Sunday, December 29, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

Goofy's Leg

And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. -- Matthew 18:3

As a Sunday School teacher for a dozen hyperventilating 2-year-olds, I have wished many times for certain key supplies to come along with the craft sticks, cotton balls, yarn, paper plates and gluesticks they give us:

(1) Prozac in room-spray aerosol cans, and
(2) a Valium salt lick.

Yes, teaching children can be frustrating and challenging. If a classroom of little ones is a microcosm of the adult world, we're toast.

There's not much hope for ending war, for example, when two little shorts will engage in a brutal, endless tug-o-war over an eight-inch stuffed animal named "Fop Fop."

Gun control seems pointless when you see what little boys can do to each other with cardboard tubes that were supposed to be ancient scrolls. I rebuke them: we wouldn’t have any recorded history if all our ancient scrolls were bonked into useless spirals on little boys' heads! They stare at me, utterly remorse-free.

Peace on earth? Hah. You must not have ever had your eardrums pierced by the shriek of a child whose baby carriage was snatched from her hands by another one who preferred to use it to load cardboard bricks.

Goodwill to men? Humph. You’ve never held up a picture from a children's Bible showing the Magi, only to have one little boy decide the bearded one looked sinister, and shout, "I'M GONNA HELP JESUS SLUG THIS GUY!"

You've never sat by a little bitty person on a little bitty potty who sat and smiled on that little bitty potty for what must be a world-record amount of time sitting on a potty but remaining potty-free, and refusing to leave that little bitty potty until a little bit of potty finally appeared, which I don't believe would have happened to this day, if her mother hadn't come to take her home. Whew.

So, yes, it's stressful to work with little children, even just once a week on a volunteer basis. My New Year's wish for everybody who cares for children full-time is . . . besides peace and joy and strength and dedication . . . an adult-size pacifier filled with a steady stream of liquid Godiva chocolate.

But my real New Year's wish for everyone is to be around a small child sometime soon and learn something like what I learned from one recently.

There are special moments with the little people in our lives where their true nature is revealed, and in the beauty and simplicity of their innocence we are reminded of the big, big truths that oftentimes they see and we don't.

It happened a few weeks ago as Sunday School was ending. We had learned about how Jesus came as a baby, and all the children had enjoyed swaddling a baby doll, giving pretend baths, and dressing, cuddling, feeding and caring for babies.

As one little boy who was a bit of a handful left with his parents, another one raced over to me and tugged on my sleeve. In his buzz cut, plaid shirt and clip-on bow tie, he guided me over to the wastebasket, which was taller than he.

He said he had watched the other boy "put a baby in there." Enormous outrage and grief were in his voice.

I crouched down to his eye level, swung open the wastebasket door, and retrieved the plastic doll. "Here’s the baby," I told him gently. "He didn’t realize what he was doing was wrong."

As I stared intently into his eyes to make sure he felt better, I couldn't help thinking about the whole abortion mess. It was such a parallel.

But he was still upset. "He threw Goofy's leg in there, too." A tear spilled over and ran down his cheek.

Turns out the other boy had also thrown several pieces of Disney wooden puzzles into the wastebasket. Well, I didn’t really sign up for this kind of duty . . . but . . . I plunged my whole arm down into the trash and fished out several puzzle pieces, including, indeed, Goofy's leg.

The little boy looked at me solemnly, intensely, and said:


I nodded, and smiled. "No, but Jesus likes what YOU did."

I instantly thought of the whole big mess we adults are having over medical research on fetal tissue, embryonic stem cells, cloning and all the other tough issues involving life, death, illness and health, and the controversies over where we’re OK with God’s plan and provision, and where we need to draw the line and not cross it, no matter what.

How I wish adults would treat human life in all its forms with the same concern and compassion that that little boy had for Goofy's leg.

We put it back into the puzzle, and put the baby doll back into the pink plastic cradle. We shared a little hug. And off he went with his mom and dad.

But it stayed with me. How it stayed with me.

Life comes down to its defining moments, doesn't it? Whether it's in the halls of politics, the laboratories of science, or the Sunday School rooms with little human dramas being played out by little humans . . . everything starts with where you stand.

The value of life, all life, was defined for me, clearly and simply, by a little boy who knew enough to judge a situation based on what Jesus would think.

That's why I teach Sunday School.

I don't teach it to teach. I teach it to learn.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

Moonbeam Remembrance

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world:
he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
-- John 8:12

He was a big shot, a big-city businessman with a big job and a big salary.

He had phones in his office, home, car and growing out of his ear. He had a thick daily planner, a fat Rolodex and a wide circle of business associates. He had a long job description, a long line of employees to supervise, and a long commute. He left early and came home late, quite often in the dark, coming and going.

In more ways than one.

His friends and family thought he was big, very big. But he felt small.

His business associates thought he had found a sure path to success. But he felt lost.

People thought he was a captain of industry, sailing full speed ahead. But he felt like a gerbil on a wheel, going nowhere fast.

Something was missing and he didn't know what. It was scary, because he didn't know what he was feeling, if anything, except maybe the beginnings of chest pains. But he suppressed all that, because he just didn't have time.

In the midst of people all day, every day, he felt utterly alone, and didn't quite know what to do about it.

Time passed. He tried to fill the emptiness with activity. His stress, restlessness and hyperactivity grew. The clock was like a choke collar. The constant 15-minute deadlines left him no time for relaxation, reflection or rest.

He lost himself in workaholism, the way people lose themselves in booze or drugs or food or TV or sports or shopping or gambling. Too much, too much, too much. It always winds up being nowhere nearly enough.

Busy, busy, busy doing more, more, more but satisfied less, less, less. Feeling alienated . . . empty . . . disconnected . . . discouraged.

Then one December morning, long before sunrise, he dragged himself out of bed and robotically got ready for work. He didn't even glance toward his wife's sleeping form as he left their room and started down the stairs.

Suddenly, he noticed a bright beam of light coming into his dark home from the skylight up above. It was from the full moon, shining down through the skylight onto the stairway landing.

The moonbeam was illuminating an old Christmas decoration that was on a table on the landing. He hadn't even noticed that the holiday decorations had been put up. But his eyes locked onto the kitschy little red church with the red cellophane door and windows. It had a roof of Ivory Snow, frosted like a cake. His grandmother had made it, decades before.

The church was lit from above, literally, as the moonlight streamed through the cellophane. The church seemed to be glowing inside, warm and beckoning.

He stood stock still. His feet seemed bolted down. His eyes were locked onto the church below.

All of a sudden, a thought came into his head:

"Remember what you learned in this place."

He gasped.


Who said that?


He looked around.

He saw nothing.

This place? What place?

Church? It had been ages since he’d gone there.

He remembered sitting in church as a boy, bathed in the light of the stained-glass window his family had given in memory of his grandfather, the one he looked so much like. His father would put his strong arm around him, and he would sit in warmth and security, listening to the Bible stories and beautiful hymns, feeling loved and safe and happy and complete.

He looked up, and saw how the moon completely filled the skylight, as in a picture frame. For the first time in a long time, he felt fullness, completion, peace.

