews for Jesus but nobody had tried to make them convert to Judaism. In the overview of the religion I stressed the ten commandments, trying to show how these people had stayed distinct from their neighbors because they followed a rigid set of laws. It went reasonably well, I think I got most of the message across. Keeping the momentum of the lecture going kept them from doing much chattering or fooling around.

But they've clearly run into teachers doing that before. I was trying to get them involved by asking questions about the material and having them translate the verses of the KJV into colloquial terms, as well as taking questions from them. The problem I ran into was students tossing out "questions" that were slow, meandering speeches that went off topic and left dead air for other kids to start talking into. I wound up having to shut some down while they were still going on and not take a lot of questions. It went better than some of the earlier sessions but I like to get the class interested in the material instead of just quietly tolerating it. That might be hopeless. They didn't ask to be here and they didn't ask to hear the lecture, so even if they might've signed up for it as an elective they're not going to get enthusiastic for the mandatory class. It takes the fun out of teaching, normally if I'm lecturing it's to an audience that wants to know about this stuff. I'll have to see how the rest of the year goes but right now I don't think I'd sign up for another stint.
selenite0: (karl and maggie)
Yesterday was the first religious education class of the school year. We've got over a dozen middle schoolers in the class. So I was afraid of getting chaos. It wasn't that bad, though. Other than a constant level of background chatter they were reasonably well behaved, and I didn't have to repeat corrections more than once (the other teachers left enforcing discipline to me). The "get acquainted" session two weeks ago was worse, but rearranging the furniture to keep everyone facing the teachers helped a lot.

We started by brainstorming our classroom "covenant". This is a UU practice--we have the kids come up with the rules to live by and write them down so they feel more obligation to follow them. I'm sure that can work fine with any group that wants to have a standard of good behavior. But that didn't describe all of our students. We've got a lot of cut-ups who viewed this as chance to mess with the teachers. After they had their fun for a while we put that aside "to be written up formally" and went on to the next activity.

It's not that these kids are evil or damaged. Brendan's autism drives me nuts at times with his random noises and comic book recitals, but that's something he has a hard time trying to not do. The student who was the biggest problem I know because he's the son of a friend of ours. I had a run-in with him last year when Laura and I were brought in to show Jamie to a sex-ed class. While the girls clustered around the baby the boys faded to the back and started fooling around. In this case, taking out a lighter and a candle and getting a fire going. When I had a chance I went over and just took it from them. No dramatic displays, just taking an action and making it clear that he didn't get to appeal. He got it back afterwards, but the distraction in class stopped.

With that as background I kept on eye on him in the previous session and disappeared the lighter as soon as he pulled it out. He learns quick. Yesterday he and his buds were playing Magic:TG while waiting for class to start. When I told them to put it away they went back in the box and didn't get touched again. Lesson learned. But watching how well he learns drives something home to me. This kid has learned that showing off to the rest of the class by being an obnoxious clown to the teacher and other students is a successful strategy with no chance of punishment. And he's taking full advantage of that knowledge.

As do a lot of the others. One of the teachers is a long time member of the church who's a public school teacher in her day job, so the rest of us were deferring to her as the lead teacher. But I don't think she's taught these grades. When we were wrapping up the snack time to go into the final segment she went up to the whiteboard and I hushed the class. Then she stood there waiting for the last bits of chatter to die out. Which, of course, didn't happen. So the conversations expanded into the vacuum while she stood there not doing anything. Finally one of the other teachers hushed them again and got her started. At this point I figured there was nothing that a student could do to get her to chastise him.

The final segment was the lead-in to our topic for the year--studying the life of Jesus of Nazareth. To get them thinking we asked the kids to brainstorm about what they already knew about him. We got a lot of stuff, much of which would horrify a theologian but not bad for thirteen year olds. Then the problem child I discussed above spoke up. He wanted to make a real point, that Jesus' conception happened when Mary wasn't married. The word he used to express this was "bastard." Then I saw our teacher come down on him, because that is a Bad Word used to Denigrate People. So one of the other students offered "illegitimate" as an alternative, and she said that was better but people were trying to avoid it because that had also acquired negative connotations. Well, yeah--lots of people have a negative attitude about the situation and whatever word you use to describe it will get those negative connotations. But we moved on from the PC vocabulary lesson and went back to our topic. It was a reasonably successful brainstorming session.

The worst part of the class was realizing that one of our better students--smart and well-behaved--was crying. I don't know when it started, probably when I was running an errand out of the room, there were several of those for chairs and supplies. But she was crying and I couldn't figure out a damn thing to do about it. Really makes me feel useless.

So I think the whole thing is a great argument for homeschooling. All the @#$% that was going on was behavior that was trained in school and the kids were acting that way as their routine. I can see two ways out of the trap: one, have the kids be actually interested in the subject being taught. Which will never happen when they're dumped into a room for storage, even if they'd want to know about this under other circumstances. Two, set a standard of behavior and hold them to it. That takes some training for the teachers, but the important part is the back-up that the school AND PARENTS provide for the teachers. Undercutting the teachers is just teaching the kids you can ignore any consequence from disobeying the teacher.

