Friday, February 22, 2013

HT Tim Bulkekely "What's Wrong with Higher Education?"

 ... Clay Shirkey, always a provocative and often a prescient commentator has an interesting take on the state of higher education. His starting point is cost benefit. In the USA the cost of a basic bachelor’s degree rose 75% in the first ten years of this century while the income of graduates has dropped 15% (both figures adjusted to 2000 dollars). That’s hardly a powerful selling-point! In NZ a Statistics NZ report in 2007 found that already then “Debt [was] increasing proportionally faster than income”, this is not merely an American tale.

And so ...

... Bustillos' answers seem to be that in the world of higher education, things are going fine, mostly, and that the parts that aren’t going fine can largely be fixed with tax dollars. (Because if there’s one group you'd pin your hopes for an American renaissance on, it would be state legislators.) I have a different answer: School is broken and everyone knows it.

That sentiment is the first sentence of Kio Stark’s forthcoming book, Don’t Go Back to School. It’s a guide for people taking the advice in the title; Stark interviewed almost hundred people who dropped out or took a pass on everything from high school to grad school, but still figured out how to learn what they needed to learn, in order to do what they wanted to do.


The value of that degree remains high in relative terms, but only because people with bachelor's degrees have seen their incomes shrink less over the last few years than people who don't have them. "Give us tens of thousands of dollars and years of your life so you can suffer less than your peers" isn't much of a proposition. More like a ransom note, really.

This is the background to the entire conversation around higher education: Things that can’t last don’t. This is why MOOCs matter. Not because distance learning is some big new thing or because online lectures are a solution to all our problems, but because they’ve come along at a time when students and parents are willing to ask themselves, "Isn’t there some other way to do this?"
MOOCs are a lightning strike on a rotten tree. Most stories have focused on the lightning, on MOOCs as the flashy new thing. I want to talk about the tree.


I’ve been thinking about the effects of the internet for a couple of decades now. I’ve watched industry after industry forced to renegotiate their methods and models, in the face of a medium that allows for perfect copying, global distribution, zero incremental cost, ridiculously easy group-forming: The music business. Newspapers. Travel agents. Publishers. Hotel owners. And while watching, I've always wondered what I’d do when my turn came.

And now here it is. And it turns out my job is to tell you not to trust us when we claim that there’s something sacred and irreplaceable about what we academics do. What we do is run institutions whose only rationale—whose only excuse for existing—is to make people smarter.

Sometimes we try to make ourselves smarter. We call that research. Sometimes we try to make our peers smarter. We call that publishing. Sometimes we try to make our students smarter. We call that teaching. And that’s it. That’s all there is. These are important jobs for sure, and they are hard jobs at times, but they’re not magic. And neither are we.

Twenty years ago I started college.  I had already worked out that nothing that interested me would ever land me much of a job.  Biblical literature?  I knew there was probably no chance of getting a teaching job with that unless I jumped through denominational hoops I knew I didn't want to deal with, and I never wanted (and don't want) to be a pastor.  What about literature?  What about literature?  Getting a degree in literature seemed useless even to me at 18 and 19.  Philosophy?  I didn't think I'd want to be a lawyer and the other options were the teaching route and teaching, I benefited from teaching, to be sure, but I didn't want to get into education.

How about music?  Well, sometimes I wish I'd gone that route but instead I became a journalism student.  Ha, even before I'd graduated I realized that there was no way I was going to get a job with the degree but I also realized I'd foundered at algebra and so shifting into the fields of study that were more likely to land me work (i.e. the hard sciences) was impossible for me half-way through completing my education.  I was never good enough at math (and I was not sure my public school teachers in mathematics were good enough) to have gotten me on that path.  So realizing that I'd already been on the path to study a host of useless things in terms of a job search I finished my journalism degree because in the 1990s, at least, it was probably smarter to at least finish the degree because, as a couple of candid professors told me, even by the 1990s all a B.A. proved was you could finish an expensive committment.