His legs could move at last. He walked downstairs and outside to where he could see how the moon was brightening the entire back yard. He felt as though the light was shining on him and into him, deep into the recesses of his heart.

It was.

He felt bathed in that light, helpless as a baby, but perfectly safe . . . cared for . . . tended to . . . loved.

He dropped to his knees, buried his face in his hands and sobbed, remembering what it was he had learned so long ago in that place called "church."

Love. He had learned about love. He had felt it. He knew what it was. But he had lost it. Now he was working his way right out of it, away from it instead of toward it. Working so hard, he was likely to reach that mountaintop one day . . . but all alone, exhausted, unhappy and unloved.

In the silence and the darkness of both his heart and his home, the moonbeam had come to shine his way back.

Tears streaking down his face, he ran back inside, took the stairs two at a time, knelt beside his sleeping wife, kissed her awake, held her and told her about the moonbeam and the little church his grandmother had made and how much he loved her and how things were going to change.

She cried, too, with relief and joy, and maybe a little fear that he was going crazy.

But he wasn’t. Like the shepherds of old, he had just seen the light.

So they started going to that place called "church." They go to see the light that never fails, the light that shines for us whether we realize it or not, the light that came that first Christmas and is there for us always, especially when our lives seem dark, silent and a little scary, and we don’t quite know how to feel or what to do.

He sees the light now, all the time. He sees it all around him, everywhere, but especially in church.

With his arm around his son, listening to the music and the stories, his heart full, his life complete, he finds what he was missing, the only thing he ever needed . . . he finds it when he's bathed in the peace and fullness of the Light of the World.


Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up


Some people have trouble believing that Jesus Christ came to earth as God in human flesh, beginning on Christmas morning in that manger.

They wonder how Christians can say that God was a helpless, tiny baby in that manger and yet at the same time still keeping His almighty hands on the wheel of the universe and working His plan through people, places and things, knowing every thought that is thought and seeing every tear that is shed.

Well, it’s simple, but profound: it’s the mystery of the Trinity. The truth of God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is illustrated in what happened that first Christmas.

Ironically, the proof of the Trinity is found in a very simple source: the grammar of the Bible.

Starting with the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, the word translated in English as “God” was written in the original Hebrew as “Elohim.” That’s not a singular name, as in “Bob.” It’s a plural word, and it has the usual Hebrew ending for all masculine nouns in the plural.

“Elohim” refers to God’s majesty and supremacy. It’s the second most common word for God in the Bible, after the word translated as “Lord” or “Jehovah.” But early in the Bible, especially in the Creation account in Genesis, “Elohim” is the name most often used for God.

Throughout the Bible, the plural form usually comes with verbs and adjectives in the singular, and often it is used with singular pronouns. So it’s sort of like “We are your God and you can love Me.”

No, that doesn’t mean God has a split personality or the ancient Jews knew about multiple personality disorder. No, it doesn’t mean that Moses, who wrote the early chapters of the Bible, had a time machine and knew that thousands of years after his death, a baby would be born in Israel who would later be hailed as God on earth . . . Yeshua . . . the Messiah . . . Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Moses wrote “Elohim,” a plural word for God, because that’s what God inspired him to write . . . because it’s who God is.

We worship one God of infinite power and personality . . . a Triune God . . . and yes, on Christmas morning, He was the baby in the manger AND the One who kept the moon and the stars in place over that stable AND the One who gladdened all the hearts of those who heard the good news.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


One of the best things a mother can do is to foster the spirit of charity in her children. Christmastime is the perfect time to do that.

Around Thanksgiving, ask your children to start setting aside one toy or book of theirs, that is in excellent condition, for each year they are old. A 10-year-old shouldset aside 10 toys or books, for example.

They may be as small as a rubber ball or as complicated as a construction set. If your child honestly can't come up with that many toys from his or her own possessions, then help your child make something in exchange, such as cookies, a Christmas ornament or a yarn doll, whatever.

Once the items are collected, then take your child to the charity of your choice -- an abused children's shelter, the Salvation Army, a church mission ingathering -- and donate them.

Remind your child that out of one's own bounty, we are supposed to share, and most American kids have far more toys than they can play with, anyway.

It'll make your own gift-giving to your child that much more meaningful . . . and your child will know the meaning of the season.


See for more stories on Nebraska education issues.


Dear Santa,

We Nebraska taxpayers have tried our best to be good this past year. Here’s what we would like to find under our Christmas tree to make Nebraska’s K-12 schools the best they can be:

1. A new state law making it illegal for a Nebraska school district or educational agency to receive federal funding, so that we can avoid getting sucked in to the nationalization of our schools that is the actual intent of the No Child Left Behind federal education legislation.

2. Cancel Nebraska’s goofy assessment system because it is attempting to take methods that work well for individual students and classrooms and distort them into statewide, standardized and comparable measurements, which they are not and can never be. Instead, pass a new state law mandating that Nebraska schoolchildren in 4th, 8th and 11th grades all take the same commercial standardized test . . . from at least 25 years ago. That way, the test will reveal academic achievement, which the more recent assessments do not.

3. Cancel the state standards that go with the goofy assessment system, because they are goofy, too. They are boilerplate from what all the other states have as standards and that happened when Nebraska caved in to Outcome-Based Education. After the public squawked about OBE, the educrats just kept it in place but renamed it “Standards-Based Education” and other cute nicknames that unfortunately worked. So instead of “outcomes,” we got “standards.” Same old, same old. It’s got to go. Teachers, parents and taxpayers should be the ones setting and measuring educational objectives, not the educrats.

4. Close down the University of Nebraska College of Education and use some of the money saved from that move to help subsidize student teachers, who would now work under a teacher mentor for one year instead of just a few weeks after completion of their bachelor’s degrees. Offer education courses among regular liberal-arts fare, including child development, pedagogy (how to teach) and teaching reading with systematic, intensive, explicit phonics; the latter is not now offered as a semester course in any Nebraska college. From now on, college students who want to become teachers will major in a content area such as math or English or psychology, and districts can hire them even if they haven’t had a jillion hours of goofy ed psych classes that turn their minds into mush just to get that education degree. Instead, they’ll be disciplined professionals because they’ll have been educated within an academic discipline . . . not indoctrinated into the Nonsense Industry by the grand poohbahs of the Nonsense Industry, the teachers’ colleges.

5. Pass a state law mandating a moderate level of performance audits on the skillions of dollars of state aid to education that now flows from the state’s taxpayers to the K-12 school districts. At present those skillions of dollars are given only a cursory lick and a promise by pro forma school-district audits as for how they are being spent by the schools, and that’s it. That’s nuts. Use the skillions of dollars that will be saved with this sensible watchdogging of public funds to cover some decent teacher pay raises, and return the rest to the long-suffering taxpayers.

