Saying “No”: The Biggest New Lesson I’ve Learned About Teaching and Life

Good authors develop their themes through various creative processes designed for easy absorption into the reader’s mind.  If my life were a book, and these past few months were the latest chapter,  the author of my story would be trying to show you the tremendous importance of the ability to say the word, “No”.   It seems a small thing and an even smaller word, but it is essential for life.  It is essential for teaching.

My current role in the school that I teach at is Instructional Aide to the Special Education teacher.  This means that I assist students with special needs throughout the day.  Regularly, I go into five or six separate  classrooms to provide whatever service is required.  It is quite the learning opportunity to observe the same students responding to different teachers and their particular styles.  These three months have taught me many invaluable lessons, but chief among them has everything to do with the thing that distinguishes a good teacher from a bad one.  It has to do with classroom management and respect.    The best teachers understand it, and the others either lack the knowledge, or the fortitude to act.  I am referring to the ability to stand firmly by a proclamation of, “No!”

My favorite classrooms to enter are ones in which I know the teacher will maintain order.  If I understand this, surely the students do as well.  And since I also understand that certain classrooms lack the promise of order, students know this as well.  I have witnessed as structured rooms grow more orderly, and I have witnessed as unstructured rooms grow more chaotic.  Certainly, all (at least most) teachers want a peaceful environment in which to educate, but some get swallowed up in ever increasing noise, disrespect, and misbehavior.

Once again, I have seen clearly the difference maker, and it is the boldness to declare how things must be, and the integrity  to see that things operate according to that standard. Students need to know what is expected of them.  Teachers must communicate their expectations very clearly.  Once this standard is established, students then choose to follow or disobey.  If a teacher has failed in this first step, they must either rely entirely on their imposing presence to ensure order in the classroom, or they will find themselves fighting a losing battle as the students experiment with pushing the boundaries of behavior.  If  the structure is established  successfully, which means the teacher has communicated clearly their expectations for work and behavior, the teacher then has only to stand firmly.  When a student breaks from the structure, the teacher either allows it or corrects it.  If students learn that a teacher can’t stick by their “No”, disorder will likely be the result as more students stray from the standard.  Without an adult to hold the line, immaturity triumphs.

Unfortunately, I’m seeing that it is becoming harder for teachers to stand by their “No”.  I’m sure there are many reasons for this.    Could any of you argue me on the point that we as a people are growing weaker in our ability to say “No” to ourselves?  On the one hand we have more conveniences and freedom through technology (iPods, smartphones, social media etc) which encourage greater selfishness by giving us more direct control of how we interact with the world.  On the other hand we have a culture driven by pleasure, materialism, and a growing acceptance of moral relativism.  If we view the world with no moral absolutes, how can we teach children effectively by standing firmly by our “No”?  If we can’t identify a clear standard of right and wrong for ourselves, how do we expect our children to behave?

If the adults can’t say “No”, if the standard isn’t firmly established and maintained, if there’s no one to hold the line, what results can we expect?


Why is Gay Marriage a Big Deal?

In my last post, On Gay Marriage, I described that everyone has the freedom to express their views in this gay marriage debate.  Whether you are for or against, no one should stop you from speaking your mind.  Furthermore, I expressed my desire for Christians to not dread when the culture shifts away from biblical values.  Instead, Christians must recognize that they are a people set apart,  and cannot demand that the world submit to their beliefs.  Nevertheless, both Christian and non-Christian Americans are compelled to enter into the political arena with the goal of shaping policies which reflect their core values.  Are any of those ideas radical?  I don’t believe they are.

I now want to take this a step further.  I want to address something that I have read numerous times in the past year.  Many have asked something along the lines of, “What does it matter to you if gay couples get married?  If you don’t like it, don’t do it.”  What they’re suggesting is, gay people getting married doesn’t have anything to do with you.  If they want to get married, why stop them?  Aren’t you just imposing your own beliefs on them, and therefore limiting their freedom to live as they wish?  It’s an important question.

We live in a country.  This country is made up of millions of citizens.  Each citizen plays a part in shaping the culture.  Some have a substantial influence (celebrities, political and religious leaders, authors, directors) and most have a small influence.  Regardless of the scope that one’s influence has on the overarching culture, who could deny that everyone has at least a portion to contribute?  If we can accept that each of us plays a role in shaping the world around us, we can then accept that our actions have consequences for the larger society.