Okay, then, I figured i should at least prove that I could do that much.  So I graduated with what I knew was already a useless degree the year before I got it.  But as useless degrees went journalism, at the time, might still have been better than theology, literature or music as a field of study.  My friends had gotten the impression I was already a music major because of the course load I was taking.  I was already voluntarily trying to work out invertible counterpoint while I was making sure I graduated with the journalism degree I had.  There's a point in possibly everyone's life where you figure out you made a decision that has no actually good outcome and the best you can manage is damage control.  I learned how to write competently along the way and that's netted me some activity here and there. 

It could have been worse, after all, since it was just a college degree and not a marriage.  Only my life was potentially ruined by a possibly ill-advised and expensive decision.  At least I finished the degree.  Not everyone I know who incurred college debt even managed to finish their degrees.  How's that for optimism?  :)

Jim West poses a question about Paul's church planting effectiveness and Ephesus in response to a tweet

Here's a longer version of what West has written a rejoinder to.  Ed Stetzer plugs for the book here:

Today I conclude a series (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five) through Paul's Missionary Methods, a new book I contributed an essay to with the assistance of Lizette Beard, my coauthor and colleague at LifeWay Research. Other contributors include Michael Bird, David Hesselgrave, Don Howell Jr., Craig Keener, Chuck Lawless, Benjamin Merkle, J.D. Payne, Robert Plummer, Michael Pocock, Eckhard Schnabel, David Sills, Christoph Stenschke, and John Mark Terry.

And now we come to the bit West refers to

... Simply put, Paul did not stay long when he started churches. Allen notes, though it seems paradoxical, that the brevity of Paul's time with the churches he planted is likely what helped them succeed. ...

West just can't let that slide and writes the following:

Really? So, 1) how would one go about demonstrating that claim? And 2) who says the churches Paul planted succeeded? 3) Do you consider the mess of the Corinthian church a ‘success’? 4) Why? What on earth is good about that congregation and how could it possibly be a model for any church? 5) How do you know the churches Paul planted wouldn’t have been MORE successful if he had been able to be with them longer? 6) Paul’s work at Ephesus (!) certainly didn’t last and wasn’t successful even for 40 or 50 years (since it is the Church excoriated in Revelation for having lost its first love). 7) So what is success anyway?
It’s just more of the short sighted pseudo-scholarship twitter seems to accommodate most ‘successfully’. If your ‘theology’ can be expressed in 140 characters, it isn’t a theology worth holding.
[No offense to the good people at IVP].
Interesting questions from West about how successful Paul's church plants actually were.  To go by the situation in Ephesus described in the pastoral epistles there seemed to be some recurring problems finding men qualified enough to handle the tasks that Timothy was supposed to find them to do.  Assuming for the sake of conservative scholarship that 1 and 2 Timothy are a) written by Paul and b) deal with a continuing situation it sure looked like Timothy was failing to find men qualified enough to handle whatever elders were supposed to handle at the time in Ephesus.  Tradition held that Timothy became bishop at Ephesus.  It may not simply have been the case that Paul's church plant there faltered but that even leaving Timothy in charge of finding qualified men to help carry on the teaching and work there faltered because, at least according to one tradition, Timothy ended up staying there so long he became the first bishop of Ephesus. 
Some stuff to keep in mind about the early church in Ephesus and the church in Corinth.  It's interesting to note that while many Reformed types love Romans that's the epistle Paul wrote to a church he didn't plant.  I wonder how it was he managed to have time to write what has been considered his greatest, most lucid, and compelling epistle, was it because he was writing to a church he didn't plan and that wasn't riddled with the problems that cropped up in the other churches that he did plant so he had time to focus on something besides "What are you people doing!?" 
Just playing with that idea a bit. 

HT Mockingbird and Atlantic and Slate: Romantic comedies aren't what they used to be, or are they?

...  Among the most fundamental obligations of romantic comedy is that there must be an obstacle to nuptial bliss for the budding couple to overcome. And, put simply, such obstacles are getting harder and harder to come by. They used to lie thick on the ground: parental disapproval, difference in social class, a promise made to another. But society has spent decades busily uprooting any impediment to the marriage of true minds. Love is increasingly presumed—perhaps in Hollywood most of all—to transcend class, profession, faith, age, race, gender, and (on occasion) marital status.