6. Mandate parental choice for kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. If a district receives state aid, then parents must be offered a choice of either a traditional classroom that is teacher-centered and uses only systematic, intensive, explicit phonics to teach reading (which is what we all want), or the crazy, chaotic, child-centered, whole language based classrooms that currently are the ONLY choice in the vast majority of Nebraska school districts, because that is all the educators know about and it’s what THEY want, not us. Watch everybody flood the phonics classrooms and all that will be left in the whole language ones will be a lonely cricket and a John Dewey disciple scratching his or her head. Watch the learning-disabled rolls dwindle down to next to nothing since kids will finally be taught to read properly. Watch the special education (SPED) budget shrink to manageable proportions so that the real SPED kids get the benefit of the SPED dough, not the false SPED kids who were not begotten that way, but made that way, by bonehead teaching methods.

7. Consolidate Nebraska’s 19 Educational Service Units into three, one for each of Nebraska’s congressional districts. Duhhh.

8. Pass a law requiring a CUT in pay for any teacher who becomes nationally certified through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, since that designation has been shown to REDUCE academic achievement, not improve academic achievement, and minimize Nebraska’s teaching certification requirements so that all a prospective teacher must do to become “employable” in Nebraska is pass a simple literacy test and a criminal background check. Take the educracy completely out of the hiring, evaluation, compensation and staff development processes.

9. Bust the union in general and collective bargaining in particular by passing a law making it clear that it will not be a condition of employment for a Nebraska teacher to be bound by the collective bargaining agreement between the district and the union. Essentially, let’s be pro-choice for teacher employment freedom and allow each teacher to either opt in or opt out of the collective contract. Don’t you suppose the good ones will opt out? That way, districts will be free to pay merit pay, hiring bonuses and all that other good stuff that has been proven to help kids. Right now, they aren’t free.

10. Pass a state law requiring State Education Commissioner Doug Christensen to write 100 times on the blackboard, “I will not install goofy assessment systems that will run this state’s education establishment into the ground.” Put a gigantic poster that says “ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT” in the meeting room of the State Board of Education so that they will quit ignoring that as the purpose of K-12 education. Most of all, Santa, please put a Valium salt lick in every teacher’s lounge in the state. Until all of this gets straightened out, they will really, really need it.

Merry Christmas to everybody who loves children and cares about Nebraska’s schools. Let’s make 2003 the best year ever for public education in Nebraska.


Wednesday, December 18, 2002


Snookums and Ook

Our daughter Eden is 15 now, a serious scholar and softball slugger, but in the way she fulfilled a school assignment this week we caught a glimpse of the little girl we called “Beamer” still lurking within.

Her Honors English class was going to do a little old-fashioned Show ‘n’ Tell. They were supposed to bring in a Christmas memory of some sort. Most kids were bringing in their old Christmas card photos, a stocking from the mantel, and so forth.

But Eden brought in a note that she had left one year for Santa’s elves. Judging from the crooked penmanship, she was 6 or 7. She had Santa down pat, and knew all about the reindeer . . . but the elves? They were a mystery to her.

So with the cookies and cocoa, and carrots for the reindeer, she left the elves a little questionnaire. Among other things, she asked them, “What are your names?”

On Christmas morning, she rushed to the note and found the reply: “Snookums” and “Ook.” It looked suspiciously like her dad’s handwriting, but she never noticed that.

Now, many years have flown by. We had forgotten all about the elf note, and had no idea she had kept it. She said, “That was one of the coolest things that happened to me in my entire childhood.”

Would she have been scarred for life if the answer had been “Bill” and “Joe”? Naw. Then she just would have known the replies were fake. But with names like “Snookums” and “Ook,” you gotta believe.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

A Shocking Political Action Strategy: Send a Christmas Card

It has been called everything from blasphemy to bad taste: Planned Parenthood is sending out pro-choice holiday cards this season with a twist on a familiar Christmas lyric that makes it sound as though it wasn't Jesus Christ Who was born in that manger, but the pro-choice political position.

Ick, icky, ickiest.

The response has been predictable. Pro-life leaders contend the family planning agency, which is unabashedly pro-abortion, is trying to co-opt Christian imagery and principles to push their own agenda, which is contrary to what a conservative reading of the Scriptures would indicate. They say there's no question Jesus Christ is pro-life, and so holiday cards from organizations which promote the opposite viewpoint are despicable.

But there's a better response for pro-lifers: why not send THEM a Christmas card? A REAL Christmas card?

Isn't the whole idea of the Christmas season to proclaim the Gospel? Tell the good news about forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation? That even the most entrenched sinners can have grace and peace if they would just turn from their wicked ways and toward the Christ child?

Don't just squawk about the pro-choice holiday card. Overcome evil with good: send every pro-choice person and organization you can think of a simple Christmas card . . . and let it do the talking.

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

Brain Studies Are Showing That Schools Have Screwed Up Reading Instruction

A big research project is going on in Texas right now that could prove once and for all that the way most schools teach reading -- the philosophy and method known as "whole language" -- works at cross purposes to the way a child's brain works, and makes children weaker readers, not stronger ones.

Scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston are using neuroimaging to track children's brain activity while they read words from a screen suspended overhead. Evidence of "firing" activity in good readers is noted. Struggling readers get brain scans, then go through an intense reading program at school. Their brain activity is measured again at the end of the tutoring to see whether new patterns have been awakened.

Researchers say there is evidence that children with reading problems are using the wrong parts of their brains, due at least in part to ineffective teaching methods. The good news is, the ineffective methods that embed weaknesses in a child's thinking patterns can be corrected, and the brain rewired -- provided teachers know how to tap into the circuitry most effectively.

The research is showing that children who are taught to read using whole language techniques have deficiencies in the way that words are divided in their brains into smaller units of sound, and the way sounds are put together with meanings.

In contrast, it appears that a good reader's brain quickly assigns sound to a word, freeing the brain for faster, more accurate decoding of text, and higher thinking.

The solution that has been obvious to some reading experts for years, and is just now becoming apparent to many educators as a result of the brain studies, is that children need to be taught to read using inexpensive but highly effective systematic, intensive, explicit phonics.

Hats off to the researchers for using their brains to solve this problem . . . and bring on phonics!

Sunday, December 15, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

Spiritual Guide Dog

. . . Well done, thou good and faithful servant. . . .
-- Matthew 25:21

I was getting out the Christmas decorations and came upon the oversized dog bone "stocking" that my mom made for our dog, Shadow. For a dozen Christmases, it hung from the mantel alongside the children's stockings. Santa always tucked in a new collar or a special rawhide bone for our beloved four-legged family member.

But it won't be up there this Christmas. Shadow died a few months ago. Bone cancer. She was 12. We left the urn with her ashes up on that mantel for months, with her trademark red collar encircling it the way her faithfulness had encircled our lives.

Shadow was a sweet, meek, mild, loving black Labrador retriever. She had wonderful bloodlines as a hunting dog but was gun-shy, so she was sold to us as a pet. She was never hyper as some labs can be; in fact, she was so laid-back and got so chubby that we nicknamed her "The Black Sausage."

As I held that old stocking, tears flooded my eyes and memories flooded my heart:

She was a "horse" one time for our daughter who wanted to be Lady Godiva; we had just moved in, and our introduction to the neighborhood was a giggling, naked 3-year-old girl in a pixie cut (remedial Lady Godiva, bigtime) plodding around the back yard on the gentle dog, yelling, "Giddyup!" as the neighbor boys hooted with laughter.