Right now I'm committed to teach the whole school year. I'm going to stick it out unless we give up on the church entirely (i.e., can't handle the political frenzy). But it'll have to be a lot better than this to have me teaching another year.
selenite0: (karl and maggie)
Yesterday morning our church's Adult Forum meeting discussed registered sex offenders (RSOs). This had been added to the calendar in response to the fracas over discovering we had an RSO in the congregation. Two people were brought in to present. The son of one speaker had been convicted of statutory rape and was an RSO, the husband of the other was serving 20 years for touching his stepdaughter. They were both activists in groups trying to stop the harsh and unjust punishment of people labeled as sex offenders. This was not a popular attitude with the younger (under 50, i.e. active parents) portion of the audience. The spiel went along peacefully detailing the horrible lives RSOs lead until the speaker said "these people aren't criminals, they're ill." Another parent objected and walked out. I pointed out that anyone sent to jail following a conviction is a criminal by definition. After that the sparring became more general.

One of the speakers mentioned that her daughter (a mental patient) had been raped by another patient at a treatment center but she'd decided to not press charges because "prison wouldn't help him, he was just doing what nature made him." I challenged her on what she would see as justifying "taking him out of circulation" instead of giving him therapy and community support. Her answer boiled down to serial rape/torture/murderers. Okay, that's clear. She'd imprison those I'd want executed, and she'd put in halfway houses those I think should be imprisoned.

There was a big emphasis on the need for community support for ex-convicts. I grant that without that they can't become useful members of society again. The question is how to do it without excessive costs or risks. The example offered was a parish that accepted an RSO but imposed a new rule that no one could touch anyone's children but their own. That got a response from the crowd, with me and others complaining that it was a terrible rule that kept us from breaking up fights or comforting hurt children.

The whole thing was full of sympathy for all these unjustly punished sex offenders. As somebody who was once briefly very interested in where Massachusetts drew the line on statutory rape* I understand things can get fuzzy. On the other hand, the speaker's son had a 12 year old daughter, so I think he should have an easier time staying away from the fuzzy area. What really pissed me off was the blame-the-victim sneers at the parents of Megan Kanka. "I wouldn't have waited so long to call the police." I'd like my kids to have a chance to play with the neighbors instead of being locked in the house all the time. "They hired him to do yard work knowing he was an ex-con." Okay, so these people were providing the community support you want all RSOs to have, and therefore they should be condemned for putting their daughter at risk? The question of what should be done to keep kids safe was never considered, the agenda was complaining about the current laws being too harsh.

What did make me feel good was hearing other people in the audience speaking out and knowing I wasn't alone in disagreeing with the speakers. Our church seems to be in the middle of a transition. They built the new wing for the nursery and classrooms a few years ago to bring in families as members. It's working, but the new people have a different attitude. As far as I can tell the longer-term members of the congregation average a lot older and either don't have kids or the kids are grown up. The most visible sign is the big financial crisis. Apparently the creators of the Grand Plan thought parents would have as much disposable income as all these childless professionals in their 50's. So there is now great commotion. The distinction between church-as-resource-for-troubled-people and church-as-safe-zone-for-children is also causing problems, hence the RSO forum discussion. Or possibily it's church-as-organization-zone-for-rabid-liberals that's the root of all this. I'm hoping when this settles out we'll be happy staying part of the church, there's some good people here. But making sure it's good for the children is the most important priority, and that includes making sure they don't get taught that rape is a trivial issue not worth punishing as well as ensuring their physical safety.

*It was spring break. I was a sophomore, she was a sophomore. I didn't ask which school she went to. Turned out to be a high school. No, I didn't break the law.
selenite0: (Default)
Our church has asked me to be one of the Religious Education teachers for this year. For the middle school class. So this may be more a matter of my demonstrated willingness to put a testosterone-crazed 13-year old in his place than any teaching aptitude I may have.

Not that I think I'd be a bad teacher, I enjoy teaching. But I'd have to stick to the Unitarian Universalist curriculum for the age group. This Sunday I had a chance to sit down and go through the teacher's manual (despite the efforts of another parent who felt the need to tell me her life story). Which had a surprise for me.

It's something that would only happen at a UU church--a pagan gets to teach Jesus's life story to the kids.

Not that I have a problem with teaching that, there's a lot of good things in the gospels and it's important cultural background. The main worry I had was that there'd be a lot of PC platitudes driving me up the wall. There was actually only one lesson that I had a problem with. The stories of the Young Rich Man ("Sell all that you own and give it to the poor, then follow me" said Jesus) and the Widow's Mite (a small contribution from the poor is a greater sacrifice than a large one from the rich) are used to kick off a discussion of wealth and poverty. The gist is that some people and nations have lots of money, others don't, and the rich should give lots of money to the poor.

