Category Archives: between books

Teaching and Learning

For another week Jack gets in his guest post on time – – –

In the mid 1990s, I was Head of Department in a Scottish community college, which led to a number of bizarre experiences, as one can imagine. Here is just one –

The role of the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department (SOEID) was to inspect all schools and colleges in Scotland. But when it came to specialist subject areas they often asked people from other colleges to be part of the inspection team. On one occasion I was chosen and for three weeks traveled every weekday to Falling Apart College (not its real name, because truth in advertising laws are not big in Scotland.)

The team would convene in the boardroom before heading off in different directions and then re-convening in late afternoon back in the boardroom. All day long the college provided fresh coffee and biscuits—er, cookies to you.

Particularly concerning at FA College were communication from the college president or senior managers to department heads, and then from the heads to lecturers and instructors. These were the main areas for discussion when the team met each afternoon, because none of us could find any proof that they existed. The lowly instructors and lecturers were running the place on a wing and a prayer with no guidance or support from senior managers.

When we began to push harder for evidence of past meetings, an assistant principal handed over a hand-written set of notes from a meeting dated a year earlier. With a smile, my colleague who led the team and had asked for their proof thanked him, and waited for the door to close, leaving just the team in the room. Then he said the Scots equivalent of “Hey, y’all, watch this!” (“Aye, right.”) put the notes on the table and rubbed his finger across them. The “year-old” ink smeared.

It turned out that there had only ever been one full staff meeting three years earlier. When we asked why in heaven’s name they’d never held another, the President of the college looked at the floor and shuffled his feet.

“Well, they all shouted at me about things that wanted changing.”

 Well, we were stuck with having to write up a difficult report. A whole team of senior managers were sitting around doing nothing but pushing paper and showing no interest in the folk who were doing the actual teaching, the teachers were running the place and doing their job, and the president hid in his office most days and hoped no one would knock.

There’s a strict protocol for publishing the final report; the wording is very carefully coded so that any educator reading the report would understand in an instant what a sinking ship or stellar star a place is, but other bureaucrats would miss most of the secret info. And we were required by law to let all the people at Falling Apart College see the report first. None of them knew how badly they’d been bolloxed, but the teachers and lecturers, oh, they were smirking.

But soon the senior staff would smirk too. Shortly after the inspection report was published and the real story came out from news reports and such, translated by education experts, I received an email from the head of the team, apologizing for enclosing a bill for ten pounds. Falling Apart College had finally figured out just how bad the report was, and so they billed us for the coffee and cookies.

To be fair, they were lovely cookies …

Not long after that the Principal took early retirement and the college changed its name. Hey ho, another day in the life of an educator. But there was a certain justice in the people who were doing all the work getting a heads up on the report….

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Filed under between books, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Both Sides Now – –

Not the original sign but similar!

This is a long blog. It’s been on my mind awhile now, but until I passed the church sign on the backhill roads of Coalfields Appalachia, it hadn’t coalesced.

The sign said: Neither the elephant nor the donkey will save you. Look to the Lamb.

Not a suitable place to take a picture or I’d have gotten one, but the freight truck behind me was not inclined to wait, and since they have difficult jobs these days, I didn’t push the issue – or my brakes.

But I kinda teared up when I saw the sign, because it showed insight not easily captured in something smaller than even a Tweet. Tweets aren’t much associated with insight these days, anyway.

I’m a member of a group of old friends, all now pushing the grandparent years, who in our youth were part of Youth With a Mission. We all went to the School of Evangelism together, and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about our unifying factors, can’t help you.

In the intervening years, some have changed their minds about Christianity, and some about elements of Christianity. What’s interesting is how little space there is in the group, how little grace or dignity, for those who believe in Jesus but not all of his messengers.

Several members of the group are fierce about Communism and its nebulous evil ghost twin Socialism. The global pandemic is a backdrop by which Satan will achieve his aim of bringing about a socialist government, and from there we go straight to Antichrist, do not pass go, do not collect $200 in prepaid medical care.

A smaller but completely overlapping subset believe that Democrats, when we die, get put in a laundry chute and sucked straight into Hell. Democrats can’t be Christians, or at least remain both for long. We get a month or so of grace after conversion and then if we haven’t figured it out, we’re living in deception. Every time one of my friends says “A lot of us are praying for you, Wendy,” I fight the urge to point out that it doesn’t sound like they’re praying for God’s guidance for me, it sounds like a need for affirmation: because I pray and because I think this, you must think this, too, or you are wrong, because I can’t be the one who is wrong. So I get extra God points for pointing out you are wrong.

When I was in high school, we had a few men who blatantly said at Bible study that, because they walked in the Light and prayed every day for God to guide their steps, they knew what they believed about politics, medicine, theology, and whether or not Christians could smoke and drink was correct. Therefore, those who didn’t believe like them were incorrect and needed to be prayed for. If they didn’t repent, they needed to be put out of the church fellowship.

I was not yet old enough to have a driver’s license at the time, but instinctively understood even then to stay away from these men and their sweet, silent, staring wives. I quit that Bible study, and kept a close eye on the difference between “Jesus said” and “this is what I decided Jesus meant” for the next 40 years or so.

And so the day came that I saw the church sign—elephant, donkey, lamb—and cried. Not because of the long-haul trucker riding my Prius’s intimidated little bumper, but because someone knew that truth lies not with either side, but in Jesus guiding us. The Bible is a good guide but it can be used in the same way as statistics: take away the context and wiggle things into a specific reference frame, and you can justify just about anything. My friend Friedgaard, a Bible-reading Hitler Youth, taught me that.

I don’t think Democrats have the lockdown on how God wants the world to run, believing we care more about the widows and orphans than those nasty self-enriching, duped Republicans. Evil is easily done by regulations that insist on safety nets for the poor and then push that funding into policy and regulation rather than provision; the rich can enrich themselves under the guise of social justice and it ain’t pretty. I fight it every day in my day job.

Republicans tend to center their moral superiority on a pro-life stance, but it manifests as pro-birth. Abortion is an easy issue for engendering blood-cleansing moral outrage; If you want to be pro-life, care about not spreading COVID-19 to elderly neighbors, and about small children separated from their parents because they tried to save them from drug cartel violence. Don’t huff about a baby you can’t even see yet, and judge the mama as “the very low” in life, and then vote to take away her ability to get free healthcare for gestational diabetes.

It also becomes easy to accuse those of us who no longer want to play the polarization-for-God-points game as following in the foot-in-mouth steps of President Trump when he famously said there were good people on both sides of a white supremacy rally. No, that’s not what we are talking about.

Neither party has a lock on how to live a Godly life. But in the dark times that are coming, I suspect each will continue trying to prove it does, without noticing that the very anger and violence generating such rejection and dehumanization of those who don’t think like us (who don’t BELIEVE THE TRUTH) is the antipathy of what God says to value. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do to others as you want them to do to you.”  “For God so loved the world…”

I’m not riding an elephant or a donkey; I am prayerfully and with careful steps trying to follow a Lamb. Perhaps to some very difficult places in the coming years, because this divide isn’t going away.

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Filed under between books, Life reflections, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch