A Few Questions For My Creationist Friends

From what I can find most creationists believe the Earth to be between 5700 and 10,000 years old.  I think the most important questions they need to answer is:  “Why would God create a universe, and the science that goes with it, and play a trick on us?”  The trick is that the very science He had to create allows us to date the Earth at approximately 4.5 billion years of age.  Another question which needs answering is: “Why would God create an entire species, dinosaurs, and then destroy them?”  He also makes us believe them to have died out about 250 million years ago.  Does this mean that He loves being the trickster, the magician, who relies on sleight of hand?  Even more importantly, why not keep the entire human race at a relatively low level of intelligence so we would not confuse ourselves with what appears to be facts?  The creationist credo says God does not make mistakes and that all human are created in His image.  How does that explain human beings who are born so developmentally impaired that they not only can never care for themselves, there is good reason to believe that it is impossible for them to comprehend the existence of their maker?

Creationist hate Darwin and his theories of evolution.  I can understand how the concept can be difficult to comprehend but that does not make it fantasy.  If there is not constant evolution, how does the creationist explain that the average height of a man during the time of Jesus was about 5 feet 1 inch but today it is 5 feet 9 inches.  That is close in evolution pure and simple.

Here’s a mind blower.  Our nearest neighbor in the universe, to our Milky Way Galaxy, is the Andromeda Galaxy.  It is 2.5 million light years away.  Why would God bother to create other galaxies in the first place and then place the nearest one 2.5 million light years away, about 13,540,372,670,807,453,416.15 miles away. And that is just the closest one.  There are other galaxies which are billions of light years away.


The above picture was taken by the Hubble telescope.  Astronomers have named it “the Pillars of Creation.”  But the creation they are talking about is of stars.  It is a star nursery, if you will.  They are 7,000 light years away.  The height of each of the pillars is measured in the 100s of light years.  But the laws of physics, created by God of course, tells us that what we are looking at is at least 7,000 years old but even more, took millions of years to create in the first place.  But even more, those “stars” you see in the background are actually more galaxies so far distant that they look like tiny specs of light.

I believe that God is sitting, where ever He sits, and is mumbling to himself, “I created all this, gave you high intelligence, and the best you can come up with is that it has all only been around a few thousand years?  I also gave you an imagination, try using it to consider that I actually created this a very long time before that!”


Which Lie are You Telling Now?

Everyone has a conception of what a lie is.  It is being deceitful to someone when they ask you a question or when you are offering something which you state as being factual.  I think most people are pretty honest in their lives.  But there is also a part of us, a part I think which comes from upbringing, environment, and other factors which is so insidious that after a while it blurs the truth so badly that we cannot tell what is true or that we are lying.  Still another sort of lie is one I think few people ever even consider, denial.

The first sort of lie comes to us when we are children and uncomfortable subjects arise which are parents cannot find the courage to discuss.  Possibly chief among such lies is the discussion of sex.  As parents we do not know how to speak to our children about it, or we are not sure what we should say or how much we should say.  The other thing that runs in most families is the lack of discussion around things like alcoholism, drug abuse, mental health, and fear.

When I was young we had an alcoholic uncle living with us.  He had been abusive to my mother when she was younger and was abusive to my brother and I when he was living with us.  But he was never referred to as a drunk or an alcoholic but as some one who drank too much.  Then, some time after he died, my mother suffered a mental break down.  My brother, sister, and I were shipped off to relatives to live for a number of weeks until she was recovered.  I was an adult, maybe in my 40s, before I found out what had happened to her.  And then when I asked my mother about sex she pushed some foolish book off on me which told me nothing.  She was too afraid to speak to any of us about this subject.  That was quite common for others in my generation but I fear it still happens far too often.  These are examples, mostly, of denial and fear.  In defense of my mother there were extremely good reasons for her actions, or lack of them.

For the first four or five years of a child’s life, almost everything they learn comes from their parents, either from direct instruction or by parental example.  From then on children learn from their peers but always use their parent’s example as the sounding board of what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.  But any gaps in a child’s training, direction from his parents, he will fill in the gap with whatever seems right.  If parents actively avoid difficult discussions the child will grow up to do the same.  The lie in the case is the parent knows the truth but does not relate to the child, frequently justifying that action by saying the child is too young or does not need to know whatever.  Most of the time that just is not true.

