What Do You Expect?

Occasionally, I talk to people who are a little put off by the name of the Emerging Scholars Network.  “I’m not a scholar!” they say, and they don’t think of their children in that way either. 

But an interesting study was just released by the Dept. of Education, entitled “Parent Expectations and Student Achievement.”  Here’s how the Chronicle of Higher Education ($) summarized it:

The Education Department released a report on Tuesday that offers new insights into the factors influencing whether parents expect their children to enroll at four-year colleges, and suggests that many young people who could succeed at such institutions are not being encouraged by their families or schools to apply.

The study found that parental expectations vary widely between different races and income levels, and that many parents think their children won’t be able to finish college when their grades suggest otherwise. 

I had a professor in college who was an incredible teacher.  It made sense, because educational theory was one of his specialties!  He freely admitted that he was not a good student in either high school or college – he had a 2.7 GPA as an undergrad – and he applied to grad school almost on a whim. Once in grad school, though, when he was able to focus on a subject that he was truly interested in, his grades took off.  He earned a PhD and is now a tenured professor.  He also taught me one of my first lessons in academic grace, but that’s a story for another time. 

What are your expectations, either for yourself or your children? 

Technology and Sex Selection

The use of abortion to choose the gender of a child has long been a concern of the pro-life movement, especially in countries like China or India where cultural and legal norms make both gender selection and abortion more acceptable.  A new study is suggesting that some ethnic groups – specifically Chinese, Korean, and Indian – in the United States may also be using abortion to choose the gender of their children. William Saletan of Slate.com has a good writeup of the study and some implications. 

However, the conclusion of the article is a bit confusing, 

If you think of yourself as a techno-progressive—someone who believes, as Barack Obama does, that “maximizing the power of technology” will help fix everything from energy to theenvironment to health care—the increase in sex selection should give you pause. Technology can facilitate regression as easily as it facilitates progress.

OK – I’m good with that.  I thought that “technology=progress=unlimited good” went out with the Victorians, but that’s fine if people are just now waking up to reality.  The rest of that paragraph is a bit odd. 

But if you think of yourself as a pro-life conservative, the data should humble you, too. In the populations in which it has increased, sex selection isn’t a newfangled perversion. It’s a custom, and a patriarchal one at that. If the sex-selection story teaches us all to be a bit more skeptical of both tradition and technology, that’ll be real progress.

Eh?  Perhaps some pro-life conservatives base their position of “patriarchal custom,” but I’m not aware of custom or patriarchy or tradition – much less Chinese, Korean, or Indian tradition – being used as a foundation for pro-life arguments in the United States.  

This recent story – about a Vietnamese man who runs an orphanage for unwanted children next door to an abortion clinic in Vietnam – notes that he receives donations from “Christian and Buddhist organizations.” I have not encountered any Buddhist or Hindu approaches to abortion – either for or against – so I would be very interested in learning more about how non-Western religions regard abortion. 

Trimming the Tree

Ginger trimming the treeTonight, we set up our Christmas tree. This will be the last Christmas for us in our current house, as we are moving the very week after!

Agatha’s OrnamentAgatha took this picture of the ornament with her face on it. She’s a talented photographer (especially for a 4-year-old), but she has a bit of an ego.

And here’s the final product!

The Tree!

Elizabeth and the treeAt Agatha’s insistence, we started a new Christmas tradition this year: gathering around the tree and singing a song (“Jingle Bells,” in this case). As our family is only four this year, and the tree is in a corner, we are glad that we selected a smallish tree this year, bought from the tree folks who normally sell out of an old RV at the putt-putt course, but this year had to move to a spot on Dixie Highway.

The Nature of Knowledge

The Faculty Ministry Leadeship Team (on which I serve, as part of my role with the Emerging Scholars Network) is reading Douglas Sloan’s book Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and Higher Education. I’m keeping a reading journal on my other blog (parts one, two, and three, so far are up). 

One passage, in particular, strikes me as something I’ve been thinking over for some time.  Sloan describes how, after World War II, universities redefined “knowledge” into, basically, the “higher utilianarianism” of scientific, technical, and social research, and the “lower utilitarianism” of “community service and vocational training.”  As a result, there was “very little concern…for an education devoted to the deepening and enrichment of personal and cultural existence.”

Elizabeth and I are just beginning our childrens’ formal education.  Over the last few years, I have wished that my early education included more of the “great books” in the Western tradition.  I have been jealous of the ways that my poetic heroes – Eliot, Auden, Wilbur – were/are able to draw (seemingly) effortlessly from a depth of cultural knowledge that I had to google just to understand.  I’ve been attracted to the classical Christian education movement as a corrective to what I see as gaps in my personal education. 

Just this morning, I was talking with a friend at my other job about the nature of reason.  His work deals quite a bit with debunking scams and seeing through false claims, so he has been attracted to skeptical societies and logical arguments.  Even though he himself is a musician and writer, he seems to lean more to the naturalism favored by so many professional skeptics.  In my experience, hardened skeptics have become so accustomed to fighting false beliefs in UFOs, magic potions, and con artists, that they fail to recognize the truth in philosophy, theology, and religion.  In fact, they often lump the two groups together as mutually “unprovable.”

My Biological Creation?

QuiverA few days ago, on Jacob Two-Two (that’s right: today’s post draws from the very center of the Western canon), Jacob’s father referred to him as “my biological creation.”

 What a strange way of thinking about a child, especially from a father.  Whenever I have created something with my hands – a poem, say, or a bookshelf – there has been a defined process that I can describe, in which I can clearly point to the actions that I took to reach the final product.  I am working with pre-existing materials (the subjects of the poem, the wood for the bookshelf), but there is “sweat equity” that I contribute. 

In comparison, my contribution to “creating” a child seems trivial.

The Bible depicts children as a gift from God, and that holds true with my experience.  When my wife give birth to our first daughter, I felt like I was experiencing a miracle: a new person came into being.  I could never have done that myself.  I hope that I’m not stretching the exegesis too far by applying this psalm to my two daughters:

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
       its builders labor in vain.
       Unless the LORD watches over the city,
       the watchmen stand guard in vain.

    2 In vain you rise early
       and stay up late,
       toiling for food to eat—
       for he grants sleep to those he loves.

    3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
       children a reward from him.

    4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
       are sons born in one’s youth.

    5 Blessed is the man
       whose quiver is full of them.
       They will not be put to shame
       when they contend with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127)