My objection to that is not that we shouldn't help the poor but that it creates this image of wealth just being randomly distributed among nations, so fairness demands that the lucky ones share. In reality rich nations such as America got that way with lots of work from many people and the social fabric needed to let them be productive. Most of the third world has lots of natural resources but anyone trying to do something useful with them will have a corrupt government or bandits stealing whatever they produce. That's what keeps them poor. So just parachuting in bundles of cash would help the thieves, not the poor. The same dynamics apply at home--three generations of hard work and investment produces a very rich family. If the same people had dropped all their spare cash on booze and card games they'd be dirt poor. Just handing over cash won't make lives better, it's a lot more complicated than that.

Fortunately Jesus recognized that. When Laurie (the RE director) saw me after the service she asked if I still wanted to be a teacher. I said "I'd want to tell them the Parable of the Talents." "Sure," she said. So I'll be teaching Unitarian Sunday school.
selenite0: (Default)
We went to the Unitarian service yesterday. They made an announcement that we'd had a registered sex offender in the congregation and that he'd been asked to stay away. Didn't mention he was a pedophile. Did have the announcement made by the highest-ranking woman in the church leadership. But complaints aside they did make a clear announcement. Had an interesting sermon, which concentrated on how more people were doing good and only a small fraction were evil.

It's nice to hear a Unitarian talking about evil. Lots of them seem to have trouble with the concept. There's a lot of fluffy "can't we all just get along" attitude.

Case in point--last week's service. I'm there being twitchy about the pedophile just being outed (and the idiot president of the congregation called him up and told him--"hey, so-and-so found out you're violating your parole, so don't come to the church any more"--so I was listening for sounds of a nasty intruder). It was a children's service, with some classic kid's stories being read. The director of religious education came up with her guitar and started telling the story of a village that was burned down by a dragon every week. This made the villagers unhappy because they had to build their houses again every week. So when a brave frog came by they asked him to go make the dragon stop. The frog confronts the dragon, who explains, he's sorry, he can't help breathing flame, it's just his way. He'd rather breath flowers than flames. Cue guitar and she launches into "If I could breathe you springtime."

I walked out.

My favorite description of fairy tales:

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
- attributed to G. K. Chesterton

The world has evil people in it. Some are just evil because they cause harm through careless. Other enjoy hurting people for their own profit. The most evil have a grand scheme they want to force everyone into regardless of the cost. But in all cases you have to confront them and defeat them if they don't yield. True yielding means making atonement for past sins, not just empty promises about being better in the future. Evil people who won't atone must be destroyed or rendered harmless some other way. That's a lot of work. It's a big temptation to say "he promised he'd do better, we can stop worrying about it now" but that just lets them try to hurt people again.

I don't want pedophiles in my church. And I do want my children learning that dragons who destroy a village are things you kill, not sing pretty songs with.


May. 17th, 2004 03:51 pm
selenite0: (Default)
Sometimes I wonder if there's any chance I'm going to last in a Unitarian church. Yesterday morning I went to the pre-service adult forum talk. They had a poli sci prof talking about voter turn-out. His handout listed the categories of registered voters who don't usually vote by demographic attributes. I was amused to see I fell into the "Irritables" category--news junkies who don't vote or vote for third parties. Given that I have yet to vote for a major-party candidate for president that describes me pretty well.

Turns out that's the group the prof hates the most. Not just for their views, though he did some mocking of those, but because they'll vote their conscience. This is apparently a travesty of voting, which is about "gaining power, taking power away from other people, exercising power." Great. Not only am I disagreeing with these folks on most issues, but actually wanting to discuss issues instead of us-vs-them makes me a bad guy. Sheesh.

I actually wanted to discuss the issue, my viewpoint being that if we had candidates who came closer to our positions instead of driving us away with barrages of ads we'd vote more, but instead I just kept my mouth shut. If I'm not going to get listened to there's no point in drawing flack.
selenite0: (Default)
Our CUUPS group had its Beltaine ritual on Saturday. I'd gotten a bit too volunteering-happy and wound up with two roles--storyteller in the ritual and donation-raiser outside it. The storytelling caused me the most stress. I've done a bunch of it, but it's been years since I've done anything before a crowd, and I didn't have any guidance on what to do. I finally settled on a mini-history of Beltaine and was still editing it at the site that afternoon after the workshops. Then I had to memorize it.

Read more... )
selenite0: (Default)
Last night we went to the Ostara ritual hosted by our local CUUPS group. This was Ostara as in "name for a pagan vernal equinox ritual", not as in "Northern European fertility celebration." The priestess was using American Indian symbology which is new to me. Have to say I'm spoiled by Ancient Keltic Church--the ritual kept getting bogged down by logistical bottlenecks, the kind of stuff AKC has trained people to figure out while designing rituals. Plus it didn't have as much emotional impact as an AKC event. But it's still good to get out and meet people and feel part of the community.

One other big difference was the number of kids at the ritual. With 40-45 adults there were a dozen pre-teen children, three of them babes in arms. It's nice having other kids for ours to play with.

There's a full moon circle we're planning on attending in two weeks, and they're going to have a daylong bash for Beltaine. After that the schedule's not fully settled. Laura may volunteer to run the Lammas ritual. I'm glad we found CUUPS, I think we're going to be going to a lot of their rituals.


selenite0: (Default)

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