The good thing about having black fur is, you can't blush.

She was a "reindeer" for one of our Christmas cards, patiently wearing felt antlers, silver bells and a red plastic nose, and posing a lot more obediently than the kids did.

She was "Dolly Parton" one Halloween in a tangled blonde wig.

She was "Shadow the Wonder Dog" in honor of the time she swam a quarter of a mile hurrying after a canoe carrying her loved ones away on a quiet lake, persuading them of the "danger" only she could see, and leading them heroically back to the dock with her steady dog paddle.

She was "Shadow the Card Shark" once when someone rang the doorbell while we were playing cards. She arrived at the door with a fanned-out hand of cards arranged perfectly in her mouth. One of us must have left them on the edge of the table. This dog never barked at visitors, but always brought them a "gift" in her mouth: a toy or sock or stuffed animal she found on the ground or, in this case, a solid gin hand.

Like mother, like dog-ter: always had to have SOMETHING in her mouth. Of course, her excuse was that she was a retriever, through and through.

What she brought to us was a reminder of how we should be: steady, loving, faithful, accepting, at peace with the world.

She laid around, day after day, living for the rare moment somebody would go to the magic closet and get that leash and take her out for a walk.

We rushed by her with our daily planners chock full, so obsessed with work and errands and sports and life's routines that most of the time, we didn't really live with our dog. We lived around her.

She never chewed or destroyed anything, never scratched, never bit. As a retriever, she was bred to be "soft-mouthed" so that she would never ruin a bird as she brought it back to the hunter. Sigh: if only we could be "soft-mouthed," as she was.

She didn’t need much. Lots of days, a bowl of food and a rushed pat on the head were all she got. But she loved us anyway, with all her heart. She showed it with her big, brown eyes and with her strong, black tail that thumped on the floor anytime any of us looked her way.

I remember one time in particular when Shadow showed me how to be.

It was the morning of Christmas Eve. I had been on my traditional Christmas toot, rushing around, baking cookies, shopping, decorating, and staying up 'way too late wrapping. I had a ton of things to do that day, including going to visit a lonely, old relative.

But when the alarm went off, I turned it off and turned over, choosing to catch just a few more ZZZ's. I wasn’t aware of Shadow on the floor at the foot of the bed. I wasn’t aware of anything other than the urge to go back to sleep.

Mmmm, I was cozy. Mmmm, I could snuggle in here all day, and I deserve to: I'm sooo tired. Mmmm, why don't I just blow off that visit to the lonely, old relative today? I could sleep for another two hours and just go see that old relative NEXT week. It'd be after Christmas, but. . . .

I was just about to drift back to sleep when all of a sudden, Shadow's tail thumped loudly:

Thump, thump, thump!
Thump, thump, thump!
Thump, thump, thummmmmp, thump, thump!

"Jingle Bells"! Her tail had played "Jingle Bells"!

My eyes flipped open. I grinned. I threw off the covers. "What am I THINKING? This is Christmas Eve! This is the best day of the year! Let’s get this show on the road!"

Shadow looked up at me with her big, brown eyes smiling, her long, pink tongue curled up like a bow, her collar tags jingling, her tail thumping randomly now . . . but I still heard the rhythm of Christmas in each happy thump.

Thank you, Spiritual Guide Dog. You gave me the Christmas spirit that year. You gave us your heart, every day of your life. You were loved. You are missed.

But we hear your collar tags in the bells this Christmas. We see the sparkle from your eyes in the tree lights. We know you're up there retrieving harps for the angels and thumping your tail to their songs of joy.

Howleluia, faithful friend. We'll see you again. Because we know: whenever the light of love shines, it always leaves a shadow.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up

Old Testament Prophecy Fulfillments in Jesus’ Birth

Micah 5:2 (the prediction 700 years before Christ’s birth that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem):

Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. But the Roman edict that everyone had to go to the hometown of their ancestors for the registration and to be taxed meant that they had to leave Nazareth and travel more than 70 miles to Bethlehem. That’s where Joseph’s ancestor, King David, was from. That’s how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem.

Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 33:15, Ezekiel 37:24, Hosea 3:5: that the Messiah would be born in David’s royal line.

Both Joseph and Mary were descendants of King David.

Isaiah 7:14: a virgin would conceive a baby boy without having sex with a man, and call him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

Skeptics point out that there are pagan stories about immaculate conceptions; they claim the virgin birth is just a myth, like those. But the early Christians were well aware of those pagan myths as all the Jew were who were their primary audience. Why would they press the case of Mary’s virginity so staunchly, knowing that they would have a credibility problem with the Jews, unless they were convinced of its truth? Throughout history, there has never been a shred of evidence put forth that it wasn’t true, too.

Friday, December 13, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

Kissin' Angels for Christmas

Here's a fun, cheap, sweet little gift idea for your kids to make for their friends for Christmas.

You can't eat these Kissin' Angels, but they look adorable. For each Angel:

1 silver-wrapped Hershey's kiss chocolate candy: remove paper but keep foil in place

1 piece of (uncooked!) bow-tie pasta: spray-paint gold or opalescent blue, with a coating of glitter spray if you have it

1 mini-marshmallow, cut in half

Teeny-tiny pieces of pasta or beads

1 tiny piece of silver metallic pipe cleaner, twisted into a halo

Mom might need to help with the hot-glue gun. Hot-glue the bow-tie pasta onto the back of the Hershey's kiss as the "wings." Hot-glue the half-marshmallow onto the top with the smooth round part facing forward. Stick the tiny halo into the top of the marshmallow. Hot-glue tiny pieces of pasta (acini di pepe, tiny pieces of spaghetti, minuscule macaroni, etc.) as "hair." Once the marshmallow is dry, you can draw a face with a felt-tip pen, but it's not necessary.

Remind gift recipients that they can't eat the angels . . . but a "choir" of them sure looks cute overlooking a big plate of Christmas cookies.

Thursday, December 12, 2002


When the Questions Seem Too Nosy

How would your child respond in a ninth-grade health class if asked to answer this question in a discussion group with classmates: "Have you ever regretted having sex?"

How would your child answer this question on a "confidential" drug prevention survey given in class, with a mysterious number code on his answer form that may suggest it's "confidential" but not necessarily "anonymous": "Have you ever sniffed glue?"

What if your child were being pestered by bullies in middle school, but had to fill in this blank in front of them in class, which seems sure to provide the bullies with new ammunition for teasing: "More than anything else, I want to keep from getting a reputation for being _____________."

Invasion of privacy within public school walls is a reality. Even though children in school are a captive audience, people inside and outside the field of public education are finding more and more reasons to ask them personal questions with little or no academic value. Most of the time, parents have no idea this is going on. Even when you are aware, getting your child through the thicket unscratched is becoming more and more of a trick.

But there's a way to protect your child's privacy, and your own. Parents may not be aware of a federal law that all public schools that receive federal funding, which is virtually all of them, are supposed to be following.

It's the Protection of Pupil Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. 1232H), called the “Hatch Amendment.” It was named for Sen. Orrin Hatch but the impetus for it came from the late Sen. Edward Zorinsky of Omaha.