I believe that as adults it is rare the day goes by that we are not confronted with an uncomfortable truth.  Most of the time those truths are relatively minor though they may be briefly psychologically painful.  The common human reaction is avoidance, and that is always wrong.  And too often that avoidance employs denial.  We think that if we deny that slightly uncomfortable truth, and then forget about it, it will be behind us never to be seen or heard from again.  I think the occasions when that actually happens is rare, if at all.  I believe that these minor uncomfortable truths come at us over and over again, slightly different, but basically the same.  The problem with denial of those small truths is that in either avoiding them, or denying them, we are teaching ourselves how to act or react in those situations.  It becomes second-nature.  We become so numb to our active denial of the truth that we come to believe the lie to be true.  From there we rationalize lying when we encounter even more uncomfortable truths we would rather not face.  Our denial becomes such an active and large part of our lives that we employ it without thinking.

For me, the most difficult truth to tell is one which puts me in an unflattering light.  But in considering such things, I have come to the conclusion that unlike the lie, telling that uncomfortable truth does not require that I defend the position whereas a lie always demands a defense.  And some of the most difficult positions to be in, and not defend, is when I know I own a portion of something I have done wrong but not the entire situation.  I want to say that this other person was complicit and so I don’t deserve all the blame.  The thing is, that does not matter.  If I own any part of a wrong, regardless of how small, I need to just own it and be done with it.  Trying to shift blame serves no good purpose.

My tack these days is to be absolutely honest about even the most minor of details.  For example, when someone asks me how I am doing, and I am not feeling at that well, my response will be along the lines of “I’ve been better.”  But I do not say “fine” when it simply is not true.  That is the most common thing people ask me which requires an honest answer and by being truthful there it helps me practice with the bigger and more important questions of truth.  Every now and then I will discover that something I have said is not quite fully truthful and upon such discovery I correct myself.  The truth is, my feelings have to take a back seat to my telling the truth.

I Will Never “Pass On,” I Will Die!

I really cannot stand that euphemism, pass on.  What does it really mean?  And anyone who dares say that I have “passed on” can be assured of being haunted by me.  I will pass that on!  A friend of mine sometimes borrows my copy of the Boston Globe to check what he calls “the Irish sports page,” the obituaries.  I too check the obituaries on a daily basis just to make certain I am not listed there.  So far that has worked just fine and has meant I will enjoy a good day.  As yet I have not decided what I will do when I do see my name there but having a party comes to mind.

Don’t you just love it when you are feeling, and looking, absolutely miserable and someone asks, “is everything all right?”  I always want to get seriously sarcastic at such moments but good manners generally wins out and I’ll say something mild like, “does  it LOOK like everything is all right!?”  I think I would prefer someone to say, “hey, you don’t look so hot, what’s up?”  At least they acknowledge the obvious and are offering the possibility of comfort.

Here’s another good one.  You are in a crowded grocery story and are standing in one of the long check-out lines.  You have waited extremely patiently while the woman in front of you stares at the cashier while she checks the person out and informs her of the total.  Then, she opens her pocket book and proceeds to search through it for her check book which she eventually finds and then asks the cashier for the amount again.  Then, just as she’s finishing the check she asked if the cashier scanned all the coupons she forgot to give which she then plops down and the cashier scans which of course means a new total and with it a new check has to be written.   Of course the longer line to my left has now gone down and people I saw behind me are finishing up being checked out.  Yes, this has happened to me.

That one is similar to sitting in your car in a long line waiting for the light ahead to turn green when a guy in a BMW screams by you in the left turn only lane and suddenly turns on his right turn signal so he can edge into the front of the long line in front of you.  At time like that I wish I had a shotgun to shoot out his tires with.

I go to this coffee shop in Boston’s Back Bay pretty much every day.  Right in front of the shop and on the street is a sign that says parking is for commercial vehicles only, sic delivery trucks.  But you can almost always count of some guy in a Mercedes or other high-end car parking there so he can run into Starbucks for his coffee.  No, I do not go into Starbucks but the other coffee shop, Au Bon Pain, which is next door.  Still, I want to gain the “special” status such people have that allows them to park with impunity wherever they desire.