Perhaps the most obvious social constraint that’s fallen by the wayside is also the most significant: the taboo against premarital sex. There was a time when carnal knowledge was the (implied) endpoint of the romantic comedy; today, it’s just as likely to be the opening premise. In 2005’s A Lot Like Love—a dull, joyless rip-off of When Harry Met Sally—Amanda Peet and Ashton Kutcher meet cute by having sex in an airplane lavatory before they’ve spoken a single word to each other. Where’s a film to go when the “happy ending” takes place at the beginning?

Christopher Orr's observations seem accurate enough.  Alyssa Rosenberg proposes that Orr, nonetheless, missed an important shift she's seen in romantic comedies. There are still obstacles in a romantic comedy but the obstacles may not be where they used to appear.

But a point I think Orr misses is that the genuinely strong romantic comedies of the last decade or so have ventured inward for obstacles, rather than inventing ludicrous external ones. In romantic comedies as in third-wave feminism, the proliferation of choices has forced protagonists to figure out what they really want, leaving indecision, self-doubt, and even arrested development as rich fodder. [emphasis added]

Part of what made Bridesmaids so wonderful was that Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig) wasn't an essentially perfect woman barred by class or reputation from pursuing true love. She was a self-loathing mess grieving the loss of a relationship and her professional dream who had to fix herself before she was capable of loving someone, rather than overcoming external obstacles to be with someone she already loved. In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy (Steve Carell) had to overcome his deep-seated terror of sex, and of growing up, to be able to form an adult emotional relationship. If romantic comedies have gotten harder to do well, maybe it's actually not because so many barriers to finding love have fallen, but rather because modern love's gotten more difficult, and more difficult to capture.

Love hasn't gotten more difficult at all, and arguably it isn't any more difficult to capture, it may simply be that fewer people are aiming for love as much as they are aiming for chemistry.  After all, if modern love is really that different from love as it was understood in the past nobody would keep coming up with film adaptations of Jane Austen novels. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mere Orthodoxy and Jane Austen

Since Austen's lovely and funny novel turned 200 this year someone got an invitation to blog over somewhere and someone couldn't resist the offer. 

Guitarist composers and longer forms

I've been mulling this one over for some time and haven't been sure how I want to field this because part of me wants to use specific cases and part of me doesn't.  But the idea I'm thinking about is whether or not guitarists who compose manage to get longer forms to actually work.  Angelo Gilardino it was, I think, who wrote that even among the 19th century masters of the guitar idiomatic expression tended to supercede musical values. 

Ah, here we are!

Until around 1920, original music for guitar was composed almost exclusively by guitarists. Among these, few were able to maintain a balance between musical values and an idiomatic command of the instrument; not even Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani—without doubt the most significant guitarist-composers of the first half of the nineteenth century—are immune to such criticism.

Now it's too bad I haven't managed to hear Delpriora's sonata after all this time but recording and licensing aren't simple.  Nonetheless, Gilardino's observation has stuck with me.  It's been a tiny catalyst among others that have inspired me to consider how guitarist composers have handled sonata form, particularly.  Now that we're in the 21st century guitarists have begun to compose more extended forms and have added to the roster of sonatas and fugues, my two favorite forms, and I'm still eagerly awaiting the recording and publication of Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues.

But with all that still in mind I've been wondering why, as Gilardino put it, few guitarists were able to maintain a balance between musical values and an idiomatic command of the instrument.  I have some ideas about that and I'm even willing to discuss them in polite company but I'm still trying to think through how most politely to say them.  :) 

As musical values and the sonata forms of the 19th century guitarist composers go I have more thinking and studying I want to do.  But I do think the physical limitations of the guitar have played a role in guitarists not striking the right balance, and I think that guitarists avoiding a conceptual as well as physical mastery of playing in all keys is ultimately the most significant problem in the lack of development of longer forms by guitarist composers.  I don't think this is necessarily as true since 1920 (per Gilardino) as it was prior to that time.  I'd like to write more but I've got some Matiegka and ... other guitar sonatas I want to absorb some more.