If your school district does not have the protections of the Hatch Amendment in its district policy book and is taking federal funds, it will be in big trouble if its personnel violate the following provisions.

The act provides, among other things, that no student will be required to submit to a survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning:

-- political affiliations.

-- mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family.

-- sexual behavior or attitudes.

-- illegal, antisocial, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior.

-- critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships.

-- legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers.

-- income, other than information necessary to establish eligibility for a program.

Any test, questionnaire or survey that would produce those answers, but for which educators HAVE obtained the prior written consent of parents or guardians to give to their kids, is OK.

If you suspect this has or is about to be breached, send a note or call your school office asking for reasonable time to scan any possibly objectionable questions in advance. If you find that you do object to those questions, you have the right to opt your child out, skip that survey or experience, and do something else of academic value during that class time. This must be done for your child without embarrassing him or her, or downgrading your child in any way.

You might also ask to see the district's policy enforcing the Hatch Amendment, and any associated protections, such as a ban on any questions about the religious beliefs and practices of a student or his or her family, morality or similar overpersonal themes.

The most likely places where this might be occurring are in organized guidance class, health class and during "diversity week" or "drug education" events.

Furthermore, you have the right to inspect your child's permanent file, guidance files, teacher documents or any other official school records if you suspect that this sort of information has been recorded. If you find things in there that fall under the Hatch privacy protection provisions, work with the school to have them removed.

Almost all of the curriculum and program materials that come from within the school are OK. It's the stuff that comes in from outside think tanks, "centers," university studies and so forth that often have the objectionable questions. They also frequently are "coded" so that your child's responses can be analyzed, matched to demographical information, often sold to third parties, sorted, cross-linked and stored on the microrecord level.

The school may be getting paid in this instance to provide the data and would have no motivation to follow up on how the data is being used. For the most part, the data is used on an aggregate basis, rather than individualized, to craft curriculum that is designed to be more successful at changing students' attitudes, values and beliefs.

The development of computer dossiers, or communist-style "dangans," on each student is associated with this, but that's a whole 'nother story for 'nother day.

How to stay out of this mess?

It's always a good idea to send a blanket note referring to the Hatch Amendment at the start of the school year, and asking for a reasonable amount of advance notice for you to scan outside surveys, assessments, questionnaires or other instruments that are to be used on your child BEFORE your child deals with them. This goes for standardized tests, too, although schools have not been known to allow previewing by parents of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or the commercial college entrance examinations such as the SAT and ACT. The NAEP questions are never revealed to parents or the public, although the SAT and ACT questions do come home with test results eventually.

In that case, maybe it's not such a good idea to have your child take the NAEP. If you can't see the questions, should your child really be giving the answers?

Remember, if you have a problem with any assignment or assessment that is protected under the Hatch Amendment, then you have the right to opt your child out with no penalty.

Even if you never exercise this right, it's nice to know.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002


The $5 Sportcoat

Many years ago, a friend of our family who was an up-and-coming businessman was trying to dress for success. His wife had spotted a beautifully-taillored sportcoat at a thrift shop run by the Junior League.

The lapels were just a little bit too wide and the lining had a small tear, but to the casual observer, it looked almost as good as new. It was the right size. Furthermore, the volunteer claimed it had been worn by one of the state's richest men.

Pricetag: $5. The wife bought it, and her husband enjoyed wearing it for a couple of years, pulling a fast one on the fashion police.

Well, one Friday evening near Christmas, he had it on when his friend, the owner of an expensive men's clothing shop in the city, agreed to give him a ride home from work because of car problems. The only thing was, they had to make several stops on the way delivering clothing purchases to people's homes.

Our friend knew the customer who had made the last order, so he came along inside to present the purchase. It was a sportcoat that was to be given by this customer to his adult son. Pricetag: more than $200, which, at the time, was a whopping amount.

They unveiled the sportcoat for the customer's inspection. He nodded, but with a slight frown on his face.

"What's wrong?" the clothing-store owner asked.

"Well, this is a very nice coat you picked out for me for $200," the customer said. Then he turned to our friend, in his $5 number. "But why couldn't you have found me something REALLY nice, like what HE has on?"

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


If anybody tries to trash capitalism, insist on a read-through of some masterful debunkery of the lie that America's rich are getting richer on the backs of the poor.

Analysis of U.S. Census figures are showing that all five quintiles of income-earners went up in the last decade of the 20th Century, but those workers who started off in the lowest quintile actually made the highest salary gains, and markedly so.

This is according to the report "Moving Up? Earnings Mobility in California," by the San Francisco-based think tank, the Sphere Institute ( and click on California Policy Review for the 11-page report).

Researchers tracked the wage gains of more than 180,000 Californians starting in 1988 and found that the bottom quintile earners who were making $13,136 in 1988 had spiked more than double to $27,194 a dozen years later . . . while the top quintile, where earners averaged $74,826 in '88, increased to $80,209 after a dozen years, a significantly smaller percentage of increase at 7 percent.

The study showed that poorly-educated, low-skilled immigrants from Mexico and Central America made sizeable increase income gains by moving up the ladder into better-paying industries. That soundly debunks the notion that there isn't equal opportunity in America any more or that the rich are economically oppressing the poor and the immigrant population.

When special interest groups start trying to provoke a class war and blaming rich people for everything from unemployment to the hemorrhoids, strike back . . . with the truth.

Monday, December 09, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell on Schools


Parents are going to have to rise up and demand more traditional instruction in math and reading. But it may take years to shake off fuzzy math and whole language.

In the meantime, here are two quick things you can do with your elementary-level child to keep those basic skills polished:

COUNT-BYS: Do these in the car or anytime you and your child have a minute to kill. The fastest way to prep for multiplication is to memorize counting by numbers other than 1. Your child should be able to rattle off, "4,8,12,16,20. . ." and "7,14,21,28,35. . . ." automatically and accurately before the introduction of multiplication in class. Do as many sets of numbers as you can with your child. When multiplication comes up in school, you'll be amazed at how quickly your child will pick up the new skill.

CROSSWORDS: The fastest way to get the old brain firing for people of all ages is to play a game. Children especially respond better to games with a little bit of learning value than to worksheets or book lessons that "feel" like school. For verbal skills, pick up a couple of cheap, simple, paperback crossword puzzle books from a bookstore or drugstore, and let your child work on them while waiting for dinner, watching TV or otherwise just hanging out. Make sure there's a dictionary handy, and watch your child's vocabulary and spelling ability improve.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

In the Same Boat

For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith he hateth putting away. . . .
-- Malachi 2:16a

One of her friends is taking up tae kwon do and hoping to catch him in an alley to deliver a few swift kicks you know where.

Another came over with a bottle of wine in each hand and a sympathetic shoulder. The wine flowed in; the tears flowed out.

The “first wives club” has suggested silver pistols at 20 paces, stocks and pillories, WWF moves such as the airplane spin and the sidewalk slam, and that Crazy Glue thing . . . or was it that Lorena Bobbitt thing?

Anyway, for once, I didn’t join in. I’m fed up with divorce and broken homes.

This time, I did something radical. I prayed . . . for the other woman.