I do have other pet peeves but I think those are enough for any post.





After the Beatles

This past week people having been giving homage to the Beatles and all they did for music.  They were the beginning of what was known as “The British Invasion.”  That invasion included groups like The Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, the Kinks, the Who and others.  The Beatles deserve a lot of credit for helping to define music as we know it today.  Other artists, however, had been defining the new rock & role for some time.  Artists such as Bob Dylan , Carole King, Sam Cook, Ray Charles and others also greatly influenced the direction of popular music.

I want to add 10 artists who I think made huge contributions but who many people today have never heard of even though their music lives on.  The following list along with links to youtube are presented in no particular order.  I hope that some of the music will inspire those who have not heard it before to seek it out.

1. Steely Dan “Do It Again” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgYuLsudaJQ

2. Blood, Sweat & Tears “And When I Die” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu7XWgczC7o

3. Carol King “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOyvYnkdEcc

4. Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIdIqbv7SPo

5.  Bob Seger “Old Time Rock & Roll” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQswfILThsY

6.  Jethro Tull “Aqualung” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8ZZ8QnUFVM

7. Stevie Ray Vaughn “Pride and Joy” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NU0MF8pwktg

8. Eric Clapton “Layla” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX5USg8_1gA

9. Freddie Mercury (Queen) “Bohemian Rhapsody” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p4MZJsexEs

10. Gladys Knight “Midnight Train” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meaVNHch96o

11. John Lennon “Imagine” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLgYAHHkPFs

I put John Lennon at 11 because he was, of course, part of the original Beatles but this particular song he wrote after their demise and I consider this to be his greatest piece.  He was also the musical genius behind the group and wrote much more on his own.

I hope you enjoy my choices but please know, this is just an ad hoc list that could easily be expanded.

Our Public Schools Are Not Failing Us: We are Failing Them

Today I figured out how long I worked in Information Technology before I retired out of a combination of frustration and burn out, over 30 years.  I took 6 month off before starting my second career, public education.  For the past 7-plus years I have worked in the Somerville (MA) Public School System at the k – 8 level.  As it turns out, and even though I am just a substitute teacher, it has become the most rewarding part of my work life.  Somerville is a working class city right outside Boston.  It also has a very large immigrant population primarily of immigrant from Central America but also Brazilians, Haitians, Africans, Indians, Nepalese and others.  By law, the city is required to educate all comers regardless of their background which for a city with as many low income inhabitants as it has, can be a very challenging task.

I work entirely at one elementary school in Somerville and have come to know the entire staff quite well.  In the process I have learn how to be an asset to both staff and students alike.  I have learned how to be a teacher at this level and this has made the experience extremely rewarding as-well-as allowing me to feel the experience as being tremendously rewarding, more so than at any time in my previous career.

I have had the opportunity to watch the regular teachers in action.  My take on them is that they are all not just well educated, but extremely professional, devoted, and effective in the jobs.  From experience I can say with absolute certainty that those who criticize the job these teachers do have never tried to do it themselves and have no appreciation of what it takes on a daily basis to be a good and effective teacher.  What does that mean?

Ideally, no teacher in any system should ever have to teach more than 16 – 18 students on a regular basis.  The logic for this is very simple but I suspect that few critics take the time to consider it.  That is, if you consider that a teacher may be able to devote one hour per day to each of the various subjects a student must learn.  Simple math tells us that means a teacher can only give fewer than 4 minutes per hour to an single student needing help, and they all need help to one degree or another.  The next consideration is the actual grade-level of each student in any particular subject.  That means, in any subject each student is below, at, or above the grade level they are enrolled in.  For example, each 2nd grader reads below, at, or above the second grade level.  While the distribution of such students should be relatively uniform, it is not a given.  And, it is more likely that more students will be below grade level than above.  That means each teacher must give more time and resources to such student to assist them in being successful.  But that leads to the ultimate problem, the individuals student’s desire to learn.