I've also got a number of recordings I've been soaking up and I'd be remiss if I didn't get back to blogging about Rebay soon this year.  I'm trying to find the right balance between musical values and an actual social life with another even more important aspect of life that involve regular installments of inbound currency, however fiat it may be. 

a new little detail about the MH campus web pages

A sweet little redesign that shuffles the list of active pastors into a tab you can click on that doesn't have a separate permalink.  Cute.  Tim Beltz is still listed as Biblical Living Pastor at Mars Hill Downtown.  Jamie Munson's still listed as Pastor.  There's just a little more scrolling and clicking to find the stuff.  When reading earlier blog posts discussing real estate and governance feel free to keep this detail in mind about the web page redesign.  There's also this separate list that may be useful for future reference and seems to stay relatively up to date, give or take a few shake-ups.

Where are they now? A Scott and Derrin Thomas follow-up

Earlier this year we discussed the transition of Scott Thomas from Mars Hill to The Journey, where he is currently Pastor of Ministry Development.  He's been that for some time but it's only gone up on the website of The Journey recently.  That transition was discussed earlier here

There's an additional bit of information that's interesting.
Scott Thomas

Pastor of Ministry Development

Why are you at The Journey?
 I love the passion for the mission of God at The Journey. It is a beautiful work in progress but it is tethered to a to commitment making followers of Jesus and starting churches.

What do you love about St. Louis?
 It has a rich cultural emphasis with a down-home feel among a diverse demographic. Whether one is attending a baseball game or a broadway musical, people in St Louis are friendly and helpful.

Derrin Thomas

Ministry Development Executive Assistant

Why are you at The Journey?
 The Journey is the reason I am in St Louis. I had become aware of The Journey during my previous job with a church planting network across the country. I am here because I want to be a partner with a church whose focus is upward and mission is outward -- it is both exciting and fulfilling.

What do you love about St. Louis?
 St Louis is the most underrated big city in America. It has amazing history, architecture, attractions, and infrastructure. It's also in the best corner in the country -- right on the border of the Midwest, the South, and the East (and just far enough away from Texas). This provides a unique stew of the best parts of different cultures that gives the city a soul and identity. Also, Cardinals and ribs.

Here's a little more information about him.

Executive Assistant - Ministry Development

The Journey Church

October 2012Present (5 months)Saint Louis, MO

Content Manager

Acts 29 Network

July 2012November 2012 (5 months)
Managed all online content and updated public website. Interim position while company transitioned from Seattle to Dallas.

Nonprofit; 51-200 employees; Religious Institutions industry
November 2011April 2012 (6 months)Downtown Bellevue
Assists Lead Pastor in communication, email and calendar management, and project management.

Content & Communications Manager

Acts 29 Network

July 2011November 2011 (5 months)
Managed all online content and communication for a website with over 50K visitors monthly and private forum with over 1,000 members. Content included multimedia, written communication, and blogs.

Application Assistant

Acts 29 Network

September 2008June 2011 (2 years 10 months)
Provided administrative assistance for the hundreds of assessments each year. Responsibilities included organizing thousands of documents, manually processing document submissions, communicating with assesses and regional directors, and creating streamlined processes.


Acts 29 Network

June 2008September 2008 (4 months)
Pioneered, helped create, and completed thorough assessments of Denver area Acts 29 churches.

For those with a little time to dig around there was a termination process in 2007 in which then Lead Pastor Jamie Munson wrote the following about Bent Meyer.
Pastor Bent Meyer - Grounds for Immediate Termination of Employment

* Total lack of trust for Executive leadership and insubordination
* Multiple unfounded accusations from Bent regarding abuse of power, power grabbing and motives of leadership
* Not following protocol and process for making bylaw commetns by contacting church attorney without permission
* Showing unhealthy family favoritism by establishing son Cameron as a spokesman for Salts  recap meeting [emphasis added--was Munson possibly looking for the word "nepotism" here?]
* No communication with elders regarding Cameron's sin and removal of grace group leadership

Some might conclude this is a political move to gain more support for the bylaws as Paul and Bent were outspoken critics of the current direction. This is not the case, the executive team wants to conduct itself in a way that is full of integrity, walking in the light, under full disclosure and in a decisive manner that best serves Jesus and His Church through Mars Hill.  If the bylaws don't pass, so be it, we didn't want to wait on what we had determined were necessary and inevitable firings until after the bylaws had been voted into approval because that would have been deceptive. We made the decision to terminate them now and give them the option to resign or undergo the full investigation. We have a higher view of being men of integrity than playing politics to swing a vote in our favor.