Consider again the question of, “What does it matter to you if a gay couple gets married?”  It has very little to do with me.  If two people decide to marry each other, and I don’t even know them, it has an immeasurably small effect on my life.  If one hundred people marry one hundred other people, and they live in California, it probably won’t matter much to me.  I’ll just keep living my life as if nothing happened.  Does it seem like I’m saying two different things?  A paragraph earlier I claimed that each person has a portion of influence within our society, and now I’m telling you that when a gay couple gets married it doesn’t really affect me.  Bear with me a little, and I will show you the way that this gay marriage issue, when taken in full, does in fact have a significant effect on me and everyone else in this country.

We live under the authority of our government.  Yes, the government is of, by, and for the people, but at the end of the day we submit to the power of local, state, and federal authority. Whether you like it or not, our government has the authority to make laws, enact policies, and take the money we earn.  The government said slavery was legal.  The same government made it illegal.  It also refused women the right to vote.  Then it made voting a right for women and African-Americans.  Before 1973 it was illegal to get an abortion.  After Roe v. Wade our government made it legal for women to have abortions.  One year the United States says abortion is illegal and wrong.  The next year it says abortion is legal and permissible.  My point in all of this is, the government has incredible authority to shape our society.  It makes a free man a slave and a slave free.  It makes a fetus a life and a life a fetus.  And it defines the institution of marriage as the joining together of husband and wife.  I know this because, except for in a few states, same-sex marriage is illegal.
The people who didn’t really have an effect on me a few paragraphs ago now have the ability to push for a change in the law.  As the debate rages on, supporters of legalizing gay marriage take steps to persuade the American public that it is wrong to limit freedom and make moral judgments against homosexuals.  Opponents of legalizing gay marriage take steps to persuade the American public that the institution of marriage is sacred, the foundation of any civilization, and to lift up same-sex marriage alongside it would be essentially and practically destructive.  Both are fighting for a spot in the political arena because both understand the significance of obtaining the approval of the government.

Shape policy, and you eventually shape society.   Beliefs change the world.

Some of you may be thinking that it isn’t this simple.  Of course it isn’t.  Politics is fed by an ever-evolving culture within America.  The culture as a whole has grown more accepting of the idea of gay marriage.  And, since this is the case, the legalization of it is likely a foregone conclusion.  Nevertheless, opponents of gay marriage must not forsake their view on the matter.  Speak plainly and fearlessly the convictions of your conscience.  Understand that your belief shapes your action, which shapes policy, which shapes the very world in which you live.

Why is gay marriage a big deal?

You tell me.

On Gay Marriage

On two occasions I have written about abortion (An Inflammatory Issue: Abortion & Speaking for the Victims of Progress).  For each of those postings I took great care to control my emotions and also the language that I used.  It is too easy to slip into a righteous rant, and I wanted my thoughts to shine clearly.  I bring this up because I am now about to dive into another volatile topic: gay marriage.  Truthfully, I have avoided this issue because of how challenging it is to discuss.  This is the hot button issue of our day, exposing our deepest beliefs regarding freedom, morality, religion, family, society, sexuality, and love.  Like abortion, it is an issue that often defines a political position.  And, also like abortion, it defies many attempts to discuss with a cool head.  Though I can’t promise that I won’t offend, I can promise a most sincere effort to proceed with clarity and compassion.  Here we go.

I’m interested in what is behind an opinion, or a value, or a belief.  What is the primary force inside of you and me that shapes our characters and the nature of our thoughts and wills?  To tackle the topic of gay marriage, I think it is most helpful to try to identify the primary forces at work in both parties, for and against.  You may think I am being too ambitious or resorting to too much personal opinion, and perhaps that is the case.  All I ask is that you consider what’s to follow and ask yourself if I’m completely nuts or if I have a leg to stand on.

The popular liberal position on gay marriage is that it’s good, natural, and nobody’s business.  They see society as advancing in tolerance, freedom, and reason as more states legalize same-sex marriage.  Legalized gay marriage is viewed as a victory for progress.  Furthermore, those who oppose this movement are viewed as having out of touch beliefs that are largely informed by outdated values.  Many who oppose gay marriage are influenced by their religions.  Those influenced by religion are in large part viewed as religious fundamentalists, which means they interpret their holy book literally.  Each of the three major world religions condemn homosexual lifestyles, so the opposition either takes a more liberal stance on their religion (allowing for the acceptance of homosexual behavior) or they dig in their heels and quote their ancient texts.  Many liberals are critical of conservative Christians especially, calling them bigots, homophobes, and haters.  Society as a whole is growing more tolerant of gays and gay marriage, and this is good for those people who have lived in fear of judgment.  There are many cases of teen suicide related to bullying, and many of these are hate crimes linked to anti-gay sentiments.   Accepting same-sex marriage paves the way for gays to live more freely and securely in a society that is just now shaking off its puritanical roots.