Intelligence aside, I do not believe there is any other single factor that is an indicator of a student’s likely level of success.  But the fact is, if a student is not willing to work to learn what they need to, no teacher, regardless of how talented they are, will change that.  Key to that desire to learn are the child’s parents.  The parents level of education and income are irrelevant if they are not fully involved in the child’s education.  And this is exactly where we are failing our children.  There is one other way and I will get to that shortly.

Every parent has an absolute responsibility to their children to be involved in their education.  That means they keep up with where their children are in school, that they are doing the in class work, their homework, and are behaving appropriately.  When any one of those things happens it is their responsibility to find out why.  This means they must consult with the teachers and counselors involved.  Teachers must teach, children must learn and parent must be responsible.  Sadly, it is my belief, that far too many parents feel absolutely no responsibility in their child’s education aside from seeing that they attend school.  But I have been witness to above intelligent students who are failing most, if not all, of their classes.  While some may argue that their may be a sub-standard teacher in a system, when the student fails regardless of which teacher he finds himself in front of, the argument fails all reasonableness.  But what is even more problematic with such students, is most of them are also discipline problems.  The tend to be disruptive influences in whatever class they attend.  This necessarily takes time away for a teacher’s ability to teach those who want to learn, in order to correct the bad behavior of those who do not want to learn.

Most people will say in response to knowledge of a failing students is that the school should not promote that child.  This happens in reality exactly once, if at all.  The reason is does not happen more often, if at all, is there exists political pressure to show that any particular school is not “failing.”  Unfortunately, the parameter exacted of what is failing, at least in Massachusetts, is two-fold.  First, how many students are held back, and second, their MCAS scores.  The MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) is a test students at various grade levels take once a year to determine their level of education.  School districts are judged by the percentage of students passing any of the tests given.  Of course, money is at stake.  Teachers necessarily tailor many hours of classroom time to assuring their students will do well on the MCAS.

One thing that is not allowable at the local, state, or federal level, is accepting the fact that in any population of individuals, a certain percentage is going to fail and there is little, if anything you can do about that.  What teachers and school administrators absolutely need is the ability to retain any student at any grade level until he shows he can perform at that grade level.  While this might mean schools systems have a group of 16-year-old 7th graders, it will also offer a fair amount of peer pressure to dissuade students from failing.  As things stand now, functional illiterates are passed along and enter high school unable to read and understand the their text books.  You can be certain that at the end of each school year, at least at the elementary level, every teacher has at least one, if not more, student who absolutely needs to be retained at that grade.  But they are not because directives coming from the schools system’s superintendent will not allow such actions.  The superintendent is pressured by the mayor, who is pressured by the state’s education czar, who is pressured by the governor who is pressured by the federal government, Washington DC politicians.

Anyone with a lick of common sense, and certainly all successful businessmen, know that before you can fix a problem who first have to properly identify what that problem is.  In this case, the fear of being perceived as a failing school system drives those in charge to promote the least well-educated while declaring them a success.

First we need to hold back any student at any grade he fails.  In calculating what defines a successful system is that system’s ability to show that on an annual basis maybe 2% of their student population is retained at grade level each year.  This would signal that the system takes seriously the actual level of education any particular student achieves rather that creating a perception that belies reality.

The ability to get parent’s to act more responsible towards their children is far more problematic.  Every good educator knows that children crave discipline.  And to a certain extent, so do their parents.  I believe that politicians fear public reprisals if they were to take a hard stand on education, holding children and parents responsible for learning that which is offered.  But my experience says that for every detractor of stricter methods, you will have 10 supporters.  And while the detractors may be for vocal, it is the supporters who guarantee your program’s success.

Every time we promote a student to a level he is not prepared for, we fail that student.  You hold a student back enough and sooner or later he will get the message and start working.  That will be difficult when you have that child’s parent in your office screaming that he should be promoted, but standing by certain principles will bring them around too, eventually.  But given time, even the most stubborn person will eventually realize that it is not profitable to do 60 MPH in a 30 MPH zone and not expect to get a speeding ticket.

Nearly 100% of all schools succeed 100% of the time using the parameters given them today.  But it is those parameters, composed by politicians and their public, that are failing our schools.