Not to hurt her: to open her eyes and her heart. "Dear God, help her see what she is about to do to the lives of this mother and her two children. Help her to back away from this, and bless her to the max if she does.”

Nothing happened. Weeks passed. He moved out. The soon-to-be-ex-wife went through her days like a zombie. There were a few attempts at counseling, but no dice. The kids pinged from being stonily silent to hyperactive.

The proper approach is to hope for a reconciliation up to the moment the papers are signed, and even then, to hope there’s no ink in the pens.

Well, I still had hope, because nobody had filed for divorce. But I'd pretty much forgotten about my prayer until the soon-to-be-ex-wife got back from a Caribbean cruise. She had arranged it for herself and the children, a much-deserved treat.

They flew to a faraway coastal city to board one of those huge cruise ships. They settled into their cabin, and the kids went to swim.

The soon-to-be-ex-wife sat by the pool with a book, then got in line for an ice cream cone. All of a sudden, she stiffened, craned her neck toward the front of the line, and gasped.

It was the other woman!

What does this mean?

Her estranged husband knew what ship she and the kids would be on. Did he book the same trip for himself and this woman for some incredibly strange reason?

But who were those people the other woman was talking to?

What was going on?

She was too shocked to do anything more than get her ice cream and go back to her room to compose herself.

A while later, she came out to get her swimmers. She turned a corner in the hallway right outside her cabin . . . and came face to face with the other woman.

It was a Dostoevsky moment. But all she could say was: "Hi.”

"Hi," the woman replied. "I knew you were on board. I saw the kids playing in the pool."

Turns out the woman's parents take their adult children on an annual cruise, and just happened to pick the same one she did. Their rooms were right around the corner.

The same cruise, out of how many that winter? Out of the million people on the water that week? Out of the hundreds of cabins on such a big ship, they were practically next door to each other?

Yep. They were in the same boat . . . in more ways than one.

Divorce will do that to people.

Well, the other woman got an eyeful of just what was at stake and who was involved, that week. But the divorce went forward anyway. Now the challenge of all those who know them is to do what we can to keep this new marriage afloat, and still be a lifeboat for those who have been displaced from the marital ship of dreams.

This Christmas, I hope all of us will be extra tender and loving to all those affected by divorce this past year. Let’s reach out to all those whose life cruises have had to change course because of that titanic, ever-expanding shipwreck known as divorce. Let’s pray for them. Let’s do things for them. They’re everywhere, in every family, every classroom, every workplace.

They all need to know that life and love still sail forward, full speed ahead. There are still adventures and fun just over the horizon. And they can be on board no matter what their marital or family status is.

There’s a sea of people out there, a sea of problems, a sea of troubles. But this Christmas, matey, keep in mind: we’ve got a Cap’n who loves us, each of us, no matter what, and He’s still at the wheel . . .

. . . and we’re ALL in the same boat.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up

Take the “Me” Out of ChristMEs

The stress, the spending, the mad rush, the partying, the overeating, the late hours, the “keep up with the Joneses” decorating: ewwww. No wonder some people dread Christmas.

It’s hard work, showing off.

When the focus is on the self instead of the Christ child, it turns into ‘way more work than even the work Mary did in the holy Stable, giving birth to our Savior in the first place.

Is this the year you’re going to stop? Just stop! You’ll be glad you did.

Here are some alternatives:

1. Stay close through the hustle and bustle in December by having a family dinner every night, all together around a table. If that’s just not possible, at least have a family snack (cocoa and cookies?) when you’re all together. Say grace. Someone could read a Bible verse for family discussion, or follow along with an advent calendar or devotional book for the season.

2. Have a family meeting, count your material blessings, and decide if it would be possible to donate a percentage of what you might otherwise spend on Christmas gifts to needy people instead. You would cut back on gift budgets accordingly. If you decide to donate 10% for charity and 90% to each other for gifts, set the money aside before you shop and keep track on a budget. Maybe your percentage will be 25% or 50% . . . doesn’t matter. But the joy you’ll feel when you give that gift certainly will matter, especially to your children.

3. If gift exchanges among the adults in your family are sometimes painful – a skinny mother-in-law who keeps giving a fat daughter-in-law clothing that is three sizes too small, for example – organize a family outing NOW in lieu of gifts. You could arrange to go sleigh-riding or to another city as a group for a day’s activities . . . whatever would be new and different and fun. Keep the focus on each other and building your love relationships instead of who got what for whom.

Remember, this is the best time of the year, and we have the greatest story ever told. Christmas is not about YOU. It’s about your Savior, Jesus Christ. Live your life as a living chapter in His everlasting story, and have a truly Merry Christmas!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. – Luke 2:14

Friday, December 06, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

Disappointment Dominos

The mother of a University of Nebraska football player had a tough challenge recently. Her son was very discouraged about the uncharacteristic 7-6 season. Usually, the Cornhuskers find themselves in the top 10 at this time of year and playing for a national championship. The young man was feeling pretty punk about it.

As he talked, his mother happened to be playing dominos. She laid out 95 dominos on the kitchen table. The boy’s great-grandmother had recently died at that age. She told him that he could realistically expect to live to be 95. Then she had him count over to the 21st domino, the age he is now, and pick it up. He did.

“These past few months have been just a part of one year of your life, representing just part of this one domino,” she told him. “Look at these other 94 dominos. Look at the big picture of your life.”

The young man said later that her demonstration helped him get some much-needed perspective, and deepened his determination to help the team come roaring back next season.

Elevating your child’s mood can have a . . . domino effect!


(see also


The whole world knows the story: Omaha boy makes good, turns $140,000 into tens of billions of dollars with good, old-fashioned horse sense and mastery of the principles of capitalism.

He’s Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, everybody’s role model for smart, successful investment strategies.

So why on earth don’t we run our schools the Warren Buffett way?

He only sinks his money into companies whose business methods and purposes he understands, that have higher intrinsic value than the price on paper, are overperforming compared to expenditures, and meet his basic criteria for good investments.

We taxpayers are going to be asked to sink our money back into our public schools, so it’s a form of investment, too. Shouldn’t we be going by some sort of criteria, too, instead of just holding our noses and paying through them without any idea of what our money is doing and why?

Isn’t it time to do some good, old-fashioned valuation analysis for what our tax dollars are, and are not, doing in public schools?

Before we go through the bloodbath that is sure to ensue next Legislative session over state aid to education in this era of Old Mother Hubbard state finances, why don’t we first do a little Buffett-style analysis on how we’re investing in our children’s educations?

My guess is that, if we did, the result will be a whole new direction for education finance that will be smart, successful, world-class . . . and a tip ‘o the hat to Nebraska’s best-known billionaire.

Buffett’s criteria, amended to fit school finance terminology:

1. Has the company consistently performed well?

Have Nebraska’s public schools done better in the last year than they did 5, 10, 20 and 30 years ago? Have they done better than the private schools and the home schools? Do they cost more per pupil, adjusted for inflation, and if so, can they demonstrate added value as a sort of “return on equity”?

2. Has the company avoided excess debt?

What is the ratio of public-school debt to annual operating expenditures and how has that changed compared to 5, 10, 20 and 30 years ago?