If you represent the position I just described, please feel free to critique or condemn what I just wrote.  I’m sure there are elements I am missing or glossing over.  I’m attempting to sum up a position that isn’t my own so it would be better if someone who supports gay marriage had input.

The popular conservative position is that gay marriage is bad, unnatural, and nobody’s business.  They believe that family is the foundation of society and marriage is the foundation of family.  Many conservatives are informed by traditional values, which are informed by religious values.  They point to a long history of civilization, but mainly to the short history of America for evidence of the time-tested legitimacy for heterosexual marriage.  They view their opponents as possessing a worldly morality, that is one formed by the trends and passions of modern society.  These liberals are governed by their own passions and desire for personal freedom, and pay no respect to a higher standard of right and wrong.  Freedom is their god, and they recklessly sacrifice traditional values on its altar.  To many conservative Christians, liberals who favor gay marriage are attempting to redefine marriage and pass legislation that will shift our society’s standards further away from the standards of God and traditional American values.

Once again I am fitting these beliefs into a nutshell.  There’s much more to say on both sides of the issue.  But for now I want to leave them be and move onto my own beliefs on this matter.


I ask myself, what is the role of the Christian church in shaping America’s policies?  It is one thing to view a particular way of life as sinful, but it is another to influence secular society by fighting for political power.  Should Christians be able to speak about their critical views on homosexual behavior, absolutely.  This wouldn’t be America if people couldn’t express their beliefs openly.  Open expression doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.  It just means that the government doesn’t snuff it out of the public square.  I think all reasonable people can agree that civil discourse on this and any other issue is essential.

Regarding the political fight to shape legislation, or to prevent legislation, I am less confident about my role.  It is one thing to establish a common morality within the church, and it is another to try to establish one in the world.

Is it our place to fight for the highest seats of power?  Is it our place to expect the same way of life from those who don’t know Jesus Christ? I think it is damaging for people to treat America like a church, as if everyone used to be Christian and we just have to knock some sense into them.  I see many people like myself dreading the changes in society as if society is meant to reflect the status of the Christian church.  Society as a whole is a part of the world, and even though we live in it and shape it, we can’t look to it like we would look to the body of Christ.  The church is called to be set apart from the ways of the world.  What happens when the church judges someone outside of it as if that person were a member?  Is that what Jesus wants us to do?  Or does he ask us to live for Him and model a righteous life?  Maybe then we would appear as bright lights to a dark world.

To sum up my position,,,

I believe that those on both sides of the gay marriage issue should speak openly and courageously.  We as Americans shape the world around us based on our values.  Christians like myself should vote for those people who most closely reflect their values just as anyone else should.  But when society shifts further away from biblical values, Christians are not meant to panic and dread as if the church itself were crumbling.  The church is a people set apart, and cannot demand of the world that it live in submission to its principles.  That doesn’t mean that we curl into a ball and die.  It simply means that we expect one thing from the church and another from society.  Since Americans have the freedom to shape their government, and as a result their society as a whole, every individual also shares in the responsibility of the result.  For that reason religious and non-religious alike should take an active role in politics.  But the Christian doesn’t look to a worldly nation for his or her spiritual affirmation.  They look to God, and their brothers and sisters in Christ.

How to Judge Movies

I’ve seen many movies.  I’ve seen too many movies.  It is impossible for me to justify how much time I’ve spent watching them.  It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something.  Well, I don’t think I’m quite there but I’m close enough to claim some authority on the subject of film.  For today’s purpose I will write on the subject of judging the quality of a movie: a topic I have pondered much.

Do you believe movies, or any form of art, can be judged objectively?  Can two people with entirely different tastes watch the same film and agree upon the value of its content and structure?   Or are they entirely at the mercy of their individual interpretations, feelings, and opinions?  Could it be both?

When I watch a movie many things occur inside of my head.  I become a part of the viewing experience and allow myself to be subject to the unfolding drama.  Perhaps I am deeply moved, or maybe I am irritated.  One or more characters might resonate with me, and I feel connected.  Inversely, I may not feel any connection to either the story or the characters.  The movie does nothing to reach me, and I walk away unaffected.  All of these reactions have to do with my personal experience with the film.  This is one of two ways that we can judge a movie, and this is likely the way that most people judge them.

The second type of judgement is more detached and objective.  Objectivity is best exemplified, in my opinion, in math.  2+2=4 no matter what any crackpot philosopher says.  When you plug a concrete value into a concrete equation you get a concrete result.  If I challenged the answer of 4 in the equation of 2+2 I would be either a fool, an intelligent fool, or a brilliant fool.  No quantity of words and abstract explanations could change the answer. It is accepted as truth.  So can a film be objectively good, even if I don’t particularly enjoy it?

An artist is an intentional and purposeful being.  Even those artists who say they are making something strange and undefinable operate due to some knowable motivation.  Consider the Terrence Malick film, Tree of Life.  I have heard that even he doesn’t have the words or knowledge to describe what it all means.  And one could argue that any good piece of art can’t be easily defined.  Even so, he understood that to make a movie he needed a plot and some characters.  He needed a setting and some themes.  It is clear in watching that grace and truth are themes, as well as life and death.  The conclusions of the film are abstract, but it doesn’t take away from the necessary and concrete pieces that all stories must contain.  You must have character, plot, setting, theme, and a structure that serves them all.  Tree of Life was nominated for best picture because it can be judged along the same lines as The Artist.  They are very different in content and effect, but the academy understood that both were masterfully constructed by artists who understand the core makeup of a good film.  Movies must follow the rules of good storytelling, and for that reason they can be judged objectively.

Think of a house.  It has been designed by a master architect.  The woodwork has been crafted by a master carpenter.  The plumbing has been installed by a master plumber.  This house is designed to stand and function properly.  It serves the purpose of a house.  No one intentionally builds a house to have leaky pipes.  Now, you might love this house.  You think the layout suits your tastes and needs.  The color scheme is fantastic.  The tiled bathroom seems to call out your name.  Then again, you might not like this house at all.  It’s too big, or too small.  Maybe you don’t like the neighbors.  The house is well-built, but it just doesn’t feel right for you.  It is the same with a movie.  It could be well put together, following the crucial building blocks of a good story, but you don’t find yourself captivated by it.  You don’t  want to spend much time living inside of it because it doesn’t speak to you.  Of course another scenario might be that the movie isn’t well put together, like a house that’s falling apart, but you find some special charm about it that makes you want to stay a while.  A movie can be objectively bad, but subjectively satisfying.  Face/Off and Independence Day come to mind for me.

I hope this has cleared things up for you.  This is how I judge movies; on two levels.  I think it allows for much freedom, to like a bad film and to dislike a good one.  It also distinguishes between the realms of the heart and the mind without putting up a wall between them. So whether a movie touches your heart, your mind, or both, take some time to admire the fine craftsmanship.

My 175th Post: Reflecting on the Blog

175 isn’t exactly a special number.  The thing is I didn’t feel like waiting until the 200th to make a big deal about it.  Also, my first blog post occurred almost two years ago on March 25, 2010.  And if anyone’s keeping track, I reached the 100th post on November 29, 2010.  I’ve got some catching up to do.

Part of the reason I’m thinking about this blog now is that I recently came across an older version.  This older version was from and I called it “A Country Bear Jamberoo.”  Truthfully, I haven’t thought of it in ages.  Only after a recent moment of nostalgia did I search online for the ancient text.  It’s strange to look back at what I wrote when I was 17, in the year 2004.  Back then I was a Junior in high school and filled with angst.  The 141 entries span from 2004 to 2008, but the vast majority are from the first two years.  I am surprised to see how differently I wrote and thought as a teenager.  If you feel like taking a look just click here.                175 + 141= 316   I guess I’m out there for the world to examine.

Some interesting facts about my blog that I want to share with you are:

About 50 people are directed to my blog every day because of google images that I have posted.  The majority of those are from my post on Pokemon from about a year ago.  Maybe I should post some Twilight and Justin Bieber pictures if I want more traffic.

The impetus for my first blog post was a desire to say more than was allowed in a Facebook status update.

I started on Blogspot and then switched to WordPress after Tim Teal suggested that WordPress had more features.  I am much more pleased with WordPress.

There have been about 40 “almost posts”.  I write a good chunk of something and then for any number of reasons I don’t publish.  Some examples include my feelings on zero tolerance policies, the significance of the thief on the cross next to Jesus, an analysis of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, and a personal story about an incident in 5th grade that involved me defending the honor of my crush.   Maybe someday.

By far the number one commentator for this blog is India Pearl.  I thank you, India, for your longtime devotion to this blog.  I really do appreciate how much you have responded.  Most of the time I am looking for a response from the people who read this, and to have someone respond so regularly and thoughtfully is wonderful.  Thank you again!  And here is a link to her blog, Tactless Truths of My Crazy Life.

If you want to get an email when I write something new all you have to do is subscribe by typing in your email address in the box on the right.  It’s quick and painless.

Well, that about does it.  Looking back on what I’ve written in the past, I am glad to say that most of it is still readable.  Whether I’m discussing a movie, book, political issue, or Christianity, I try to make things entertaining and meaningful.  If it’s worth taking the time to write, I hope it is worth taking the time to read.  I hope so.

Thank you to those who read on a regular basis.

It’s my pleasure to keep on writing.