3. Are profit margins high? Are they increasing?

If graduation rates, post-secondary continuing education rates, test scores and percentage of students who don’t need any remediation in college all are satisfactory and increasing, then management is efficient in the use of its resources. If not, not.

4. How long has the company been public?

Have schools stood the test of time? If they are considered good, enrollment should be rising. How does enrollment compare to 5, 10, 20 and 30 years ago (excluding pre-kindergarten, nongraded and other enrollment categories that didn’t exist in the past so that the numbers can be compared apples to apples)?

5. Do the company’s products rely on a commodity?

Do the schools provide a product that is basically indistinguishable from those of competitors? If so, they’re a bad investment. Is the product the school provides based on a uniform, standard, foundational resource that changes very little from one place to the next – for instance, oil and gas in the business world? Since Nebraska has been installing learning standards that are basically boilerplate of what every other state in the nation (except Iowa) is putting in, then the standards could be said to be an educational “commodity” that do not set Nebraska’s public schools apart in an attractive way, and therefore they’re a bad investment.

6. Is the stock selling at a 25 percent discount to real value?

This is the clincher. There’s no stock in public schools, but we can still place a value on them. Just as it is difficult to measure a company’s intrinsic value, which may be very different from its book value, it is difficult to measure the intrinsic value of public schools. This is why we really, really need those performance audits of state aid to education, to expose the wasteful and educationally questionable spending that might be reducing the real value of a year of public schooling in Nebraska. Surely a school’s total value will be higher than its liquidation value, so perhaps that lower number could be established by factors such as the book value of the buildings and contents, payroll, pension funds, annual revenues, income on investments and so forth. The question is, if public school is costing around $6,000 per pupil per year in Nebraska for operating expenses alone, is that undervalued, overvalued or about right? Are we getting our money’s worth . . . or more than our money’s worth . . . or less?

So what do you think? Using the Warren Buffett criteria, should we be reinvesting in Nebraska’s public schools the way we always have?

Or is it time for a change?

Weigh in this week with Go Big Ed at and I’ll report back.

And Mr. Buffett: would you consider giving one of your celebrated talks to the Unicameral along these lines, come January? Your insights have helped the business world and now it’s time for K-12 education to sit at the feet of the sage. We’d all turn out for it . . . and even bring our senators a whole lot of goodies from one of those Buffett babies, Dairy Queen.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002



You know you're a nurse when . . .

You occasionally park in the space with the "Physicians Only" sign, and knock it over.

You've ever told a patient to "move toward the light."

You always follow the rules, but are wise enough to forget them sometimes.

You have seen more moons than the Hubble telescope.

You own at least three pens with the names of prescription medications on them.

You never get into an argument with an idiot, because they only bring you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

You hope there's a special place in hell for the inventor of the call light.

You believe that saying, "It can't get any worse" causes it to get worse just to show you it can.

You wash your hands before you go to the bathroom.

You've ever thought a blood pressure cuff would be an excellent gift for Christmas.

You've ever spent more money on a stethoscope than on a car payment.

You believe any job where you can drive to work in pajamas is a cool job.

You consider a tongue depressor an eating utensil.

You know it's a full moon without having to look at the sky.

Eating microwave popcorn out of a clean bedpan seems perfectly natural.

You've been exposed to so many x-rays that you consider it a form of birth control.

You've ever had a patient with a nose ring, a brow ring and twelve earrings say, "I'm afraid of shots."

You've ever bet on someone's blood alcohol level.

You believe in the aerial spraying of Prozac.

You believe every waiting room should have a Valium salt lick.

Your idea of a good time is a Code Blue at shift change.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


FBI statistics show that of the nearly 16,000 murders in the United States in 2001, only one was a hate crime based on homosexuality.

See for yourself:

So . . . the homosexual activists want our schools to pour all kinds of money and attention into trying to prevent that one murder, but basically fuhgeddaboud the other 15,999 dead people because they weren't homosexual so their deaths aren't as sca-wee. Eh?

Although thousands of lesser "hate crimes" were reported to the FBI from across the country, more than half of them were in the category of "intimidation." That means someone felt threatened or demeaned. A small percentage of these claimed that it had to do with their sexual orientation. But there was no personal injury involved or destruction or loss of property. Still, it's labeled a "hate crime."

The degree of distress that it takes to get something labeled as a "hate crime" is about as much distress as I have when I try to stuff my ever-maturing backside into any pre-pregnancy outfits still hanging in my closet. After four kids, let's just say my fleshly inventory is well-stocked. OK: I'm a little pudgy right now and have to suck in my gut 'til my eyeballs pop trying to get some things zipped. I mean, it's intimidating . . . demeaning . . . and oh! Those people who make pantyhose so that you have to become a contortionist to get them on and not wind up in traction . . . aren't they hate criminals, too? They make me feel "less than."

I'm coming out of the closet on this: hate crimes are stupid.

Under these definitions of hate crimes, isn't what happens in my closet as much of a hate crime as what these people are reporting as "hate crimes"? If the bottom line is how you feel, don't my feelings of being diminished count as much as anybody else's? Don't my whines count?

Aren't the homosexual activists clearly just trying to make mountains out of molehills for political advantage?

Look. These incidents reflecting bias and offensive speech are ugly. No doubt about it.

But are they reason enough to add a whole bunch of new laws and regulations to our already-overwhelmed legal system, and go crazy with all kinds of pro-homosexual programs and groups and assemblies and workshops in our schools, like the homosexual activists are clamoring for?

No, nopers, nada.

If you're a legislator or talk to one in the near future, tell them to vote against any kind of hate crimes legislation . . . or you'll publish their old yearbook picture showing a double-knit leisure suit, helmet hair, kooky buzz cut, zits, or permanent nerd squirrel cheeks.

That might make the lawmaker feel threatened or demeaned enough to realize that there shouldn't be laws against behavior that the old adage "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me" already covers.

Monday, December 02, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Everybody’s all in a tizzy about expensive, intrusive, time-consuming, statewide student assessments. For good reason.

They were written for educrats by educrats. They come straight out of the federal government. They are boilerplate of other states’ standards and assessments coast to coast, including many states that are academic basket cases compared to Nebraska.

The system imposed by these new standards and assessments forced teachers to dumb down and align their curriculum to the government’s learning specs, called “standards.” Voices crying in the wilderness a few years ago – including yours truly – warned that standards and assessments were a bad idea. Here we are in Nebraska, the Beef State: don’t we know that “standard” is a grade of beef BELOW GOOD?

One thing is clear: statewide K-12 educational standards and statewide assessments as we now have them, and as most other states have developed them slightly differently, are destructive, not constructive, because they do the opposite thing of what schools that are working do. The action in education right now is in private schools and homeschools . . . where clear accountability reigns, and testing is cheap, effective and efficient.

In stark contrast, widespread public-school standards and assessments are expensive, pointless and meaningless for students, parents and the public.

That standards and matching assessments are part of a plan to nationalize America’s schools has been well-documented by authors such as Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt (“The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America,”

That the overemphasis on testing has damaged K-12 education, is profit-motivated, and shows little or no correlation to an improvement in learning, were all exposed in the book “Standardized Minds: The High Price of America’s Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It” by Peter Sacks, available on

That we don’t want to have anything to do with a national testing system and the 20% elite, 80% worker bee political structure that it creates, like European and communist countries have, and thus must avoid any participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), has been pointed out by education thinkers and citizens’ groups such as Minnesota’s Maple River Educational Coalition (

So now what?

Well, we don’t want to get rid of standardized tests. We just want tests that give clear signals to students, parents, teachers, policy-makers and the public, and are useful for accountability purposes.

The reason the statewide assessments are so useless is that they are mostly subjective, performance-related “authentic assessments” that are of questionable validity and reliability and have to be hand-scored and so forth. But still, we don’t want to get rid of authentic assessments in our schools. They’re useful for individual teachers and students . . . just a rotten choice for broad-scale goalsbecause they provide no systemic accountability.

So . . . the answer is obvious:

1) Admit we made a mistake, and scrap all our state standards and assessments. If the feds squawk, claim state’s rights and refer them to #’s 2 and 3.

2) Pass a state law requiring that all K-12 students in Nebraska take the same objective, machine-scorable, commercial, standardized test each year, and tie that mandate to the receipt of state aid to education. This could revolve around to several companies and could be a contract negotiated by the State Board of Education. My suggestion: The Iowa Basics.

3) When test results are announced, it’s a good idea to publish aggravating and mitigating factors that, believe it or not, make a much bigger difference in student achievement than spending per-pupil or teacher pay. Remember, we’ve been paying teachers more and more over the past 30 years and test scores have been showing that students are learning and able to do less and less. It isn’t the money, it’s the method, but it’s also the background of the kids who are being tested. Key factors such as educational attainment of students’ parents, median household income, and major textbooks and teaching styles should be published alongside scores. Then if two relatively well-off suburban districts have significantly different math scores and have been using two different math textbooks for the past few years, we can at least get a start on understanding these numbers . . . and parents of the underachieving schools can force their political leaders to lose the loser textbooks that don’t work.

One last thing: it’s probably a good idea to test kids in fourth, eighth and 11th grades. But we should demand tests that are geared to the three objects of education at those three levels: grammar, logic and rhetoric.

Grammar is the basics; we used to call K-6 “grammar school,” remember? At the middle school level, we expect students to have the basics in place and the skills to apply them logically. By the end of high school, it is reasonable to expect them to use their strong academic foundation and logical thinking skills to develop cogent conclusions and support their own opinions logically.

The “creative” forms of assessment now in use mix those ‘way up. Instead of “assessing” the attitudes of fourth-graders on thorny political issues, they need to be tested on the basics. Until kids know how to find things out, how to think about them, and how to draw valid conclusions about them, it’s pointless to keep doing the subjective types of assessments we’re now doing, such as the writing assessments, which are a complete boondoggle.

In truly assessing a student’s writing ability, we need to test them on the basics of our language: spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech and so forth. There is no way kids can advance to the upper levels of logic and rhetoric in writing, or any other subject, without the basics.

Isn’t that a rational assessment?

Let’s keep it simple and sensible . . . and we’ll all pass the test.

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


(A)nd a little child shall lead them.
— Isaiah 11:6b

We were gathered around our daughter’s crib. She had on her favorite lallow jammies and was hugging Blanky, Binky and her elephant, “Fop.”

Because she likes to delay bedtime as long as humanly possible, we were finishing up a long conversation about kings, queens, princes and princesses.

“Is Daddy a king?” we asked her.

“Daddy’s a king,” she whispered.

“Is Neely a princess?”

“NeeNee’s a princess.”

“Is Eden a princess?”

“Beamo’s a princess.”

Then it was my turn. I decided to get cute, and make a little joke on my husband:

“Is Mommy the BOSS?”

Maddy looked left. She looked right. She looked left again. And then she shouted:

“MADDY’S the boss!”

You know? She’s right.

Our boss has a Pebbles Flintstone vertical ponytail. She insists on wearing her ducky rubber boots with her Fourth of July skirt and University of Nebraska football jersey, size 2T. Hers is a fashion style that can only be described as “schizophrenic interdenominational.”

She sits at the lunch table talking to her roast beef sandwich:

“Are you the meat?”


“Hi, meat, I’m Maddy.”

“Who’s eating me?”



I mean . . . does YOUR boss talk to meat? Don’t answer that; I probably have stock in your company.

Actually, she has very good boss skills. She has mastered the art of exaggerated nonverbal communication with an intimidating unibrow scowl if anyone should dare to give her any bad news, like there’s no more Froot Loops.

She is very pro-active, as a boss should be. She is a do-er. She says she “do’s the puzzles” and she loves to “do the piano.” Her favorite thing is to go out on the driveway in her ducky boots after a rain, and “do the puddles.”

Like a boss, she is brutally honest in her performance evaluations:

“How does a daddy tiger go?” we asked her after a trip to the zoo.

“RRROARRRR!!!” was the mighty reply.

“How does a baby tiger go?”

Pipsqueak voice: “rrr!”

“How does a mommy tiger go?”

Instantly, a hand flew to her hip, the hip jutted out, and in a three-tone, whiny drone, she complained: “RRR, RRR, RRR!”

Look. You can’t win, with a 2-year-old. They are too smart. You just have to go with the flow.

One day, I was trying to do a little grown-up work at the computer. It was kind of a bad-hair day and I was struggling. For a while, Maddy was busy with her toys. But then she came up to my desk and started clamoring for attention. She pulled open the drawer and knocked over the cup of paper clips. She tugged on the arm of the chair to get me to swivel around, and reached for the keyboard.

I confess that I literally turned my back on her, blocking her, and kept writing, because I was hoping to get SOMETHING done that day. Something “important.”

OK, I tried to blow off my own daughter, bigtime.

But like a good boss, she didn’t yell. She didn’t whine. She didn’t cry.

She just said sweetly, “Mommy, don’t do ‘puter. Do Maddy.”

I swiveled around. She beamed. I melted.

So I clocked out of “important” things and clocked in to motherhood once again. We put on the ducky boots and the winter gear and went out to the season’s first snowfall. She sat on the sled and I pulled it a jillion times around the back yard. We followed bunny tracks and had a snowball fight and made a snowman, or at least a snow blob, with grapes for eyes, a carrot for a nose and a little slice of red pepper for a smile.

We laughed and fell down and afterwards we threw our wet mittens into the washer and she got to “do the buttons” to make it go and then we had cocoa and she took such a long nap that I got all my work done anyway and it was a very good day after all.

I did something “important” . . . for both of us.

Babies will do that: grab your attention, make you see what counts, and lead you to spend your time doing things that may seem small at the time, but have eternal significance. Really do.

Maybe that’s why the Boss came as a baby, all those Christmases ago. People pay attention to babies. Or they should.

This Christmas, listen to the little ones in your life. Don’t do your grown-up stuff so much. Do them. Let them be the boss. Even if it doesn’t involve ducky boots and talking to sandwiches, chances are, you’ll like where they lead.